November 14, 2011
Talk to Alex Duncan, and you’ll be surprised that a man could have so much to say about dress shopping, waist sizes, and the feel of quality silk. But that’s his job, as founder of Made to Fit Me – a Shanghai-based startup that is delivering customized, tailor-made dresses to UK women. Duncan wants his customers to have a flawless experience, from logging on to his site to putting on a new dress.
“It’s about attention to detail at every step of the process,” says Duncan, sporting well-coiffed brown hair and a light purple checkered dress shirt. “Trust is almost everything.”
For users, that process begins with Made to Fit Me’s website, which features gorgeous, magazine-quality photos of models wearing the dresses. Duncan is clearly proud of it; at the demo day of TechStars network’s Chinaccelerator in October, he urged the audience to visit the site to see what a slideshow couldn’t capture. He’s also taken great care in describing the dresses and naming the fabrics, from Scottish salmon to savannah blonde. And Duncan is still questioning the layout of the site that he spent weeks building, following up with site visitors when they fail to complete an order.
On Made to Fit Me, you’ll find two dresses that sell for £100 each (about US$160), made from Chinese silk. By choosing custom colors and necklines, women have a choice of over 800 possible combos. So far, all the dresses are made in Shanghai by Duncan’s partner, Claire Zhang, who also designed them.
Finally, Duncan wants to delight his customers during the “unboxing,” initially sending along handwritten notes. Curious users who don’t know their body measurements can also request a tape measure, which will arrive nestled in a folder with a set of fabric samples. Duncan admits that he tried a dozen different-sized cutouts in the folder before settling on one to hold the tape measure.
“That stuff is difficult to copy. That stuff creates loyalty,” he says.
But such fastidiousness also means that Made to Fit Me will grow slowly. Duncan is telling potential investors that he only plans to make 1,000 dresses in the first year. “I’ll happily carry on doing this until we crack it,” he says, joking that we’ll have another interview in 15 years.
But Duncan is planning on a new design every month next year, and he wants Made to Fit Me to be scalable – eventually producing dresses in a factory and possibly partnering with brands to have a Made to Fit Me rack in their stores. But first, he’ll have to gain the trust of fashionable UK women by showing them – as Apple devotees learned long ago – what gorgeous products can be made in China.
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