Entrepreneurs make thousands of decisions every day, from major ones such as where to pivot their startup to minor ones such as what to eat for breakfast. Insiders coined the term “decision fatigue” to describe the overwhelming number of daily choices, and inspired a movement aimed at reducing decision points at every step of the day.
In a bid to ease this strain, high-profile executives such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs were early adopters of capsule wardrobes, repetitive outfit collections that remove the burden of choice from fashion.
Closets lined with turtlenecks, hoodies and sweaters may verge on bland, but they often get the job done for male entrepreneurs. The gap, as is often the case in business, has been in expanding this model to female founders. Women are often reported to experience more scrutiny than their male counterparts for clothing choices, and draw attention for departures from the norm or repetitive appearances.
“I wouldn’t be taken as seriously if I was just wearing my five black t-shirts,” says Kim Kirton, a University of Ottawa student and graduate from the school’s Startup Garage accelerator.
Kirton and her co-founder Jaclyn Patterson launched UnCo. to address this problem for women in entrepreneurship. The company, launched six months ago, assembles customized wardrobe capsules with mixes of tops, pants, skirts and dresses from partner brands, many of which are women-led clothing companies. Each capsule contains between six and 12 pieces of clothing, which can each be mixed and matched to create dozens of professional outfits.
UnCo. just finished a successful crowdfunding campaign for its first run of capsules by raising $34,027 (113 per cent of its original goal) from 219 backers. Of those donors, more than half gave $90 or more, and nearly 20 paid between $600 and $1,200 for their own custom capsule wardrobes.
“We had no expectations. It was really just to validate the idea and see if people would actually buy capsules,” says Kirton, who adds that Patterson’s mom was the only donor they knew personally who purchased a capsule.
The idea is a substantial pivot from Kirton’s original company, a sustainable t-shirt startup that she put through the Startup Garage. She says she wanted to shift the industry away from its reliance on sweatshops and child labour, but soon found that her t-shirts weren’t the path forward. Instead, she found society’s wasteful attitudes of overconsumption to be a more pressing issue.
After working on the company for two years, Kirton shuttered it and launched UnCo. with a different model of sustainability. The startup intends to offer discounts on its wares for recycling unused clothing that would end up unused in closets, or worse, in a landfill.
UnCo.’s employees currently act as the style advisers, matching the simple fashions to customers’ personal tastes. With the money raised from its crowdfunding campaign, Kirton says the company is developing an algorithm to automate the picking process that could factor lifestyle, colour pallette, fit and more into a capsule’s mix.
Once the initial production period for the crowdfund donors’ capsules passes this fall, UnCo. will begin implementing on-demand purchases as well as expanding its business model. The price margin on clothing is low, Kirton concedes, so the company will explore partnerships with suppliers that are also hoping to reach its young, female market demographic.
The cost of capsules is high, but Kirton says it’s a necessary price for the bulk wares. She says the cost breaks down to roughly $100 per piece in the capsule, but buying each item separately can reach as high as $180 depending on retail mark-ups.
“Not only is it a better price point per unit, but you’re also supporting responsible, made-in-Canada, women-founded companies.”