Ellegra’s online personal styling service provides a new way to shop online
By Kiran Kaur Sidhu March 4, 2021
- Personal stylists use questionnaire & data tools to make fashion recommendations
- Repeat customers key to success, fundraising to improve data capabilities
ALONG with e-commerce, comes a vast amount of choice. But when it comes to fashion, having too much choice can be overwhelming. Ellegra, an online personal styling service, hopes to ease fashion conundrums and make online shopping a more pleasant experience. In the Zalora Southeast Asia Trender Report 2020, the leading fashion e-retailer revealed that women shoppers make up 80% of its sales, compared to 20% by men.
While the female market segment has earned a notorious reputation as avid shoppers especially in the online domain of fashion and beauty, Gwen Delhumeau, the founder of Ellegra, professes to be an outlier. “I hate shopping. For me, shopping is something I would do twice a year and I would spend all my money on those two shopping sprees because I really didn’t want to do it again. It’s ironic because now I am running a personal styling startup,” she quips.
“But it kind of explains why, because I have never been into fashion magazines or spending a lot of time trying to figure out what are the latest trends and what would work for my body [shape]. The reason why I don’t like shopping is because it is just time-consuming and I didn’t enjoy it,” she adds.
For Gwen, e-commerce was her saving grace. But in 2020, upon transitioning into motherhood and experiencing some weight gain, shopping online became trickier. “I would make purchases and return everything because I was making the wrong choices. Basically, shopping wasn’t efficient and result-oriented as I wish it was.”
This pain point, coupled with her experience working with data analytics during her stint as global content planning & analysis director at iflix, triggered the idea for the online personal styling portal, Ellegra. “This is the part of my work experience that made me connect the dots. At iflix, my work involved looking at performance data of the shows. I realised that although the creative industry resists data, it is really powerful in generating value and saving money,” she shared.
Personal styling is perceived as a luxury commodity that is exclusive to the rich and famous, and not shockingly so. This is where Gwen hopes to make a difference through Ellegra. The platform soft launched in June 2019 after six months in development. “I want to make personal styling accessible to everyone,” she said.
To date, 20,000 users have signed up and completed the style quiz although Gwen declined to share the number of customers that have purchased the style box. “As we grow our service, we have seen that about half of our orders come from existing customers every month. Some of our customers are on their sixth box and have adopted Ellegra as their new way to shop for clothes.”
Ellegra has also secured partnerships with brands like Dressing Paula, Mis Claire and D.D Collective, and carry hundreds of other brands. “I know a lot of women like to discover brands that look like them. We try to facilitate brand discovery by having special customer delight Malaysian brands like Ohsebenar and Soonaru.”
Using data for to curate personal style
There is no personalisation without getting to know a client, which is why Ellegra’s platform makes use of data to give its users the best experience. First-time users are required to fill up a detailed five-to-ten minute questionnaire which covers personal preferences, size, fit, lifestyle and other areas.
Ellegra works through a subscription model although it adopts a customer-friendly strategy that allows cancelation at any time. Upon filling up the questionnaire and paying the US$12.50 (RM50) styling fee, users will receive a box of five clothing items picked specifically for them by a trained stylist. Users can try on the items in the comfort of their homes and within three days decide which items they would like to keep or return, with returns dropped off at the nearest Ninja Van location.
The Ellegra team also takes careful precaution against Covid-19 for its customers. While its work from home policy applies to everyone, the operations team that handles packing, works from the office on a need-to basis. In terms of packaging, she commented: “Last year, we read that the virus stays longer on plastic surfaces, hence we started removing all plastic packaging when preparing the clothes into our cardboard style boxes (at the time, cardboard was the lowest risk according to early studies). We have since learnt that the virus is very fragile in the environment and decays very quickly. Upon return from customer, the items are returned to the brands immediately so there’s less exchange of hands.”
When it comes to clothing sizes, the variance between brands can be frustrating. “There are so many nuances, and so, this is where data is useful. We have a team of human personal stylists that work with data provided, and because computers are good at processing a lot of information, it can help with sizing woes between brands,” shared Gwen.
There is also an option to upload a picture of yourself, which she admits will be helpful, but is not compulsory. “You are obviously incentivised to send us good quality information because if you don’t, we are going to send you things that are not going to work for you,” she adds.
With Ellegra collecting large amounts of personal data, the company ensures robust cybersecurity and personal data protection measures are in place. “From a systems perspective, we use Amazon Web Services to store our data which is encrypted at rest. We also don’t provide any personal data to third parties beyond information required by our system and payment providers.”
Ellegra’s personal stylists have access to its proprietary platform where they can view users’ answers to the style quiz and also fashion recommendations based on data from similar user groups. “They also have access to our Style Roulette where users click ‘like’ or ‘thumbs down’ on items of clothing. This information is also communicated to stylists to help them do a good job.”
Ellegra currently has eight part-time personal stylists on board. To keep up with the growth of the platform, it is also actively recruiting and recently partnered with Raffles Fashion School to present its students with the opportunity to become personal stylists. “We are very excited because what we are doing is very forward-looking, not fashion in the traditional sense.”
Gwen believes it is important for fashion stylists to develop data analytic skills. “When we recruit, we favour stylist candidates who have an affinity for technology and understand its potential to facilitate style and new brands discovery. We train our team of stylists continuously as we develop new data-based tools.”
But the big question is whether Ellegra will always need personal stylists down the road or will technology be eventually up to the task. For the foreseeable future, Gwen does not see that replacement happening. “Robots, algorithm and artificial intelligence are great at processing information. People have to feed technology with data and keep doing so until patterns are developed. Technology is great with structured data.”
But when it comes to processing some data, particularly the personal messages that customers send to their stylists, humans are much better at understanding the social context and implications of this information. "For example, a computer is not going to understand that a mother with two active kids may not want to wear heels every day, or if a customer only wants to be sent cotton clothing as she suffers from hyperhidrosis disorder(as it would show sweat) . The [tech] tools are here to serve the stylist and help speed up the process by making suggestions appropriate for the customer based on previous successful customer/product match,” she explains.
Fundraising to put tech on steroids at Ellegra
The startup is aiming to raise funds from angel and seed level investors by September 2021. “The idea with the fundraising is to invest into further improving the tech behind Ellegra to enable it to scale up. Basically, we want to put our tech on steroids,” she quips.
For Ellegra, more client data simply means better matching capabilities. “In order to do this, we need to grow our customer base very quickly. Right now, we have collected over a million data points for our analysis but that is not very much yet.”
On top of expanding its customer base, having repeat customers is key to ensuring Ellegra’s success. “It is a business that works if people keep coming back. And so, for existing customers, we have so much data on them that we need to be able to always get it right somehow,” she said, to justify the need for better technology and data capabilities.
Currently, Ellegra is based out of Kuala Lumpur and offers its services throughout peninsula Malaysia. Although similar players like Lookhiero, Stitch Fix and Outfittery exist in the UK, US and German markets respectively, competition for Ellegra is scarce in the Southeast Asia. In due time, Ellegra plans to enter the Indonesian and Filipino market. “The competition for us right now is mainly fashion e-commerce sites like Zalora and Fashionvalet.”
As for 2021 plans, Gwen and team are focusing on achieving profitability through more revenue-sharing brand partnerships, further tech development, hitting sales target of 10,000 style boxes and enhancing Ellegra’s referral system. “Right now, a lot of sales are coming from existing customers who reorder or talk about us to their friends. We want to make this the power engine of our growth.”
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