These Two Founders Started An On-Demand Clothing Alterations Startup

The Story of ALTRD

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

We are Saara and Stephanie - we’ve been friends for 8 years and have both launched our own socially oriented businesses. We recently started ALTRD - a clothing alteration service.

We offer quality clothing alterations that customers can access without leaving home. Our customers order online and then select one of three prep methods (send an item to match, safety pin to mark fit or describe what they want). Couriers pick up the clothes and then drop off to our tailors who work their magic. Clothes are returned to the customer, pressed and fitting just like they should.

The magic is our sewing experts (tailors), all of whom are highly skilled immigrant women in New York who need work they can do from home.

We’re proud to say that we’ve already built an awesome team of 25 Sewing Experts and ran a successful pilot in New York City. We’re still learning and growing the business but have a lot of momentum that we’re excited to build on.

altrd

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

We’ve been friends for awhile - we met right out of college in New York and stayed close even though we took fairly different professional paths.

Saara worked in the corporate world for a number of years before moving to Mexico where she launched a jewelry business aimed at rehabilitating sex trafficking survivors. Stephanie was a business consultant before going to law school and becoming a corporate lawyer; along the way, she launched an argan oil company that empowers women in Morocco.

During our time in the corporate world, we became hyper-aware of the fact that there wasn’t a convenient tailoring solution. Clothes piling up in our closets going unworn because we didn’t spend our precious weekends trekking to the tailor.

Furthermore, we just didn’t know anyone we could trust - did the dry cleaner charging $30 for a pant hem actually do a good job? There was no way to know especially since they’re (surprisingly) not on Yelp.

When we thought through models, we thought about the individuals who are best at sewing - they’re often women who learned the skill overseas but weren’t part of the labor force because they’re restrained by childcare and cultural reasons.

The idea of ALTRD was born to connect the individuals who need a quality, convenient tailoring solution with the women who are skilled but in need of opportunity.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Finding our talent

The first thing we tackled when launching was finding our talented SewExperts.

We looked far and wide to find SewExperts who not only were talented at sewing but also would benefit from the work. We posted the call for talent with community organizations, religious institutions, and on social media - the interest was overwhelming.

Then we began the interview process which included multiple interviews and several challenging test pieces of clothing. If someone passed all our sew quality assessments, we asked them to join our team - we always want to lead with a quality product so we assembled a team of only exceptionally talented individuals.

altrd

For those individuals who didn’t meet all of our rigorous standards, we referred them to free sewing instruction provided by one of our non-profit partners in New York. We hope they can join our SewExpert team once they’re done with training.

A big insight that we learned while interviewing was that we needed to be looking for individuals who were not only talented in sewing, but also who were responsive and trustworthy. Our remote model means that we need to coordinate multiple pickups throughout the week, and so we need to have someone who is reliable and texts us back. Having the on-boarding process stretch over a few weeks allowed us to really see who we could really count on.

Building a website

The next big thing we learned was the ins and outs of building a website. Neither of us had a coding background, but Shopify let us build a functional website for under $300 (we used HeyCarson for some customer coding related to the pickup/drop off process).

Our top tip for non-techies launching a website would be to pick up the phone and call Shopify Support - these guys were on our speed dial while we were building our site, and we were blown away by how knowledgeable and helpful they were.

Further, because we needed to custom-code a few elements around the pickup/dropoff process, we found it helpful to have invested in HeyCarson’s unlimited task option for the month that we built our website. A lot of the things that we thought were simple, ended up taking two tasks, and having invested upfront gave us the flexibility to build what we wanted.

Running the pilot

We recently publicly launched our business but ran a pilot for about a month and a half before.

We shared our pilot with about 100 friends and family members in New York to work out all the kinks. Each order helped provide tremendous learnings on our website functionality, pickup/drop off processes, customer service needs, and marketing. We highly recommend that businesses run pilots if they can - you’ll be surprised at what you learn.

For example, we thought that the safety pin prep (e.g., pin where the new hem should be) would be the customer favorite. However, we soon learned that most customers don’t have pins at home! So, we started incorporating other prep methods into our model. We also learned how challenging the D2C business is and have been exploring ways to build partnerships with organizations that can help us scale faster. For example, we’ve been reaching out to retail stores to offer our service to clients.

