Lifestyle

Fashion startup resuscitates lost art of dressmaking

AubriePhotoshoot

Sometimes the hardest things to find are the simplest things. I can easily track down a rainbow-sparkled adult-sized tutu, but finding the perfect little black dress seems impossible.

Style startup Bow and Drape is taking a needle and thread to the fashion industry by letting women easily and affordably design their own clothing. The site launched today with six foundational silhouettes, which women can tailor, tweak, alter, and augment online. Once the perfect garment has been ordered, it is made in a Bow and Drape sample room in New York and shipped. The lead time is usually around two weeks.

Bow and Drape was born after founder Aubrie Pagano faced the perpetual problem of a closet-full-of-clothes-but-nothing-to-wear. She was searching for a dress for an upcoming family wedding and could not find anything that matched her taste. Tired of unsuccessfully scrolling through e-commerce sites  and rifling through department store racks, she decided to design and sew her own dress.

“I spent a month designing and sewing the dress, and it came out beautifully,” she said. “But that cemented in my mind that I couldn’t be the only one who wanted more control. Custom-made clothing isn’t accessible for most women who can’t spend thousands on an atelier gown from Paris but still want something beautiful just for them.

Her vision is to create an online personal dressmaker based on a few universally flattering and appealing templates. Women can adjust the hemline, sleeve, bodice, neckline, fabric, color, and trim. With all the permutations and combinations, there are over 30,000 possible modifications.

Finding the right fit is also important for crafting the perfect dress. Many menswear portals allow men to input their measurements and receive tailored clothing in return, but Pagano realized this model does not work for women.

“While we were testing the product, we saw that women did not want to put in their measurements online,” she said. “What works for guys does not stack up for women online, who are not in the tradition of getting things custom-tailored. Women are three-dimensionial, and it is intimidating because there is more room for error.”

Instead of asking inseam length or waistline, Bow and Drape prompts users to enter their height, bra size, and general body shape. This can guide them toward the most flattering styles for their frame, as well as inform cut decisions. Pagano said 60 percent of returns happen due to bad sizing, and so she offers her customers a fit kit with fabric swatches and size samples so they can try them on at home before buying.

The garments cost between $100 to $400, which many women are willing to pay for this degree of personalization and quality.

Women and men used to have relationships with their clothing,” said Pagano. “Fifty years or 100 years ago, a dressmaker would take inspiration from the designs of [the] time. She would listen to your needs and make things for you. There was time and care sewn into every stitch. That has totally been lost. I want to get women back to wearing clothes for more than 20 seconds. These are staple wardrobe pieces they will love for 20 years.”

Bow and Drape was founded by Pagano and her fellow Harvard alum Shelly Madick in 2011. It’s based in Boston. The team is competing at MassChallenge today to win entry to a 3-month accelerator program and cash awards.