How Trunkist Is Enabling Apparel For Up And Coming Fashion Designers

If you are an up and coming, fashion and apparel designer who'd like to launch your own apparel brand, it's quite a significant amount of work to not only design your own apparel, but contracting with garment manufacturers, handling ordering and customer service, and more. Luckily, Austin-based startup Trunkist ( recently launched, to handle all of that hassle--from working with apparel manufacturers to taking online orders--for up and coming, fashion designers and influencers. We spoke with founder Dustin Hindman, about how he's combined his experience working for Dell with his interest in apparel, to create Trunkist.

What is Trunkist?

Dustin Hindman: We're a fashion-tech company, based in the Capital Factory business accelerator here in Austin. What we do is, we help new branders come to market and monetize their brand, through apparel, and we do that in a risk-free way. Our business model is based on cut-to-order, which basically says we don't produce any apparel until we've sold it in a pre-order campaign. By new branders, the people we work with, are typically very popular online, and reached that popularity because they were on TV, such as on a reality TV show. An example of that is Project Runway, where we are working with influencers who have carved out an interesting niche for themselves. An example there is The Modest Man, who is running a campaign with us. That's a very popular blog for men who are 5 foot 9, but want to dress taller. He has a very loyal following, and designs shirts that are very specifically created for the shorter man.

What's your background, and how did you start?

Dustin Hindman: I am merging two things with this startup. One, is I worked at Dell for many years. Dell is a computer company which has really made their name with a built-to-order operation. When I worked at Dell, I saw how they could take an order, and build and ship to a customer, in a way that they never take inventory risk. They're able to provide more value to customers, and give them exactly what they want. I'm taking that build-to-order model from Dell, and applying it to fashion. We call it cut-to-order, and we have tweaked a few things in order to make it work, but it does work. I'm taking that Dell experience, and all that I learned about the build-to-order business, the supply chain, and combining it with my background. I had previously launched my own, outdoor apparel brand and ran it for three years. At that apparel brand, I got pigeonholed into the traditional way fashion does business, which just doesn't make sense to me. So, with Trunkist, I'm applying my Dell experience, that build-to-order expertise, with my fashion experience in outdoor apparel, and applying it to this new company.

Why would someone want to use your service? Can't they do this themselves?

Dustin Hindman: If you're Brock, who runs The Modest Man, his full time job is serving his audience that he's built up. He's carved out a nice online, a very big niche, of men who are 5-9 and under. In terms of editorial content and product reviews, just about everything he does is a full time job. But Brock wants to order clothing he has designed that is perfect for a man five foot nine an dunder. To do that, he needs help, and that help is Trunkist. If Brock could go find a division of an apparel company to work for him, it would be called Trunkist, which looks just like the apparel division of his blog.

How do you deal with lead time and minimum orders, lag time from overseas, and other issues that apparel companies typically run into?

Dustin Hindman: Yes, there are lead times if your producing your product overseas, and lead times are longer, mostly because of ocean freight time. Obviously, however, that's not a problem with production in the U.S. In general, the lead times are shorter. What we do with Trunkist, is we produce and deliver all of our garments within a 6 to 8 week time, from when the pre-order ends. The way we do that, is we have really good manufacturers working with us, and we build our orders in a way that when we come to those manufacturers, we already have cash in hand, all the orders placed, fabric ready, and it's all ready for a manufacturer to pick up and work in, and to produce very quickly. What we want to do, eventually, is like Dell's model, where they were able to build and ship billions of dollars of computers within 5 days. That was at Dell's prime. We want to bring that six to 8 weeks down, and get that down to one or two weeks over the next couple of years.

How has it been going from the high tech world of Dell to the less high tech work of fashion apparel?

Dustin Hindman: They are different. But, that's one reason I'm attracted to the fashion industry, because it's been a little reluctant to change. There are lots of changes happening in the industry now, and if you think about how technology has changed fashion so far, it's mostly that people now have a website and sell stuff on that website. I think that's really just the beginning of the changes in the fashion industry. The industry absolutely has to change, because, today, there is a lot of excess inventory waste. There's also been a collapse of choice. Shoppers have found it very repetitive, because every store is selling the same thing. The reason why, is that brands are trying to minimize the risk they put into their stores, and so they just stick with what they are really good at. One of the people I recently hired is Kristan Glass, who was previously VP of Women's Wear Design at Tommy Hilfiger. The left Tommy Hilfiger to join us. One thing she talks about a lot is that at Tommy, there was a real incentive at such a big brand—which makes sense—to really focus on the core only, with the result that the willingness to take a risk is pretty low. In our model, cut-to-order, you don't take on that inventory risk. You don't buy thousands of pieces of apparel, hoping that it will sell, because you're only producing what will sell, and that allows you to actually offer up new, interesting things to your customers. So it's okay if they order a lot, and it's also okay if they don't. That's really the Dell way.

How did the deal with the Project Runway designers come about?

Dustin Hindman: Lindsey Creel, who was on Project Runway Season 14, lives in Austin. I got to know Lindsey, because she's here in Austin, and she helped provide the connection to the other designers on the show. She made introductions, and we had conversations over a few weeks, and they all decided they wanted to work with us. We are particularly excited about working with Kelly Dempsey, who was runner up this season, and she has some really great pieces on our site that she showed off in the show, and also put out at New York Fashion Week. For Kelly, this is just a perfect fit. Kelly has the creative talent, and audience, and following, but didn't have any manufacturing contacts, and didn't have a lot of experience working with manufacturers. She spends most of her time doing events, promotions, and is really a very busy person. So it helps her to have a team like Trunkist, looking out for her best interests.