Rachel: Women’s tights and hosiery
It takes a high degree of gumption to venture in the apparel business, especially when sales reportedly dropped in the past decade. Carolyne Parent and Mélanie Heyberger, however, are optimists. And with each having backgrounds in finance and entrepreneurship, the Montreal, Canada-based duo had a leg up to start a company that focused on wares for the leg down.
In 2014, Parent, Heyberger and Alyeska Guillaud founded Rachel, a subscription box service that sells hosiery. The idea supposedly began to percolate in their minds after each of them were frustrated with having to regularly purchase tights and pantyhose after they stretched or tore. They were also aware of how consumers were increasingly looking for hassle-free ways to get their hands on products (i.e., without leaving their homes), and how opinionated and discerning shoppers have become.
Rachel’s founders Mélanie Heyberger and Carolyne Parent
This is perhaps why Parent and Heyberger (Guillaud departed the company in June 2019) emphasize how they really listen to their customers, and how they are always acquiring ample amounts of data through comments on the brand’s website and social media to create products that fit their needs. Indeed, it is a common message (read: nothing original) spread by subscription box companies to set themselves apart from traditional retail, and a way for them to enforce the idea that the surprise packages sent periodically are more fulfilling. Evidently, there is data that backs this up.
“A recommendation, including word of mouth and positive online reviews, is a key trigger for consumers to sign up with a subscription service, particularly those for curation and access,” reads an e-commerce trend report published by McKinsey & Company. “Subscribers to both also want something new and innovative.”
Apparently, the brain is triggered when offered something that is slightly unexpected. Factor in the ease that this type of service offers—literally, taking out the legwork—and it is not hard to understand why many have become conditioned to this method, especially millennials. So much so that the report also states that the subscription e-commerce market has grown 100 percent every year in the past five years.
Considering how subscription boxes have steadily become prevalent, and with the consistency at which women buy hosiery yearly, Rachel claims to have tripled its business since 2014. Five years in, they now offer a variety of styles, from opaque red tights with small white polka dots to gauzy fishnets to printed leggings in hunter green. The website also stocks shorts, socks, legwarmers and even jewelry.
Here, both Parent and Heyberger attempt to explain how using this type of selling platform has helped them expand their business outside Canada and into the U.S. market.
Barry Samaha: What led you to start Rachel, and why did you decide to venture into the hosiery industry?
Carolyne Parent: I started to wear tights at the office where I was working with Melanie, and I always had trouble with my tights. They constantly ripped, and I had to run to the pharmacy several times a week. It is a love-and-hate relationship with the product. I love the feminine feeling of wearing tights. It is such a great accessory, but the buying experience and customer service was terrible. I really thought that there must be a better way to do it. I love the idea of bringing more love to the customer through a better shopping experience. Customer feedback is very important to us, and we really pay attention to what our customers tell us. We are quite serious about using that information while we are designing and developing products. We listen to their comments about the shopping experience on our site, and have made changes since our launch based on their customers suggestions.
Rachel: Women’s tights and hosiery
Samaha: How would you describe the shopping habits of millennials?
Parent: Millennials are very conscious buyers. They buy with intent. It is not about wanting more. It is about wanting better. They want to know the story behind the product and the company. They will engage with the brand if it is aligned with their values and allows them to connect with the message. Over the years, we’ve had the most success with our product when we take the time to listen to our community on social media and co-create with them.
Mélanie Heyberger: Millennials are a generation that needs to connect with brands. We want to be able to talk with them, and to have that feeling of knowing them. They are interested in why and who is behind the company. They want the company to be transparent about its products. They want to share the same values. They have access to a lot of information, and before making a purchase, they want to know the opinions of other customers, read their testimonials, see photos of products worn, and then share their own opinion, too.
Samaha: Did you think there was something missing in the market that didn’t exist already? And how does Rachel fill that void?
Parent: Yes, I felt like there was something missing. Buying tights at the pharmacy was not a particularly great experience, and if you happen to have a problem with the product, well, there was nobody to listen to you. I wanted to create a business where customers had a direct line with the creator, and let them see their feedback taken into account in the next collection. Creating Rachel was a way of disrupting the old hosiery industry, where brands have lost touch with customers. Also, we manufacture our tights in Italy. On average, our tights cost about 15 dollars. That is about a third of the price of other brands that are manufactured in Italy. We are proud to offer a luxury tight that lasts for less than 20 dollars.
