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1Mby1M Incubation Radar 2010: Altitude Fasique

Posted on Friday, Jun 25th 2010

By guest author Praveen Kumar

Altitude Fasique is an online designer apparel company that creates clothes exclusively for women who are over 5’9” (1.75 m). The company’s mission is to create contemporary and fashionable styles for tall women with designs that aim to make them feel confident and unique. Target clients are women seeking a clothing line that reflects their professional and personal characteristics and that is smart, stylish, and moving up. Altitude Fasique believes that tall women should not have to sacrifice fit for a stylish look.

Altitude Fasique’s is headquartered in Lithonia, Georgia, and is headed by founder and president Anita Lamb. Lamb has a keen insight into the target market and brings credibility as the face of the company. She obtained her master’s degree in technology management from Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. Lamb has over 10 years of corporate experience and has worked in Fortune 500 companies in the health care insurance and utility industries.

As a woman working in corporate America for over 10 years, Lamb never found fashionable clothing for her 5’10” (1.78 m) frame. Though she had fun shopping with friends for the latest fashions, Lamb often came home empty-handed and frustrated because she couldn’t find clothes that fit well and matched her sense of style. Then she learned about specialty stores that offered clothes for tall women, but the clothing they offered was too old-fashioned, shapeless, and nondescript for her. Lamb’s frustration inspired a journey of research and preparation to launch a fashionable, fun, and professional brand for tall women.

One aspect to consider in the apparel industry is the reality of perception. Consumers associate the word “tall” with clothing that is unfashionable and plus sized. Research gathered from focus groups for the online retailer Casual Male Retail Group resulted in a new branding strategy for the size XL. Over the years, XL has represented different sizes in terms of a garment’s measurements. The company Big and Tall changed its name to Casual Male XL because of the stigma associated with these two terms in men’s clothing. A California-based retailer, Jimmy Au’s, which makes clothing for men shorter than 5’8″ (1.73 m), changed its name from Jimmy Au’s Small and Short. These examples illustrate how important a brand name can be in a niche market.

When Altitude Fasique entered the market, the numbers of companies targeting tall women were either new in business or were not targeting exclusively tall women. The Pendleton brand is known for its quality among consumers who shop in specialty stores. However, in January 2010, Pendleton discontinued the production of its tall sizes clothing. Pendleton’s biggest account, Tall Girl Shop, closed its United States stores. LongTallSally, a United Kingdom-based company, acquired Tall Girl Shop as a way to enter the U.S. market. Some companies that are new in this market are Simpatico LLC, Puzzles Enterprises, and Mommy Long Legs. Simpatico LLC offers clothing for fashion-conscious women 30 and up who are 5’10” and over; Puzzles Enterprises is an online showroom open for retailers in the United States to buy off-price women’s apparel in the contemporary, junior, misses, plus size, tall and petite categories; and Mommy Long Legs offers maternity clothing for tall women.

Altitude Fasique offers ready-to-wear fashionable clothing in a customer-focused environment. The company is trying to get an edge over other companies through its designs. According to Lamb, the availability in floor space for the bridge price point has opened up because women’s brands such as Dana Buchman vacated the market due to shifting consumer preferences, and Ellen Tracy transferred ownership to Macy’s, which will be the exclusive department store retailer of Ellen Tracy branded women’s sportswear. The brands that compete in this market include M Missoni, Tory Burch, Lafayette 148, Eileen Fisher, and Magaschoni. All of these brands reported up to 50% increased space and orders for 2008 from 2007. Rachel Roy is also taking advantage of this opportunity with the launch of her full sportswear collection called Rachel Roy Signature. Lamb has chosen bridge as the price point for Altitude Fasique. (According to Fashion Incubator, bridge designers typically are one notch below designer lines. Bridge lines have more unique styling than contemporary misses but are usually not as pricey as designer lines.)

