All-Female Startup’s Online Stylists Help to Banish Bridesmaidzillas

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

I’m finally getting married this fall, at age 43. And the thought of planning the whole thing makes me want to lay in bed and pull the comforter over my head.

I’m not the kind of woman who has been plotting a wedding and doodling fantasy dresses in the margins of notebooks since I was a little girl. I always said my dream wedding would take place in the sports book of a Vegas casino during the first two days of March Madness, but alas. Destination weddings exceed our budget.

So instead, I’m going to forgo the fancy ceremony and instead try to replicate the mother of all tailgate parties in the backyard of our favorite Detroit dive bar on a hopefully sunny football Saturday, when my Michigan State Spartans are scheduled to play in Indiana. IF, that is, I can get myself together and properly execute the logistics. (Sorry, Mom.)

There are all kinds of companies, magazines, and websites in business to guide a hopelessly incompetent bride such as myself, and I met with the co-founder and CEO of one of them last month at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium in Ann Arbor.

Nicole Staple, CEO of Brideside, met her co-founder, Sonali Lamba, at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, where the company is based. Lamba was in the process of planning a huge, traditional Indian wedding with 14 bridesmaids. (Fourteen?! I feel faint.)

“The wedding planner had never heard of Google Docs,” Staple recalled, describing how difficult it was to coordinate, share ideas, and communicate with the rest of the wedding party. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs and have an investing background, so I got on board [with Brideside] because I thought it was a really interesting market opportunity.”

Brideside users fill out a form upon first visiting the site that captures basic details about the upcoming nuptials: location, number of bridesmaids, wedding date, etc.  Once the form is submitted, a Brideside style consultant responds and begins working to find bridesmaid dresses with the perfect look and fit. Staple said the company recruited independent designers to bring online, resulting in a selection of dresses she calls “bigger than stores—there are thousands.”

Unlike me, my sister was an extremely competent bride who oversaw every detail of her destination wedding in the Hamptons. When it came time for my cousins and me to pick out bridesmaid dresses—my sister was kind enough to let us pick our own styles so long as we conformed to the midnight blue color theme—it was a hot mess.

Some of us refused to bare our upper arms or model the garments in front of the assembled group. Others almost burst into tears before realizing how absurdly bridesmaid dresses are sized. Most bridal stores will carry one copy of the dress in a (usually not comprehensive) range of sizes for ladies to use as a starting point, with the understanding that a tailor will likely be necessary to achieve the right fit. But God help you if you’re a curvy gal or otherwise generously proportioned. I recall the entire bridesmaid dress experience as being embarrassing and uncomfortable. If I remember correctly, at one point my sister even had to tell me to stop acting like such a “bridesmaidzilla.”

Those are some of the pain points Brideside seeks to minimize. Its stylists work with brides and their wedding parties to narrow in on fit, color, and fabric, with the goal being to create a cohesive look. (Brideside stocks dresses in sizes 0-30.) Brides can grant account access to their bridesmaids so they, too, can weigh in on the action.

Once decisions have been made, a “try-on box” containing up to three dresses is shipped to the bridesmaids so they can try things on at home. Items that don’t work can be returned for free. Throughout the process, consultants, who each manage about 100 bridal parties simultaneously, check in via text or email with suggestions or to answer questions.

“We’re not ready to tackle wedding gowns, but we’re launching men’s accessories, bridesmaid gifts, flower-girl dresses, and mother-of-the-bride dresses soon,” Staple said. “We sell thousands of dollars of dresses over text now. The more we can keep the conversation in real-time, the more we can keep it mobile, the better. We’re talking about creating an app in the future, but we’re working with several thousand bridal parties per month at this point.”

Sample said the 20-member, all-female Brideside team tripled its revenue last year and has raised a total of $1.8 million from investors so far. Backers include the founders of David’s Bridal and the chief operations officer of Trunk Club.

Ultimately, Brideside seeks to smooth the bridal experience utilizing the digital tools most women use already—digital tools that are usually absent from the brick-and-mortar experience. “I think it comes down to the infrastructure of legacy stores, and the struggle of serving online and offline customers as well as inventory management,” Staple added. “We’ve built Brideside from scratch to make it seamless.”