HBS Startup Anomalie: Breaking with Tradition

Natasha Larsen

In the United States on average, there are 2.1 million people getting married each year. The industry is worth about $54 billion in the US and $300 billion globally. Most of the market has stayed the same over time, but with growth in the digital space, the market is slowly being disrupted by embracing new technology and leveraging media differently to engage consumers. The market is expanding outside bridal magazines to online platforms like Pinterest as well as industry specific sites like Martha Stewart Weddings and Style Me Pretty. Also, different technology startups have begun to make inroads, paving a path for brides to be that was not a possibility 5 years ago, but there is still a large part of the market that has remained unchanged.

Leslie Voorhees (HBS ‘15) saw the gap in the $5 Billion wedding dress industry while on a work trip. She had recently gotten engaged to Calley Means (HBS ‘15) whom she met at the Kong while sharing drinks over analytics. She grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of transparency in the process of wedding dress shopping, which is a common feeling amongst engaged women. She decided to do some research while on a work trip and stumbled upon a concentration of wedding dress factories, it did not hurt that she knew her way around a factory thanks to a background in product development and factory operations (she is a self-proclaimed TOM nerd). She confirmed her suspicions that the markups were indeed outrageous which is the norm in this industry;  the cost on average is 3.9 times more than a regular white dress, and this goes for regular white dresses in comparison to the same dress in a different color, such as this white dress from J Crew which is slightly over a 99% increase over the same dress in different colors.

Co-Founders, Leslie Vorhees (HBS ’15) & Calley Means (HBS’15)

Leslie states in that moment a “lightbulb went off when I began walking the factory floors and seeing the boutique dresses that sold for thousands and cost only hundreds to make”. She decided she would get her dress custom made and within weeks of getting back on campus and sharing her bargain, she was overwhelmed by the response of classmates and friends of classmates that reached out for help getting customized dresses made for their weddings. “It became clear there was a market here when strangers began handing me money to make them a gown”!

Leslie and Calley realized they could disrupt the $5 billion wedding dress market by partnering directly with the suppliers, saving brides thousands of dollars and more importantly, getting brides exactly what they want. Within six months they both quit their jobs to focus solely on Anomalie, meeting with hundreds of brides, vetting factories and raising funding.

The low customer satisfaction rating and the lack of transparency in this market made it ripe for innovation. Moving away from the traditional brick and mortar stores and strip mall chains to a digital platform reduces overhead costs and helps transfer more savings to customers and as Leslie points out, “technology can increase transparency and customer satisfaction in this industry”.

Anomalie is well positioned to disrupt the biggest slice of the wedding dress market in terms of the quality they offer, which is comparative with the brand name designers (often unrecognizable) offered in brick and mortar boutiques that sell for $2000 – $5000, and cater to women looking for stunning dresses made of higher quality material. “We are creating a modern, transparent brand for empowered women. Our value proposition is simple: we are going to make any dress you can dream of, with top-quality materials and craftsmanship, for a revolutionary price” says Leslie.

She credits HBS for helping hone her skills and giving her the confidence to build a business, as well as the innumerable hours of help from section mates, professors and of course, meeting her co-founder and fiancee, Calley Means.

Natasha Larsen runs operations at the Harbus and previously worked as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University. She spends her spare time reading books on social entrepreneurship, honing her culinary skills, drinking tea at coffee shops and travelling the world, while dancing to 90’s pop music. You can follow her on Instagram @Natboston.