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DTC Disruptors – Learning from the new kids on the block

DTC disruptors

In our last piece, we explored the DTC disruptors leading the charge in our new retail normal. These incredibly agile retailers don’t even have a playbook to go by but are now emerging as the businesses taking over from those mediocre and tired retailers that couldn’t evolve. These are often businesses that sat “in the middle” with legacy thinking, heavy corporate structures and the inability to carve new space to meet customer needs.

We now take a look at some more DTCs carving up market opportunities.


Glossier is disrupting the beauty industry. If you haven’t heard about Glossier, at one point they had over 10,000 people on their waiting list for a new product.

Glossier was started in 2014 by founder and CEO, Emily Weiss - the brains behind the operation. Emily has turned a humble blog into a digital marketing machine.


In 2010, Weiss launched a blog called Into the Gloss, which demystified a lot of aspects of the beauty industry. Before the current era of YouTube vloggers and the Insta-famous, the beauty industry wasn’t so accessible. Beauty brands lacked the context of real women and real experiences, focusing instead on the illusion of perfection.

Weiss started interviewing celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Karlie Kloss, as well as beauty bosses such as Bobbie Brown, to get a glimpse of their beauty routines and see what was on the “top shelf” of their bathroom cabinets. The blog became extremely popular, reaching over 1.5 million unique visitors since its launch.


Weiss noted that even magazines could not afford to share this kind of intimate information and launched Glossier as a response to the feedback she was receiving on her blog.

Glossier launched at the height of the social media craze. With its social media accounts it was able to listen to what its customers wanted, giving it an edge over larger beauty brands.

Glossier has been described as a “people-powered beauty ecosystem with a five C’s key formula.”

5C’s: Consumers, Content, Conversations, Co-creation, Community

Glossier has now moved into bricks-and-mortar with a flagship store in Manhattan and pop-ups all over the place.


Leesa Sleep

Leesa Sleep is a direct-to-consumer online mattress company dedicated to delivering American-made mattresses with a twist.

Leesa Sleep

Alongside recognising that new mattress technology could help people sleep healthier (normalisation of blood circulation, maintaining the correct anatomical position of the body, maintaining the optimal temperature of your body), for the founders and members of the team the business had a goal beyond dollars. They wanted to help those in need. Their strategy is that after every tenth mattress sold the next one is given free of charge to someone who needs it but cannot afford it. To date, the company has donated over 30,000 mattresses and goes head to head with Casper.

Leesa Sleep

Leesa Sleep has now expanded into bricks-and-mortar as well as being the mattress of choice sold throughout West Elm and Pottery Barn stores in the US.

Leesa Sleep


Indochino was founded on the belief that you don't need to spend a fortune on a custom wardrobe. By taking the premium made-to-measure experience direct to the consumer, they have created an alternative to off-the-rack clothing, at ready-to-wear prices.


Here’s how ordering a suit online works: customers follow step-by-step video guides on how to take their own measurements in less than 10 minutes (no tape measure? They sell one for a dollar - it ships for free.) Sartorially inclined shoppers can then customise details such as lapels, linings, pocket placement, and monograms. The cost starts at around $400 a suit (lower for fabrics that are on sale) and the finished garment arrives via FedEx within four weeks, promising a better fit than anything found on the racks of a department store.

Founded in 2007, this approach has enabled Indochino to become the largest exclusive made-to-measure apparel company in the world.


Established in 2011, Untuckit focuses on selling casual shirts that are designed not to be tucked into pants, and thus cut slightly shorter than typical men's dress shirts.

The first Untuckit brick-and-mortar store was opened in September 2015 and now also sells women’s shirts.



Universal Standard

Universal Standard was started by its founders out of frustration of living in a world in which access was limited. 67% of women in the U.S. wear a size 14 or above, but their clothing options were dismal. It was clear that women weren’t all given the same level of style, quality, or even respect.

They wanted a size 26 to shop in the same way as a size 6 – using style as her only filter.

Pioneering new space, they have taken size out of the equation with ‘Fit Liberty’ and let customers shop without anxiety, fear, or regret.

True customer centricity drives this apparel business: “When your size changes, we change with you. If a piece from our core collection no longer fits you within a year of purchase due to size fluctuation, we’ll replace it with your new size - for free. No more shopping anxiety, no more delayed gratification. We’re making shopping fun again.”

