When Laura Dweck and her husband, Michael, got married and moved into a tiny Manhattan apartment together, she urged him to throw out any socks and underwear in his basics drawer that he hadn’t worn in six months. Little did she know that her advice to start fresh would be the beginning of a bustling new business idea.
Struggling to find high-quality, low-cost essentials to refill his drawer and a fast, easy way to do it, the pair realized that this must be a problem other like-minded people were facing, as well. They put their heads together, began to do some heavy-hitting research and were alarmed by what they found out.
“We came across this crazy statistic that, on average, men keep their underwear for seven years,” says Laura. “We were horrified. It peaked our curiosity and fueled us to look into it further.”
With their standout Create-a-Drawer concept, the power duo launched Basic Outfitters in 2015. For just $60, men can replenish their their basics drawer with up to 19 products—including socks, underwear, t-shirts and joggers—in under two minutes. Depending on their needs, men can also buy the items individually.
With Laura’s background in the fashion industry and Michael’s experience in operations, the company is on the fast track to success. Graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in fashion merchandising and management, Laura already had internships at Bloomingdale’s and Women’s Wear Daily under her belt. At Sam Edelman, her first job after college, she became fashion director after just six months. The self-starter also began her own fashion blog, Edgify Me, in 2012 and later led uber-cool contemporary men’s swimwear line Onia to launch their first women’s category as head of design and merchandising.
“My diverse career experiences worked against me when I was looking for jobs but turned positive when I launched my own company,” Laura says. “At Sam Edelman, there was licensing involved, competitive research, brand building, design and merchandising. From my blog, I learned digital media, social media and writing. While at Onia, I really dug into design and had the opportunity to expand on a brand.”
Leaving her comfortable salaried job, she put all her energy into launching her start-up—which has already been featured in GQ, Men’s Health and on Good Morning America. It was also the talk of a recent Shark Tank episode, where the Dwecks pitched their line to the show’s notably tough-as-nails investors. Spoiler alert: while they didn’t manage to hook the Sharks, they did secure a spot in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Class of 2017 in January. Sharing the spotlight with actress Margot Robbie, influencer Kylie Jenner and gymnast Simone Biles, Laura has proven to be a bright young star in entrepreneurship and innovation.
To learn how she started a business in a crowded market, read below:
Take a calculated approach
Once Michael and I had our idea, we started doing a ton of research. We did market research. We did competitive research. We worked during lunch and after work just trying to figure out if this was really a viable option for us to actually jump into. As we started to receive the results of the data and dig in deeper, we saw that there really was this pocket of opportunity and white space in the market that we could capitalize on. We considered every possibility and, while we always wanted to take a risk and do something on our own, we knew it had to be a calculated risk.
Show your stripes
There are so many sock and underwear brands out there and we’d be crazy to enter such a saturated market without having an angle or point of differentiation. We had to be really confident that what we were doing was going to be different enough to make waves, to get noticed, to make a difference and actually be successful. We honed in on what that was—that we weren’t just going to be another brand selling basics. We were going to change the way people shopped for them, doing it at an unbeatable value where the price point and the quality of the product was never before seen. Those elements combined was really the clincher for us to say, “We have something here, let’s go for it.”
Stage a scrappy focus group
One of our biggest struggles initially was that we underestimated how challenging marketing is. We have these socks that are incredibly soft but, since we are an e-commerce brand, they just looked like basic socks. We needed a way to communicate that they’re super-soft when all we had was a photograph. We decided to go to Times Square with a big bag of the socks and a camera. We walked up to strangers and asked them to give us their honest reactions to the socks. People compared them to a “Thoroughbred horse,” a “baby’s butt,” and other hilarious things we never would have thought of with a traditional approach. We turned them into great clips on YouTube and saw our sales really spike.
Forgo the idea of working hours
I used to go to work and have an end time. Now, it’s more of a 24-hour job. The positive is that I get to be more flexible because there’s nobody to report to and prove to that I’m working when I’m working from home. It’s just a matter of getting the job done. Anyone you talk to that’s a running a start-up will tell you that it’s more intense in terms of hours and actual work output.
Get creative with communication
We noticed that a lot of our prospective customers were seeing our ads and discovering our company, but were skeptical of the quality because the price point was so good. We took to social media and told people that all they would have to do is pay three dollars for shipping and we would send them a pair of socks for free. The campaign helped people understand the quality and get excited about it. A lot of people signed up and the the conversion from free sock to a Create-a-Drawer was high.
Let your customers lead you to innovation
Our joggers were a bestseller. Customers were writing to us that they loved them but wished that they had zippers on the pockets so that their keys, phones and wallets wouldn’t fall out when they were sitting down or driving. So we designed them, launched them recently and they’re selling really well. We also had a ton of emails come in after Shark Tank asking for a women’s Create-a-Drawer. When we saw the demand was there, the very next business day, we called a meeting with our teams and started conceptualizing the line.
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Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump
Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo