Fair Oaks resident Lauren Sater told me she’s never been the type to sit at a sewing machine, but that didn’t stop her from producing the little black dress of her dreams, one that smoothes, shapes and flatters the figures of plus-size women.
The 25-year-old had felt plenty of disappointment and frustration while shopping for dresses at boutiques and department stores, she told me. Earlier this year, she decided to work with a fashion crowdfunding site called Betabrand.com to see if she could get her clothing ideas produced. Sater submitted a rather rudimentary design to Betabrand.
An artist at Betabrand worked with her to make a much clearer composite sketch, she said, and that got posted at Betabrand.com. More than 400 customers voted for it, so the company made a prototype. Now, customer orders will determine whether the frock goes into production. Early backers are receiving a 15 percent discount right now.
“I thought it was a great … that a designer could have an idea and they would crowdfund it,” Sater said. “It’s like the world is open. You can do whatever you want with them. You can do shoes, handbags, clothing, hats and accessories. I thought that was such a creative opportunity.”
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Betabrand founder and CEO Chris Lindland is democratizing fashion: “I, too, was an aspiring fashion designer who had clothing ideas, and I had to create a business for myself in order to get them made. I was very keenly aware of how difficult it is for a fashion designer or anybody with a product design idea to take it from their mind and turn it into something people can actually consume.”
Lindland had run a tech startup before he tried his hand at clothing design, he told me, and he thought the online community would allow designers to quickly assess whether there was a market for their ideas. Betabrand pays designers 10 percent of the revenue that their product grosses in its first year.
“We like to always expand and see whether there are any new audiences we should work with, any new products we should work on, and then we see how each product goes and we test out other products to go with it,” Lindland said. “Usually, it takes us about three months to know whether we’re completely committed to a new audience or new product category.”
Every product is a gamble or an experiment for Betabrand. Will consumers gravitate to a design or not?
“Lauren independently submitted that (design),” Lindland said, “and it developed its own interest online. … A product like Lauren’s truly excites me because, if there’s an audience for it, an audience willing to be creatively involved in our company, then I’m all for it. It’s not a strategy. It’s a response. I think that’s what makes our approach to clothing very different.”
Anything can happen, Lindland said, noting that when Betabrand launched in 2009, the company primarily sold men’s clothing and accessories. Then the company introduced a product called “dress pants yoga pants” that put the freedom of yoga pants in office attire. Now about 85 percent of the products sold on Betabrand are women’s clothing and accessories.
Sater, who works as a freelance makeup artist, said she has high hopes for her little black dress, which retails for $118. It makes use of compression fabric that eliminates the need to wear shapewear underneath it. There’s also a pocket where women can put their ID, credit card and lipstick if they don’t want to carry a purse.
Sater already has designed other products to test at Betabrand, and she’s calling her clothing the BeautiFULL line. Her dress was 21 percent funded by 3 p.m. Monday, its first day on sale. There are 29 days left for it to make its funding goal.
“I’ve always wanted to design clothes,” she said. “I’ve just never had that side of me that would actually sit at a sewing machine and put it to work. I just have all these ideas in my head. I wish I knew about this a lot sooner, so I could have put a lot more ideas into production.”