Issue No. 238: Inclusivity has many forms.

The Launch of Cotton Bureau’s Blank

I first mentioned Cotton Bureau in Issue No. 203, where I expounded on what I found fascinating about the Commerce startup (and fourth fastest growing company in Pittsburgh). Most recently, their focus has been on sizing inclusivity. In Issue No. 217, I wrote:
Cotton Bureau is one-step closer to filling a void left behind by American Apparel’s bankruptcy. They’ve begun manufacturing a new type of tee for all shapes and sizes. It’s called “Blank” and it has the potential to solve a gaping sourcing issue in a major fashion segment.Women and men needed better, more accurate t-shirt sizing. 

From this simple assessment,Blank was born. From the now-successful Kickstarter for the project:

You see, finding a wholesale t-shirt manufacturer that fits all our criteria has been…challenging (to say the least). We need a brand with modern fits, a wide range of colors and fabrics, ethical manufacturing, reliable quality and consistency, always-available stock, and it’d be reeeeal nice if it was made in America. Finding a brand that checks all those boxes and oh yeah also fits women is damn near impossible. If you can find a women’s brand that comes in our preferred colors and fabrics, it’s only available in mega-tiny junior sizing. If it’s sized to fit most women, the cut is awkward, the fabric isn’t anywhere near our standards, and it comes in whatever color you want…as long as that color is pink. It’s frustrating for us as a company, and every bit as frustrating for you as our customer.

In a recent conversation with a Senior Editor of a lauded men’s publication, the gentleman posed the question to us: “but what’s the angle to cover for men?” He asked this un-ironically but in doing so, it established why I believe there will be a successful product market fit for Blank’s offering.
Sizing woes can illicit a sense of embarrassment or even shame from consumers – especially men. Men seem to be more ashamed to seek a solution to sizing inaccuracies. But this is nothing new, it took a decade of female consumers lauding performance fabric sportswear for men to do the same. Now, athleisure is leading the industry in product innovations and companies like Lululemonand Outdoor Voices are widely accepted by all.

Long before American Apparel exacerbated the sizing issue by marketing their products as exclusionary, this practice was found in tween retailers. Many can remember being a normal-sized kid while needing to purchase an XXL tee from A&F or American Eagle. In a normal world, XXL would be worn by an NFL tight end. Today, you’ll see the same practices at Hollister and other retailers who target teenage and young adult consumers.

For adults, sizing in t-shirts hasn’t improved either and the product shaming has only increased. American Apparel set this market trend, years ago. Though it’s now owned by Gildan, producing a wider offering with accurate sizing would still be viewed as detrimental to the brand.
By the conclusion of our chat, that Senior Editor recognized that there was, in fact, an industry problem and he welcomed the solution. I have a feeling that many consumers will welcome Blank, just the same.

This is the opinion of Web Smith.
See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 174: Reshaping eCommerce

10 Startups That Are Reshaping eCommerce in 2017


Company: Affirm
Funding: $520M
Why? A widely trusted financing partner, I use them for our own eComm ops.

Company: OpenDoor
Funding: $320M
Why? Real estate as eCommerce removes bias and promotes intelligent transaction.

Company: Yeti
Funding: $67M
Why? Yeti is reportedly targeting an IPO at around $5B in 2017.

Company: Hollar
Funding: $47.5M
Why? America needs a reimagining of the dollar store.

Company: Gametime
Funding: $33M
Why? They did $50M+ in gross sales in 2016.

Company: Dia & Co
Funding: $25M
Why? Plus size clothing for the women who deserve to look their very best.

Company: TheSkimm
Funding: $16.4M
Why? They are the future of women’s eCommerce and most don’t know that yet.

Company: Away
Funding: $11M
Why? Us travelers all need smart suitcases.

Company: Mizzen+Main
Funding: $7M
Why? The company is set up to become a household name by next Christmas.

Company: Rogue
Funding: $0
Why? Quite possible the biggest eCommerce company that the industry “knowers” do not know.

Want to reach me? Email me at or ping me at @web.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No 129: Technological (r)evolutions, all at once.

