Besides attracting customers not typically interested in clothes, Betabrand has successfully employed an Internet mentality to just about everything it does. For example, like a lot of websites, Betabrand thirsts for interaction with its returning customers and with those just visiting. One way they do that is by soliciting photos of customers wearing items they’ve purchased from the company, which they then use on the site, in a feature called Model Citizen. “I knew that a catalog didn’t have to be two photos of square-jawed Nordic models wearing a sweater. It could be thousands of photos sent in by the people who own the clothes,” Lindland says. “You appear like the star of the site, and we designed it that way because it is damned funny, and when it works well, people are sharing these things on Facebook because there is an astonishment that that person and their friends have that you could be the principal model for this clothing.”
During the design process, Betabrand solicits input from customers, which can be both helpful and boost anticipation of a product’s release. At the same time, the company places a premium on getting new items up for sale on the site as fast as possible, as opposed to the more seasonal approach of typical clothing companies. “If you’re an Internet company you can’t be seasonal; people expect things to be brand-new five times a day, and we try to do that with products, and the response is way better,” Lindland says. “It’s a model that you’ve heard from software and Internet companies, where it’s this nonstop process of experimentation.”
Taking an approach that is quick, nimble and flexible also means producing new items in small batches, which has multiple benefits. “It makes bad business sense for us to go out and make 10,000 pants and put them in a warehouse and slowly sell out of it,” he says. “Let’s minimize the cost and investment we have in brand-new clothing ideas and make them in limited batches so that if they’re successful, great, we’ll make more, and if not then we risk nothing.”
This quasi-subversive approach to fashion extends even to the manufacturing process. Almost all (about 95 percent) of Betabrand’s items are made in San Francisco, and they’re then shipped from their headquarters in the city. It all may sound like Betabrand is out to turn the fashion world on its head. But Lindland demurs. “I’m not setting out to be a rebel; that is for someone who works in the industry. They would have a reason to have a problem with how the industry works. I’m approaching fashion solely through the lens of the Internet,” Lindland says.
So far, it’s turning out to be a pretty good joke.