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The direct-to-consumer business model is the future of online shopping, particularly in the luxury fashion sphere. Without the middleman markup of traditional retail, customers can still get premium quality but at a fraction of the cost. Brands have more control over production, working conditions, consistency in branding, and communication with garment makers and customers. D2C allows customers to preorder, cutting down on waste, although that does require them to be patient.
While you've probably heard of Everlane, a popular D2C clothing brand that made price transparency mainstream, I'll be focusing on luxury fashion in this list. I respect the talent and artistry of many high-end fashion houses, but let's face it: we're paying for their branding/logos, excessive marketing, events, luxe packaging, celebrity endorsements, influencer spon-con, not to mention retail markups, overhead costs, etc. If you don't care about any of that stuff, shop D2C brands instead.
D2C CLOTHING BRANDS
I've bought a lot of pieces from The Curated because they're great value. Their Classic Coat, a 30% organic cashmere blended with 70% merino wool, costs way less than similar coats from designer brands. Learn more about their honest pricing here.
The Curated works with a family-owned factory in Inner Mongolia, China, a vertical mill that produces both the raw material and finished product. Items ship directly from China and duty fees are calculated in advance along with shipping.
Naadam works directly with Mongolian herders for premium, sustainable cashmere. By cutting out the middlemen, they're able to pay the herders more while selling quality clothing for less. Learn more about their sustainable and ethical business practices.
Thakoon Panichgul surprised the fashion world by shuttering his designer line, a favourite of Michelle Obama's, to relaunch as a D2C brand in 2019 with lower price points. “For me, it was important to do something a bit more curated,” Panichgul told Vogue. “In the past, we would design 200 styles for a collection for a runway season... but it just doesn’t make sense. At the end of the day, stores ended up just buying, you know, 20 styles.”
With help from Naadam chief executive Matt Scanlan, now Thakoon's CEO as well, the brand works directly with manufacturers in Asia, both existing Nadaam manufacturers and new ones. The clothes are practical and functional but from a designer's point of view.
You might have heard of New York-based designer Misha Nonoo for The Husband Shirt that Meghan Markle wore when she first started dating Prince Harry. After a few years of selling to traditional retailers, she stopped to become an early adopter of the direct-to-consumer model in 2016. They now produce their pieces on demand, which massively cuts down waste, in an ethical, woman-owned factory in Shenzhen, China. Recently, the brand has eliminated plastic from their domestic shipments and introduced new sustainable fabrics to their collections.
I'm such a fan Datura's modern and colourful take on timeless clothing for women. Handmade in New York, the label uses luxurious natural fabrics (silk, linen, wool, etc.) for pieces that can be worn effortlessly all year round.
Sustainable clothing brand Christy Dawn is known for its timeless, prairie-chic dresses. They source deadstock fabric, the excess fabric left behind by other fashion companies. Recently, they launched a "farm-to-closet" initiative in southern India, working with traditional farmers and craftspeople to nourish a depleted plot of land back to health, and sowing their own cotton with regenerative techniques that honour Mother Earth.
Talented dressmakers in LA use construction methods that make the garments last. On each product page, they offer transparent pricing by breaking down the cost and also showcase the dressmaker who made the piece.
London-based brand Kitri relies on pre-orders to gauge customer interest and avoid waste and overstock for their collections. While D2C brands usually focus on capsule wardrobe-type staples, Kitri's designs are fun and colourful, pieces you can wear for work and play. Each design is produced in limited runs.
Founded in 2015, AYR (All Year Round) sells seasonless essentials for everyday life. Designed in NYC, their bestsellers include figure-flattering jeans and casual-cool tops you can wear to work. Their denim is made in LA.
French label Sézane was born online to offer customers quality clothes and accessories at accessible prices. A lean production model based on customer demand helps avoid overproduction and overpricing. Two-thirds of their products are made in Europe, and you can learn more about their ateliers and their sustainability practices. They are now a B Corporation.
D2C SWIMWEAR AND LINGERIE BRAND
Summersalt makes "designer swimwear without the designer price tag." To create the best fit, they took body measurements from over 10,000 women.
BIKYNI makes minimalist swimwear using sustainable fabrics from Italy. They're produced in Los Angeles, near the brand's office, so they can closely monitor quality and ensure safe working conditions and fair wages are provided to their factory team. The label wants to simplify the search for swimwear, so their bikini tops and bottoms are easy to mix and match.
LIVELY merges sexy and comfort into something they call Leisurée, athleisure for lingerie. They own their own factory in southern China, which enables them control over quality and implement customer feedback.
