Pandora For Jeans? ZipFit Denim Zaps Male Shopping Angst

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By Alexandra Delaney

Simplicity is the motto at the newest retail store in The North Bridge shops at 520 North Michigan. At ZipFit Denim, the sleek white tile floors shine under the bright overhead light. The two black tables line up perfectly, one placed several feet in front of the other, each adorned with four iPad tablets evenly spaced along the top. Shelves housing neat piles of jeans—which are folded according to brand, style and size—line one wall of the spacious store.

The minimalistic atmosphere of ZipFit Denim exemplifies the simplified jeans shopping experience the store offers men. Co-founder and CEO Liz Kammel is the brains behind the technology-driven store; she created an iPad app that matches male shoppers with the perfect pair of jeans for their body types and desired fits.

The idea struck Kammel two years ago during her carpool to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Being the only female in a car with seven guys, she discovered how much most men really hate to shop. Her vision was to create something like Orbitz for clothing; she wanted to design a program that minimized the agony of jeans shopping for men, letting technology be their guide to procure the perfect pair. Kammel sat down with a blank Excel workbook and started building a database designed to aid men in finding jeans with the right fit for their bodies.

That database, with the help of her two-man technology crew, became an iPad app under the proprietary ZipFit search. The software works in two ways. The first, which Kammel describes as Pandora for jeans, allows men to type in a pair of jeans they wear and love. Seconds later, the brand, fit and size they entered link them to similar designer-brand jeans. Clients can scroll through the pictures of jeans that pop up on screen and compare them before trying them on. Siri co-founder Dag Kittlaus turned to technology to find a new pair of jeans: Kammel and chief marketing officer Alex Batdorf upgraded him from a pair of Levis 505 to DLs and they fit perfectly.

Option number two in the search for jeans is for men to fill in a one-page body-profile sheet on the tablet. Men fill in the blanks regarding their sizes, body proportions and how they want the jeans to fit. After submitting the information, jeans magically appear on screen that correspond to the client’s wishes and requirements. The app generates pictures and information about jeans that best fit the description given in the profile. Men can scroll through the search results and, in case the touch-screen solution to jeans shopping isn’t enough, can get the full tactile experience by finding sample jeans from the denim bar and touching the materials before trying them on.

Based on conversations with her peers, Kammel realized that shopping for men should be fast and easy. Using the iPad as a shopping aid, men who buy their jeans from ZipFit usually try on two or three pairs instead of uselessly rummaging through heaps of unsuitable jeans. Plugging in information on the iPad, receiving feedback for jeans and reading through the recommendations takes about one to two minutes. Added to the time it takes to try the jeans on, decide which pair he wants, measure his inseams to be hemmed and pay for the pants, the average man’s in-store experience lasts ten to fifteen minutes. Batdorf recalls that the fastest guy walked into the store, bought a pair of jeans and left within three minutes.

Fashion fused with technology is a new concept, but it shouldn’t scare away those who aren’t savvy with the latest and greatest in computer software. The average age of men who walk through the store’s door is thirty-five, but Kammel and Batdorf have assisted male shoppers from those in their twenties to mid-eighties and every age between. An eighty-five-year-old man walked into the store empty-handed and eager to find new pants. He left with his first pair of jeans, trading in his khakis for a pair of DLs—which he deemed “the most comfortable pair of pants” he has ever owned in a phone conversation with Kammel two weeks after his purchase.

Kammel and Batdorf comprise a knowledgeable and attentive staff. They are aware of trends and fits that suit their clientele. Batdorf explains that stretchy jeans are a popular choice because they have a relaxed fit in the thighs and have give without compromising shape. Batdorf also explains that soft jeans are gaining popularity in Chicago, which is why ZipFit offers a good selection of them.

ZipFit Denim currently carries ten brands of jeans with various styles and washes. Agave, BleuLab, Seven for All Mankind, Fidelity, DL 1961, Joe’s, Paige, Earnest Sewn, Notify and Mavi are the core companies that worked with ZipFit since Kammel’s days of planning and cold-calling. However, plans for adding more jean brands to its stock are in the works.

Additionally, Kammel plans on upgrading the images of the jeans on the iPad to higher-quality photos that better show off the denim styles from multiple angles. She mentioned that there will be more features added to the app as well, including branching into women’s jeans. ZipFit Denim has only been a retail store for one month, but the success of its first few weeks in business have Kammel thinking about expanding. The first step: launching the website this month.

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