This week we sat down with Luke Goldstein, the Co-Founder & CEO of Womn, to dig into the aesthetics of contemporary brands, his brand’s unique community approach, and how he confronts uncertainty.
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Womn is a female-focused apparel line that makes limited runs of conscious clothes. Through its products and its community, Womn’s goal is to celebrate women (all different types of them!) and to help rethink what femininity means in this day and age.
Luke has 6 years of experience working in consumer products and has co-founded multiple companies since graduating from college. He currently resides in Venice, California and works from the Arts District section of Los Angeles.
What was the driving force behind starting Womn?
Robin Chang and I met while working together at Theory. I was on the product strategy team and she was a womenswear designer. We linked up with her sister, Sophia Chang, and their best friend, Weylie Hoang, to launch Womn. Robin and I were passionate about building a brand that we could relate to and that felt more appropriate for people our age. We partnered with Sophie and Weylie and were able to tap into their networks in order to expedite the brand’s growth early on.
Womn brings together a number of brand characteristics that the four of us think are necessary prerequisites for modern apparel company: sustainability, ethicality, inclusivity, sophistication, quality and moderate price points. We were also passionate about building a domestic supply chain for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with quality and operational efficiency.
More than anything we were just excited to create product and content that we were proud of and that we thought would resonate with a particular audience. When you’re excited about something, the way we were, there are few things that can get in your way. We hit the ground running and never looked back.
What should a future founder be aware of before launching a brand?
Believe in yourself, even when it’s difficult. There are so many opportunities to doubt yourself and for other people to doubt you, especially in the beginning, when you are the only thing pushing your company forward. Being a founder means showing up every day and maintaining your tenacity, even in the face of the most extreme adversity. Focus on cultivating your vision, try your best, trust that you are making the right decisions, be a good person, soak up as much as you can, and have fun while you’re doing it — and remember, it’s only crazy until you do it (I stole that from Nike, but it’s true)…
Also, get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Having a solid plan and having an upfront understanding of what you want to achieve is important, but a lot of the success in entrepreneurship is realized throughout the process. You can’t have the foresight to accomplish everything perfectly — you have to be ok with not having all the answers at times. The sooner you can accept the uncertainty and learn to work with it, the less painful the process will be. Accept the things you cannot change, master the things you can, have an open mind, and be ready to pivot when necessary.
Lastly, don’t be so hard on yourself. Everyone has to start somewhere and the success stories that you see around you have often had years of experience and refinement to get to where they are now. Striving to be great is awesome, but being too comparative can be detrimental. Put one foot in front of the next and be patient. If you maintain integrity and you do something different, people will appreciate your effort. Couple that with an overarching plan to make a profitable and scalable system and you’re in a great place. You have more time than you think to build your company into something incredible — so dream big, but in the meantime, try and take things one day at a time.
What are the three tools you can’t live without for your business?
Shopify Plus, Excel and Dropbox. The combination of the three is an arsenal for small DTC consumer brands and will get you a lot further for a lot less money than any of the entry-level PLM systems out there.
In terms of cash management, I go back and forth on engaging with an FP+A service early on. If you have no formal finance experience, it can be really beneficial to standardize the ways in which you are accounting for cash, especially when planning to approach institutional investors. That said, it’s something that can be learned on your own in excel.
I do wish I had enrolled my fulltime employees in a formal payroll system earlier on (especially given all the stimulus options that are currently being granted for payroll protection) — even though formal payroll increases tax liabilities, it’s cleaner and much easier for your CPA during tax season (not to mention legally necessary at a certain point). Gusto is a really great, easy to use option for small businesses.
In the broader consumer landscape, what macro trend is Womn riding?
At its core, Womn is a brand and a community, based in Los Angeles, that supports young women as they transition into adulthood. We create clothes that are easy to wear, easy to style and purposely designed to make young women feel more sophisticated. Our brand was founded with the intention of looking and feeling good in your own skin and being proud of who you are.
We’re proud to be part of a new wave of contemporary brands that are actively defining the aesthetic of this emerging generation. On the one hand, stylistically, I think that contemporary consumer preferences have become simpler and more modern and from a design standpoint, Womn reflects a number of those changes. On the other hand, consumers are demanding quality at lower price points, especially online. Womn holds a very advantageous market position, straddled between mid-market prices and affordable luxury, where a lot of apparel consumers between the ages of 26–35 seem to be shopping. I think new DTC consumer companies are out pricing a ton of the older wholesale-driven brands and the ones that can maintain healthy bottom lines and continue to excite this emerging customer base will be the dominant players in years to come.
Womn also reflects a shift in brand messaging compared to other clothing companies. Our brand is all about being proud of who you are and what your body looks like. We’re about being inclusive and offering clothes that make all types of women feel comfortable and sexy in their own skin. Traditionally, it feels like fashion has held this idea of superficiality and exclusivity to a high regard. If you look at the way that young people are thinking, it’s obvious that those types of ideas are becoming less and less prevalent and I’m thrilled to be building a brand that is helping to push a more positive message forward.
What companies in the apparel ecosystem are you a fan of — and why?
I like modern brands that bring together a blend of minimalism, sophistication, and quality — all at moderate price points. As a consumer, I really like brands that stand for something. I experience a lot through digital content and appreciate companies that invest in branding, which, if done tactfully, doesn’t always have to cost an arm and a leg. A few companies in our space that I admire for the reasons above are Galamaar, The Nude Label, Alohas, and Amanu.
Personally — I wear a lot of James Perse, Madewell, Levi’s, Supergas, Mollusk, Nike, John Elliot, and Acne (for denim). Between us, the Men’s DTC apparel space could use some love. Maybe that will be our next venture.
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