D2C SHOE BRANDS
Dear Frances works closely with artisan shoemakers in northern Italy to make luxury footwear for the modern woman. Each pair is hand-made to last using age-old techniques passed down through generations of highly skilled shoemakers. Their Core Collection works for a timeless wardrobe.
M.Gemi also offers premium Italian craftsmanship at reasonable prices for men and women. They work with over a dozen family-owned specialty workshops in Italy. Due to their direct relationships with the artisan factories, they're able to restock sold-out items in 30 days.
A co-founder of Jimmy Choo in 1996, Tamara Mellon recently decided to disrupt the industry with a D2C line of luxury shoes without the 6x markup. She works with family-run factories in Italy that have made the best quality luxury shoes for decades.
Certified B-Corp Allbirds is known for its comfortable walking shoes made with merino wool. Their shoe boxes are 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard. Recently, they've expanded to apparel for both men and women.
D2C BAG BRANDS
Leatherology's timeless purses and everyday leather essentials can be personalized, allowing your initials to be the focus instead of branding logos. They are a completely vertically-integrated business, meaning they do everything in-house including product design, development, production, and fulfillment, as well as hand-pressed monograms using heated brass dies, to hand-painted lettering. All the products being manufactured in their own factory give them full control and oversight of the production process. Their online-only business model allows them to use the finest materials at accessible price points.
DeMillier London's high-quality handbags are crafted by artisans in a family-owned factory in the South of Spain. Their leathers are sourced from Italy and Spain, suppliers certified by the European Leather Working Group, guaranteeing the highest standards of sustainability and sourcing. Their packaging is made of partially recycled paper sourced from FSC accredited suppliers and natural cotton, thus fully recyclable. They offer complimentary monogramming on all orders, as well as a lifetime of free repair.
Mirta partners with artisans in Italy to bring the best quality craftsmanship directly to the customer at a fair price. If you like handbags from Gucci, Bottega Veneta, LV, check out Mirta's vast collection. They also make items for men and pets.
Mlouye’s founder and creative director Meb Rure hails from an industrial design background, and his designs are inspired by the Bauhaus Movement's artists and architects. Innovation being the key factor alongside aesthetics, Mlouye has brought unexpected shapes with smart details, functionality and a new luxury feel with a contemporary price point. The company's headquarters is now split between the US and Turkey, and their factory is in Turkey.
Senreve was created out of a need for beautiful luxury handbags to also be multi-functional. Their bags are lightweight, travel-friendly, versatile to go from business meetings to happy hour. Their popular Maestra line of purses can also be transformed into backpacks. Their bags are made in Italy, and they also have a vegan line. Learn more about their sustainability practices.
Cuyana's maxim is to need fewer, better things. Everything they create is to promote maximum wear—timeless, functional, and versatile pieces. Learn about their production and sustainability initiatives here. Aside from bags, they also sell clothing, jewelry, and more.
D2C JEWELRY BRANDS
Designed and made in NYC, Aurate offers fine jewelry using ethically-sourced and sustainably-made 14K gold, 18K gold, and 14K gold-plated vermeil. They do not use unnecessary middlemen or add insane markups.
Canadian brand Mejuri makes minimalist, wearable fine jewelry without the traditional markups. 60% of their production partners are world-renowned suppliers that are certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council, the international standard bearer for ensuring supply chain sustainability, labour rights and integrity across the jewelry industry. The remaining 40% are family-run businesses that work closely with Mejuri on social and environmental practices to create high-quality pieces. Check out my honest review of Mejuri jewelry (TL;DR version: avoid their gold vermeil, invest in their 14k gold pieces instead).
D2C ACCESSORIES BRANDS
Paravel wants you to know they are the most sustainable travel and luggage brand in the world. Learn more about their sustainable practices. They offset the carbon emissions generated by sourcing, creating and shipping their luggage line. Their bags, duffles, and even packing cubes can be personalized with your initials.
Linjer came to be when the founders couldn't find high-quality alternatives to unsustainable fast-fashion products and overpriced luxury brands. In 2014, keeping their operation lean and selling online, they were able to offer luxury quality products at a fraction of the price. They select the most eco-friendly and long-lasting materials available to them, and starting in 2020, they began to offset carbon emissions for every shipment. Their current collection includes watches, leather goods, and jewelry.
Warby Parker came to be because the owners found eyeglasses to be too expensive. Now they offer designer prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses at revolutionary prices while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. By circumventing traditional channels, designing glasses in-house, and engaging with customers directly, they’re able to provide higher-quality, better-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the going price. Warby Parker is one of the only carbon-neutral eyewear brands in the world. They give back by partnering with non-profits to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need.