Photographs by Dave Puente
A vest and other fashion items from Lewk
Having outfitted men his entire career—primarily at stores—Minneapolis-based entrepreneur Scott Kuhlman has come to a pivotal conclusion: Most guys don’t want to shop.
But they do want to look good, he quickly adds.
So, a decade after creating an eponymous chain of men’s stores that rapidly ballooned to 60-plus locations nationwide, and then just as quickly ran out of air, Kuhlman has adapted to the latest shopping trend: subscription boxes. His new company Lewk (pronounced “look”), created in partnership with digital music and marketing exec Drew Pearson, delivers the contemporary menswear that Kuhlman has always favored, in the form of a monthly prepaid box.
There’s no browsing webpages or e-mailing a virtual stylist. (When it comes to shopping hassles, online browsing is the new brick-and-mortar.) With Lewk, you just choose one of four personas (classic, hipster, rocker, or geek—think Zuckerberg-style hoodies); select one of three price points—$79.99, $149.99, or $399.99; and wait for your box to arrive. Each box contains two or three clothing items and some sort of surprise, which could be food, music, or an accessory. “One of the things we have learned about subscription—subscribers want to open the box and be surprised,” Kuhlman says.
These days, there’s a subscription box for everything from craft supplies to gourmet meals, razors to designer clothes. The rush to box everything consumable is due, in large part, to the success of Birchbox, which sells a monthly box of beauty samples for $10 (and offers full-size versions of the products on its website). A year ago, Fortune magazine reported Birchbox had grown to 800,000 subscribers and an estimated $125 million in annual sales. That kind of startup success attracts the retail establishment. Nordstrom bought subscription clothing service Trunk Club for $350 million. Sephora and Macy’s both launched subscription beauty boxes last year. Evereve, the Edina-based women’s chain with more than 50 stores, launched online styling service Trendsend last August—fill out a brief profile of lifestyle questions and receive an individually curated box of apparel and accessories with styling notes. Evereve estimates Trendsend could double its overall business within five years.
Looks from Lewk, a new Minneapolis-based men’s subscription shopping service.
So along comes Lewk. For an entrepreneur like Kuhlman who’s been burned at the mall, there’s some sense of security in collecting an upfront, ongoing subscription fee. Kuhlman manufactures most of what Lewk boxes, so he knows how much to produce, without having to worry about being left with a loaded clearance rack.
Unlike Trendsend, and category leaders Stitch Fix and Trunk Club, which play up their customized shopping experience, Lewk is more like shopping on autopilot. “Zero stylists. Zero hassles,” boasts the website.
Also, zero returns. Items can be exchanged for size, but that’s it. “One stat coming out of subscription is that you only need to be right 50 percent of the time,” Kuhlman says. “As long as one item is perfect, members are prepared to give away the other item.”
That may be true of a sample-sized soap, but new jeans? Call me old-fashioned, but I think most shoppers—even men—would take the hassle of a return over the waste of new clothes. lewk.com