We’re still waiting for the customers to start pouring in! We’ve invested in some advertising and are building partnerships but are still trying to attract consistent customers.

We’re bootstrapping the entire operation - we’ve invested some of our savings to carry the business. The unit economics are positive but we need to scale to make the business sustainable.

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

We were blown away at the number of orders we received in our pilot and are excited about the future.

Word-of-mouth and Yelp have been our two biggest ways for getting customers. We used up our $300 Yelp credit, and were answering Inbox messages at all hours of the night!

altrd

We continue to experiment with digital advertising, flyering, and partnerships to scale. We think partnerships with retail stores, for example, will be helpful in trying to attract customers.

The one big lesson learned that it’s important to think about SEO and retargeting right off the bat.

Recently, we met someone at a networking event who had actually seen our Facebook ad. A few days later, she wanted to order and tried Googling us, but we didn’t show up! What a missed opportunity.

It sounds so simple, but that just hadn’t clicked for us. We are working on our SEO now, and also trying to figure out cost-effective ways to retarget specific audiences that have shown interest in our site. If there are any gurus with some advice out there, we would love to chat!

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

We’ve been working on the idea since January and both went full time in June.

Be patient - when you’re working all the time, the sense of reasonable time frames can be distorted. A normal sales cycle can feel excruciatingly slow - it’s helpful to be patient and remember that, generally, things will take longer than expected.

We went public with our launch at the beginning of September in NYC. We are focusing our efforts on raising brand awareness (which will hopefully help with conversion down the line) through social media, flyering, and also establishing partnerships with other businesses.

For example, we have started establishing partnerships with retail stores. We have quite a few boutiques in the West Village that now offer our service as their recommended alteration service provider.

We’ve had some awesome wins including an exciting video interview. Down the line, we want to expand to other cities.

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

Sometimes you have to work for it, and sometimes it just falls in your lap: We’re used to cold calls, emails and visits - we’re kind of like modern door-to-door insurance salespeople that way.

When we do this, a lot of the time it feels very challenging to move the needle - it takes multiple follow-ups and it’s hard to make much headway. And then sometimes, we literally get an inbound call with someone saying want to interview us for their publication.

Friends first - as Founders, we make sure that we always are friends before coworkers. It makes a world of difference when it comes to communication especially.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We’re still figuring out the best toolkit for us but Boomerang helps us keep on top of emails, we love Buffer for Social Media, and we use Google Suite for email and storing documents - it’s awesome but pretty basic.

Quickbooks Online helps us keep track of our numbers so we don’t get off balance with expenses.

Within Shopify, BOLD Product Options has helped us achieve the look we need.

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

We love the podcast How I Built This - every story of a pure hustle is inspiring. Not the stories of pouring over PowerPoint presentations but rather those of people thinking out of the box, and just figuring out how to make it work. Like when Sarah Blakely, who founded Spanx, brought the Neiman Marcus buyer into the restroom to demonstrate the effectiveness of her product. Talk about persistence.

We’re fortunate that we live in New York, where there is a big entrepreneurship scene. We can connect with experienced entrepreneurs to get an informed perspective and guidance as we navigate the ups and downs of an early business.

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

Be patient - when you’re working all the time, the sense of reasonable time frames can be distorted. A normal sales cycle can feel excruciatingly slow - it’s helpful to be patient and remember that, generally, things will take longer than expected.

Make sure you really like the people you build the business with. You’ll spend a tremendous amount of time with them - when you’re taking big risks to build the startup of your dreams, you’ll need to work alongside the right person to make going to work every day a joy, instead of feeling like work.

Make sure you do your research before you get started - if the unit economics are not positive and the market opportunity isn’t there, then even the best idea has nowhere to go.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re looking for someone who knows and loves technology. We’ve built our website ourselves but it could definitely use some help and we would really like to build an app soon.

Our original vision was always an app, which would make the service as convenient as possible.

Where can we go to learn more?

www.altrd.io

Instagram and Facebook: @altrd_clothing

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.

By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story


Comments


ALTRD
about 1 month ago

Hi! Saara & Steph here from ALTRD. We loved being interviewed by StarterStory. If anyone has any questions or wants to connect, please let us know below!

More interviews like this:
Learn how e-commerce businesses are earning as much as $100K per month.