Montreal-based retailer Frank And Oak already established that, when it comes to building a fashion company, it has a penchant for bucking tradition and eschewing a linear business model. After starting as an online-only menswear company in 2012, the company expanded into womenswear last year, while also adding brick-and-mortar shops to the mix. Now, it’s trying its hand at a subscription service.
Earlier this year, the company launched its Style Plan subscription service, which, for a fee of $25 a month, allows consumers to receive a box of curated looks based on a mix of consumer data and stylist input. Shoppers are asked to fill out a survey based on preferences and are able to preview their customized box each month before receiving the shipment. They can then keep what they want at a 20 percent discount and send back the rest for free.
The program is an updated version of Elevate, the company’s loyalty program from its early days that provided styling services and discounts to top shoppers. In its refreshed version, Style Plan acts as a way to enter the growing subscription market, competing with the likes of Stitch Fix and Trunk Club, as well as the slew of traditional brands like Gap and Old Navy experimenting with similar models. Despite entering a competitive market, Frank And Oak co-founder and CEO Ethan Song said what sets the brand apart is its vertically integrated approach and its dedication to manufacturing its own clothing with a focus on sustainability.
“On the subscription side, it’s a massive market and there’s a lot more competition than there used to be, but it’s still a very new market,” he said. “That’s the reason we’ve seen so much growth, but they all provide different experiences with different price points and value propositions. For Frank And Oak, it’s about having control of our product and supply chain, and having high quality for less.”
The semblance of control comes from gaining a firmer grasp of how the company procures and uses data, Song said. Style Plan uses similar algorithmic functions to Stitch Fix, which blends consumer-generated information (in this case, users are asked to fill out a survey), past purchases and trend-based recommendations from real stylists. The main selling point, Song said, is convenience and personalization. Since consumers are leading increasingly busy lives, while at the same time being inundated with countless new brands, it can lead to decision paralysis.
“We have some customers that like basics and are replenishing what they’re already wearing,” Song said. “The idea is you can effectively personalize what you’re buying. That’s the future of retail. It adds a lot of value to the customers, especially those that have a busy schedule.”
Expanding into womenswear has helped provide valuable insight for the entire business while widening the breadth of its experimentation, Song said. After seeing the benefits of opening brick-and-mortar stores for menswear, it did the same by opening four womenswear-specific shops, two in Montreal, one in Toronto and one in Vancouver. In total, the company now operates 19 physical store locations and holds the occasional pop-ups to boost brand awareness.
Song said opening up the business to everyone, not just men, has also helped promote the company’s positions on inclusivity and diversity. Last week, Frank And Oak launched new gender-neutral looks, and donated a portion of the proceeds to Montreal Pride to support the LGBTQ community. At the same time, it’s worked to support inclusivity on its editorial page, The Handbook. The blog, which is accessible via the e-commerce site, features content like an interview with Tegan and Sara, the indie rock performers and LGBTQ activists.
“Having women’s product is something we had been looking at for many years, ever since we started. When we first started, we identified men as an underserved market, especially creative men,” he said. “But women were buying for men, and a lot of women were already our customers. The values behind our brand are so important, and those values are not gender-specific.”