This story was written for Curalate.
Welcome to another edition of UNFILTERED, a series of interviews with influencers and marketers that are shaping the future of commerce.
Meet Jessica Egbu, a British expat turned marketing superstar. When she’s not creating gorgeous content for her blog The Oxfordist, she’s changing up the tech-meets-fashion game as community manager at Betabrand, a 10-year-old e-commerce company that’s democratizing the fashion industry through their thriving online community. Oh yeah — she’s only 24.
We connected over lattes and pastries in San Francisco’s Mission District to learn more about Betabrand’s business model, which manufactures crowdsourced and crowdfunded apparel designs, bypassing the traditional barriers of entry in the notoriously stingy fashion industry. Did we mention Betabrand’s secured around $30 million in venture capital funding as of October 2015?
Tell us more about Betabrand’s business model.
Betabrand has the mantra: “New ideas nonstop!” — and we haven’t left that mentality when making our products. We’re new in the sense of an established clothing company, but we’ve done a lot for who we are. We’re close-knit, communicative … not like your typical corporate startup. People say we’re a fashion startup, and we take that role, but I really feel we’re just innovators trying to make the world a better place through apparel.
How does the design process work?
We label ourselves as a crowdfunding company, so the public submits ideas to us, the public gets the opportunity to vote on said product, and if it does really well, we put it in motion. We walk through the designer’s process and create the prototype in-house. Our photographers shoot the prototype, which goes online via our website. If successfully funded by the public, it becomes a permanent product under the Betabrand name. Taking shipping, manufacturing and construction into account, we set a crowdfunding goal for each product. Anyone who supported the product by buying one [in the prototype phase] gets one if it meets the crowdfunding goal.
How have recent technological advancements and changes in consumer behavior helped make this business model work?
We’re all about hype. Everyone wants the next best thing, and they want it now. Our company asks why, how, and what do you want in a product. Giving the public the opportunity to design something they think should be public to everyone and facilitating that opportunity is what makes us different. That’s why we work versus a regular company who has specific collections for specific seasons. The public only has the opportunity to buy what those companies make, versus having the opportunity to be involved in the process.
With social, people now have a voice and can communicate with brands/designers. How important is that feedback loop?
Very important. Say someone submits an idea for a jacket, and we put it into work. We can instantly ask the public, “Hey, do you like this fabric?” We can poll on colors, ask, communicate, and change something we might think works but the public doesn’t. We alter. That’s the route to success, because ultimately we produce products that everyone loves. We want to make products they would want to take a selfie in and share on social media.
At Curalate, we’ve seen brands bring fan photos into product pages, integrate vertical video into their own websites and use influencer marketing to drives purchases. How has Betabrand leveraged modern e-commerce concepts?
We’ve modernized through designer profiles to allow the public to get a better look at who’s designing the product, meshing the supporter role with designer role and the staff of Betabrand. We’re able to communicate through comments, polls, voting, and it’s all a fusion of an online community for the better of apparel in general. They’re given the opportunity to see the process of a product start to finish and weigh in.
What does Betabrand do differently than other traditional clothing/fashion brands and retailers?
Any ecomm is competition. We compare to others like thredUP, Everlane or Chubbies, but it’s different in that the public designs our products. We’re more for the people than for the traditional sense of fashion. We give the people what they want.
How does working for a fast-moving startup make your job as a marketer exciting?
I get to interact with the creative part of the world online. Whoever I’m interacting with is a cool photographer or someone who thinks they can change the way a jacket is constructed. It’s the creme of the crop on social media. As community manager, it’s amazing to be able to meet so many different people on the web every day that want to have a voice, as a designer or someone who loves style in general, and incorporate that into the Betabrand way. I get to communicate, create, and see other people’s points of view.
You’re investing a lot in vertical video on Snapchat and Instagram—why? What do you hope to achieve?
Vertical video is just an extension of the community we have on the website. We want to stay focused on communicating what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Sneak peeks are a gateway to the exciting parts of what Betabrand is doing. We love to show product updates and shenanigans around the office. We owe it to our supporters to give them a window into what we’re doing. It happens to be that IG and Snapchat are great facilitators of the opportunity. It’s also really fun that this is my job.
What are your thoughts on the future of vertical video as a medium?
It’s interesting that we’re reformatting to that way of recording, and it’s only because that’s the way most of our phones are shaped. There’s no right or wrong in conveying a message when it comes to vertical versus horizontal, but apps and social media in general will stick to that path because it’s accessible, easier and the way devices are headed for now.
How do you work with influencers?
I organically reach out to influencers that would be great fits and appreciate the brand the way I appreciate the brand.
Do you think about using influencers to create products as well as promote them?
All the time. It’s not just influencers — we use everyday functions like: “How can I sweat less in a jacket?” It’s less about the influencer and more about the person and how they can survive day-to-day and look great doing it.
You have nearly 10,000 Instagram followers, do you think of yourself as an influencer?
I try not to, just so I can stay grounded. If you asked my friends, they would say yes, but I would deny it. I like what I like, and if I’m bold enough to share it, I will. But I don’t expect anything from the public. I do get excited when my mom occasionally likes my Instagram photos.
What do you think the future of influencer marketing looks like?
People look up to those who participate online and are involved with things they share interests with. It’s a natural human behavior to look up to people we aspire to be. It will naturally reflect the way we buy, dress, live … not really the other way around.
What is something unique to your career experience/background that taught you how to build a brand?
I have a background in fashion journalism. I’m fortunate enough to know how to describe a garment. It helps that I’m the age that I am in this day and age of social media. Everybody is really into “the now” and want to know things instantly. They have the attention span of potatoes. What I bring to the table is that I can inform a user about our brand before they slide up to the next photo on Instagram.
What is your motto that you live/work by?
I do say this a lot: “It’s not that serious.”
You’re Betabrand’s target demographic. Does that help you think like the consumer you’re trying to reach?
Absolutely. It’s nice that I’m able to cater to myself, as if I’m the user.
How does your experience running The Oxfordist play into your role at Betabrand?
F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say.” Just like social media is an extension of Betabrand’s website, the ultimate platform where we sell, the Oxfordist is an extension of me that allows me to gain experience on how I should exhibit myself (or our brand) to the public in a respectable, authentic and innovative manner.
UNFILTERED was created by Curalate Marketing Director Brendan Lowry and Manager of Content Strategy Jared Shelly.
Photography by Lauren McGrath.