This apparel startup fixed the worst part of shopping for clothes in stores -- and it could defy retail's curse

Melia Robinson/Business InsiderShopping at Reformation is unlike any other retail experience I’ve had.

Reformation, the “cool girl’s” clothing company with stores in New York and Los Angeles, is expanding into brick-and-mortar at a time when retail brands are closing stores across America.

And the startup is crushing it. Reformation closed out 2017 with an estimated revenue just over $US100 million – a fraction of what legacy brand J.Crew pulls in a year, but a feat for a lesser-known upstart. It also raised $US25 million in a Series B funding round led by Stripes Group, and grew an A-list cult following that includes Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and model Karlie Kloss.

Founded in 2009, Reformation was born with a rebellious spirit and a lofty ambition: to make edgy, sexy, and feminine apparel using sustainable methods and materials, while saving retail from its doom. The startup uses tech to make shopping in stores more like shopping online.

Its crowning achievement is the fitting room. Typically, mall shoppers grab the items they like in the sizes they need and retreat to the back of the store. At Reformation, there’s only one of each item on display. Shoppers add an item to their fitting room by requesting it on a monitor or asking an employee to scan the barcode. The clothes await them in a “magic” wardrobe.

The fitting rooms are outfitted with phone chargers, speakers, and buttons that let shoppers change the lighting to a more flattering colour temperature.

Reformation has eight stores across New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas, and is eyeing an expansion to Chicago and Washington, DC. Yael Aflalo, CEO of Reformation, confirmed to Business Insider that the company is also working on a plus-sized clothing line.

According to Aflalo, the company is only getting started. “Our goal is to bring sustainable fashion to everyone, and every year we work toward that goal,” Aflalo said.

Here’s what it’s like to shop at Reformation.


I’m a mall shopper. I like to try things on. Still, I didn’t know what to expect from Reformation. “You just have to go to a store,” founder Yael Aflalo told me.

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The San Francisco store was brightly lit and spacious, with a dozen clothing racks lined up.

Reformation

Along the walls, touchscreen displays flashed cheeky copy. “I like to be touched,” they said.

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Most stores hang multiples of the same item in different sizes. Reformation cuts out the visual clutter by putting fewer sizes on display and keeping more items out back.

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Each hanger sits in a groove, which creates space between the items and gives the store the appearance of a high-end boutique. “It’s less of a wild goose chase,” Aflalo said.

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Reformation offers an array of vintage-inspired pieces, like crepe fabric jumpsuits, high-waisted pants in suiting patterns, and mid-length dresses with Angelina Jolie slits.

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Gorgeous, yes. But affordable they are not. Prices range between $US98 and $US248.

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When I was ready to try clothes on, I hailed one of the sales associates standing by.

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Jennifer, the store manager, started a new fitting room for me from a smartphone app. She scanned the barcodes of the items I wanted to try on and selected the desired sizes.

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Shoppers don’t have to interact with employees if they don’t want to. They can also order an item to their fitting room using one of the monitors, which updates inventory in real time.

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The display also shows the materials used and the item’s “RefScale” —  a measure of the garment’s water usage, carbon emissions, and waste generated in manufacturing.

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“I think that climate change is the biggest issue facing our generation,” Aflalo said. “I’m not an energy expert or an engineer but I do know how to make … a sustainable fashion brand.”


Fitting rooms can suck the self-esteem out of a person, with their harsh overhead lighting and fun-house mirrors. Aflalo said she leaves most fitting rooms in a “shame spiral.”

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Fitting rooms at Reformation are different.

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A light switch lets shoppers change the lighting for a variety of colour temperatures. The sales associate recommended I try “sexy-time,” a universally-flattering golden hue.

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Shoppers can jam to any music they like using the in-room speaker and phone charger.

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If something doesn’t fit, shoppers can request a different size using the tablet. A voice comes through the device’s speaker telling them to close the “magic” wardrobe’s door.

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Once the wardrobe is closed, an employee can open it from the other side and hang new items. Aflalo said most items appear in 90 seconds.

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Like an Apple Store, Reformation has no formal check-out. Shoppers can tap a button on the tablet when they’re ready, and a sales associate will greet them in the fitting room.

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This is the only register in the store. Reformation does not accept cash.

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I could see Reformation someday licensing out its fitting room platform to other brick-and-mortar retailers. As Aflalo told me, “We’re fashion, but we’re also a startup.”

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Eighty per cent of Reformation’s sales still come from the website. But with more stores on the horizon, that could change in 2018, which would make Reformation an anomaly in retail.

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Source: Business of Fashion


Reformation proves that some stores are worth stopping into.

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