Meet the New Styling Service That Could One-Up the Subscription Box
You know the drill with subscription boxes. A company uses an algorithm to inform which clothes it should send you, and prays that you'll buy everything. Or, perhaps, you're paying for an assortment of sample-sized beauty products while the powers that be cross their fingers that you'll find your new favorite nestled in crinkle-cut filler paper. Sometimes, the boxes work brilliantly. Other times, the subscription service has to eat the cost of return shipping and suffer the indignity of your negative feedback.
Mauria Finley believes she can do better.
Today, Finley is officially launching Allume, (pronounced ah-loom), an online personal styling service based out of Menlo Park that adds human interaction back into the stylist-client equation.
“Allume combines data science and the human touch to create a personalized experience," Finley explained. "We use data to match each customer with a stylist who ‘gets her’ and can serve as a long-term shopping partner. Our platform helps stylists quickly find and share clothes that could be a good fit, and we believe the direct human communication dramatically improves customer satisfaction with the experience and the clothing they buy."
Allume is similar to interior design services like Homepolish or Decorist. After completing an initial quiz about her style, budget, body shape, and wardrobe goals, each Allume customer is connected with a stylist who conducts an introductory consultation via text message. She then receives a virtual lookbook of clothing and accessories via email or text from her stylist. The customer can purchase what she likes and the items will ship directly from the retailer. She can continue working with the same stylist whenever she has another shopping need or switch to someone new. Clothing prices are never marked up, and the service is only $20 per inquiry. If the client buys something, that $20 fee is credited toward her purchase.
The biggest distinction between a service like Allume and a subscription box like Stitch Fix is that Allume doesn't hold any inventory—it simply connects a client with third party sellers through a single checkout process on the Allume website. The customer only receives the items that she has specifically selected, so she's less likely to make a return. If she needs to return an item, she can send it directly back to the fulfillment vendor rather than Allume. The most similar service in the fashion marketplace is Nordstrom's Trunk Club, but Trunk Club only deals in Nordstrom merchandise. With Allume, stylists can pull from any online retailer, including Nordstrom.
Another standout policy at Allume is that stylists are paid hourly, instead of on commission. Allume, in turn, evaluates the stylists based on how much clients buy and how satisfied they are. Plus, Allume stylists can shop any online retailer for their clients. "She'll shop the whole Internet for you, which allows her to go high-low, it allows her to find things on sale, it allows her to do brands you already love, plus brands you may not have heard of before," Finley said.
Allume aims to establish a relationship between a client and a stylist that goes beyond what an algorithm can calculate. Let's say a client typically caps herself at $200 per outfit, but decides she wants to spend more on a birthday dress or a new bag. Without modifying her entire profile, she can tell her stylist, "I'm wiling to spend up to $500 for a dress for my 30th birthday," or "I need a bag for interviews, and I'm willing to spend up to $1000."
A stylist who is familiar with the client's past purchases could also make suggestions for ways that new items could mix with past items. For example, "You could remix that birthday dress with the jacket you purchased in June and the sandals you purchased in July for a daytime look." Stylists can even build lookbooks around an item that a client has had in her closet for years.
Allume has been testing in stealth mode for months with a variety of scenarios—one client even enlisted the service to select her wedding dress—and Finley said the feedback has been positive. Clearly, investors recognize the value proposition as well, and have set Allume up with $3 million in seed funding.
On the flip side, I expect to see some changes and pivots in the company over the next year to ensure its longterm viability. Currently, Allume generates affiliate-style commissions from approximately 50 brands with which it has partnerships, yet stylists can select items for clients from a practically unlimited field of brands. While Finley said that the company is continuously onboarding new brands, Allume is leaving money on the table in the meantime.
Finley also said that her team is executing Allume's universal cart transactions manually instead of through API integration with the retailers. (The integration is something that the team is working toward in the future.) If Allume is going to scale, the current process isn't sustainable. But, these are both types of obstacles that startups regularly face. And, considering that Finley has two Stanford computer science degrees and impressive stints at eBay and Citrus Lane on her résumé, she's certainly capable of leading her team in tackling those issues.
Right now, women on a budget don't have many options for a true styling experience because traditional stylists charge hundreds of dollars or commission for their services. Allume is solving that problem by giving any woman, regardless of her budget, access to professional fashion advice for only $20. For women who don't love to shop, or don't have the time or bandwidth to style an outfit for an upcoming event, this service will be a game changer.