How This Couple Launched A Premium Robe Business

$4,200
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
product
Highway Robery
from Austin, TX
started November 2016
$4,200
revenue/mo
2
Founders
0
Employees
3.54M
alexa rank
6.17K
followers
20
followers
platform
email
reviews
analytics
shipping
productivity
social media
accounting
freelance

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

We started Highway Robery (roe-bur-ree)..get it? - a sustainable robe company based in Austin, TX, making colorful kimono-style robes, and we’re doing a new twist on an old standard.

With our robes, we strive to exude a sense of adventure and whimsy so that our wearers can stay in touch with their inner-goofball. We make all of our robes in the USA, using sustainable production methods. We focus on having as little waste as possible and ensuring that our sewers are treated (and paid) well above industry standards.

All of our robes are one-size-fits-most, and are gender neutral. It was important to us to be as inclusive as possible with our robes.

As of May 31, 2019, our sales are up 49% YoY. Progress!

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

We are Jackie and Evan Streusand - a married couple, living in Austin, Texas. (When not robe-ing) Jackie works as an interior designer for SLIC Design. Evan has owned and operated a sustainable women’s shoe brand called Fortress of Inca since 2010. Highway Robery was the inevitable outcome of our combined powers - Jackie (design + production) and Evan (business development + marketing).

Early in the summer of 2016 we took a road trip out to west Texas and spent a few days taking scenic drives and lounging around. There were a pair of colorful robes in the place that we were staying and naturally, we put them on. For the better part of the next few days they didn't really come off. We ate in them, we drank in them, we yada yada'd in them, and we slept in them. We had a great time and eventually we came back home to Austin.

That first $7,000 is all we have ever put into the business. We have grown it organically since then. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.

Over the next few months, the robes stayed fairly present in our minds, and one day while driving to Houston to see our families we had a rare moment of clarity. We should make robes. Who doesn't love sitting around in a robe? It feels f**king great. You feel relaxed. You feel at home.

Inspired by the robes we wore on our trip, we decided to start making our own. On our road/robe trip we fleshed out the idea for what the brand would be. We wanted this to be fun and different. Lots of puns. Lots of color. Lots of silliness. We also did a bit of preliminary research to make sure there wasn’t anyone else already doing a similar thing. Much to our surprise - this really didn’t exist in the way that we envisioned it.

This was one of those things we just knew would work, so our only real validation was our own instinct that this was going to be attractive to people out there.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Evan knew from his experience in the shoe industry that dealing with sizing was typically a huge challenge, so one of our rules was “no sizing.”

We opted for a cut that we knew would fit (almost) everybody. We initially went to a few fabric suppliers in Austin and picked out a few fabrics to make a prototype on our own.

Jackie knew a bit about sewing and downloaded a pattern online. After a few attempts, she realized that this was a super inefficient way to do things and we started considering other options for production.

how-this-couple-launched-a-premium-robe-business Jackie in our first (failed) attempt at a prototype.

Luckily, Evan had an old friend who owned a sewing house in Los Angeles, so we started working with her to develop a proper prototype. She also introduced us to a fabric wholesaler that could provide us the types of prints and fabrics that we had in our minds.

how-this-couple-launched-a-premium-robe-business 3 fabric swatches that became part of our initial collection.

After about a month, Evan’s friend completed the first actual prototype.

how-this-couple-launched-a-premium-robe-business Our first real prototype. We liked it, but decided that it needed pockets. You’ve gotta put your snacks somewhere!

Once we added pockets we were ready to go into production. We selected 6 fabrics to make our initial run of robes, and decided to make 100 total robes to start. Our total cost from conception to getting these first 100 robes completed was around $7,000.

Describe the process of launching the business.

We funded the business with money we had saved up. Us actually having money saved is a rare occurrence so the timing couldn’t have been better. That first $7,000 is all we have ever put into the business. We have grown it organically since then. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a way to grow quickly, but slow and steady wins the race, as they say.

