Menswear for a Song
Childhood friends Ethan Song and Hicham Ratnani are co-founders of Frank & Oak, an online menswear retailer that opened for business in February 2012. At its inception the brand offered quality, style, accessibility and value — nothing was priced in excess of $50.
Today the two are a virtual force in menswear. Hailing from the same Montreal neighborhood, Song and Ratnani began making their entrepreneurial way as teenagers selling online advertising. After attending university, the pair worked together at Deloitte in Montreal and left to start made-to-measure e-retailer ModaSuite in 2010.
Frank & Oak is riding a wave of rapid growth and media coverage — TIME, Tech Crunch and Complex among others — for both its products and the innovative ways it connects with customers. The Hunt Club, its no-charge loyalty program, has more than 1 million “partners” who benefit from a monthly model that combines a personalized selection, complimentary shipping and the opportunity to try at home before buying. Buyers also receive handwritten thank-you notes in their shipment.
As CEO, Song is involved with product direction and the consumer experience.
Tell us a little bit about the business of Frank & Oak.
We are a lifestyle brand, and fashion isn’t the only thing we offer. Of course, we do sell clothing — limited-edition items that represent quality, style and value. We also offer style advice, personalized product suggestions and an easy-to-use shopping platform, plus a members-only club with additional benefits.
From a business perspective, we’ve created a company that’s vertically integrated. … We think of ourselves as a fashion company [and] logistics hub as well as a media and technology brand. We create all of our own content in-house, from editorial to photo to design, and we build the technology behind the product. This creates a very different experience for the customer.
Can you give us some stats on the number of customers?
We have 1.2 million members and on a monthly basis we ship about 35,000 orders. We design monthly collections, so they are really curated and designed for the very specific needs of our customers ... . We do 12 collections a year but on top of that we’ll do special collaborations and unique capsule collections. So, on a yearly basis we’ll do 14 to 16 collections.
What can you tell us about your target customer?
Our buyer tends to be someone creative and comfortable with technology and we definitely have women shopping for their husbands and boyfriends. Our style is modern classic, which we’ve designed for a new generation of shoppers. We’re building a community of shoppers with similar core values, so we focus on that customer base as a way to improve our product.
Did you set out to change the way many men shop for fashion, or just a certain demographic?
When we first started we stood for quality and style at an accessible price point not more than $50. We still do, but the price range has changed. We now offer goods priced between $25 and $200, but the philosophy to provide the best style and quality at an accessible price remains the same. For us, the idea is focusing on building a specific brand for a specific target demographic while removing the middleman so that we can build a closer relationship with that customer.
We recognized that there was a generation of male shoppers that were interested in fashion and didn’t really have the brand and experience out there for them. In some ways we created a product which helped us build a brand around that, and created a unique online experience which … is our way of basically personalizing an experience more appropriate for that customer.
We do see what we’re doing as the next generation of vertical integration — integrating not just all the way to the store from having a direct relationship from the product and the customer, but even integrating directly into your pocket through our new mobile application for smartphones.
Tell us about The Edit, Frank & Oak’s publication. It’s part aspirational and educational, in a sartorial way.
Yes, The Edit is meant to both inspire and educate. We print about 30,000 copies and mail it quarterly, and it’s available as a download for a tablet. We use the magazine to feature members of our Frank & Oak community [and] to report on things that we think are interesting for our community. We also cover how to dress better, or how to live better or where to eat. The “how-to” part of what we’ve created is very important.
Frank & Oak has also inspired a fair amount of coverage with respect to your use of behind-the-scenes technology and your new mobile app. But then there are the handwritten notes — what’s the story with the blend of high-tech and high-touch?
The human aspect (of selling direct to the consumer) is something we always try to maintain, despite that we’re a bigger company now than when we started two years ago. We still personalize every step of the experience. … We think it’s appropriate to use technology to deliver a rich experience for the customer, but then to follow that with a real expression or acknowledgement — like a handwritten note, short and simple.
Can we expect a Frank & Oak bricks-and-mortar store?
We have no specific plans, but we have done pop-up shops and events where we can bring our collections to a specific place for customers to touch and try. We see pop-ups as extensions of the brand and as new ways of creating experiences for our customers.