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5 Big Innovations from Small Brands (That Big Brands Should Pay Attention To)

Watch out big brands: the competition may be small, but they are thinking outside of the traditional retail box and winning over young consumers. Small brands and retailers are creating innovative products and systems that speak directly to Millennials, giving them the power to design, model and fund what’s on their fashion consciousness. Here are five ways that small retailers are tapping into what Millennials really want, and how they’re doing it with style.


The Innovation: Making Dry Cleaning A Memory 
The Brand: Wool & Prince
Despite a reputation for wearing only graphic tees, Millennial men need a good dress shirt as well. Especially Beta Dogs, the primarily male segment of Millennials, who work and play equally hard, schmoozing with top executives in company happy hours to give them a leg up. Wool & Prince saw a gap in the menswear market for shirts that parallel the “versatile, low-maintenance nature” of jeans that guys love, and set out to create a wool collared shirt that can be worn for 100 days straight – no wrinkles, odor, or need for dry cleaning – that remains as soft as cotton. They started with a goal of raising $30,000 goal on Kickstarter, and the project raised a total of $314,241, overwhelmingly surpassing their goal and showcasing the desire for a product of this kind.

The Innovation: Combining Window Shopping and Instant Buying 
The Brand: The Fancy
Millennials value instant gratification, both offline and online. Pinterest provides voyeurism and window-shopping with an abundance of images, yet frustrates consumers when the links to buy just don’t work. Enter The Fancy, a one-stop-online-shop that combines the ability for users to curate stylish images in a pin board with ease of purchasing. The site allows members to pull from a variety of sources to display products that they “fancy” from around the web and highlights the most coveted, all in one feed. But the customer-curation isn’t just digital. Last year the site launched a service that sends the “most fancy’d items” directly to subscribers’ doors monthly, for a price that is well below the value of the boxed goodies. The Fancy appeals to both the aesthetic and practical appeals of Millennials who consider shopping online a fun activity, yet still a means to an end.

The Innovation: Letting The Customer Curate the Store
The Brand: ModCloth
Independent fashion designers with vintage flair are the star of ModCloth, who was named “America’s Fastest Growing Retailer” in 2010 and has only gained a larger following since. Created on the principal of consumer engagement, ModCloth supports originality and has “democratized” the fashion industry. The e-tailer allows its fashion enthusiasts to Be the Buyer by voting on their favorite styles to be added to the site’s offerings. ModCloth gives the power to its consumers, building trust in the brand and encouraging every day consumers to contribute as if they were part of the company. Millennials believe in the power of few to influence many and companies like ModCloth are winning loyalty by giving them the power to make their voices heard.

The Innovation: Empowering Local Joints
The Brand: I Shop NY
The trend of buying local began in the food industry to support farmers and their communities, and now young consumers are embracing the idea to patronize local establishments across a variety of industries. I Shop NY, a non-profit backed by the Retail Council of New York, exposes local businesses to consumers and provides Groupon-like deals that cater to the sometimes suffering wallets of Gen Ys. Offers are constantly updated on the site and its social networks, providing prime e-commerce marketing space for small establishments. I Shop NY appeals to the rise of Retail Rebels by introducing them to local shops and showing them that helping small businesses make a comeback can eventually have a large effect in boosting the economy of their own local communities.
The Innovation: Selling Originality in Small Batches
The Brand: Betabrand
When they started their e-tail site, Betabrand chose to focus on exclusivity and entertainment to create products worth buying. The combination of fashion with humor in limited-edition quantities is directly targeted to Millennials who are looking for fashion statements that their friends don’t already have. Take for example Disco Pants, made of a material that disperses light, which sells-out nonstop due to their innovativeness, goofiness, and appeal to people from golfers to young Burning Man festival ravers. Products like “dress sweatpants,” undyed black wool sweaters, and “bike to work pants” (which have handy reflective fabric inside the cuff) are all a part of Betabrands innovative, constantly changing collection of limited-edition items. Betabrand consumers can submit pictures of themselves wearing Betabrand gear to be posted as “Model Citizens” on the brand’s website, increasing their cool-factor, and can even submit original ideas for new apparel through the Think Tank as well as provide feedback and see what products are in production, tapping into community engagement. Millennials want to be their own models, photographers, cinematographers, and comedians, and the best way to create engagement is to let them.