Interview with Kimberly Barasch, Co-Founder of Altress
Altress is building the fastest, scalable, on-demand supply chain for apparel in the US, disrupting the womenswear market with made-to-order, customizable apparel that reduces the environmental impact of apparel manufacturing and empowers women to design dresses that fit their unique style and body
Please tell us about Altress. What inspired you to build it?
KB: Before founding Altress I spent 12 years at the top of the fashion industry leading and launching well known apparel brands. Over that time I observed that the cycle of apparel retail was broken for a number of reasons:
- There is an endless cycle of apparel overproduction, markdowns and eventual excess inventory waste.
- In search of lower production costs, manufacturing has largely moved overseas where labor costs are cheaper and working conditions are generally poorer, regardless of a garment’s retail cost.
- There is clearly size exclusion / inequality in the womenswear market. Not all sizes are treated equally. Brands deliberately offer a limited range of sizes to minimize their inventory risk, thus excluding a significant portion of the population that are size 14+.
I decided that the solution and future of apparel was on-demand manufacturing and customization. I also decided that I did not want to work for the person that solved this puzzle; I wanted to be the woman who solved it. With that, I started on my journey to create the fastest domestic supply chain in the US for customized on-demand manufacturing.
I founded Altress (www.Altress.com) with the mission of building the fastest, scalable, on-demand supply chain for apparel in the US and a true fit solution for women’s apparel: bi-sizing. Altress is disrupting the womenswear market with made-to-order, customizable apparel that reduces the environmental impact of apparel manufacturing and empowers women to design dresses that fit their unique style and body type. With its easy-to-use, modular customization platform, Altress is able to scalably, economically, and quickly produce over 10,000 different permutations of its apparel with 10-12 business day delivery.
It’s been amazing what we’ve accomplished so far!
As a customized, made-to-order for minimum waste and D2C Women’s apparel, how are you transforming the traditional retail and its inventory waste?
60% of all apparel produced is either incinerated or goes to landfills in a calendar year. It’s a staggering figure. This is due to the mass production / overproduction of traditional manufacturing. Apparel products are often overproduced to achieve lower production costs through economies of scale. Therefore, the simplest solution to the inventory crisis is to eliminate overproduction.
With on-demand production, there are no production minimums. Traditional brands work with factories with high production minimums to achieve economies of scale. Since products are frequently overproduced (because assessing demand is a guessing game), this leads to excess inventory which eventually becomes waste. With Altress’ on-demand production, we are able to quickly, scalably and profitably produce one-off products for our customers with no production minimums.
With Altress’ on-demand manufacturing capabilities, supply is driven by actual customer demand. Our clothing is only produced after it is sold, which means there is no excess inventory / waste.
In addition to reducing waste, on-demand manufacturing is also more working capital efficient. With traditional retail, significant capital is needed to finance the production of large orders / runs, and that cost is incurred before brands even know if the products will perform at retail. It is essentially a guessing game where winning means the style outperforms and gets replenished and losing means a brand potentially spends hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to produce thousands of units of product that are never sold. Since Altress’ production is based on actual customer demand, the customer immediately finances the production of her dress.
Altress’ on-demand manufacturing process also dramatically reduces the amount of working capital to produce new styles as well as the risk associated with adding new styles and enables “real time” speed to market for trends. Traditional brands typically have 6-12 month speed to market i.e. getting a style from the design stage, through production and then into stores. Altress’ process is infinitely faster: it takes 5-10 business days to go from sketch/design to product offering on our website. A real life example would be the Altress design team spotting a hot new trend on Instagram over a weekend. On Monday we can finalize our design sketches; on Tuesday our pattern maker can complete the pattern; on Wednesday the garment can be cut and sewn; on Thursday we can have a fit model try-on the garment and have our pattern maker make further refinements; on Friday we can have the finalized pattern graded to sizes 00-18, the product photographed and then uploaded to our website for purchase.
