Why you should care

Because crowdsourced clothes might just be the future of shopping for men. 

In these days of immediate gratification, we want everything now. So it’s a wee bit ironic that some people are willing to wait a month for a pair of jeans to arrive on their doorstep. But that’s exactly how a new San Francisco-based premium clothing line works: It’s a Kickstarter for menswear.

In an online campaign, Gustin posts a men’s wardrobe item — such as a belt, plaid shirt, selvedge denim or duffel — on its website. When there are enough orders and the item is successfully funded, it comes to life. But here’s a real disadvantage: Shoppers can’t be in a hurry. Because orders for those jeans or shirts are crowdsourced, it can take anywhere from two weeks to two months for them to arrive. The number of pieces made matches the number of backers. Exactly. The first item Gustin sold, its selvedge jeans, used to retail at high-end boutiques for $205. Now they are around $80. Oxford shirts, normally $200, sell for $69.

Fundamentally, fashion is an industry where supply and demand don’t align.

— Josh Gustin, co-founder of Gustin

In the past, men haven’t always been into online shopping. But more recently they have “embraced the Internet … for style direction and opinions,” says Tom Julian, men’s fashion director at The Doneger Group.

But there are challenges to online retail. Some of the biggest are finding new customers and ways to differentiate from competitors, and selling at a sufficient margin, says Michael Silverstein, consumer behavior and retail expert and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group. “For most startups, it’s like a flea market on Sunday afternoon with the parking lot empty,” he says.

Founders Josh Gustin and Stephen Powell started the company because of frustration with the retail model. “Fundamentally, fashion is an industry where supply and demand don’t align,” says Gustin, who has been in the business for about nine years. “The brand takes on the risk.” That is, it just makes items, like a hundred pinstriped leather wallets, without even knowing whether anyone will bite. If those wallets don’t sell, too bad, so sad. The company eats it.

A winemaker at Saintsbury Winery wears a Gustin flannel.

A winemaker at Saintsbury winery in Napa, Calif., wears a Gustin flannel shirt.

Online campaigns may be a safer business model, but that puts some of the risk on the purchaser, who’s making a firm commitment. Exchanges and refunds, to a large degree, are not possible. But customers seem to be fine with that, Gustin says.

Gustin also disliked the lack of communication with the customer, so the company tried to more closely connect buyer and designer. For example, in the traditional selling model, the company would have to gamble on the popularity of, say, a bright-red pair of selvedge denim. With this Kickstarter model, the buying public lets Gustin know. And loudly. In this case, the jeans were a surprise hit.

For now, Gustin’s had small successes. After a Kickstarter campaign of its own in 2013 (it raised $450,000 of the $20,000 goal), it logged its 1,000th clothing campaign this September. Ninety percent of its campaigns have been successfully funded, with 20 percent of sales international, primarily in the U.K., France and Canada.

Online shopping for men might just be turning a corner, bringing a bit of he-spoke to the bespoke movement.

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu contributed reporting.

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