Whatever you’re trying to do, it’s gonna take time. Be patient. All of those people who seem like overnight successes - they weren’t. It took a lot of time and work to get them to where they are.

While our first batch of robes was in production we started creating a logo and a website. This process was much easier than when Evan had started Fortress of Inca back in 2010.

Shopify made it easy to design a website that fit the brand identity we had in our minds. Since we didn’t have product photos yet, we used placeholders. Our logo was just the result of us finding a font we liked and typing out our name. Simple stuff!

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We got our first two robes from production in late September of 2016 and did a guerilla-style photo shoot around our neighborhood.

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In early November our production was done. We took product photos and finished building out our website.

During this time we brainstormed on how to name our robes. We opted to name our robes after some of our favorite pop culture things - little homages to the things we loved.

The two robes in the above photos are named Golden Boy (it’s what Jerry Seinfeld calls one of his favorite t-shirts in an episode of Seinfeld) and Impish & Whimsical (it’s how “Paul McCartney” refers to himself while arguing with “John Lennon” in the movie Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story).

The day after Thanksgiving 2016 we officially launched the business. The site went live and we each did posts on our Facebook (sooooo 2016) and Instagram pages about it. We were off and running. We actually made a few sales that first day, which was very exciting.

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Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Having a clear brand voice and aesthetic is so important, especially in fashion/consumer goods. We are focused on just doing good work and letting it shine through. Because of the vibrancy of our robes we utilize high quality photos to tell their story.

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When we write a blog post or post a photo, we are concerned first and foremost with the quality of the thing. It’s less about quantity for us and more about quality, which we feel will do the most for building a loyal customer base over time.

A couple of blog posts that we’re almost kinda proud of:

We wrote a post called “The Golden Robes” to celebrate some of our favorite robe wearers in TV and Film. https://highway-robery.com/blogs/news/the-golden-robes

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This one is a listicle about our favorite Father’s Day gift ideas. Posts like this are pretty easy to write, plus it’s always nice to shine a light on some other people and brands you like. https://highway-robery.com/blogs/news/our-five-favorite-fathers-day-gift-ideas

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Most of our traffic is organic, coming primarily from our efforts on Instagram. We got a handful of press hits after our launch, which definitely helped, but honestly we should be doing more outreach in that area.

Instagram is obviously all about imagery, so this has been a key platform for expressing who we are as a company. We focus on creating compelling (and sometimes ridiculous) photos that will grab people’s attention. In the past we toyed with a few apps that were supposed to help us grow our follower list, but honestly never found them to be very effective. We also didn’t love the methods - they typically would just go and like photos of other people in hopes that they would notice us and follow us. This is pretty standard stuff for a lot of brands, but it just felt dishonest to us and not a way to grow a true following. The better strategy, which we definitely need to do more of, is to run giveaways with other brands or influencers. To enter a giveaway, people are asked to follow the brands participating. The bigger the brands involved the more your follower count will grow. This equals more potential new customers! A few examples:

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Our email list is small, but growing. Our effort there needs to be more consistent, as that has proven to be a great way to drive sales for Evan’s other business. Being consistent all around is the necessary (and sometimes difficult) thing. Consistently posting on Instagram, sending emails, seeking out press and partnerships - all of these things, if done consistently, will lead to good results.

Currently, we are working on improving our SEO and are already seeing results. Simple things like improving our metadata and writing blog posts more frequently have really helped. When we started Highway Robery we wrote probably one post a month, but then got really lazy about it. It can be hard to make yourself sit down and write a post. Since we started focusing more on our SEO our posts will be coming more frequently. A reasonable goal for us is to write 2-4 posts per month. This summer we also plan to put an ad strategy in place - with focus on Instagram, Facebook and Google shopping.

We don’t sell on Amazon, as we feel it isn’t the right feel for our brand. Ours is pretty personality driven and we don’t think that would translate well to Amazon.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are profitable today, but growing organically means that the growth is slower than if we took on outside money.

