Popbasic's fashionable "micro-collections" are selling out each month

By Erin Griffith , written on September 2, 2013

From The News Desk

It's not easy to create a fashion line from scratch and actually break through the noise. Popbasic is a San Francisco-based startup that's trying to do just that. It's doing so by starting small.

The company's approach is novel enough that it has resonated with early subscribers. Now, founder Madeline Veenstra is ready to expand her small operation into a full-on commerce contender.

When Veenstra started her career as an economist, she didn't imagine she'd be designing clothing, hiring manufacturers in China to produce it, boxing it up and shipping it around the world. But her love of fashion, fostered by working in retail throughout college, has drawn her into the industry.

She created Popbasic as a way to sell women an entire look in one box. Each "micro-collection" includes three items for under $100 that can be styled together. Past boxes have included a little black dress with two accessories, or a tank top with a skirt and a leather clutch, for example. Each box also includes a small surprise and a note from Veenstra. It's a way to help girls very simply accumulate high quality basics in their wardrobe while learning how to style them. 

Popbasic produces video content that teaches women various ways to wear their new basics and, to retain loyalty, includes past and future Popbasic items in the styling tips.

"It helps them to imagine how they could easily wear this outfit, as opposed to leaving them to figure out they're going to style it, " Veenstra says. "We don't try to dictate the style to people, we try to be really accessible." Popbasic uses normal women, not models, in its videos to paint a realistic picture of each outfit on a real body.

The other big problem Popbasic aims to solve is the pricing and shipping cost disparities between e-commerce in Australia and the US. Veenstra is from Australia, where shipping costs are around double anywhere else in the world. Likewise, ordering goods online from the US and Europe is much pricier for no good reason, she says. Each month, 40 percent of Popbasic's customers are from Australia.

Veenstra relocated to San Francisco for it's cheap shipping capabilities. With her manufacturing partners in China, she's also able to produce quality basic goods at a reasonable price. "A lot of brands take advantage of (Australians) being so far away, so they release the Australian version of their sites, but the prices are twice as expensive," she says. "They do it because they can … The average salary is quite high in Australia and they have been taking advantage of that."

With very little marketing (mostly around influencers and fashion bloggers), Popbasic has accumulated 12,500 subscribers who receive alerts when the collections go on sale. The site started small, selling 100 boxes in its first collection, which sold out. The subsequent three collections have grown by 50% each time and all sold out.

Popbasic is taking the Svbscription model -- slow, controlled growth around a limited quantity product. That kind of brand-building encourages high retention and repeat purchasing. And yet, Popbasic's brand is all about accessibility.

The company is bootstrapped and turned a profit after its third collection. On September 12, Popbasic will release its latest collection, called "Lost," which includes a boyfriend shirt, an amethyst necklace and a silk cord bracelet.