This month’s buzzword at Frank + Oak is “new”: a new clothing line, store format, visual identity and mobile app, and new services. With all this newness, it may feel like everything is changing, but it’s not—it’s evolving. According to CEO and co-founder Ethan Song, the changes are to reinforce their mission: to help customers “dress and live better.”
To get a better feel for it, let’s rewind to the very beginning. While in high school, Song and his long-time friend and fellow co-founder, Hicham Ratnani, started a digital-production company. “We were both always passionate about technology, consumer brands and starting something,” says Song.
After graduation, Song studied acting and computer engineering, while Ratnani focused on electrical engineering. Both ended up working at Deloitte, and in 2010 they started their second company together, Modasuite, a business that specialized in men’s custom-tailoring. Two years later, they closed Modasuite and founded the Montréal-based menswear brand Frank + Oak.
Originally an e-commerce business, Frank + Oak uses technology to provide a highly personalized experience to its customers. Over the last four years, it’s grown from a two-person online operation to a multifaceted company with more than 200 employees, 2.5 million members and 13 brick-and-mortar stores. Despite the company’s growth, Song and Ratnani still share an office. “We see each other every day,” tells Song enthusiastically.
Starting in May 2016, Frank + Oak customers can live chat with style experts using their mobile devices, but the stylists’ helpfulness isn’t limited to fashion advice. Song explains, “We’re pushing the idea of personal assistance even further: if you need a reservation at a restaurant, our personal stylist can also do that for you.”
The style experts and online bots (software applications that perform simple tasks, such as suggesting other products you may like) are encouraged to make recommendations based on the customer’s location. For example, clothing can be recommended depending on its usefulness given local weather conditions. It’s important to Song that the brand and style experts are able to connect with customers on a local level because “where you are is always relevant to you as a person,” he explains.
Frank + Oak is a brand for the millennials. “[Our customer is] 27 to 32. He has a very active lifestyle—he likes to travel, likes to go out, always wants new clothes,” says Song. The company is an example of how traditionally separate fields are crossing paths—it is both a fashion retailer and a technology-driven company. “Innovating is a part of our genes,” explains Song.
In 2015, Frank + Oak topped Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50™ list, and this year they won the Joe Fresh Fashion Innovation Award at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards. “Fashion and mobile technology just make a lot of sense together,” says Song.
Another example of their ongoing innovation is their new on-demand delivery service: customers can order a product and have it delivered within a two-hour window. “[I see on-demand delivery] as the next transformation in e-commerce because you’re able to deliver a package to someone in less time than it takes them to go to the store,” says Song.
A few looks from State Concepts
Frank + Oak’s services have become more technological, and so have their clothes. This month, they launched State Concepts, a line of functional streetwear that includes waterproof, moisture-wicking and breathable materials. To prove the line’s functionality, Frank + Oak partnered with Toronto-based Jamal Burger to create a showcase video.
“We wanted to create a content piece that could really illustrate what it means to be an active urban person, and [Burger] climbs on roofs and does photography, so he represents a more aspirational version of this lifestyle,” says Song.
The idea behind the new services and products is to help make customers’ lives easier. “We’re starting to connect the dots between a few initiatives, and I think all of them are really about helping you live a more fulfilling life—which is what our main goal here is,” Song concludes.