Monday, April 24, 2006
Interview with Louise Wannier, MyShape
My interview today is with Louise Wannier, founder of MyShape (www.myshape.com), a new startup that is developing an online service for matching women to fashion. Louise is a serial entrepreneur, who has started a number of high tech startups here in Southern California, and was a founder of Enfish and Gemstar. I've spoken with Louise before, and caught up with her on her new company.
Ben Kuo: What is MyShape?
Louise Wannier: MyShape is about making shopping effortless. It's for busy women who don't have time to shop. We're targeting professional women spending more than $1000 a year on clothing, and are focused on combining available clothes from interesting designers. We're focused on making it really easy to avoid bad choices. You go online take our profile, and we through a patent pending process, match you to clothes that will fit your measurement, body shape, with fashion-appropriate styling for your body shape, fit, and your preferences. We're combining an understanding of the garment measurement, your measurement, and guidelines on what lines look good for what body proportions. Instead of going to a website and having a million choices, we still have good choices but choices that work for you.
BK: Where you get the idea for this new company?
LW: I took a break a couple of years ago--I don't know how many knew--but I took a degree in textile design at the fashion institute. I ended up taking lots of interesting classes. One of them was a fashion sketching course--I have always loved design, and in fact my grandfather was in textile industry in early 1900's. I've been associated with fashion, and I have always loved design. So, I went back to school to do something I loved, and while there I came into contact with one of my friends and now cofounder who had been talking about some of these ideas with me. Fashion designs today are designed for a particular fit model, however, most of the world is different—because every body is different. Only five or six percent of bodies fit the fit model that most people design clothes for. And every designer has their own fit model, and design clothes around that. That means that people waste a lot of time, and it's frustrating for lots of people to find clothes. All of our research confirms the frustration women have in the fashion process. We though that if we could just match the clothing to you, that would be a start.
BK: This seems a bit different that your prior technology startups?
LW: The first company I started was Skillwar, which was an education technology companies—custom design for retraining the workforce in Sweden. Along with that came lots of interactive design. The interesting thing across everything I've done is I've made things easier—the human interface to whatever. Yes, this is different because of the design and fashion, but in terms of what we're trying to do is make things effortless, easier, in areas that are personally important to people. The second company I was at was Gemstar, where we were making it easier to program a VCR. The goal at that company was to figure out the interface and a coding system, and design a little product there to make programming your VCR simple.
BK: What's different about MyShape from the many other custom fit clothing ideas that are out there?
LW: What's different is this is not about designing custom clothing. We are matching existing designers, based on measurements, body shapes, and preferences. There's nothing here about custom designing clothes—it's all about existing lines of clothing. We're a retail store, online, but making it easy for you to shop for your preferences. Everyone has focused on the technology—and there are lots of the technology players we might link with—for example, people providing scanning technology. But for us, it's still a question of what clothes are good for you, simplifying buying online and making it really easy for the women who wants to find clothes.
BK: You can characterize clothes—isn't there lots of variation in the industry?
LW: Yes, down to individual garments. Any one designer will make anywhere from 50 to several thousand outfits or pieces. Every single one of those has a different line. So, women know different designers and seasons, the cut of the garment, and how they line up with body shapes. We're matching and automating and simplying it. What it's really about is which garment flatters your body shape. There are thousands of designers, hundreds of different styles and lines of garments. It changes constantly. It's about feeling great. The clothes that women wear are a reflection of how they feel. It's very time consuming to go and find these great clothes. We're very gratified; we recently put out a survey on the internet, and got a thirty percent response rate online, and we know we've hit a nerve and a hot button.
BK: How far along are you in getting MyShape launched?
LW: We are just closing our angel round of funding, and we are in the process of building out the site. The site is there today, you can go online to fill in provide, and we give you tips and suggestions about your body shape—what would be good for your body. We're also starting to initiate some email campaigns, and have been offering a chance to win free outfits if they sign up. We're also in the process of emailing them as we build out our store. We're hoping to fully launch the site in the August timeframe.
BK: Measuring those outfits must take lots of labor, doesn't it?
LW: Yes, it can be time consuming. However, we're getting lots of that information directly from designers, and there's a lot of information out there that can be automated. All of the design information is out there, and there is an opportunity to integrate all of that across the back end systems.
BK: So lots of it is already out there digitally?
LW: Yes, a lot of designers do have that digitally already. We're focused on the smaller, distinctive designers, because there's not a lot of choice nationally. And, we now have more than 1200 women signed up and haven't yet sold anything.
BK: Where are you getting your funding round from?
LW: We're raising money through the Pasadena Angels and some of the TCA network. The reception has been really fun, because men don't get it. I was at the Fast Pitch competition down at UCLA a couple of months ago, and all of the women were nodding in the audience when we gave our pitch—but men, although they were interested, didn't see it. However, our advisor, Peter Witford, was head of the Disney Store and CEO of Wet Seal, and he's been very helpful in getting the angels to understand the market. There's a realization the important of shape coming to the forefront in the retail world. If you look at brands like Ann Taylor or Liz Claiborne, you'll see lots of people bringing out different pant styles for different body shapes. The idea is to give you ideas for body shape. However, retailers have to build out an inventory. With our solution, there's lots of choices not limited by retail space.
BK: It seems like you're one of the few women entrepreneurs with some visibility in this area, do you think this is changing?
LW: I think I'm one of the few with a reasonable profile in the technology industry. However, I was at the Sprintboard Conference, which is a national organization helping women to raise equity capital. It's true that women are unrepresented in the equity market—I don't know why the reason is for that. But, women form more small businesses, and entrepreneurial businesses than men. However, those are not the types of businesses that VCs back.