Jeanne Foley and Diana Ganz are counting down the days until they can finally deliver what many of their female customers have been requesting for years: tuxedos and suits made especially for women.
Their Chicago-based company, The Groomsman Suit, currently sells tuxedos and suits for men online. The women's collection is due out in the fall.
"We've been developing a women's collection for almost two years," says Foley. "But because our menswear business took off so quickly we had to focus on that business [first]."
Foley and Ganz founded The Groomsman Suit in 2016 with the initial goal of selling well-fitting men's tuxedos at a discount. Today, a typical tuxedo from the company costs $194. To help customers find the best fit, the website has a Fit Finder tool. The company also ships all orders, returns and exchanges for free, says Foley.
The idea for the company came to Foley during her wedding in 2013 (Ganz was her bridesmaid). "We didn't want the guys in our wedding party to spend a fortune on their tuxes, but renting was the only option we knew of," she says, noting that rentals cost more than $200 each once accessories like the tie, shoes and all of the fees are tacked on.
Plus, "the tuxes didn't look right or fit right." says Foley. "I know because I looked at fit all the time for my job."
Foley had majored in fashion design at the Illinois Institute of Art and had specialized in fitting clothes at both Abercrombie & Fitch and Under Armour.
Buying a tux would have ensured a better fit, but that would have cost each of the groomsmen upwards of $400, she says.
Designing a tux for under $200
Foley, 37, and Ganz, 36, have been friends since their middle school days in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
"Jeanne grew up making her own clothes. She even made our prom dresses," Ganz recalls.
"My grandmother was a great seamstress and so was my mom," says Foley. "To me, it was like magic, picking out fabrics and patterns with her and imagining what they would look like as clothes."
After getting married and moving to New York in 2014, Foley settled into her new job with Under Armour and pursued her startup on the side. She cold-called fabric stores to get pricing information and researched suppliers. She also spent months making sample suits, testing them on her husband Kevin.
Ganz was working with a tech startup in Boston when she got a call from her longtime friend. "She told me about her idea. I thought it was great," she says.
Ganz, who has a business degree from MIT Sloan School of Management, came on board and the two funded the launch themselves with $50,000.
In early 2016, they turned to Kickstarter to test market demand and raise funds for their website. They received 100 suit orders on Kickstarter in 30 days, garnering about $11,000 in pre-orders.
"For us, it was the validation we needed," says Ganz.
At the end of 2017 — its first full year of business — the startup took in $300,000 in sales. It became profitable in 2018, logging $2.5 million in sales after it sold some 13,000 suits and outfitted 1,000 weddings, says Foley.
The company is now in the midst of its first seed round of funding and has already raised $1 million of its $1.5 million goal.
Ganz said their upcoming women's collection has been of particular interest to investors.
"The women's line has been a focal point in our fundraising round and a portion of the funding will go toward the first inventory of the product," she says.
Answering the call for women
Thanks in part to a recent rash of A-list celebrities wearing pantsuits on the red carpet, a growing number of women are choosing to wear tuxedos when they tie the knot, says Liene Stevens, a consultant for the wedding industry and founder and CEO of Think Splendid.
"Wedding gowns certainly aren't going anywhere, [but] the chic tux styles offer an alternative to tradition that is still timeless in its look," she adds.
Some women would even buy men's suits from The Groomsman's Suit and have them altered, says Foley. But what most of the women really wanted was their own collection, specifically fitted for their body type.
"We were constantly getting inquiries from women who wanted to buy our suiting," says Foley.
So Foley designed a small sample of women's tuxedos and posted about it on Chicago Queer Exchange's Facebook page, inviting women to come to the company's showroom and try on her creations.
"We had over 50 people come and give feedback. A few women purchased the samples because they liked them so much," says Foley. "That was really the moment we realized the need for the line, not just for the LGBTQ community, but for all women who want affordable menswear-inspired suiting that fits well."
Like the menswear collection, the women's tuxedo and suit collection will also be priced at $194. "We will include sizes 0 to 20," she says. "Just like with the men's collection, you can mix and match jackets and pants."
Says Foley, "We're trying to make tuxedos and suits more mainstream for women, too."
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