Third Transportation Revolution: Counterpoint

Assuming that you read today’s fourth article. Here is a great clarifier and counterpoint. If not, just ignore this!

via Ben Thompson, (Subscribe, trust me):

Zimmer’s piece had the sheen of futurism — autonomous vehicle fleets, the end of private car ownership, the changing nature of cities — but honestly it’s material that has been covered pretty thoroughly over the last few years. What was interesting was the complete absence of any data points that suggested Lyft would create the future Zimmer described. So what was the point of writing it?

In fact, I suspect the New York Times already told us last month.

Lyft, the second-biggest ride-hailing company in the United States behind Uber…has found that its options are limited. The company, which is based in San Francisco, has in recent months held talks or made approaches to sell itself to companies including General Motors, Apple, Google, Amazon, Uber and Didi Chuxing, according to a dozen people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. One person said it was Lyft who was approached by interested parties…

Lyft failed to find a buyer partly because of cost, the people said. Lyft was valued at $5.5 billion after an investment round by G.M. and others in January, making it one of the more pre-eminent unicorn companies in Silicon Valley. Any sale would most likely have to fetch a premium from Lyft’s last valuation to be desirable to the company and its investors.

In this context Zimmer’s piece makes perfect sense: one of the primary conclusions in my piece Google, Uber, and the Evolution of Transportation-as-a-Service is that winning the future of transportation entails far more than simply building a self-driving car, and that Uber’s lead both in terms of its technology and customer mindshare is very significant. To that end, Lyft does make sense as an acquisition target for any company wishing to be more than a commodity supplier: they have useful technology and some degree of mindshare. The problem, though, is that Lyft itself is a doomed business; Uber can and will spend them into the ground, which makes that valuation tough for a potential acquirer to swallow unless Lyft is seen as the missing piece in winning the future. So, Zimmer is selling that future.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No 125: The Shifts to Study

On the Ceramic iPhone 8


via (you should subscribe):

I mentioned I would talk about the Watch another day, but I did want to call out the new Edition, which is a relatively inexpensive (at least compared to Gold!) ceramic. It looks amazing; it’s also quite practical. It is extremely scratch-resistant and, unlike aluminum, it doesn’t block radio waves.

To that end, this Quora post by Brian Roemmele examining the ceramic Apple Watch and Apple’s recent patent filings makes a very compelling case that next year’s iPhone 8 will be ceramic; the process just wasn’t ready for this year (and, Roemmele notes, the GT Advanced sapphire debacle may have been a big part of the delay). We’ll see if he’s right — that’s something that would have made the headphone jack the afterthought Apple needed it to be.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 119: Spotify v. Apple

Apple’s Weapon in The Battle Against Spotify is Hip Hop


In my original tweet here, I cite a few points on the on-going saga between Apple Music, Tidal, and Spotify. Tidal has been rumored to be an M&A target and I’ve made a few assumptions as to why. In the battle of hip hop exclusives, it’s between Tidal and Apple Music. Spotify, who does a great job of unearthing indie records and musicians, doesn’t compete for the hip hop audience. Tidal, who took a different approach to the streaming wars, owns the rights to much of RocNation’s rights (Jay Z, Rihanna, etc) and G.O.O.D. Music’s rights (Kanye West and signees). Apple has grown to adopt this model and a Tidal M&A will complete the cycle.

And like I mentioned in yesterday’s letter, Spotify is suffering the cost of paying labels. Profitability is nowhere to be found.

Apple on the other hand, is buying the rights to music and exclusive releases. In essence, rather than reselling a vendor’s product for a 7% margin, they’ve acquired the brands and reaped much higher (and sustainable) margins. Apple’s model of negotiating with artists for exclusive rights is one step closer to Apple owning the machine. Universal and Sony could one day go the way of record stores.

I don’t expect much from music press but this one article tips the hat. If this Kanye West signee gave Apple Music an exclusive, Apple’s all but finalized the acquisition of Jay Z’s Tidal. Rdio’s former employees are probably salty about that.

See more of the issue here.