Annabel Gatto spent much of her twenties figuring out what to wear to work. Even when she deciphered the unspoken office dress code, she had to go to three different stores to find something that fits or didn't have to be dry cleaned. Wouldn't it be great, she wondered, if there were a one-stop-shop for women to pick up quality workwear basics?
Armed with an MBA and a decade of work experience, Gatto decided to validate the need for her idea with hard data. She sent out a Google form to about 50 friends who were asked to share the survey with a couple of their own connections. Each question hoped to figure out exactly what the pain points were in the workwear category, and what solutions excited them as consumers. Responses from more than 2,000 people flooded in to reveal common complaints: Women didn't have any single brand they loved, basics were too expensive, and dry clean-only materials were a hassle. Most of all, they said that it was time consuming and annoying to shop for clothes they would never wear outside work.
This treasure trove of information became the foundation of Suitably, a newly launched direct-to-consumer workwear line for women.
"Women don’t want to spend their budget on workwear," says Gatto, the brand's CEO. "They also don’t want an entire wardrobe of work clothes. They want high quality pieces they can invest in and style differently. We were thinking about the future of workwear."
Glancing at Suitably's current offerings, that future looks delightfully streamlined: just a blazer, skirt, and two dresses sold in black. Each garment is less than $100, versatile, and built to last, with the product page educating consumers on how to integrate it into their existing wardrobes and which work occasions call for a blazer versus a "keynote dress." The brand's social media features styling tips and regular images from customers.
Launched in early 2020, Suitably had an "incredible" first month. Then COVID forced the brand to reevaluate its priorities — although not as much as you'd think.
"It was about March 11 when Tom Hanks announced he had COVID when we decided that this is going to get really bad," she says. "We had bootstrapped to launch; we didn’t have a lot of disposable income to spend on extra marketing or events, so within a period of 48 hours we pulled back all of our marketing and we pulled back all events through September, which ended being the right decision."
After laying low over the summer, they're back with minimal supply chain disruption and steady demand. Gatto rightly notes that the workwear segment will always be relevant as long as people work in an office. "There are always more customers we can reach," she says. "There are always another crop of seniors or juniors in college shopping for their first interview." Customers are still purchasing blazers for their important Zoom calls, too.
The pandemic also helped Suitably grow its community and foster a sense of brand loyalty. Gatto estimates that she must have hosted more than 100 virtual coffee chats to hear from her customers. Positioning herself as the face of her brand, Gatto has used her significant social media following to share career tips and help women problem solve professional dilemmas.
"I would say the most important thing is to just start posting — pick whatever your niche is," she says. "For me, that was affordable outfit inspiration and career tips. Selectively pick hashtags that will help you reach people interested in your content. A lot of luck does go into gaining a social following, but you’ll never know what could happen if you don’t try. It’s putting yourself out there and consistency is key. You want to be posting as regularly as you can."
Foregrounding Suitably's mission has become a key differentiator for the brand. Gatto acknowledges that many direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies like hers fall into a plug-and-chug formula. The visual sameness of Warby Parker, Casper, and Everlane has become so notable as to inspire a number of trend pieces about "the millennial aesthetic."
"When it comes to the DTC world, you’ll notice the design upfront," she admits. "A cool logo, cool colors, cool fonts, great photography. It’s almost like you look like a DTC playbook: If you have all that, then you’re ready to go."
But relying on that playbook is not a guaranteed recipe for success, which is why Suitably has emphasized the community aspect. It's that connection with the customer, Gatto says, that makes it all worth it.
"One of my best days is when I have a customer reaching out to me over email saying, Hey, I just crushed my interviews in my Suitably 24/7 blazer," Gatto says. "The power that a great outfit has to transform one's confidence is really unparalleled."
Pondering your own DTC brand? Check out the Hello Alice Consider Direct to Consumer Sales Guide to learn more about the pros, cons, and tactics of the practice.