How Sézane turned French girl fashion into a DTC success story

When Parisian entrepreneur Morgane Sézalory launched an online business late at night, no one in the French fashion industry paid much attention. Only years later, American brands such as Everlane and Glossier raised millions of dollars to finance direct-to-consumer e-commerce, but then Sézalory was a true pioneer.

“I was like an ET – someone from another world – to the industry,” said Sézalory. “It’s funny because the press and a lot of people in the industry thought it couldn’t be anything serious [business]”.

They were wrong. Sézalory’s brand, Sézane, which she founded in 2013, is the biggest success in digital fashion that comes from France. Its several stores in Paris, New York and London regularly build queues around the district, with shoppers vying for the brand’s €150 floaty dresses, €70 breton stripe blouses, €100 boyfriend shirts and €175 casual blazers.

With attractive pricing, a strong brand identity and a close relationship with customers, Sézane has experienced steady and profitable growth since its launch, said Sézalory. She added that sales were up 30 percent year-on-year in 2022. Sézalory declined to comment on the brand’s annual sales figures, but Sézane was reportedly on track to reach €250 million last year. In September, the company sold a minority stake in Tethys to the family office of L’Oréal’s heirs, Bettencourt-Meyers.

Sezane style.

While other DTC brands such as Warby Parker, Allbirds and Glossier are struggling with ongoing losses and stagnating growth – many have now entered wholesale, a channel they avoided only a few years before – Sézane is proof that the original the model of direct contact with the consumer still works. The brand does not have a wholesale exposure and does not plan to cooperate with multi-brand retailers in the future.

Instead, Sézane looks at retail expansion in the US market as the business scales. This week, the brand will open its flagship store in Los Angeles – its third location in North America – following the launch of a new homeware sub-brand, Les Composantes.

“Honestly, I don’t think of Sézane as a classic DTC because most such brands started with a business strategy, a lot of them raised money, and I didn’t at all,” said Sézalory. (Although Sézane was self-funded at first, the company raised venture capital, attracting Summit Partners as a minority investor in 2015. Three years later, General Atlantic acquired an undisclosed stake in Summit, while Tethys bought an undisclosed minority stake last year.)

For now, Sézane has plenty of scope for growth without wholesale – although exceeding a certain threshold later on may require an improvement in the business model.

Frederic Court, founder of Felix Capital, called Sézane a missed opportunity for his VC firm, which has invested in companies ranging from Goop and Mejuri to Farfetch.

“This is one of the most inspiring brands we’ve seen in Europe, building an authentic brand with a great community, having a great range – very accessible – with a very clear identity,” said Court. “Very few of these brands that have gone online have built a very healthy global business.”

Sézalora’s path began in 2004, when she sold vintage clothes on eBay during a gap year after school – as did Nastygal, whose founder, Sophia Amoruso, also started out as an eBay seller. Aside from university, Sézalory decided to set up her own website, Les Composantes, which sold antique finds through the monthly magazine “Les Composantes”.meeting“drop 100 pieces.

Over the years her supporters grew; she began adding her own designs to the mix, which soon began to overshadow the vintage side. This prompted Sézalory, who remains the brand’s CEO and creative director, to relaunch the website as her own brand in 2013.

“I decided I needed to clarify and explain what I was doing, so I changed the name and changed it to Sézane,” she said.

Sézane’s proposition was to sell high-quality vintage-inspired designs at a “very fair” price, said Sézalory. Instead of spending on marketing and advertising, Sézalory invested its profits in product development and design, a key area where other DTC fashion startups struggled to maintain their lead. Without distributors and extensive retail chains, Sézane was able to offer more competitive prices compared to other French contemporary brands such as Sandro, Iro and Isabel Marant.

“Getting a luxurious look at an affordable price – this is where Sézane really comes out on top when you look at its competitors,” said Krista Corrigan, an analyst at retail analytics firm Edited, noting that around 70 percent of the brand’s offerings is priced at £150 ($189) or less.

The drop model played a key role in building hype and excitement around the brand, with limited-edition products quickly selling out online. Every month, the brand created a digital lookbook of the upcoming capsule, announcing new products a few days before the premiere. The setup also minimized leftover inventory for a brand that doesn’t go on sale.

Sezane style.

Prioritizing customer service has also helped Sézane build strong loyalty: while the brand hasn’t grown its customer base as quickly as it could if it had invested heavily in digital marketing, the customers that discovered it stayed. His fans quickly became the best advertisement for the brand: Word of mouth remains the biggest branding tool, said Sézalory.

“I know we could still develop much faster,” she said. “But I’ve always made it clear to myself and my team that we need to set boundaries and we stick to them.”

Ready-to-wear is the brand’s bread and butter, but it has built a strong business in higher-margin categories like bags and shoes, which account for 35 percent of the business. Its menswear sub-brand, Octobre Editions, is small but growing fast – it’s on track to increase the company’s sales by 20 percent this year, Sézalory said.

Sézalory hopes that household items will soon become another source of revenue for the company. The Les Composantes line saw its first drop this week, including lamps for €245 and pillows for €70, as well as selected vintage furniture and Italian ceramics. We are also working on a line of children’s clothing, said Sézalory.

E-commerce, which accounts for 90% of brand sales, was supplemented by physical outlets. In 2017, the brand made its debut Apartment concept – spaces designed to feel more like Parisian apartments than clothing stores – as a way for shoppers to experience the brand in real life. Today, Sézane has 10 locations in France (Paris, Bordeaux, Lille and Provence), two in the US (New York and San Francisco) and one in the UK (London).

This week, the brand will open its newest Sézane apartment in Brentwood, an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood. It comes as Sézane prepares to open a satellite office in the city in September to oversee the US market, which in 2022 generated 25 percent of the brand’s sales. Further store openings in Lyon and London are also planned for the end of this year.

“They treated it in such a unique, boutique way,” said retail consultant Robert Burke of the apartment store concept. “It’s cozy; it feels like a French vintage shop with a sense of discovery and the customer is really drawn to it.”

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