Michael Kaplan CEO/Co-Founder of Fashion To Figure. A leading retailer of plus-size clothing with a focus in quality, price, and fit.
Kaplan took the idea of his great-grandmother (Lane Bryant), and tried to make it relevant to today’s world. Although “omnichannel” and “guideshops” are popular today, Kaplan built a formidable specialty retail chain in the traditional way.
Tell us about Fashion to Figure and a bit about your company.
FTF offers a fashion experience for women between 12 and 26. Every month, we offer hundreds of fashion pieces in casual, dressy and basic categories at attractive prices. We place a strong emphasis on quality and consistency. Our assortment is available online, in our own shops, and on third-party marketplaces. We also offer it wherever our customers need it. FTF was founded to inspire and help people. We believe fashion is not a size range, but a way of life.
We would like to know a bit more about you and your history.
My great-grandmother started a retail store in New York 117 years ago. I am a native New Yorker. That was the moment I experienced the transformative power of fashion and retail. My father sold the business and Nick, my older brother, was the only person who tried to enter retail and pursue a career as a fashion designer. While in business school, I saw how outdated plus-size fashion options were compared to the changing customer mindset. My brother had industry experience, so I was able to help me with an idea and launch a store in a mall. We lived together, ran the store together from 10-10 every day for a year to perfect our concept and learn it.
Which projects are you currently working on?
Too many to mention – we are currently working to improve our digital business and integrate it with our store experience. Our proprietary product is being developed for FTF women. Our jeans are amazing at just $40 and they are high quality, uniform fit, stretch denim, fashion, and basic styles. Our market has retailers that charge upwards of $80 for jeans and less than $20 for crap. Our product is reliable and high quality at an affordable price. It’s hard to believe that we are able to do so much with the amount of work we have and how stretched our team is.
Describe briefly what your average work day looks like.
People, people, then people, then more people. It is an important part of my job to meet with FTF family members at all levels. It is important and routine to visit stores at least once a week.
What are your top three skills for being a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Emotional intelligence. The pulse of all that is going around you must be present. This will allow you to decide when to change your mind, hold your ground or make changes to the market. It will also help you to determine when to accept or reject information.
Number two is related to this – to quickly act. You must quickly make a decision, make progress and recognize problems fast so that you can fix them immediately. Or else, you will run out of capital.
Third is Get in touch with your passion and manage stress. Everyone is smart and has capital, so you should love it more than anyone else. And because you care so deeply about it, you’d be better at managing your stress.
What are your future plans? How do you plan on growing this business?
Our company has doubled in size over the past year. We are now settling down and evaluating growth opportunities in online, offline, and third-party distribution. We are fortunate to have supportive investors, which is crucial for any venture. Therefore, we are constantly in touch with our board and them about our growth plans. We must do what our customers want and grow the company as a whole.
How do you get funded? How do you raise funds?
We have very supportive investors, as I mentioned. To open our first store, we borrowed $400,000. This core group of backers has been with us through all our endeavors. I advise you to have more capital than what you think you will need, be prepared for anything, and to be open and honest with your investors. It is unrealistic to believe that everything will turn out well.
What number of clients or users do you have? When do you consider your business a success?
We are proud of every letter, email, or note that we receive about how fashion made someone feel and how it has helped them to build a relationship with us. This is a blessing because it happens often due to the FTF Family Members who drive our business.
What were your top three mistakes when starting your business? And what lessons did you learn from them?
It took us too long to open the first store. We wanted everything to go perfectly, but it never happens. Two years of learning were lost because we sought perfection. This is a classic mistake. It is better to just get going and start climbing the learning curve.
A second mistake was to grow too quickly with private equity. This almost cost us our lives. Another classic and common mistake.
A final classic error was not being able to move on quickly from people who were causing problems for our company or culture. It’s easy to get stuck in fear of the work or of liking the people, but it’s not good for anyone not to have quick separations.
What is the best way to market your business?
Online acquisition is a key part of digital marketing. We don’t believe that VC-backed ecommerce companies are the best for a fashion company like ours so we haven’t invested like one. With all the infrastructure we have, we can see how customers find us today and follow their journey through our assets. It’s been a huge opportunity for us to see digital penetration in the areas we have stores.
Which person gave you the best business advice and what was it?
It’s not fair because I have many mentors and friends who have given me incredible wisdom. My bosses at RRE Ventures, where I was fortunate enough to be their first associate, taught me so much: how to launch a company, make definitive decisions, balance the market with your entrepreneurial convictions; my first music teacher (I went there to study jazz saxophone), taught me the importance of making mistakes and learning from them; A professor of mine at school of business constantly reminds us to look long-term and to be values-driven. My older brother Nick is my mentor and I learn so much every day in our business. He said that Michael’s passion was great and we could build a business on it, but that fashion and our product are the most important things in life. That has been a transformative statement for me in my business.
What advice would you give me if I were to start my own Fashion to Figure?
Find talented people to hire.
What are the top three online resources and tools you use to grow your business?
SEM, SEO, and Social strategies encompass more than three things.
What is your definition of success?
Being the best at what your do is a status that is universally recognized. FTF was founded by our great grandmother. Customers recognize that we are the best at what we do.
Which three books or courses would you recommend to entrepreneurs?
Everybody should have Nancy Koehn at Harvard as a mentor and friend. But they won’t. So take her classes if you can, listen to all she has to say online and purchase her books .
Jim Collins’s books highlight the commonalities that all great companies share. The upside of stress is an excellent book that my cousin recommended. It is great for changing your perspective. However, it’s not clear that anything can prepare you for the entrepreneurial or startup plunge. It’s up to you to do it. You can make sense of it all by reading and taking courses. Don’t hesitate to sign up for a course.
You must jump in the fire.
What would you change if you could start your career again?
I would have started the business as soon as I could. I love what my job is and would continue it for the rest of life, if given the chance. I would have learned the lessons and staked our claim as soon as I could looking back.