Heyberger: Rachel was created to bring a wave of freshness to a traditional industry. We are fortunate to be part of this hyper-connected generation, to live in this era where they create relationships with brands. To know people’s opinions and to feel heard is very important to the way we consume. With Rachel, we are revolutionizing the way women shop an indispensable accessory. Finally, online is the best place to buy tights. We have access to reviews, and photos to inspire.
Rachel: Women’s tights and hosiery
Samaha: With the company so trend-driven, and with fashion constantly changing, what are you doing to keep up?
Parent: The key is to build a strong relationship and be in constant communication. Always listen to your customer and collect as much feedback as you can—then act upon this feedback to create value for the customer. We are very data-driven and invest in technology to stay agile and have the ability to innovate quickly. As for fashion and trends, we are very aware of what is happening, not only on the runways in Europe and New York, but also what women are wearing on the street. We definitely keep up with trends, but we are not victims to it. We see a trend, acknowledge it, and see if it works within the Rachel filter.
Heyberger: Beyond all the inspiration we can find around us via Instagram and Pinterest, our focus is on the client. We are not fans of fast fashion and the idea of having to change everything quickly. Our tights collections are limited. We regularly have new arrivals, but in small quantities. The most important thing is to have products that correspond to our customers needs and that they will love. In fact, we validate all future collections by involving our community in the product development process.
Samaha: Why did you decide to sell your products through subscription boxes? How is this model better than wholesale or selling directly to consumers?
Parent: On a business perspective, the subscription service was a great opportunity because of the recurring need for the product. You frequently have to buy new tights because—let’s be honest—winter lasts a long time, especially up here in Canada. And with our styles, we like to think it makes getting dressed a little more fun, even if there it’s freezing outside. Through a subscription, you only have to acquire the customer once, then it is all about building the relationship and keep bringing value.
On the customer side, the subscription is practical and fun. For example, we just launched tights with a sequin detail. Customers that already have a few pairs of opaques are more likely to experiment with fashion styles. Each month, you get two pairs, so there is a chance to try out a variety. With Rachel, you’ll have a box arriving in the mail like a Christmas gift. We are able to bring fun in an experience that was previously mundane, even unpleasant.
Heyberger: Tights are an ideal product for a subscription because it is purchased regularly, but also because this accessory alone can help update your wardrobe season after season. The subscription model also allows us to create even deeper ties with our customers. As women, we want to be treated as unique individuals. That’s why our subscription is personalized. Each client receives personalized recommendations based on their style preferences. They also have all the flexibility regarding their subscription options.
Rachel: Women’s tights and hosiery
Samaha: You claim to have tripled your sales since 2014. What do you attribute this success to?
Parent: Yes, we have tripled our sales year over year since 2014. I think the success has come from the way we’ve kept improving our business through a better grasp of what the customer wants. Acquiring a huge amount of feedback through social media has been important. It enabled us to focus on the products people really wanted. At the beginning, it was about creating things that we thought the customer wanted. Eventually, after really spending time listening to our customer, we knew what they wanted. The key is to listen, and not to think that you know everything. The great thing about a direct-to-consumer business is the constant communication we have with our customers. They tell us, we listen, we make changes according to their feedback.
Samaha: How are you positioning Rachel in the U.S.? What are the types of visuals you are creating, and why do you think they appeal to your target consumer?
Heyberger: Rachel’s mission is to inspire women to feel beautiful, confident, unique and to express their own styles. We strive to create visuals that are inspirational and accessible. We want our client to feel seen when they see our visuals and to relate to them. That’s why we get real people to model our collections and style with accessible clothing.
Samaha: What strategy are you implementing to raise brand awareness and grow your consumer base?
Parent: A huge part of our brand awareness strategy happens on social media. We create visual content in-house with a squad we assembled. We publish content through ads or on our social feeds, and then we use engagement metrics to select the most relevant content and then push it out to reach the most people.
How do you see Rachel evolving in the next five years, and how do you think you’ll get there?
Parent: In the next five years, we will be a global fashion and tech company that will target a 100 Million in sales. We will get there through building relationships at scale, always putting the client’s feedback at the heart of our product development and designs. This will all be possible with the help of our team of young and smart people who thrive to connect and build a new brand that puts consumers first.
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