When you’re a designer in your 20’s, understanding the woman over 40 can be a challenge. I know this because that was my job at one time. However, after ten years of focusing on primarily designing for this woman, I began to understand her needs and priorities when it came to clothing. Flash forward to today and I’m one year away from falling into the category that my young self designed for over a decade ago.
Once you hit a certain age, you shop for things not just for cute styles but for coverage, flattering cuts, camouflaging measures and more. You begin to learn which jeans will add or take away 10lbs., how to use clothing so it doesn’t look like you’ve carried a baby in your belly numerous times and how to keep your arm fat from flapping free. Women in this age group shop more defensively because she’s got a litany of things to contend with. It just can’t be cute, it has to function. This woman also knows what she likes, how she likes it and isn’t swayed easily by fleeting trends.
This woman is also frustrated. Fashion typically caters to a younger customer. I can speak from personal experience and know that there isn’t a designer out there who graduates from school and has the set-in-her ways woman (with a dossier of body issues) as their ideal customer to design for. The woman over 40 is not known to the design world as fun or exciting…even if she usually does have the bigger pocketbook.
Yet, there are always brands, stores and labels who are trying to reach this customer. A line like one of my personal favorite workhorse line Dobbin Clothing aims to do that. There are stores like Talbots and Chico’s, labels like Eileen Fisher, Lafayette 148 and others who also strive to give this woman some flattering items season after season.
Enter Halsbrook.com, a new site that caters to the fashion needs of a woman over 40.
While it may hardly seem like a website like this is breaking any new ground, it actually is. This is one of the few online sites curated with different brands and styles for a woman in this age group. Oh, and it was started by a 28 year old, Harvard Business School graduate, To Halsey Schroeder.
Now before you start jumping for joy and scrambling over to the site, I will warn you the prices are on the steeper side (dresses are $300-$1,300) and, honestly, there is very little on the site that you can’t just as easily get at your favorite high-end department store. Yet, according to an article in the Telegram, “What we are offering is a high-quality curated collection, warm customer service, an easy-to-navigate website and a shopping experience that is elegant,” said Schroeder.
Smartly, Schroeder knew that understanding this customer would take some experience, she hired Rosemary Audia, a former employee of Bloomingdales for 30 years as a vice president for designer fashion.
Do I think a site like this can be successful? I think it can be if they are smart and really think through the needs of this woman. An example they cited in the Telegram article was thinking that a sleeveless dress should probably be paired with a cardigan. These are the things that designers and merchandisers need to constantly think about when dressing and designing for a woman of this age. I remember vividly being a designer for this customer, and now dressing her through my business. It truly is like style math or cause and effect. You have to think a few steps ahead of an outfit so that you are covering every need. If they constantly keep this in mind they are off to a good start.
The other thing that will effect how successful they are will be their customer service and the help and solutions they provide. Like I mentioned earlier, this woman doesn’t just buy pieces because they are pretty to look at, she’s more thoughtful than that. I think Halsbrook.com’s success will be greatly determined if they really give their customer an online experience that not only gives this woman great clothes but educates and solves her most pressing problems at the same time. Shopping online, this woman doesn’t have the ability to try on a ton of stuff in the dressing room, therefore the site will really need to drill down with their shopper and give them some great guidelines, suggestions that go beyond just telling them a piece is pretty or a must-have and also arm their customer with the confidence that she is making the right choice. While the woman over 40 is confident and knows who she is, because of the extensive list of issues that need to be addressed and cared for, it is crucial that you let her know she is making the right choice. The more confident she feels about that, the more she will buy and the more loyal she will become. So, my hope is that Halsbrook doesn’t just throw up pretty pieces that anyone can find anywhere, but that they take it a step further and give this customer irresistible advice and solutions.
Let’s see how they do.