Luxury style and quality brands, offered at a more middle-class price point and sold directly to consumers, is increasingly crowded terrain in apparel retail. Modern Citizen, AYR and Everlane are among the best-known of the emerging brands appealing directly over digital channels to customer ranks that are largely composed of younger, professional women.
Up and coming in the category, however, is La Ligne (French for "The Line"), a fashion brand co-founded in 2016 by Molly Howard, former head of business development for rag & bone, and two former Vogue editors, Valerie Macaulay and Meredith Melling.
La Ligne is often described as one of the quieter players in the space – though recently they've raised an undisclosed sum in their second round of fundraising in two-and-a-half years, and for the first time is looking to make a larger investment in marketing and social media penetration. So far, most growth has been driven organically and through word of mouth – and through some untraditional tactics.
Or, perhaps more accurately, through tactics that are so traditional they are surprising to see in a modern retail context. La Ligne works to form relationships with its most avid shoppers through a very direct method: by coming to their homes and using their living rooms as venues for good old-fashioned trunk shows. It is a more intimate model, and one more geared toward netting conversions and loyal customers. The retailer reports 100 percent year-on-year growth in their revenue and "massive" customer retention rates – though in both areas, its staff demurs on offering specific figures.
La Ligne's main area of focus, according to Howard, is building their brand cautiously – and with an eye toward being profitable and scalable.
“It’s been important to us to operate a healthy business. I’ve been scared off by brands that are growing their top line in a significant way, but not with sales,” Howard told Glossy.
The goal, she said, is being able to run a brand regardless of whether one is raising funds – and to create a structure that can incorporate funding to build greater scale, but "always with an eye on efficiency."
And with an increased eye toward keeping the service personal, both directly and technologically. On the supply end, the brand runs on a seasonless model: New fashion items are added to the site weekly, giving consumers lots of reasons to return. The brand watches the data closely to see what sells, what doesn't and what has high return rates.
And the company is investing in finding newer ways to reach out to their customer base, most recently with the release of their new styling service, The Styliste. The content portal gives shoppers a direct channel to the brand's three founders to ask questions about styling, fit and fashion from the experts at the top of the firm.
“It’s a way for us to use our backgrounds and our expertise to drive a customer relationship, plus it’s an openness and transparency play,” said Melling. “We’re listening.”
The brand also continues to pursue wholesale relationships – both with Net-a-Porter and, more recently, Nordstrom – as another active channel to consumers, though it's one Howard noted the brand prefers to limit to about 20 percent of its business. There are shorter-term gains to be had in actively pursuing wholesale relationships, particularly when it comes to exposure, she said. But over the long term, La Ligne doesn't want to lose its hold on the customer relationship, because at the end of the day, wholesale means they won't get to control the way the customer interacts with the brand.
For a brand based on building community, that kind of disintermediation doesn't work.
Whether its smaller-ball, older-school take on the apparel market will work, of course, remains to be seen – and how well it puts its latest round of funding to use will determine whether the brand can perhaps be a little less quiet, and a little more well-known to a larger audience.
The brand sells easy-to-wear items, like sweaters, tees and pants, in high-quality fabrics. While its offerings are well-reviewed, there are more recognizable names out there in the DTC line with similar lines on offer.
But in a commerce world increasingly driven by multi-channel experiences, the largely young professional female audience that La Ligne serves has shown a developing preference for high-touch, high-curation fashion retail, and the innovatively old-school twist of the trunk show serves that niche in a novel way. It could very well end up being a way to be catch a trend with their business that has nothing to do with how people dress.