Austin’s Trunkist Uses the Web to Offer Prêt-à-Porter On Demand

Xconomy Texas — 

Dustin Hindman wants to bring the made-to-order manufacturing system Dell Computer pioneered in technology to fashion.

“I learned firsthand the build-to-order model,” says Hindman, who worked at the Austin, TX-area computer company for eight years. “You produce exactly what the consumer wanted. There’s no waste. I thought, why doesn’t fashion do that?”

To answer that question, Hindman founded Trunkist, a “digital trunk show” featuring limited edition collections from up-and-coming designers. The website, which went live in June, features 25 articles of clothing for men and women: shirts, blouses, dresses, and skirts. Currently, the prices range from $49 to $198.

Essentially, the clothes are not manufactured until a minimum number of orders are made. This keeps Trunkist from having inventory just lying around.

“There is a 30-day pre-order campaign when we collect orders,” he says. “At the end of that campaign, we close it. We never offer the product again.”

Currently featured on Trunkist are designers from the most recent season of the “Project Runway” television show. Hindman had met designer Lindsey Creel, who is also based in Austin, and she connected him to other designers, Kelly Dempsey, Amanda Perna, and Duncan Chambers-Watson. The clothes will be available for order until mid-January.

“We make sure great fabric is purchased, that high-quality manufacturers are contacted,” Hindman says. “We make sure the product is delivered to the customer as committed.”

The designers, he says, can focus on the designing.

Trunkist, along with other crowdsourced—the crowdsourcing comes in the form of users’ orders—fashion websites like Nineteenth Amendment in New York and Betabrand in San Francisco, is looking to leverage technology to help small designers get over a first major obstacle. When you’re relatively new, you don’t typically have the sort of consumer-buying data manufacturers want. And those manufacturers don’t usually want to work on small batch orders.

Betabrand, which features models like WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and products like the “executive hoodie”—for that tech CEO who won’t wear a suit!—raised $15 million from Morgan Stanley and the Foundry Group in October. Nineteenth Amendment began a partnership last June that will feature its designers’ clothes on the Macy’s department store website.

People’s acceptance of crowd-sourced projects helps to build credibility for these fashion sites, Hindman says. “It’s fallout from the Kickstarter and Indiegogo world; they’ve started this,” he says. “People contribute to the campaign and wait for the product they’ve decided to back.”

The designers are “backed” through orders from customers.

Trunkist, which so far has raised about $75,000 in friends-and-family money, is the newest of the bunch. The company takes a 5 percent commission from each sale, similar to an affiliate marketing payment, and Hindman says he is looking to raise a seed round in 2016 to enhance the site by offering a mobile app, for example.

Helping him run the company is Kristan Glass, a former Tommy Hilfiger executive who’s recently come on board to Trunkist as chief creative officer. “I’m a fashion industry outsider; she’s a fashion industry insider,” he says.

Hindman does have some fashion experience. He previously founded Hartwell Outfitters, an outdoor apparel company, which he says failed in large part because of the difficulty for small shops to access the traditional retail pipeline. “The people we work with have built a very interesting, specialized intimate market,” he says.