The internet has disrupted the fashion value chain.  New companies can now source high quality materials from factories that many of the luxury brands use and sell them directly to consumers via the internet.  Online companies do not have the high start-up and overhead costs associated with retail companies.  Many online companies are passing this savings onto the consumer, offering high quality products at affordable prices.

While consumers are becoming more informed and learning the value of “cutting out the middle man,” I believe in the fashion industry consumers still want to pay for brands.  While these online companies have a clear value proposition I believe customers will generally not make a purchase unless there is a brand behind the product.  I think this can be seen when contrasting the success of Warby Parker versus similar online eyewear companies that have emerged in the last few years.  While the product offering appears identical (~$95 prescription eyewear), Warby Parker is by far the most successful which I believe is attributable to their brand.

The question is, when many fashion brands are built through expensive marketing campaigns and the in-store customer experience, how do online companies create a brand?  What sort of strategy should they use to build a brand without compromising their value proposition to customers? Online brands could rely on the pure quality of their product but they may run into the chicken/egg problem: customers can’t tell the quality unless they buy the product, but customers don’t want to buy a product from a brand they’ve never heard of.

There is no formulaic answer but I have observed a few tactics which two successful online brands, Warby Parker and BaubleBar, have used to build their brands.

  1. Collaborations – Both Warby Parker and BaubleBar have engaged in numerous designer collaborations which lend credibility to their brand. While consumers may have been reluctant to make their first BaubleBar purchase, a collaboration with a well know jewelry designer such as Erickson Beamon allowed several consumers to overcome the initial hesitation.  Typically these deals are done on a royalty basis which is much cheaper than hiring a well-known designer.
  2. Pop-up stores – Pop-up stores are a great way to build brand recognition, test a market and interact with customers without the high expenses of an actual store.  For example, Warby Parker outfitted a school bus and drove it cross country as a pop-up store.
  3. Press  – By providing an real value proposition to consumers Warby Parker and BaubleBar have been able to generate a lot of press.  Press features are a great way to raise awareness and lend credibility to a brand with consumers.  If approached the right way it comes off as more authentic and is less expensive than marketing.
  4. Free Shipping & free return is an important investment in order to reduce the barrier to trying a brand.

While creating a brand online is no easy feat it is essential to ensure your company will remain relevant with consumers for years to come.


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