Producing our robes in the US means they aren’t cheap to make. On average our robes cost about 38% of what we sell them for. We keep our other costs down pretty well, but still spend on photo shoots and the occasional ad campaign. Website hosting and email marketing also eat into our profits some.

We sell primarily through our website, though have also done a handful of markets to gain awareness. We participated in a market called Unique LA a few times in our first year.

how-this-couple-launched-a-premium-robe-business Our booth at Unique LA

We’ve toyed around with approaching hotels about supplying them with robes for their rooms, but so far the production methods we use don’t translate very well for this sort of thing. We were in deep discussions with a hotel here in Austin, but hit a wall when they required the fabric to be commercially washable. Our robes are washable for sure, but not at that kind of heat and repetitiveness.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We want to work with talented people and let them do what they do best. Using editorial photography as an example, our philosophy as of late has been to find photographers we like, send them a few robes and let them execute photo shoots as they see fit. It’s nice to let talented people do what they do best. Pay good people to do good work.

You’ve gotta shoot your shot. Everybody has ideas, but only a handful of those people are gonna try to execute them. That’s really the number one thing - it’s effort.

One of our better successes so far has been doing custom robes for some other brands. These robes were for their internal use, but we did do collaborations with Bumble and Siete Foods that turned out really well. We’d like to do more brand collaborations, as long as they make sense.

During the last half of 2017 and the first half of 2018 Jackie was pregnant with our first child, and truth be told, during this period we did not spend much time at all on Highway Robery. As a result we saw the business’ growth slow down immensely. That didn’t really change until the start of 2019 when we made the conscious decision to again spend more time on the business. We made it our goal to do at least one thing per day that would help Highway Robery - whether it was posting on Instagram, writing a blog post, etc. We’ve kept this up pretty well so far this year, and wouldn’t ya know it, we’re back on track. The lesson here again, is putting forth consistent effort. Little by little the results will speak for themselves.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use Shopify to host our site, which is very easy to use. Last week we redesigned our site in about half a day using one of their built-in themes.

For a while we were using MailChimp for our email marketing (they even did a feature on us!), but unfortunately their app stopped working with Shopify, so we moved over to Klaviyo. Both platforms are great.

We’ve used Ordoro for shipping, which has always provided great rates and ease of use. When we’ve needed help with programming stuff, Upwork has always been a great resource from freelancers.

For social we pretty much put all of our focus into Instagram, which I’m sure you’re all familiar with. We have a super image heavy brand, so Instagram makes a lot of sense for us. We do need to be better at using stories, but we’ll get there.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

“How I Built This” would probably be the only business-related podcast we listen to.

We both love to read, and Evan loves podcasts, but most of the time the books and podcasts aren’t business related.

We did listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History” on a long road trip and ended up naming one of our robes after him.

Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, so filling our heads with stories and ideas inevitably leads us to our own good ideas.

We do have to give credit to Shea Serrano for consistently reminding people to do two things:

  1. Always shoot your shot and
  2. Pay people for their good work.

We think about those things often.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Here are a few things that come to mind:

Whatever you’re trying to do, it’s gonna take time. Be patient. All of those people who seem like overnight successes - they weren’t. It took a lot of time and work to get them to where they are.

Don’t make desperate decisions. They won’t lead you anywhere good. If you’re going to bring on a partner, be damn sure they’re the right fit. That’s a mistake that’s hard to clean up later.

As stated above by the legend Shea Serrano, you’ve gotta shoot your shot. Everybody has ideas, but only a handful of those people are gonna try to execute them. That’s really the number one thing - it’s effort. Most people are lazy or scared or both. You have an idea that you believe in? Go for it. Somebody’s gonna do it, so it might as well be you.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for photographers to work with on editorial shoots. People with fresh perspectives who have their own vision for what our robes are/can be are encouraged to hit us up.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can visit us:

-  
Evan and Jackie Streusand,   Founder of Highway Robery

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