(Photo courtesy of Black Box Denim)
Customized products have risen to prominence in this age of ecommerce. Black Box Denim is taking advantage of this demand by solving a consumer problem we’ve all faced in our lives — finding the perfect pair of jeans.
The winner of last year’s Wharton Business Plan Competition undergrad award (and $10,000), Black Box Denim is an ecommerce startup that allows you to order customized jeans based on your color preferences, the style you want and of course, your measurements.
Behind the Black Box Denim brand are student entrepreneurs Adina Luo and Molly Liu, both juniors at Penn’s Wharton School of Business. Prior to the start of freshman year, Liu made a bold move to message Luo on Facebook after seeing that they had one mutual friend. This quickly became the start of a long-lasting friendship and business partnership that you can call serendipitous.
A few coffee chats later about startups, fashion, traveling and more, and Liu and Luo decided that they would spend their first summer in college traveling to Guangzhou, China (“the textile capital of the world,” Luo told the Philadelphia Daily News) in search of low-cost manufacturing for the initial idea of making custom leather handbags.
After visiting multiple leather manufacturers in China, and Luo and Liu realized that the leather market was too expensive.
This led them to pivot and look into the denim market instead. Multiple cities, multiple motorcycle commutes and trips to over 200 denim stores later, and Luo and Liu had their product — custom hand-made denim jeans.
Here’s the pitch: Unlike mass-produced jeans, Black Box Denim offers custom jeans where every single pair is handmade in China and tailored directly to your measurement, the founders said. They added that they have a strong focus on what an individual is, being unique and embracing your body shape. The product, they argue, hits a price point ($125) and quality level that not many companies can rival.
We spoke to the founders, who launched their ecommerce site two weeks ago, about their experiences with the company.
On “the best way to learn”
Becoming a student entrepreneur is “the best way to learn,” Liu said.
“Being an entrepreneur is such an experience, you can do so much by starting your own company, combining everything you learn in class and just applying it to everything you do,” she said.
With a desire to validate their product and gain more visibility, the duo decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign last fall to help them bootstrap their product. They surpassed their goal, raising more than $27,000 and preselling 200 pairs of jeans.
A video shows you how to quickly get your measurements and you’re on your way to placing your order on their online platform. After eight months of prototyping and finalizing every type of cut and finding how to code the measurements to spit out the perfect pair, Liu and Luo launched their product.
On balancing school and their startup
“It’s really a matter of prioritizing,” Luo said. “I feel like it really helps that we’re good team and we work well together.”
Liu added that it’s a matter of, “Figuring out for you, what do you value? For us, we value learning.”
On the most important thing about entrepreneurship
“With entrepreneurship, you can spend your entire life planning and thinking about what you may want to do but the only way to do anything is to execute,” Luo said. “A lot of people get caught up in the planning stages of an idea and business but don’t want to release until they’re perfect and ready but you’re never going to anticipate everything. What’s most important is just to go for it and make it happen.”
For Liu, the greatest thing she learned was that, “Getting from point A to point B, there’s no one path. There’s, like, 80,000 paths, and you can choose which one you want to take and every single path will take you along a different experience.”
On the craziest experience while running the the company
“Last year, we ordered packaging boxes for the jeans and we thought that it would just be 50 pounds but when the boxes finally got here, we had to rent out Mazda Zip Cars to drive to a warehouse 40 minutes away, even getting lost in the process,” Liu said.
She added, “We tried to pack the boxes in but they were just humongous. They were around 1,000 pounds, and they literally took up all the space of our car.”
She ended her story by talking about how once they got back to campus she had to rush back to class to take a midterm — one she doesn’t want to remember but definitely can’t forget.
While Black Box Denim keeps these two running around, they still find time to enjoy themselves. Luo loves watching pop-culture shows like “The Mindy Project” and television cooking shows, and even managed to convince Liu to do the same.
The dynamic between these two was really evident. “We both keep each other going. We drive each other forward,” Luo said. “There’s a reason that startups by one person are really hard because you need someone to celebrate with you when you’re doing great. And it’s also really hard, and there are a lot of rough spots and you need someone else to be there going through it with you.”