Strategy

Interview: Eli Blumstein on Twillory's Pandemic Strategy and Customer Loyalty

The menswear co-founder talks about how to stand out during troubled times.

Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview feature from DTC Magazine. These conversations will highlight insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with Rizal Hamdallah, who is the Global Chief Innovation Officer at Ocean Spray.

In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Eli Blumstein, who is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Twillory, the DTC menswear company. Twillory is known in part for its popular tailored dress shirts, which are sold in bundles and are heralded for not requiring ironing or dry cleaning. Recently, the company developed a line of facemasks to adapt to the pandemic market. We discussed how the coronavirus pandemic has changed strategic thinking about product and sales and what's most important about capturing loyalty.

DTC Magazine: This has been a crazy time in general, but also in terms of eCommerce and the numbers everyone has been seeing. Initially, I'm curious right off the bat, what have you noticed?

Eli Blumstein: We started this business—direct to consumer—for us, it's already been over 5 years. Seven years actually. What drew us to the business was the fact that we could build such a big business on such a lean, small, tight operation and that's what got excited about the business in the beginning. And we kept that. 

A lot of our peers have ventured onto focus on retail and major hiring. We, the founding team here at Twillory, really stuck to our gut and that is: If we’re building a DTC business, the whole idea is to keep our costs as down as possible and really pass on that value to the consumers. And while it’s tempting over the years and we’ve definitely had some good offers, whether it's to partner with retailers or partner with different brands, all that always ate into our margins, which has meant more cost to the consumers. 

As coronavirus has set in, for us it was actually quite easy. It was really an hour or two meeting and some pen and paper just to figure out how we're gonna be shifting things and weather this. It's just meant reviewing our orders, incoming orders, our advertising budgets, and shifting budgets. Everybody was able to stay on, we didn’t have to furlough or fire anybody. We’re a small team and everybody stayed on, working strong. 

One day in the office, the next day everybody was working from home. It was a very easy shift and because the business is so nimble, we were able to push off some orders and deliveries and we're up and running the whole time.

For us, the DTC model is really what, I don’t want to say it was easy, because it was challenging and hard, but it's really what allowed us to thrive through this whole pandemic because we were able to. Our business was built for this and we kept the true values of what DTC means and why the industry really evolved in the first place and we really believe the result of that is why we're still there and why we're all in the office today and we're working really hard.

DTC: Obviously, as a company that focuses largely on its client base dressing up, how have you adapted to this new stay-at-home reality.

EB:  A dress shirt is not an essential item. So sales for dress shirts definitely went down, but the cool thing is that we used our brand to make menswear-inspired masks. That's been something really exciting that’s keeping people going back to the site. And we actually have some other cool and exciting launches. We've just been really thinking out of the box, ‘What can we bring that is unique and different and fun to bring the market just to keep people excited?’ And that's what we've been doing—working hardest in our marketing, keeping things fresh, exciting, keeping our customers engaged. We're pretty optimistic that when all this is over, eCommerce will be stronger than ever.

Every touchpoint with our product, they will see added value because we looked over the entire experience and asked ‘How can we make better fabric? How can we make better packaging? How can we make the experience easier? How can we make sure our customer service is top notch? And that’s what we did. 

DTC: Can I ask about Twillory's origin story?

EB: I have two other partners. One of them, his name is Ricardo Goldschmidt. He's a lot older than I am. I'm 37 and he’s around 60. So he's been in the garment business, it's a business that his family has been managing for actually over a century. They’ve gone through different changes from owning factories to producing in another factories, they even were pioneers in garment innovations like waterproofing and Army clothes. So they have a deep heritage and real understanding in garment manufacturing.

So I approached my partner saying, ‘You're a garment guy, you know how to make fabric.’ We call him the CFO—the Chief Fabric Officer—because he just loves fabric. He breathes fabric, he understands fabric, he loves fabric innovation. That's his passion. My passion is more marketing. I love marketing, I love talking to people, communication, innovation, different ideas.

We approached him and said, ‘You're so good at manufacturing you’ve never had your own brand...And the idea was, ‘Let's use your connections and open up your supply chain direct to the consumer.’ And he was very excited about that because he has always been making garments for other companies and this was an opportunity to make his own.

But the idea here was: If we're going to do this, we really have to be giving something to  the consumer. I know there are a lot of products out there, there are a lot of good shirts out. How will we be different? And our answer was value. We will be giving our customers value in every touchpoint of the experience—from the first time they see an ad, till they go to our website, till they get our emails, till they see the packaging, till they open up the shirt, till they wear the shirt, till they iron the shirt, till they travel with the shirt. 

Every touchpoint with our product, they will see added value because we looked over the entire experience and asked ‘How can we make better fabric? How can we make better packaging? How can we make the experience easier? How can we make sure our customer service is top notch? And that’s what we did. 

We'd rather not push people and get people panic-buying shirts. We would rather wait...

DTC: I have to imagine Father’s Day is a big holiday for you. How did you prepare this year? How do you try to stand out?

EB: We saw right from the beginning, as the pandemic hit, there were different approaches. Some of our competitors were right away jumping to Black Friday Sale mode. We didn't need to do that because we knew that, just by slowing down, we’ll be able to pull through.

We'd rather not push people and get people panic-buying shirts. We would rather wait—‘let's ride this out’—and we still have Father’s Day coming a few weeks down the line. Father’s Day is the time where people are gonna want to be buying dress shirts. Father’s Day is the time where people are not going to want to be going into stores, especially not this year. We wanted to make it something more interesting and more valuable and so what we did, besides having a Father's Day sale, we also gave away one of our masks, which are super comfortable, lightweight, easy-to-wear masks that are made out of menswear patterns.

Men are really enjoying these because you walk out in the street and you see a lot of people with the blue and white masks, which is great, but some guys want a little more personality. Some guys want to have a little more fun. Once you're doing it, figure out a way to do it right. And we actually sold out our masks in 36 hours. So it was a really successful campaign and it's still going on.

You have to have a killer product because you might be able to have a really flashy ad and get somebody to buy from you once, but if the product is not something that people really, really need, it would be hard to get them to come back.

DTC: You make a strong case for how staying lean and nimble and avoiding unnecessary processes really makes a difference in business. Do you have any other words of wisdom?

EB: The only thing that I would really like to impress upon anybody reading this article or thinking about getting in DTC is that people have to realize, the product really matters. It's not enough to just be inspired by design or have a good idea. 

You have to have a killer product because you might be able to have a really flashy ad and get somebody to buy from you once, but if the product is not something that people really, really need, it would be hard to get them to come back. And we really focused on giving tremendous value, not just from the price, but from the product-wearing experience. 

That's why our whole brand has become a real focus on performance, tailored clothing, which is giving people incredible comfort that they've never had in tailored clothing, which is giving people incredible ease of maintenance in not having to go to dry cleaners anymore, not having to iron anymore, not having to worry about having separate clothes for traveling, not having to have separate clothes for getting to work and something pressed in the office when you get there. Everything looks good from the second it’s out of the washing machine until you're done with it. It has really bettered people's lives. And that's what that's what excites us. And that's what excites us about the model.