Nadia Boujarwah loves fashion, but as a plus-size shopper, it’s tough for her to find stylish clothes that fit. And she isn’t the only one. Two-thirds (67%) of women in the United States wear a size 14 or above, Boujarwah says, yet plus-size clothing only accounts for 17% of apparel purchased.
Boujarwah’s personal shopping experiences inspired Dia&Co, her subscription-based personal styling startup for women sizes 14 through 32. Based in Manhattan, Dia&Co was founded in 2014, and this past September reportedly raised a $20 million investment led by Sequoia Capital.
The company ranked 21st in Poets&Quants’ 2017 MBA Startup ranking. The highest-ranked startup to have all women founders, this is the first year Dia&Co has made the P&Q list.
INVESTMENT BANKER TO ENTREPRENEUR
A Wharton undergrad, Boujarwah was an analyst at investment banking boutique Perella Weinberg Partners before going to Harvard Business School in 2011 to get her MBA. She had planned to transition into investing, but the more she thought about plus-size clothing, the more she felt that retail was failing customers — inexcusably.
One of Boujarwah’s HBS classmates, Lydia Gilbert, agreed. A Cornell history major, Gilbert had come to Harvard from the Clinton Global Initiative where she had been a director. The friends, having bonded over shopping trips where they helped each other pick out clothes, together worked to develop a way to bring plus-size options to more women. Dia&Co was born.
“When the idea for Dia crystallized, it was clear that being able to dedicate myself to a customer that I cared about so deeply was incredibly energizing and I knew my job search was over,” Boujarwah says.
A STITCH FIX FOR PLUS SIZE
The business model is very similar to Stitch Fix, a personal shopping subscription service founded in 2011 by another Harvard MBA, though Dia&Co differs from Stitch Fix in that it serves women who wear sizes 14 and up.
On their respective websites, both companies ask customers to fill out a detailed style survey, with questions about fit, style, and budget preferences. On both sites, customers then are paired with stylists who put together a personalized, curated box of five garments.
When customers receive the box, they can buy the items they like and send back the rest, with feedback for the stylist on what worked and what didn’t. This feedback is meant to improve selections for the next box.
VCs SAID THEY’D ‘ASK THEIR WIVES’
Despite a working model, Boujarwah says when she and Gilbert first looked for funding, they faced a double challenge concerning gender: They were two female founders, and they were pitching a business entirely focused on a segment of women who have been historically ignored and underserved.
“Most of the VCs we were pitching to were male,” she says. “And a common response that we got from them was that they didn’t understand the business or its appeal — and that they would ask their wives for their opinion.”
Boujarwah and Gilbert didn’t want to take funding from people who didn’t understand what they were doing. Thankfully, they didn’t have to: Eventually, they found investors who shared their vision.
‘WE ALWAYS PUT HER FIRST’
There are a fair number of subscription-based fashion startups, but Boujarwah says Dia’s singular focus on the customer is what sets them apart. Aside from collecting feedback on the articles of clothing they send to customers, Dia also allows customers to communicate with their stylists via written notes. They hope to create a Dia&Co community for their customers via Facebook Live sessions and other social media venues.
“We put her first, always,” Boujarwah says, speaking about the Dia&Co customer. “For us, this means listening to her, using this to constantly improve our product, and building an inclusive community of women that she sees herself represented in.”
Listening to customer feedback is especially important in plus-size styling, Boujarwah says, because poor and inconsistent fit are big, common, frustrating challenges — “primarily because grading a garment within plus sizes is uniquely challenging, and many brands do not invest the time or money required to do it well.”
Dia&Co developed at set of proprietary fit tools and are lending their expertise to brand partners, hoping to improve the fit of the garments. Boujarwah says they’re also helping brands expand their offerings into new sizes. While most brands only offer up to size 24, Dia goes up to 32, and is committed to working with partners who can serve all their customers.
35X GROWTH IN THE LAST YEAR
In the last 12 months, Dia&Co’s customer base has multiplied by 35 times. By the end of 2016, Dia was serving customers in 75% of zip codes in the U.S., and in all 50 states.
In the long term, their goal is to transform retail and fashion to be more inclusive, and to make fashion and style available and enjoyable for all women, Boujarwah says. They’ll approach this comprehensively, looking to partner with a variety of players in the industry, like fashion schools, existing brands, and media outlets.
“We are committed to building a community that is inclusive and inspiring,” Boujarwah says. “Our customer base is incredibly diverse: we serve women of all ages, from all over the country and at various stages of their style journey. We are building a community that not only allows us to connect with her, allows her to engage in the best content, but importantly, allows her to connect with other women with whom she shares powerful experiences.
“Ultimately, we want her to know we are her people.”