Lamb thinks of Altitude Fasique as “Vogue meets big and tall for women.” Altitude Fasique creates designs, and unique prints are selected specifically for the collection. Designs and prints are protected under copyright laws. Altitude Fasique is the only bridge brand focused on women over 5’9″ and has carved out a new space in that price point. The company’s current business model is to distribute through online retailers, independent retailers in major metropolitan cities, and upscale department stores.

There is a significant opportunity for retailers to capture the niche tall market, differentiate their assortment, and increase revenue. The total market in the United States for women’s suits, trousers, skirts, and dresses generates over $38 billion a year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 139 million women in the country. Of these 139 million women, approximately 0.5% are taller than 5’9”, representing a $7 billion market. Lamb says that approximately 7 million women are in Altitude Fasique’s demographic profile.

The company’s target clients are affluent, style-conscious women aged 25 to 45, typically woman who live in major cities or metropolitan areas and earn over $80,000 a year. The ideal client is a savvy and sophisticated woman who strives to reach the next level without sacrificing her family and friends and desires fashionable choices and that inspire a feeling of confidence. Altitude Fasique thinks that college athletic administrators in top-rated divisions are good targets because they dress in business attire on a daily basis, and a considerable number of them are tall. Similarly, basketball coaches, who require suits for 32–36 games a season, are also a target market segment. Many business professionals such as lawyers, upcoming mid-level managers, and C-suite executives also still require traditional suits.

Altitude Fasique penetrated the market with the help of an online retailer in the suiting category to launch the brand. The brand gained exposure to upscale department stores, online retailers, and regional independent retailers. The company collected valuable feedback to position Altitude Fasique for success in the market.

At present, the company has annual revenue of more than $140,000. At this point, its goal is to generate more than $500,000 in revenue, expand the line of products for the upcoming spring/summer 2011 season, and increase the number of distribution outlets in Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, DC.

After Lamb graduated from a 14-week workshop on starting a business and as an incentive for completing the business plan within six months of the program’s end, Altitude Fasique received pro bono services through a partner law firm. The company received consulting on intellectual property (copyrights and trademarks) in addition to contractual agreements for manufacturers and contractors. This service was invaluable in the pre-revenue stage for the company. In 2009, Altitude Fasique obtained a Small Business Administration (SBA) community express loan of $25,000 after President Obama passed the Reinvestment Act to help small businesses. At present, the company is still in bootstrapping mode.

Altitude Fasique’s products and those of the designers it markets are available on the website www.tallcouture.com. In order to reach the company’s goals and objectives, Lamb is looking to raise additional money within the next year. The company has an opportunity for a VP of operations with startup experience to join its team.

Altitude Fasique’s growth strategy is to increase the distribution of its designs, expand into new products, and build brand awareness. Its exit strategy is to be acquired by a larger apparel company such as Jones Apparel to diversify its brand portfolio or Nordstrom to expand its private label and exclusively distribute Altitude Fasique.

Altitude Fasique presented at Sramana’s 1M/1M roundtable on April 1, 2010. The recording of the session is here [51:30–1:02:00]. You can also find Sramana’s recap here. Sramana advised Lamb to remain focused on the basic categories of the clothing business such as shirts and shells instead of highly tailored items such as suits and jackets, which are very difficult to sell online because of issues of fit and fall. Returns tend to be very high for those items. She also advised Lamb to use the Web 3.0 framework to create an online brand.

We look forward to Altitude Fasique’s achieving the one million mark!

This segment is a part in the series : 1Mby1M Incubation Radar 2010

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Excellent story, Praveen.

I hope this story will inspire other entrepreneurs to take all the right steps in developing their businesses, including, obviously, presenting to Sramana at the strategy roundtable for their strategy feedback: http://sramanamitra.com/entrepreneurship-stra

irina Friday, June 25, 2010 at 2:17 PM PT

You can save 20% by using discount code 'ALFS' on tallcouture.com.

ALL Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 7:17 PM PT