STARTUP SPOTLIGHT

Think jeans shopping is the worst? An Austin woman can help – with AI

Posted May 16th, 2018

It began a few years ago in a fitting room. “I had a really hard time in a boutique once trying to find jean that fit and i remember thinking to myself there has to be a technology solution for this,” said Kelly Ernst.

“I tend to tie a lot of my self esteem to clothing and things like that,” she said, and she wasn’t alone. She started asking around. 

“When I noticed that a lot of women were having this problem, I’d just float it out there, ‘What’s it like shopping for jeans?’ People would say, ‘Oh my god this is the worst.’ A lot of women internalize this, they think there’s something wrong with their bodies.”

Ernst — who worked as a software engineer in New York City for JPMorgan Chase & Co., then in software for the education technology company CompassLearning in Austin — held onto the idea of finding a tech solution for the nightmare of shopping for jeans. When she was laid off from Compass about two years after it was acquired, she knew it was time to act on her denim dream.

She began working on Redenim, a shopping website geared toward women that exclusively sells jeans. 

 

WHAT THEY DO: The site is a mix of personal shopping help and artificial-intelligence-based software. It focuses on the fit of jeans and helps eliminate “Choice fatigue” that shoppers may get at traditional retail sites. Redenim charges a $19 styling fee that is applied to purchases and asks questions to help a shopper, particularly those who may not find the kinds of jeans in their sizes easily, get the right size.

Shoppers start by answering a series of questions, which takes about three or four minutes.

Redenim sends that shopper three pairs of jeans and the customer can keep and purchase the ones they want and send back the rest at no shipping charge within a week.

Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMANKelly Ernst presents Redenim during a demo night for DivInc at Google Fiber building in downtown Austin, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. .

Ernst says she’s focused hard on “Jenome,” the artificial intelligence software behind Redenim’s platform, which she began coding herself. As more users shop, the software can group them together, learning from their sizing preferences and do an increasingly better job matching product to shoppers, she said.

The company buys wholesale from designers including AG/Hudson, Levi’s and Mavi, selling the jeans for what they’d cost at retail.

WHO THEY ARE: In addition to CEO and founder Ernst, the company has four full-time employees and two interns. A lead stylist signs off on every box that goes out, Ernst said. “She looks and really tries to get to know what the customer wants and will make the final call,” she said.

INVESTMENT: The company was part of the first round of companies to come out of Austin’s DivInc, in late 2016. In January, the company was accepted into the Sputnik ATX accelerator, giving Ernst $100,000 in funding and office space at 301 Congress Ave.

BIGGEST CHALLENGE: The company, which has about 500 customers currently, officially launched in March and is just starting to ramp up its marketing beyond word-of-mouth buzz. Since March, the company has been growing at a rate of about five percent a week.

Ernst said she’s spent a lot of time validating and testing the site’s software and continuing to improve it so that it can scale and provide a good customer experience even if Redenim has a spike in new customers. There is the possibility that Redenim could license its AI software or apply it to other kinds of products. But for now, Ernst said, she’s laser focused on jeans and says she knows there are many, many women who need a better way to shop for them.

“You shouldn’t have to have jeans altered every time. You should be able to shop and get what you want,” she said.

Startup Spotlight 

The Statesman's Startup Spotlight series highlights Central Texas startups that might otherwise be overlooked. To nominate a startup for the series, email Lori Hawkins at lhawkins@statesman.com, Omar L. Gallaga at ogallaga@statesman.com or Sebastian Herrera at sherrera@statesman.com.

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