This Company Creates Custom Wedding Dresses That Are Actually Affordable
Weddings are a big business. If you adore everything about weddings, you might want to consider a career in this constantly evolving and growing industry. Intrepid female entrepreneurs have recognized ways to modernize the wedding planning process, from custom wedding registry sites like Zola to popular wedding aesthetic blogs like Rustic Wedding Chic. Leslie Voorhees, the co-founder of Anomalie, a company that custom-designs wedding dresses, found shopping for her own wedding dress to be so tedious that she reinvented the process for future brides. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job, we chat with Voorhees about how she married her background in product development and manufacturing to create dream dresses for blissful brides.
(Photo via Summer Wilson)
Meet the Wedding Dress Pro: Leslie Voorhees
When Voorhees was looking for her own wedding dress in 2016, she couldn’t understand why there wasn’t an affordable online alternative to expensive boutique wedding dress shops. With extensive experience as a product developer — first for Nike, then Apple’s Watch — Voorhees applied her career knowledge to a new industry: wedding dresses. After she obtained her own custom-made dress from China, friends of friends started requesting dresses too, and Voorhees and her husband Calley knew that they had an idea that was worth pursuing. Now, Anomalie is helping connect hopeful brides with the designs they want at the fraction of the price of a designer gown. Voorhees shares with us how she and her co-founder husband built their startup from the ground up.
(Photo via Maddie Blecha Photography)
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Leslie Voorhees: Since half my team and all our workshops are in China, I usually stay up pretty late (since it’s their daytime), so I don’t wake up until around 8am. Quick check-in with the team on the day’s production, then our Instagram, then always coffee and a hearty breakfast; usually I’ll make scrambled eggs, but sometimes I’ll treat myself with a donut (there’s an amazing shop in our building, and it’s so tempting!). I shower at night to save time in the morning, so I’m out the door quickly, and my commute is just a three-block walk.
(Photo via Reny Preussker)
B+C: What inspired you to start your company?
LV: Anomalie came out of my personal experience wedding dress shopping. I was so surprised during my wedding gown search in 2016 about how hard it was to find a dress that aligned with my style, fit correctly, and didn’t have an offensive price. I didn’t understand why there were no online options that brought more transparency and customization than the mom-and-pop boutiques.
At the time, I was working for Apple in China for the Watch. I learned that the city nearby the Apple factory produces 80 percent of the world’s wedding dresses. I visited on a weekend and used connections to find some top workshops that make dresses for the expensive boutique brands. The lightbulb occurred when I saw a dress I recognized that sells in the US for thousands and realized it cost only hundreds to make.
I made my dress at this factory and mentioned it to a couple friends. Within a week, I had 30 emails from friends of friends asking to make them a dress on my next China trip. My husband and I became obsessed with wedding dresses and realized a brand with great design support, great operations/supply chain management, and great tech could bring more customization, value, and transparency to this broken market. We both quit our jobs within three months, and I basically started living overseas to make relationships with workshops and manage production of our dresses.
(Photo via Reny Preussker)
B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?
LV: I’m an introvert and am most comfortable rolling up my sleeves in a factory. I think constant and effective communication from the CEO about a company’s vision (to employees, investors, customers, etc.) is vital for any successful startup, so I’m constantly challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone of this public element of being a startup founder.
B+C: Tell us about how your family and friends help support your business.
LV: My husband Calley is also my co-founder, so we’d be nothing if we weren’t both supporting each other. It is difficult to articulate how amazing our families are — whether my parents are flying from Portland to help us move into our office or Calley’s parents are dropping off homemade food. Our friends have been incredibly supportive as our earliest customers, investors, and cheerleaders.
Our families and friends have also been very patient with us, because we’ve been fully consumed with wedding dresses. For anyone considering the startup road, I think it is important to mention that Y Combinator is right that startups are not the choice if you care about work/life balance and being the best friend, spouse, or parent. It’s all-consuming in a way that is hard to describe, and it is important to understand this, lean into it, and not complain about it (we signed up for it!). Calley and I feel we are the luckiest people to have this opportunity, and there’s nothing we’d rather be doing at this stage in our lives.
(Photo via Asia Dore)
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
LV: When I asked my mom what I should do in college, she recommended that I become an engineer — I was good at math/science and she predicted (rightfully so) that it’d be easier to get a job. This led to amazing opportunities living around the world helping to build products I love — first Nike shoes, then an Apple product, and now wedding dresses!
B+C: What do you love about your job?
LV: Hearing from our brides that we made a positive impact on their wedding experience. We have made dresses from size 00 to size 30 and for women from 4′ tall to 6’6″ — women throughout these spectrums experience pain points with wedding dress shopping, and it is so gratifying to offer them a better solution. Stories that stand out include recently hearing from a bride who was experiencing weight fluctuations before her wedding due to chemotherapy and didn’t think she’d get a dress to fit her until she met us; receiving a text from a bride on her wedding day, saying she had been dreading wedding dress shopping for years (because she was plus-sized) and has never felt more beautiful than she does in her custom dress; and hearing from a bride saying she had dreamed from the time she was a little girl of a wedding dress that incorporated Western and Indian influences but never thought it was possible until Anomalie. We’re making the most gorgeous, important, and emotional purchase a woman will ever make — it’s impossible to get bored or demotivated here!
(Photo via Julia Lexx Photography)
B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.
LV: I think about Glossier and Stitch Fix every day, so Emily Weiss and Katrina Lake. These companies are on the leading edge of trends that will shape retail going forward. For Glossier, Emily understood better than anyone that an ongoing conversation/feedback loop with the customer needs to be in the operational DNA of a brand. I admire Katrina and Stitch Fix so much because they understand that the future of fashion is in data/operations. I think the trend of “mass customization” (i.e., consumers demanding more choice rather than selecting set options) is going to uproot how clothes are sold, and Katrina saw this very early.
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it be?
LV: First, this is the golden age to be a female entrepreneur, particularly in e-commerce. There are so many pain points women face and still so many secrets to be discovered. The best thing Calley and I did before starting Anomalie was brainstorm ideas and pain points every night at dinner for about a year. We went through many bad ideas, but eventually came up with the idea for Anomalie after I found the workshops in China. If you have a physical product idea, don’t worry about investors early on: Make it as leanly as you can and try to sell it to your friends. If your friends pay money for it and tell other people to, you have a good business. This traction will be validation to you that you have something and helpful for fundraising. Investors see that there are massive markets where women have been experiencing inexplicable pain points for too long — from bras (Third Love), to home design (Houzz), to athletic apparel (Outdoor Voices), to makeup (Glossier), to retail (Stitch Fix).
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!