Fashion to Figure: Michael Kaplan is the CEO and co-founder of Fashion to Figure, a well-known plus-size clothing company that prioritizes fit, quality, and affordability.
Kaplan tried to adapt Lane Bryant’s (his great-grandmother’s) concept to the modern world and the female inhabitants of it. While buzzwords like “omnichannel” and “guide shops” are popular today, Kaplan has instead established a strong specialty retail chain in an old-fashioned manner.
Please provide us with some information about your business. What is Fashion to Figure all about?
FTF offers women in sizes 12-26 an experience in a trendy fashion. Every month, we provide hundreds of fashionable items in the formal, casual, and basic categories at competitive prices, with an emphasis on reliable fit and quality. We provide our selection wherever our clients actually want it—online, in our own stores, on third-party marketplaces, etc. FTF was founded with the idea that fashion is a state of mind, not a size range and that this belief can aid and inspire individuals.
Please provide us with some background information on yourself and the history of your business.
I was raised in a shop establishment that my great-grandmother founded 117 years ago as a native New Yorker. I believe that was the first time I truly understood the transformative power of shopping and fashion. My father eventually sold the company, and after that, only my older brother Nick tried to work in retail and pursue a career in fashion. When I was in business school, I noticed that the plus size clothing selections were incredibly out of date in comparison to how the customer’s attitude had advanced. I was fortunate to be able to develop an idea with my brother, who had the necessary industry knowledge, and we jointly opened a single store in a mall.
What are some of the current initiatives you are engaged in?
Too many to mention, but we’re now working to develop our internet business so that it better complements our in-store experience. Additionally, we are creating a customized product that is specially designed for FTF women. We have amazing jeans with stretch denim, outstanding quality, consistent fit, fashion, and basic styles for around $40. Retailers in our market charge more than $80 for jeans or less than $20 for garbage. We offer a fantastic product that is dependable at an alluring price. However, it’s like sipping from a fire hose at FTF right now with all we have going on and how stretched out our entire staff is!
Give a brief description of what a typical workday is like.
People first, then more people, and then even more people. I spend a lot of my time meeting with FTF Family Members at all levels. Additionally, it’s important and normal to visit retailers at least once per week.
What, in your opinion, are the top 3 qualities an effective entrepreneur must possess, and why?
emotional awareness. You must constantly be aware of what is happening around you in order to know when to stand your ground, adapt as the market dictates, hire, fire, push, pull back, say yes or no in the wake of incomplete or inaccurate information, and generally how to read and respond.
Acting swiftly is related to number two. Make decisions and progress quickly, but also be able to spot mistakes or problems quickly and address them right away. You will run out of money if you don’t learn rapidly and put what you learn into practice.
Get in touch with your passion, and learn to control your stress. Everyone is smart and has access to money, so you need to love what you do more than the competitors, and since you care so much, you need to learn to control your stress.
What are your future objectives and how do you want to expand this business?
Our company has doubled in size in the past year, therefore we are currently settling in while simultaneously assessing expansion potential in both shops and online as well as third-party distribution. We have incredibly receptive investors, which is essential for any business, and we often consult with our board of directors with them about our expansion strategies. At the end of the day, we must act and develop in accordance with what our clients request.
Your funding source? What is your top piece of advice for business owners looking to raise money?
As I previously mentioned, our investors are quite helpful. We took out a $400 000 loan to start our first store. That core supporter base has stuck by us the entire time. My advice is to always have more money on hand than you anticipate needing, to be ready for anything, to be honest with your investors, and to disclose both good and negative news. To expect the world to be perfect is ridiculous.
When will you judge your business to be successful and how many users or clients do you now have?
I consider us successful every day when we receive a letter, email, or note stating how our fashion experience made someone feel good and that they have begun a multifaceted relationship with our company. I’m fortunate since it frequently occurs.
What were your top three errors when you first launched your company, and what did you learn from them?
Our first store’s opening was delayed far too long. Despite best efforts, perfection is unachievable. Due to our pursuit of perfection, we wasted two years’ worth of learning. Classic error. It is better to just get started and start moving up the learning curve.
Another error was expanding too quickly with private equity, which nearly led to our demise. Another typical and traditional error.
And a last classic error was failing to let go of individuals who we knew were inappropriate for our business and culture. It always gets in the way because of uncertainty about who would complete the task or personal preferences, but this is ultimately harmful.
What have been your most effective marketing strategies and how do you go about marketing your company?
Particularly in terms of internet acquisition, digital marketing has been quite effective. Because we don’t think it will work for a fashion company like ours, we haven’t invested in things like VC-backed e-commerce companies. But because of all of our technology, we can now track how clients arrive at us and move through our assets over time. Digital penetration has been remarkably high in the locations where we have stores, which presents a significant opportunity for us.
Who offered you the best business advice you’ve ever heard, and what was it?
That’s hardly a fair question as I’m fortunate to have so many powerful friends and mentors who have taught me priceless lessons. My first music teacher (I attended Manhattan School of Music to study jazz saxophone) taught me the value of playing wrong notes and owning those mistakes. One of our board members who was a professor of mine at business school was also one of our founders and taught me how to get a company off the ground, make decisive decisions, and balance what the market tells you with your entrepreneurial conviction.
However, my older brother and business partner Nick is the one from whom I actually learn something new every day. He constantly stated, “Michael, your passion is great and we can build a company on that but never forget in fashion and our business product is everything and tops all else in importance.” from the beginning. That has changed how our firm operates for me personally.
What suggestions do you have if I wanted to establish my own Fashion to Figure?
Hire talented individuals.
What are the top three web resources and tools you currently use to expand your business?
In the end, SEO, SEM, and social media strategies include a lot more than just three things.
What does success mean to you?
being widely regarded as the absolute finest at what you do. What we do at FTF was invented by our great grandma. Our goal is to excel at it, as judged by our clients.
What three publications or training programs do you suggest for businesspeople?
Everyone should be fortunate enough to have Harvard professor Nancy Koehn as a friend and mentor, but since this is unlikely, you should attend her classes, listen to everything she has to say online and buy her books.