“I’ve always wanted to wear things I altered and made my own in some way,” reflects Ethan Lipsitz, CEO of Apliiq, a new media retailer. In high school, he personalized his clothes by sewing patches of his mother’s sewing fabrics onto them. His sophomore year at UPenn, he received a now infamous Karate Kid headband. Not wanting to wear it around his head, as intended, he took it apart and skillfully lined the inside of his sweatshirt’s hood with the fabric. The Karate Kid hoodie was a hit around campus, and he was soon fielding requests to personalize sweatshirts for friends.
Lipsitz became fascinated with the concept of customization, and by senior year he was making regular trips to the Philadelphia Fabric District, experimenting with different fabrics and application techniques, and wholesaling tees and hoodies to a handful of northeast boutiques. Back at Penn, his dorm room had become a makeshift storefront with fabrics scattered across the bed for friends to pick from.
Upon graduation, Lipsitz accepted a position at an architectural firm in Australia, forcing his love of appliqué to the back burner. But a year and half later, Ethan was done working for someone else. He left his job and set out for LA to grow his hobby into his business, Apliiq.
While Lipsitz was laying the groundwork for the company, fellow UPenn graduate and aspiring entrepreneur Emily Gruber was in LA for an architectural internship. A mutual friend encouraged her to check out Apliiq’s Facebook page. Gruber was fascinated with the concept and contacted Lipsitz for a meeting. The two hit it off immediately. Within two weeks of working part time with Lipsitz, Gruber quit her internship with the architecture firm to join Apliiq fulltime. In July 2009, the two officially incorporated Apliiq Inc, with Gruber assuming the role of CFO.
The company’s carefree, beachy vibe resonated with the masses, and the company has grown substantially in the year since Gruber signed on, now boasting three (almost four) full-time employees. “We’re just trying to be the kind of thing you would wear in California when driving to the beach or skateboarding down the street, and I think that’s relevant in New York and internationally,” says Lipsitz.
The Apliiq website, a feat in user-generated commerce is constantly being refined to allow for additional user customizations. In the websites latest generation, shoppers begin the customization process by selecting a garment. Then, they move to the Design Palette where they choose the color, size, and finally the appliqué fabric. A 2D graphic of the garment being created transforms in response to the shoppers’ every whim.
The fabric swatches shown on the website are constantly updated to reflect the latest additions to Apliiq’s fabric library and on any given day consist of everything from vintage seersucker to zebra stripes to eighties tribal prints. Lipsitz compares his weekly fabric shopping to a DJ digging for records in basements. “I look for dustiest fabrics in corners that have been sitting there for decades because often those are the most interesting fabrics.”
The resulting product is completed and in the mail within three business days. An incredible turnaround, especially compared to the other new media fashion companies such as Keds, Nike ID, and Champion Hoodie Remix, which take considerably longer to manufacture customized products.
“We pride ourselves in having a model that allows us to work off of an existing product instead of having to make it all from scratch,” says Lipsiz, who based the company in LA because its abundance of resources allowed for vertical production. “I realized I could basically run this company on my bike,” he says, not exaggerating. American Apparel, their primary garment manufacturer, is located only a couple blocks away and fabrics from around the world are constantly imported into LA’s ports and sold at fabric shops within a three block radius of Apliiq’s headquarters.
There is also an environmental benefit to having easily accessed resources; Apliiq doesn’t keep inventory. Each product is made-to-order. The company is highly sensitive to consumption, conscious of keeping every last usable scrap out of landfills and even packaging finished products in reusable fabric bags made from scraps. Lipsitz explains, “We are creating something that has meaning and experience associated with it, which makes people hold onto it and value it more. It’s about adding value to what we consume by allowing people to experience it and express themselves through it.”
While the website now sells a variety of basic garments for men women and children, Lipsitz and Gruber are quick to emphasize that Apliiq is not a fashion brand in the traditional sense. “We’ve explored wholesaling and seasonal lines, and it’s not really what we’re about,” states Lipsitz. “We’re about user-generated product and using fabric as a medium—like paint or pencils to express themselves.”
Looking ahead, Lipsitz and Gruber see more than clothing in Apliiq’s future. They are toying around with the idea of customizing accessories, animal products, bicycle gear, and even furniture upholstery. Lipsitz summarizes, “We just want to keep expanding on the opportunity for people to express themselves through fabrics and the unique stories that the fabrics tell.”
|Center: Anand Wilder of More Yeasayer in Apliiq's Ziggy Deuce Tank at Coachella 2010|
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Don't Forget to check out Apliiq online: www.apliiq.com, onTwitter: http://twitter.com/apliiq, and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/theapliiqpage