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Anomalie makes custom wedding dresses that fit various sizes, styles, and budgets

While picking out a dress for her own wedding in 2016, Leslie Voorhees, co-founder of Anomalie along with her now husband Calley Means, realized that the industry was broken. Virtually all of her friends who had been through the dress selection process had struggled with one — and usually more than one — of the following problems: astronomical prices, limited selection, and impersonal boutique experiences. The lightbulb moment? Leslie visited a workshop in China and saw a dress that was to be sold for several thousand being made for $150 and thought of the idea behind Anomalie, which creates custom wedding dresses for a fraction of designer brand prices.

Wedding Dress Market Today

“Ninety-six percent of wedding dresses today are made in brick and mortar workshops and 80 percent of the world’s dresses are made in the Shenzhen area of China,” said co-founder Means, who attended Harvard Business School with Voorhees. Vorhees’ experience managing factories in the area opened up the possibility of partnering directly with workshops and factories.

“We saw a dress in a workshop that was going to be sold over glasses of champagne on 5th Avenue for thousands and thousands of dollars and thought: what if we just cut out the boutique costs?” said Means. The couple also found that dresses on both ends of the spectrum are made by hand. “From David’s Bridal to Vera Wang, wedding dresses are almost all made by hand — the real cost is incurred in the markup and boutique stages of the process.”

“Leslie’s expertise of supply chain in the region enabled us to partner directly with factories and workshops so that we could fix our customers’ first problem of price,” explained Means.

In addition to the exorbitant prices of wedding dresses, Means and Voorhees identified a crucial flaw in the industry: a shortage of customer-centricity. “A wedding dress is one of the most important emotional garments, items, a woman will buy in her life, and we realized that women did not have anywhere near the corresponding amount [of] control over the product,” said Means. Wedding dresses are also notoriously most marked-up; the average wedding dress bought by American women costs 1,000 dollars. Means stresses that the unit economics of the industry has carved out Anomalie’s niche for customization: “high customer satisfaction and extremely high margins of the incumbents enable Anomalie to undercut the brick and mortar retailers in a way that they really cannot respond to,” said Means. “We really knew that this idea was going to take off when we told our friends and they responded with: ‘we will pay you to make this happen!’’

Means (left) and Voorhees (right), co-founders of Anomalie who met at Harvard Business School

How It Works

Anomalie is an online, start-to-finish service with a dashboard user experience. After a bride signs up, she uploads inspiration photographs and has her first design consultation, where she is paired with a stylist who acts as a liaison between bride and workshop throughout the process.

“Stage 2 is the pre-production process where we provide a sketch and send material samples to the bride to make sure that we are making the exact dress that she wants,” explained Means. The third stage of the process entails photos sent from the workshop to the bride for approval and the dress is usually shipped four to five months after payment.

How does a business plan centered around customization and personalization scale? Means predicts that the customization model will actually facilitate Anomalie in scaling: “By understanding what brides are looking for and being in touch with the most popular trends for customization, we will be able to extrapolate and more easily provide the custom dresses that brides are looking for at affordable prices.”

Anomalie’s growing knowledge of the market will allow for more streamlined, transparent communication between workshop, design consultant, and bride. ‘We don’t see scale as a challenge and we actually think that our customers will receive an even better product for a more affordable price as we grow,” Means hypothesized. “Having said that though, we never plan to take away the personalized aspect of our service — and we don’t think it’s an ‘either or’ situation.” Anomalie plans to provide a design consultant for every one of its customers in the future and, in a market with such high margins and customer satisfaction, views this as integral to continued success.

The Wife and Husband Team

Having already identified their niche market, Anomalie’s leadership is well poised to take full advantage of it. Though Means and Voorhees both graduated from HBS, their professional backgrounds could not be more different. Voorhees spent 10 years after receiving her BSE from Duke in Southeast Asia and became Nike’s youngest ever overseas factory manager while based in Indonesia. Means complements his wife’s knowledge of supply chain and manufacturing operations in Asia with marketing and operational expertise in the startup space. Means received a BA from Stanford in 2008 and then worked in political and financial consulting before moving into the startup world, most recently in strategic operations at Zenefits, a human resources software startup.

Anomalie also boasts a team of technical experts and experienced senior advisors, many of whom have previously worked at Stitch Fix, and has raised over 4.5 million from consumer funds and private investors in its first 10 months. Means doesn’t sound concerned about competitors like Blue Thread, Prim & Clover and Lunss: ‘Unlike websites launched by fashion designers that sell set inventories of dresses with some customization options, Anomalie was founded by a mechanical engineer and we offer brides unparalleled customization and transparency into the process’.

What’s Next for The Wedding Dress Market and Anomalie

“There are 2.2 million wedding dresses sold in the United States every year and a growing number of buyers are demanding a more personal touch,” said Means. “We have found that millennials are more thoughtful about the personal aspect of all aspects of their weddings, dresses included.” Given the nature of the product, Means is not worried about pouring in resources for scaling. “The wedding is a uniquely viral experience, where, if you earn a customer’s trust, there is a high chance of being referred,” explained Means, who feels that providing a great experience and great dress to each customer will take care of scaling by itself. Given Anomalie’s niche, expertise, and early success, it is hard to disagree.

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