What I’ve Learned
July 10, 2012 § 3 Comments
Today, I was ironing a very old shirt of mine, a blue oxford button-down that my mom and I unpacked last summer in our basement, and marveled at its quality. The shirt’s thick fabric and sewing have stood up over what must be 15 years of machine-washes and wears. I wear it often and happily. And when you look at the remainder of the label, which I cut out a long time ago, what does it say? Made in the USA.
That shirt, and other pieces I have from the 80s and 90s, were part of the reason we started Dobbin. Mass retailers, whom so many of us used to rely on for quality basics that lasted, have opted for fast-fashion and trend-for-less over closet staples in great fabrics that last and look good in a multitude of ways. That shirt made me feel good about what we’re trying to do at Dobbin, and proud of what we’ve already done.
Since we launched this past Spring, I’ve learned so much. I thought I’d take a moment to share a few of those lessons, surprises and delights.
Our clothes fit and look great on: Because we used a size 6/8 fit model as opposed to the traditional 2/4 that most fashion companies used, we were understandably a little nervous about whether our fit would work. But lo and behold, we’ve only had 1 return to date (knock on wood)! Overall, our customers have been thrilled with the fabric and the fit of our pieces. Catherine and I have been so happy to hear and in some cases to see what our customers are wearing and loving. Some women have told us that they can’t take our pieces off and wear them multiple times a week. That’s music to our ears at Dobbin and exactly what we were trying to accomplish. Your clothes should be versatile, durable, comfortable and flattering.
Everyone has a different sense of personal style, as well as shopping techniques: In New York City, and in the fashion industry in particular, your eye can get trained to recognize certain styles and pieces of clothing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Within those broad confines, many designers and fashion industry members tend to define their own personal or design styles, but rarely venture far from whatever the top magazines and blogs are serving up. At Dobbin, we’re trying to listen to what women in and outside of New York are really wearing in their day-to-day life: to work, to social occasions, on the weekend. Those answers differ in ways not even the sharpest merchant might expect. Some women are now following fashion’s every move via social media and want to play along, others create their own rules and know what works for them, and others yet are watching their budgets and trying to shop smart. It’s so refreshing to know that personal and shopping styles are still so individual. We’re learning new things every day and know that our findings will only make for better products down the line.
The concept of quality is complex: The above story of my Made in the USA shirt is a distant memory for most people. Large apparel chains and department stores have filled our closets with mass-produced basics and trend items typically manufactured in China. It’s hard for many shoppers, particularly younger ones, to feel the difference between good fabric and bad fabric, and to recognize a well-sewn vs. a poorly-sewn garment. Elizabeth Cline’s recently-released book, Overdressed, has been a wake up call to me and to countless others about how we as a nation shop and what we expect of our clothing. So many of us, myself included, had come to expect a decent shirt to cost very little, or to be sold at a bargain price. I would be upset when it fell apart or washed badly. Now that I’ve seen the flip-side, and have felt and bought top-quality fabrics, and worked with pattern makers, sample makers and factories here in NYC, I know that better garments cost more and can be worth their higher prices. But to us at Dobbin, if they’re going to cost more, they shouldn’t be super-trendy. Clothing can be fresh, pretty and modern, but it should also last you longer than one season. The economy is still in a very tough and turbulent state, and it’s a fact that most families are not spending as freely as they once were. We know that Dobbin’s prices are not the lowest, but we’re trying to give as much bang for buck as possible.
Online shopping is still a new territory: As an adventurous online shopper who has been known to try a product that looks and is priced right after only a few clicks, it’s been crucial for me to remember that a new online brand is a tricky entity for most shoppers. They don’t have to trust our quality, fit, branding or even our customer service when their online shopping options seem so plentiful, or when they’d prefer to look at and try on in person. All of the most successful online brands we know started out by selling their lines live, at trunk shows and even out of the backs of cars. Our online strategy has been to provide free-of-purchase swatch cards, which customers can feel and shop from, to make shipping both ways free so that customers can easily return our clothes if they don’t work, and to provide personalized and prompt customer service. We’ll be improving our online experience as we go along, and will be complementing our e-commerce business with trunk shows, events and pop-up stores. We’d still prefer not to wholesale our clothes to boutiques or department stores, as they would definitely be marked up so much that the prices would not match our branding any longer.
Customer service is still king: From the time I was 16 and working in a local shoe store, I have known that the way shoppers are treated is almost as important as the product itself. From the shopability of the site, to the ease of the return process, to how quickly I try to answer phone calls and emails, this facet of the business is still vital to Dobbin’s long term success.