It used to be that everyone had their own seamstress and tailor, regardless of the sizes of their closets and pocketbooks — that is, until mass-produced fashion came along, quickly (and often cheaply) replenishing our wardrobes each season. These days, not everyone has the luxury of getting custom-made clothing, but frilly is here to change all of that.
Like many other customizable clothing startups, the Downtown Los Angeles-based virtual atelier is transforming a traditional service into a completely digital convenience. Unlike other brands, however, frilly truly allows customers to hand-select every aspect of their made-to-order garment, from the fabric (all sourced from Italy, Japan, India, France, and Portugal) and the bodice to the length and hem type, to name just a few details.
With three in-house lines under its belt, the online platform offers something for everyone. There’s One Fifty Third, the chic and playful line that’s ready to dress Parisian cool girls; Sallt‘s sleek and structured style goes for the girl who loves architectural lines with a hint of sexiness. Then there’s Herron, the dreamy bohemian collection of flowy dresses, linen jumpsuits, and more Cali-cool pieces.
Pricing ranges from $58 to $2,000, and all garments are chemical-fee and made on a cut-to-order model, allowing for less waste during production. The platform also makes it easy to envision your creation: 360-degree previews allow you to see garments from nearly every angle, and every color and style combination imaginable can be seen during the process.
Despite frilly’s easy-to-use interface, the platform actually took three years to develop. Below, we chat with co-founder Jeni Ni to find out more about the company, including how she and business partner Shangwei Ding came up with the idea and how her fashion background inspired each of the lines, and more.
Read on below, then head over to frilly and shop now while their exclusive 30% off launch discount is still up for grabs (use code LAUNCH30) and keep your eye on the site this fall when it introduces a new label to its digital shelves.
What was the “a-ha” moment/defining experience that convinced you to create frilly?
The moment that inspired and convinced me and Shangwei Ding (owner and CEO) to create frilly was on a random afternoon we were out shopping together. We realized that there was always one detail or aspect of every garment that prevented us from committing to make a purchase. We thought: “what if we could just change these one or two details – how could that change the shopping experience in its entirety?” Then frilly was born.
How has your background as a buyer inspired key decisions when building frilly?
My background as a buyer was instrumental in envisioning frilly as a platform that would support developing in-house brands to start. We wanted to create an e-commerce platform that feels welcoming to any customer, and they can find something that appeals to their inherent personal style.
As a buyer, the majority of your decisions are based off of numbers, but, lacking that, you have to make sure you’re listening to your target audience and authentically engaging with their lifestyle, both on an aspirational and realistic level. Finding a relatable tone, and dialing into trend details without losing our foundational classic approach is a fine line our design team has to walk when conceptualizing and designing each collection.
We designed each of our in-house lines with specific audiences in mind — while still maintaining the knowledge that each customer will probably find styles from each brand relatable and custom fit to their specific preferences. As a former buyer, I also know too well the struggles of over-inventory and having to deal with markdowns. When creating frilly we really wanted to lead the industry back towards a model of creating garments with love, that are made to last, and designed from start to finish with careful consideration without leaving excess waste and inventory.
How did you and your business partner meet?
In short, some friends introduced us. I think, maybe under the intention of setting us up! But, we started talking about business, the software he was working on, and ended up talking for hours and hours and realized we could be really great as business partners! We met up again and decided that we should move forward and forge this bright new business together.
We started meeting in my kitchen, then his kitchen, then hammered out the ideas behind the frilly platform, went searching for offices (I distinctly remember one sunny 95 degree day that Shang decided we should rent bicycles and ride around downtown calling every sign that said ‘Creative Office for Lease’ on it… and by we I mean, ME), and started building our frilly team and family.
How do you manage to keep prices attainable despite the made-to-order nature of the business?
Currently we operate on a made-to-order model, although made to measure is coming very, very soon! We are able to design our garments with couture level construction, yet keep prices at a contemporary level due to the fact that we are direct to consumer and price all of our garments based off of cost of labor, and cost of material. Our workers are paid above the industry standard and made our garments start to finish — once you place your order.
In what ways do you curb waste?
Because of our made-to-order model, we aren’t ever sitting on old inventory, nor do we have to off-load of season garments or any overbuys. If we don’t sell through a fabric in a certain allotted amount of time, we can use that fabric moving forward in other designs for future collections. We reduce water wastage due to our one-off basis and use fabric scraps in future fittings.
Where do you see frilly in five years?
In five years we see frilly as the go-to platform for customizable, made-to-measure clothing (and perhaps even accessories, footwear, and menswear) We’re pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into the business to ensure we are on the forefront of technology to bring the best possible experience to our audience, in the most innovative ways.
Do you plan on opening pop-up shops and if so, where?
Absolutely! Part of the process of leading the industry towards a better, more sustainable model is educating our audience and introducing them to the concept behind frilly. We plan on a series of pop ups (starting in LA) to introduce ourselves to the public and let people play around with our site experience in a more intimate, exciting manner.
Which styles are your personal favorites?
This is a hard one! I tend to wake up everyday and think about what vibe or brand I’m channeling, but for Summer, I have really been gravitating towards the Herron Sequoia Tee top (sleeveless, cropped, in modern linen, w/ a raw hem) and the One Fifty Third Alex Jumpsuit (apron front, wide leg, in heavy crepe). Both of these styles are incredibly versatile and easy for the season (not to mention you can create hundreds of completely different looking styles taking into account all of the customizable options).
Now that you’ve had some orders come in, what are the most interesting things you’ve noticed/things you’ve enjoyed seeing?
Some of the most interesting things to see are the amount of time that people are spending on the customize page. People are spending an average of 20-40 minutes customizing pieces, and that is so thrilling for us. We’re really trying to ensure that the entire process is as fun and easy as possible. It’s amazing to see the response thus far. Another thing that’s really exciting for us is getting to see the styles and fabrics that people are gravitating towards! First and foremost I have buyer’s brain, so I love seeing the numbers and data that speaks back to what’s moving for us.