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26-year-old launches Instagram-fueled fast fashion brand

Jessie Zeng, the CEO of flashy fast-fashion startup Choosy, showcased the company’s debut collection on Yahoo Finance’s Breakout Breakfast interview series Tuesday morning.

While Zeng, 26, declined to disclose pre-order numbers, she said “The OG Bae Dress,” a lacy red number inspired by Rihanna’s Christopher Kane dress, is the most popular item thus far. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company saw the most orders coming from New York and California.

Choosy uses “style scouts” and artificial intelligence to mine social media, primarily the hashtag #GetChoosy to identify what’s trending. The team selects five items, twice a week, that the company makes available for pre-order. Shoppers then have 84 hours to purchase items. After receiving an order, Choosy’s team will manufacture and deliver items across the U.S. in a little over two weeks.

A Yahoo Finance employee dons a Rihanna-inspired dress at Breakout Breakfast (Photo by Mike Pont).
A Yahoo Finance employee dons a Rihanna-inspired dress at Breakout Breakfast (Photo by Mike Pont).

The sparkling business opportunity

Zeng, a former Citigroup investment banker, came up with the idea for Choosy while scrolling through Instagram. And her family has deep roots in textile manufacturing, which gave her the experience and confidence to launch her own brand.

“Two years ago I started to see these mega influencers and celebrities amount over millions of followers and whenever they would post something, there would be hundreds of thousands of women globally asking, ‘Where is that dress from?’ However, the dress in question would be thousands of dollars or sold out. That’s when I thought this was a great business opportunity to create something where you could really fulfill that demand at a price point everyone can afford,” she told Yahoo Finance.

A few of my Yahoo Finance colleagues and friends who tried on the clothes gave mostly positive feedback. They all highlighted the affordable price points — items are $100 and are shipped for free. The company uses custom mannequins to make its clothing, which comes in sizes 0-20, at its manufacturing center in China.

“It’s more comfy than I thought it would be. And the material is pretty soft. The only question I have is…I don’t know what the right occasion for this dress would be,” said one colleague.

“I would wear this everywhere, it’s a very comfortable dress,” another echoed.

“I totally [would wear this out for date night]. I love it, it’s really nice, it makes me look hot. For being a thick woman, yes, I think it fits well. It brings out the curves, brings out the extra stuff,” one colleague noted.

In January, Choosy did a beta test in which Zeng and her team noticed that a pair of custom ripped, pearl-studded jeans that Gigi Hadid had posted on Instagram was trending, with many followers inquiring where they could find them. Along with three other items, the Choosy team received 1,000 pre-orders for the jeans in four hours.

Keeping inventory tight

The brand is hoping its consumer-driven approach will make it stand out in a saturated market. By making clothing based on customer orders, Choosy avoids having excess inventory.

Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M is sitting on $4 billion of unsold clothing and accessories. Earlier this year, the company launched Nyden, a Choosy-like brand, to compete in the social space. Nyden uses features like polls on Instagram to crowdsource ideas from its followers. This gives consumers the ability to participate in the design making process (e.g. mini or maxi length, zipper or buttons).

“The younger generation lives on social and spends their time on the internet. For us at Choosy, instead of designing fashions and trying to market it to people using ad dollars, it’s about going to meet the customers where they are and listening to their demands, whether that be answering their DMs, responding to their comments, allowing them to tag us, or just always keeping an open line of connection,” said Zeng. “We exist in a new era now.”

The debut collection of fast fashion brand Choosy.
The debut collection of fast fashion brand Choosy.

Unlike the rest of the fast-fashion world, Choosy treats social media as its foundation, not an afterthought. Choosy currently has over 23,000 Instagram followers and 40,000 people on its email distribution list.

“We’re only a team of 20 people here. Even now, we get around 50 DMs per day from our consumers giving us feedback every day,” said Zeng.

While Choosy’s social media-first strategy certainly resonates with young consumers, scale becomes the larger concern. Fast-fashion retailer Zara manufactures 20,000 designs a year, and in its current state, Choosy will make around 520 pieces. Zeng hopes engagement surrounding the brand coupled with the air of exclusivity will entice the next generation of shoppers.

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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