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may be found in Stern’s choice of dress styles, which tend to have a combination of full skirts and Empire waists—trendy, but also an easy fit for most women.
“They’re not too clingy,” says Aimee Tittlemier, who was one of the earliest brides to try Weddington Way as she prepared for her June 2012 wedding in Thousand Oaks, CA. At the time, she was working as much as 12 hours a day for a mortgage company, and none of her four bridesmaids lived nearby. She created her Showroom on the website, and signed up the bridesmaids—three sisters and a friend. There, she assembled options for them all to discuss. Soon after a bride signs up, she and her bridesmaids receive emails from personal stylists at Weddington Way who offer help and advice. The company also sends fabric swatches for the dresses under consideration.
Tittlemier (pictured above) says she also used the website’s messaging function to shoot out a single reminder to all the bridesmaids each time she needed them to take actions, such as sending in their measurements or commenting on colors.
“This was a way for us to connect online and have that shopping experience,” Tittlemier says.
Once she had chosen the clothing designer and the color, she encouraged each of her bridesmaids to choose the specific dress style they liked best. She would have been happy if they had varied, but they all picked the same one.
Tittlemier says she had looked at dresses at David’s Bridal, but found fresh styles on Weddington Way that reminded her of a fashion icon, the actress Audrey Hepburn.
Stern began the business with a few design companies she’d met with while still at Stanford: Dessy, Alfred Angelo, Donna Morgan and Lela Rose. The site now features a dozen more designer partners, including Alfred Sung and Badgley Mischka.
Prices range from $99 for a Dessy matte jersey wrap dress to $550 for a strapless cocktail dress in silk satin chiffon from Watters.
Weddington Way’s designer partners make their dresses in standard sizes, but only begin work when an order is received. Bridesmaids can take the dress to their own seamstresses if they need alterations. Stern says Weddington Way now has an algorithm that detects dress orders that may not fit well. A company stylist then contacts the customer to offer help before the order goes through.
“Our return rate is less than 3 percent,” Stern says.
The company is also mining its data to better meet customers’ needs, she says. One result was the launch in May of its private dress label, also named Weddington Way, which is now one of the website’s 17 designers. It’s a response to comments from customers who didn’t want to wait the 8 to 12 weeks it takes for Weddington Way’s outside designers to fill a dress order, Stern says.
Those brides who are planning their weddings on shorter timelines can pick among six Weddington Way styles in six colors. The ready-to-wear dresses, in a ribbed cotton fabric called faille, can be shipped in two days, and can be returned or exchanged, Stern says.
Priced at $150, the private label dresses now make up about 10 percent of sales, she says. The new in-house line has expanded the customer base rather than eroding the sales of Weddington Way’s outside partners, Stern says.
The company has now raised a total of $11.5 million from venture firms as well as individual backers that include Bonobos founder and CEO Andy Dunn, Nixon founder Andy Laats, Lululemon Athletica board member RoAnn Costin, and former Gap CEO Bob Fisher. Stern had worked with Dunn as an intern at Bonobos.
Weddington Way will use its new capital infusion to invest in its private label, expand its 20-person team, build out related mobile apps, and continue to seek the customer feedback that steers the company’s decisions about new product offerings, Stern says.
If all goes well, Stern also wants to reduce the number of unflattering bridesmaids’ dresses that clutter the backs of closets.
“About 70 percent of our customers tell us they plan to re-wear the dress,” Stern says. “We want to get that number higher.”
Wedding party photo © Michael Hurd
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