25 Bedford is bringing innovation to women’s work apparel

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Keri Ferry started her own women’s clothing company because she couldn’t find anything to wear.

The former financier thought many other professional women likely shared her frustration and sought to remedy the problem with 25 Bedford, named for her office address when she worked in London.

“When I looked at the clothes I was wearing 80 percent of my day, I really felt like I had two or three brands to choose from,” Ferry says.
U.S. women’s apparel is a $120 billion a year industry, yet she says only two or three manufacturers cater to professional women, and those companies haven’t been very innovative because they don’t understand the corporate dress code.

“I was wearing my interview pantsuit from 2003 when I left my job in 2012, and that’s because the industry really hadn’t evolved much,” she says.

She’s seeking to change that with her startup, an online enterprise that launched this spring.

 

Building a company

Ferry had no experience running a fashion business. Starting with a few contacts in the New York garment district, she learned about the industry and built a network to produce her apparel.

“I knew if I was going to try to openly disrupt an industry I needed to be intimately involved in the status quo process and where the markups and inefficiencies occur. It helped me hone in on why a category this significant is being so neglected,” Ferry says.

She wanted to be close to the product so changes could be made quickly. With the assistance of her contacts, she secured a pattern maker and factory — setting up the supply chain.

Ferry also brought onboard a chief operating officer, Meghan Higney, who had worked at a competing private equity firm.

“She left her job to found an online platform to connect personal stylists with end consumers,” Ferry says. “Our backgrounds are really complementary because she has product managing and technology team operating experience, whereas my experience was on the actual end product, the clothing and the branding.”

 

Changing attitudes

Dissecting why women’s work apparel hasn’t changed becomes a chicken-and-egg argument, she says. Do companies present the same drab styles every year because that’s what women want or do women buy the clothes because marketing convinces them it’s the look they need for the office?

“If you think about the fashion industry, designers innovate and then editors and all these influencers interpret those designs and innovations for how you wear them in real life,” Ferry says. “Women in the workplace and how they dress is a topic nobody really wants to touch because there are all of these underlying nuances.”

For example, women worry that too much focus on clothes could diminish the importance of their qualifications. As a consequence, they don’t question being presented with the same options every year.

Ferry plans to distinguish 25 Bedford from its competitors by adding colors and design details to create new looks still appropriate for work.

“We think we are empowered to innovate. On the flip side, we also know when we’re designing how to make functional edits that are still in line with what women can wear at work,” she says.

“For example, we have sleeveless dresses, but they have cap sleeves that cover the shoulder just as much as she needs. Or we have V-necks that are low enough to be a V-neck, but not so low that you lose any coverage.”

The key is to demystify the dress code and show women how they can incorporate fashion into the mix, Ferry says.

“Our blouses are very opaque, so you don’t need to wear anything underneath. Our fabric has the right amount of stretch in it so you can travel straight to a board meeting, and then go out for drinks afterward and not look like a wrinkled mess,” she says.

The target consumer is between the ages of 25 and 40. Available workplace clothing options for women skew toward an older demographic, she says.

“If you look at the premium category, designers aren’t focused on that sensibility and that segment gets entirely overlooked,” Ferry says. “We want to celebrate that, give her more options to make her feel like herself at work.”

 

Launching online

Ferry’s husband, Ian, attended the Wharton School with the founders of Warby Parker, an online eyewear retailer, and she became enamored with their business model.

Starting 25 Bedford as an online retailer meant lower costs. In the case of Warby Parker, they were undercutting a monopoly and price point was crucial, Ferry says. But a reasonable price point wasn’t the sole benefit for 25 Bedford.

“Watching what they had accomplished really set the stage for the right way to solve this problem,” she says. “Our customer is incredibly time-starved and she needs a really efficient process for purchasing. And there’s also the fact that we can tell our story, which is critical to selling product in this category.”

Recognizing that shopping for clothes online can be a risky proposition, 25 Bedford offers free shipping and free returns.

Product can be seen in person at social events that have been held in conjunction with women’s professional networks in major cities. Any further physical presence is down the line — the next step is to transition into fully stocked inventory. Currently, items are made to order, which requires a three-week lead time.

Ferry says 25 Bedford has considered a round of fundraising to support growth — initial funds came from family and friends. But she’s also concerned about the impact it could have on the business.

“There’s been a ton of op-eds recently on how the funding cycles can inhibit the growth of true, authentic fashion brands because you are so incentivized to put money to work very quickly, and you’re always looking for that next round,” she says.

“So, we understand the conversation, and I can see arguments both ways, so it’s really just balancing that and making the decisions that we feel are right for ultimately making 25 Bedford this really exciting, long-standing lifestyle brand in this industry.”