It’s always sad when a business doesn’t succeed. We certainly felt that way about made-to-measure menswear platform Eison Triple Thread which sadly closed doors last year. Although it’s no longer in business, we still felt there was plenty we could learn from it.
If nothing else, Eison Triple Thread shows us that it’s not whether an idea is good or not (it was a great one!) that determines if a start-up will be successful. The biggest factor is timing and the market being ready for what you have to offer. For Eison Triple Thread it was a case of wrong time, right idea.
We spoke to former director of product Dario Smith to find out what he learnt from Eison Triple Thread, what it could have done differently and why there’s still potential in its approach.
Dario Smith, Former Director of Product of Eison Triple Thread
Can you tell us about your background and Eison Triple Thread?
Eison Triple Thread (ETT) was a made-to-measure menswear platform that let users either self-measure at home or come into our showroom in San Francisco’s Union Square.
I’ve been in the menswear space for about nine years. I started in retail working for companies like Levi’s, Gap and a few local retailers in San Francisco, and I got really excited by the idea of helping guys dress better. I then moved into my first business, which was a personal styling company by the name of The Bellwether Project, and then joined the ETT team to actually develop products for individual customers.
What were the biggest things to come out of ETT?
The bigger things were actually the technology aspect as it relates to apparel. One of the greatest things that we developed was an application called Fits, which used a customer’s musical listening history to develop a wardrobe.
The underlying process for Fits actually came out of my styling process and a series of questions that I would ask potential clients about their lifestyle, their music choices, things that were a little bit more personal to them to build a well-rounded view of this person.
It was my first time ever writing logic for any process all the way down to how different genres created different moods, and those moods had their own set of colours. There’s this whole colour theory around different mood types and that’s the basis of the logic of the application.
How did it perform in the end? Were you quite impressed with the results?
With any testing environment, you’re always going to get a few bugs that are surprising. But overall, I was definitely happy with the end result at launch. It was super well received. As far as the workings of the application itself, it was really exciting to see people interact with this process that for me was manual for years – to see it automated in a machine learning environment was pretty awesome.
Did it have a big influence on the overall style recommendations?
There was a section of the application that allowed people to view relatable content in terms of style images which helped a lot of people to articulate what it was that they were looking for in their wardrobe.
A lot of the time, as we found with shopping, people have the idea of how they want to look. There are things that you can tell them about themselves, but some people just can’t get past the visualisation of the actual ensemble. That was the element that we built into the application that really helped us serve our client base better.
What happened with ETT?
I think with any start-up you have that five-year period that is your make or break. The business itself launched 2016. We had a really strong three-year run, but there were issues with cash flow.
Julian Eison, the founder, was able to secure a few seed rounds of funding, but we made a lot of our cash flow through actual sales, which was pretty unique for the company as we weren’t relying so much on the initial investments that we got. But it ended up being a situation where we had a steady clientele but in order to grow, we needed more help.
The decision to stop operations was to prevent us getting into a situation where we were bleeding cash. We wanted to have the ability to service all the outstanding orders and customers and make sure that everyone who’s ever touched the business is still happy with it, even in its final stages.
What did investors say about the concept?
A lot of what we heard was ‘this is a really great idea, but how does it serve other platforms?’
ETT was a made-to-measure menswear company. The primary goal of the application was obviously to sell more of the garments that we create. Everything that’s suggested in the application was an item that had to be created, which required customer measurements and a slightly more in-depth process regarding getting customers the actual garments. It was a slight bottleneck.
What wasn’t initially built into the application was this open-market platform where investors were looking at ‘how could we use this technology to sell a broader range of clothing’. I think investors balked at the idea that there weren’t many, if any, ready to wear items at the time of pitch. It’s something that we had started working on at the beginning of 2019.
Arguably technology is angled a little bit for a younger audience and those people are wearing a lot more athletic looks. It’s less of a structured, tailored garment that they’re aiming for when they’re shopping. Having products that mirror that was one of the solutions that we had developed. The week that we had decided to shut down operations we had started getting samples in for an entire ready to wear collection that we’d been working on for the past six months.
I think most of the investors, at least in the fashion space, deal a lot with the ready to wear market. We’re in this era of fast fashion still. Even if it has a hint of personalisation, it can’t be too complex a process in getting the actual product to the customer, which means there is no viable online solution for a fully made-to-measure garment.
One of the things that we ran into early on with the business was realising that people don’t necessarily want to measure themselves at home or they don’t feel as confident. They may enjoy the product that they see online, but you have to be committed to making the right step as a customer to get the product that you want without having anyone there to guide you through the process. It’s still a new area.
What did you learn from ETT?
It was a great experience. One of the things that I learned during the process was that my design style is definitely more solution driven. One of the products that I was most excited about was our made-to-measure denim.
In San Francisco jeans are, and for the foreseeable future will forever be, this huge thing. We developed a made-to-measure five pocket jean with two fits. One fit was for your regular waist to hip ratio and then we developed another for prominent seats, where you have guys that may have smaller waistlines, but wider hips. Jeans for men are cut straight in the hip area, so there are a lot of guys who are walking around with this issue of having a gap in the back of their jeans.
The jeans themselves had the highest success rate of any product that we ever developed in terms of someone needing alterations or a return of any sort. We had about 95 percent accuracy on a made-to-measure jean.
Is there anything else you think ETT could have done differently?
I think one of the things that we would have done more of is direct marketing. Our business was built on referral-based marketing. We relied on clients who enjoyed their experience of the product so much that they return and referred new clients.
One of the things that we could have tried project more is the actual experience that customers had coming into the showroom, which was a unique experience for shopping for tailored garments. The spaces were decked out more like art galleries, so almost the last thing you would see when you walk into the space was clothes.
It was more the same experience that you would have going to a barber shop or a salon. You just happen to be getting your hair done, but you’re having so much fun with the conversation that you don’t even realise what’s happening. We wanted to bring a truly new experience to shopping for tailored clothing.
What are you focusing on next?
I’m interested in sustainability and coming to terms with the idea of whether we need more clothes in the market, or can we teach consumers how to make the clothes last longer? For example, we had a seam allowance in our jeans which meant they could grow and shrink with you with just a bit of tailoring.
I want to be able to build intentional customer experiences. Make sure that you’re buying pieces that, as cliché as it sounds, will last you a long time. Is it something that you actually love or are you buying it out of tolerance?
What vision do you have for the future of fashion retail now?
One of the synergies I had going into ETT was really diving into the personalisation aspect of the industry. Not just making personalised clothes, but really being able to give a new shopping experience to everyone who came into the store. I’m still a firm believer in that.
I think it’s about exploring more of the psychoanalytics of customers and really getting into what they feel or what their values are with what they buy. I think companies need to take a step back and make sure that whatever they’re developing is something that the market needs and they’re not just designing in a funnel.
Images courtesy of Dario Smith/Eison Triple Thread
Stay in touch with Dario at bellweather_dario on Instagram.