The net of this is that Altress is a more inclusive brand; we offer a wider range of high value products with more size options all at an accessible price. We believe inclusiveness just makes Altress a stronger business. We currently offer sizes 00 to 18 and as we grow we intend to expand our size range further.
According to research, Designers do not fit for the body type of 80.7% of women. What is Altress’s fit solution? How are you empowering women to design superior-quality clothing that fit their unique style and body type?
A consumer’s body type plays a significant role in fit. Apparel patterns are made for neat, hourglass-shaped women, which represent less than 20% of the female population (this means that apparel is produced to literally not fit the shape of more than 80% of women!). These patterns are then graded up and down from the base size, assuming that women’s measurements increase proportionally as size increases (which simply is not the case).
In contrast, by splitting each dress into a top and a bottom and anchoring the dress at a woman’s waist measurement, Altress is able to accommodate all body shapes.
For example, an inverted triangle shaped woman may be a size 8 on top and a size 4 on bottom with a 27 inch waist. The Altress algorithm allows us to take the size 8 top, adjust it to accommodate a size 8 bust with a 27 inch waist and fit it into a size 4 bottom without having to manually adjust the pattern for the customer prior to production.
Similarly, a pear-shaped woman may be a size 10 on top and size 14 on bottom with a size 14 waist. The Altress algorithm pivots the size 10 top to increase to the size 14 waist measurement to fit seamlessly into the size 14 bottom, allowing Altress to produce a custom fitting dress without having to manually adjust the pattern for the customer prior to production.
In both of these cases, the adjusted pattern is printed on our plotting machine and the plot out is used to cut the customer’s order. Thus, Altress has saved the customer time (no in-person fitting / tailoring) and money (reduced cost to produce the dress with savings passed onto the customer), and has delivered them a product with a superior fit.
In addition to dress destination, what are Altress expansion plans into other categories of on-demand apparel?
We plan to expand into separates, day wear, and other categories over time. Another exciting development is that Altress is now leveraging its on-demand supply chain to produce apparel for other brands to reduce their inventory risk / waste, make them more size inclusive and become working capital efficient. We are extremely thrilled with these growing partnerships.
Tell us more about your “Fit Finder” and how will it lead to a fit algorithm?
The Altress Fit Finder uses different data points as inputs into our proprietary algorithm to determine a customer’s perfect fit in an Altress top and an Altress bottom, and more accurately measure a customer’s waist size than having the customer take measurements. Even better, the Fit Finder takes only a few minutes to complete and can be done on the go from your phone! The measurements can be saved into a customer’s account so they can quickly order their 2nd, 3rd or 10th Altress dress!
What is Altress’s Covid-19 related pivot / solution?
Altress has a vertically integrated supply chain which helps us more efficiently develop our proprietary technology and provide our customers with customized apparel on-demand at an accessible price. This means all of our manufacturing talent is in-house and we have complete control over our supply chain. Vertical integration ensures consistency across styles and sizes in terms of quality and fit – the key drivers to customer retention and reducing returns.
To differentiate with speed and cost to customers, our supply chain is on-shore/U.S.-based, which also ensures a hyper low carbon footprint (rather than air shipping one-off, on-demand products out of Asia, for example) and lower shipping costs and tariff costs which results in better prices for our customers. Ownership of our supply chain also allows us to easily pivot in times of crisis… Put simply, our vertical supply chain is a key competitive advantage.
Our business model has been validated by the challenges presented by COVID-19. Literally overnight we pivoted our rapid, domestic supply chain to produce over +15,000 masks for frontline workers at hospitals and private clinics who were without adequate PPE when supply chains around the world ground to a halt and other domestic manufacturing facilities shut down for fear of spreading the virus. We worked with domestic trim and fabric suppliers to deliver rolls of fabric to be cut in our offices. Our executive team then delivered materials in our cars directly to the homes of our sewers throughout the NYC area. We returned several times a week to pick up the masks as they were produced. We were able to keep these women socially distanced, working and paid. Most other brands are not vertically integrated and have no flexibility or control over their manufacturing talent to make masks for those in need.