How Startups like Frank & Oak Are Changing How Men Shop for Clothes

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Frank & Oak

To say that the titans of the tech world aren’t snappy dressers is an understatement. Think of the late Steve Jobs’ iconic turtleneck-and-jeans combo or Mark Zuckerberg’s loose-fit hoodie.

While fashion and tech might seem anathema to each other, a few entrepreneurs are applying nimble online strategies to long-established retail models in the hope that tech-savvy young men don’t dislike fashion, they simply dislike the experience of shopping for it.

Take Frank & Oak. The company has recently received press from blogs such as the The Next Web and TechCrunch, hardly the usual suspects when it comes to covering the world of men’s style.

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The appeal for techies is Frank & Oak’s business model, a lean and responsive one that has made countless e-commerce sites — from Amazon to Zappos — big successes. The difference here is the top-to-bottom control that encourages a small-scale, carefully curated feel to the product lines.

Everything it sells on its website is $50 or less, and brand-new collections are released every single month. Users can also sign up for the Hunt Club, a free service that lets you choose five pieces from the current collection, try them on and ship them back for free with no pressure to buy anything.

“It’s almost like you’re getting a monthly men’s magazine shipped to you in a box,” says CEO Ethan Song. He maintains that while the older generation of men often shop by simply buying a year’s worth of clothing in the rare instances that they find themselves in a store, Frank & Oak’s main demographic (males ages 20-35) is a little more discerning.

“That client doesn’t want to go shopping once a year and spend $2,000,” he explains from China, where he is meeting with business partners. “That client wants to go to different stores, pick one item from each store, and mix and match. They want to get their clothes like they get their information and media — in small chunks.”

Still, while not totally averse to carefully picking out their clothing, men in general still don’t like to spend a lot of time shopping or keeping track of what’s in season or trendy, according to Song.

Products like the Hunt Club remove a lot of the thinking involved, not to mention Frank & Oak’s clothing features another attribute men love: low prices. Try finding a stylish blazer anywhere else for $50 and you’ll appreciate what Song and his start-up have accomplished.

The style is light on branding and has a distinctly vintage aesthetic, not unlike the wares sold by an earlier e-commerce success story, Warby Parker, who sells hip prescription glasses for only $95.

Warby Parker did this by circumventing eyewear giant Luxottica, who serves up the illusion of choice by manufacturing glasses for almost every luxury brand from Prada to Chanel and owns the following companies: Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, LensCrafters, Ray-Ban and many more.

Warby Parker upended an industry dominated by antiquated business relationships by selling people what they wanted — inexpensive, on-trend products available online, with a similar home try-on policy as Frank & Oak. The model mixed Amazon’s hassle-free shipping policies with the curation of a small boutique.

Frank & Oak is aiming for that same sweet spot. While the idea of cutting out the middleman is not new, the level of control Frank & Oak has is unique.

“We don’t distribute, we don’t go to showrooms. Everything is shipped directly from us to the client,” Song says.

“It’s almost as if we design the product and the client receives the product directly from the manufacturer. By doing that we’re cutting out two or three layers of cost.”

So far the site is limiting the number of members it admits for inventory reasons. Still, it’s racked up 12,000 members since it started admitting people last Wednesday. It’s unknown if Mr. Zuckerberg is among them.

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