In an announcement just last week, Universal Standard denim now does to size 40 – and the style is so good.

Make sure you check out the website home page!


Parachute launched in 2014 offering an assortment of exceptional-quality bedding without costing customers a fortune or forcing them to settle for something treated with chemicals.


Millennials love the brand and Parachute has now expanded into bricks and mortar. The business is both transparent with its supply chain and is active environmentally and sustainably, with returned items donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Based in Venice Beach, California, Parachute has evolved beyond a pop-up, opening stores across the US.



Lively is a community-focused womenswear brand specialising in intimate, active and swimwear apparel that has the comfort of athleisure wear with the sensuality of lingerie. A blurring of the line to achieve high-style and comfort.


Lively was started by ex-Victoria Secret’s Michelle Cordeiro Grant. Michelle felt that women needed a brand that was for women, by women, respecting the unique body types we have and the unique souls we have within.

Lively dropped the term ‘lingerie’ in favour of ‘leisure’, coming from the athleisure and swimwear products that women are proud to wear and live in all day on a Saturday, bridged with the functionality of lingerie.

The brand has experienced triple-digit annual growth and boasts more than 114,000 followers on Instagram. This success is largely due to the incredible digital experience it offers.

Despite this digital success, Lively made the decision to open brick-and-mortar stores, with community and experience in mind. As such, the Lively store has three objectives: bring the Lively community together; obtain product feedback from the fitting rooms; and provide customers with an opportunity to tell Lively what to create next.

Lively has now opened its first store with outlets in Nordstrom stores throughout the US.



Launched in 2016, Burrow is a direct-to-consumer furniture start-up with a modern aesthetic, aimed primarily at a millennial audience.

Like many business-school students, Stephen Kuhl and Kabeer Chopra bonded over a common problem, buying a couch. There were cheap options that could ship right away but were flimsy or required arduous assembly. They found luxe models but were constrained by the cost, the shipping or the wait.

Burrow was created to serve a middle-ground – modular, easy to assemble designs that ship straight to the customer. They are also customisable, both in colour and configuration.

Burrow Sofa

From beginnings when manufacturers “kind of laughed at us,” they have now sold more than 10,000 sofas and offer delivery within the US in as little as one week.

The brand emphasises the importance of social and cultural engagement, focusing on speaking to consumers’ identities and values to foster and retain interest. It recently opened a New York brick-and-mortar store to complement its online presence.

Burrow Store

Dollar Shave Club

One of the first big success stories, Dollar Shave Club is an American company that delivers razors and other personal grooming products to customers by mail. Frustrated by the cost of razors, the membership service first launched 2012, via a YouTube video that went viral. Dollar Shave Club offers three membership plans which can be upgraded or downgraded at any time.

Dollar Shave Club now operates in US, UK, Canada and Australia and in 2015 the company launched a new website, Mel Magazine, which went online in late 2015. The website contains editorial content described by the company as "men's lifestyle topics".

Dollar Shave Club

In 2016, consumer giant Unilever, hoping to buy its way to success rather than innovate, acquired Dollar Shave Club for $1B. The business was only five years old.

Rockets of Awesome

Rockets of Awesome is a direct-to-consumer kids apparel brand, designing and selling over-the-top clothes.

This business is reinventing the way parents shop for kids by leveraging technology, data, brand, personalisation and exceptional merchandise.

As a four-times-a-year subscription service, Rockets of Awesome send you a box of seasonal kid’s clothes just when you need it most.

Rockets of Awesome

In late February 2019, Foot Locker announced that it had invested $12.5 million in Rockets of Awesome. To reach more customers, the brand is launching its own “mini-stores” within Kids Foot Locker stores. It plans to open its own standalone brick-and-mortar store later this year.

We will see just how well this cool brand can leverage the niche it has developed, as a large part of its success was its attitude.

I recently read one of these DTC disruptors describe their foray into bricks and mortar as “playful science - which is something that is inspired by science museums ... It teaches you about our product in a very playful way. By doing that, it gets their guard down and it gets them interested in our product."

There are lessons here for retailers of every shape and size. The single most important one - you must keep moving because if you are standing still you are going backwards.

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