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Consumer

Leslie Voorhees

When Leslie Voorhees got engaged, she did what everyone does: called her mom, started a Pinterest board, called a bridal boutique. But when the big (shopping) day arrived?

“I was horrified by the prices, by the lack of transparency,” the Harvard Business School alum remembers. “Why pay thousands for a dress that cost hundreds to make?”

Voorhees, whose previously worked on supply chains for both Nike and Apple, started to dig. What she found was: 75% of the world’s wedding dresses are actually made in Suzhou, China, an industrial suburb of Shanghai. And we’re not talking low-end, off the rack brands (which still cost $2,000-$5,000, btw). We’re talking Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta—$10,000 dresses.

“They’re made in third party Chinese factories, then shipped to Europe for ‘finishing.’ A few beads, for example, earn a “Made in Italy” tag, with brides charged an additional markup for every step of the process: the factory, the designer, the boutique. The deck is literally stacked against you.”

Enter Anomalie. What started as an affordable means of providing Voorhees with her dream dress has turned into a six-month-old revolution. It’s Warby Parker for wedding dresses,  schewing brick-and-mortar locations and working directly with factories to cut markups. 1,000 brides have contacted Voorhees since June, seeking custom designs ranging $800-$1,500 a piece (paid upfront and in-full). They will hit $1M in revenue with dress 830.

We caught up with the entrepreneur and her husband/CEO, Calley Means, over the phone from Means’s parents house in Half Moon Bay, California, where they moved when founding the company.

Warby Parker for wedding dresses.

Tell us more about your business model.
“Anomalie uses a pretty simple process. First, brides submit photos, Pinterest boards—anything that represents their dream dress. In two days, we provide a sketch and price quote for the bride to assess. Measurements are taken by leading tailors in cities across the country—the same ones who will eventually handle your alterations—and then the dress is made by our partners in China.”

Since so much of the experience is digital, how do you keep brides involved?
“After receiving their feedback on the design, we send a physical fabric sample to confirm the look, feel and color of the dress. Brides are really kept in the loop at all times. Our designers, for example, send frequent picture and video updates. It’s intentionally engaging.”

How Anomalie functions

We send a physical fabric sample to confirm the look, feel and color of the dress.”

How did you start?
“The lightbulb went off when designing my own dress. I flew to China and saw styles that sell for thousands in boutiques being created for hundreds. So, I decided to make my dress  by working directly with those factories…  Within a week, after telling my friends what I’d done, 10 strangers had contacted me wanting to place orders. Those strangers referred other strangers and then we had 1,000 customers—and that’s with almost no paid marketing. Fortunately for us, brides aren’t quiet—they want to share their experiences.”

Do you ever worry about manufacturing in China?
“I think Chinese manufacturing gets kind of a bad rep, but you can’t deny the country’s incredible silk heritage (the most common material in wedding dresses). For the same reason that I’m uniquely suited to Anomalie because of my background say, managing Indonesian factories for Nike, they’re suited to make wedding dresses.”

How can you maintain the quality and pricing of dresses as the company scales, especially when you can’t personally work on every dress?
Honestly, that’s my biggest worry—probably is for most startups. And it’s something we plan to solve using technology and data science. One quick example: After analyzing our initial orders, we determined about 95% of dresses are made using five core materials. So, we negotiated bulk buying of those top materials to get our production costs even lower. By offering brides unlimited options on the front end, we’re able to collect hundreds of data points around what brides want. That information can inform our bulk buying, our sourcing, our entire supply chain—scaling while maintaining price and quality.”

A verified business

So, obviously brides have been pleased. What about legacy folks in the industry?
“Customers have been crying for a better solution—literally, we speak to brides daily who tear up when discussing the pressure tactics, insane prices and lack of choices in the industry. But we also get constant hate mail, not to mention hundreds of nasty online comments from bridal boutique owners… What’s telling is that none of their criticisms focus on the bride—only on how we’re going to destroy their brick-and-mortar business. It just goes to show that the current industry isn’t focused on brides—and that’s what we’re trying to change.”

Why do you think the boutique business is outdated?
“I know there are many dedicated people in the existing industry, but that doesn’t change the facts… They still, for example, use long lead times as a pressure tactic, quoting brides nine months until a dress is ready so they have to decide now. An Anomalie dress, on the other hand, takes only three months from start to finish.”

And if you don’t like it?
“We offer a 100% refund.”

Customer reactions

We speak to brides daily who tear up when discussing the pressure tactics, insane prices and lack of choices in the industry.”

As you know, this is an All Female issue of Disruption. What advice would you offer to women hoping to start their own business?
“Study engineering and create different skill-sets for yourself… I’m a mechanical engineer, not a fashion designer—and I believe that background has helped me standout… I’ve been the only woman on so many teams I’ve worked for, which can be incredibly empowering.”

Any final thoughts?
“If you have an idea, start the company as fast as possible and charge people money right away… Particularly in business school circles, entrepreneurs spend six months polishing a business plan before presenting to actual customers. I say: Find a way to launch the company immediately and test with real people. If customers aren’t willing to pay for a product, what’s the point of starting a company around it?”

A female angle

Study engineering and create different skill-sets for yourself.”

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