By Caitlin Fitzsimmons
Online styling services are finding a growing market of people who are time-poor, hate shopping, or can’t easily find clothes that fit.
It’s a concept that boomed during the COVID-19 lockdowns when retail either closed down or was strongly discouraged, and has kept growing strongly in 2022.
Chelsea Needham dreads clothes shopping in malls, but loves using online styling service Threadicated. CREDIT:JANIE BARRETT
Sally Mackinnon from Styled by Sally said personal styling was popular because the experience of not enjoying shopping is more common than people realise, including for women.
“It’s a bit of a myth that women love shopping,” Mackinnon said. “Even for women who might have loved shopping at one point in their life, often motherhood makes a difference and what used to be a pleasurable, easy, rewarding experience is not quite as enjoyable any more.”
The Melbourne stylist shifted her business online during the pandemic. While most of her local clients have returned to styling in person, she has retained online clients from all over Australia.
Chelsea Needham from the inner west of Sydney started using online styling service Threadicated between 2020 national lockdown and last year’s long Delta lockdown and found it “life changing”.
Needham, 30, said she had always been a “curvy woman” and was a size 16 after gaining weight during the pandemic.
“I don’t find malls an exciting thing any more,” Needham said. “If someone wants to go clothes shopping with me, I get a stomach full of dread because it’s just not built for me.”
Previously Needham had to settle for the few items of clothing she could find that looked “relatively OK” rather than expressing her style; she wore a lot of dresses with leggings, when she wanted to wear pantsuits.
Enlisting a professional stylist made her realise that clothes that fit her style and suited her body were out there, just almost impossible to find on her own because they were mostly online.
Threadicated’s model uses a professional stylist to select outfits based on the customer’s profile and then send a package of clothing through the post for them to try at home. Needham said she loved receiving the box and made an event out of it with her fiancée – they would put some music on, drink some wine, and stage a fashion show for each other. Anything she chose not to keep went in the reply-paid envelope.
Threadicated founder Danielle Johansen said the business started at the end of 2019, and the pandemic hitting a few months later turned out to be a professional blessing.
“Everyone wanted to look good on Zoom calls, so we sold a lot of fancy tops for people to wear with yoga pants,” Johansen said. “We gained a lot of momentum because no one could go to stores, but it just seems to be getting more and more popular since then.”
Retail Oasis co-director Trent Rigby said the main other company that sent clothing through the post prior to purchase was Glamcorner, a rental service for designer clothing.
Rigby said the subscription box market was a lot bigger overseas, particularly in the United States and Britain. It originally started in men’s clothing with services such as the now-defunct Nordstrom Trunk Club, and there were now almost a dozen services at least.
“Their primary customer is someone who considers themselves time poor, but there’s also a number of retailers pop up that play to more niche clothing categories,” Rigby said. (For example, Dia and Co for plus-size fashion, Short Story Box for women of shorter stature, and KidPik for children.)
In Australia, most companies in the online styling space offer virtual styling, where customers are provided links to recommended purchases rather than receiving a parcel of clothing to try on at home.
Your Style Edit is one such service that started during the pandemic, specialising in sustainable fashion brands.
Your Style Edit co-founder Laura Cracknell said people often assumed personal styling was expensive, but the online model made it accessible with a starting price of $39.
Cracknell said half its customers used the service because they couldn’t find clothes that fit them, whether they be bigger sizes or in a transitional phase such as after having a baby.
“Not only is that where the popularity has been, but it’s also where we get the most empowering feedback,” Cracknell said.
It is similar for Threadicated, with Johansen saying that three out of four customers are women and of those, half wore a size six to 16 and the other half a size 14/16 to 26.
Midsize (women’s size 12-16) and plus-size (18+) customers are traditionally under-served in physical retail stores, with many brands not making bigger sizes or stocking them in store.
IBIS World reports that three big players have 22 per cent of the plus-size market in Australia: City Chic, Mosaic Brands through Beme and Autograph, and Taking Shape. The other 78 per cent of brands are mostly small businesses.
E-commerce start-up Leukbook’s goal is to become a one-stop shop for those smaller brands in the plus-size space, and it also offers virtual online styling.
Leukbook co-founder Catherine Olivier said: “We can style together a complete look where a customer is able to see: ‘Oh, that’s actually what I can look like if I’m buying across these different designers’.”
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