I first reached out to today’s guests in 2011, when she was the brand manager working on the Skinnygirl Shapewear collection. I’ve been following her ever since. Ranu Coleman now spearheads marketing for Azazie, the leading bridal apparel retailer, and one of the fastest growing apparel merchants online.
Can you tell us about your career path?
Ranu Coleman: I have always had a passion for the retail and fashion industry and decided to go to fashion school at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA after getting my bachelor’s degree at UC Irvine. And I would say, honestly, it was hands down, one of the best decisions I’ve made going to fit them. From there, I had an internship with Kenneth Cole in fashion marketing, and I really never looked back from there. Marketing specifically felt like such a natural transition because it involves writing, strategic thinking.
Two things that I love and felt like came pretty naturally for me. After working like years in retail, both B2C and B2B, I was with Sephora for a little while, helping them open their Sephora Studio stores. And then I basically worked at a few different brands, Ariat, which is a footwear company. And then now I’m the head of marketing for Azazie, which is a bridal and bridesmaid apparel company.
When did you start with Azazie and what lured you to get into the space and join the company?
Ranu Coleman: I discovered Azazie, I think it was back in very late 2017, and everything about the core values of the company just really appealed to me. The company was all about size inclusivity, convenience, and affordability, and it was also very women centric. I think after I did a lot of my research, I knew that this was a company I wanted to be a part of, that I also felt like it was really different and really disrupting the bridal industry. And I also saw a lot of opportunity from a marketing perspective that they hadn’t really been enforcing as yet.
How is Azazie different from traditional brick and mortar or other online bridal shops?
Ranu Coleman: Azazie was really built on three principles, affordability, convenience, and inclusivity. For one, I think we have the most competitive pricing in the industry without ever sacrificing quality. And second, we have a lot of technology in place, like our virtual showroom, which really saves people time and money. And that’s not something that a lot of bridal brands had.
You can basically use our virtual showroom to select styles, colors, share them with your friends, and it just saves a lot of people time and money having to travel to one location to try on dresses. We’ve also really been pushing for more inclusive sizing since the brand launched in 2014. We’ve always offered all of our gowns in sizes zero to 30 and most traditional brick and mortar bridal shops, their sample sizes have always gone up to about a size 10, nothing higher than that.
So that for one, I think was a huge differentiator for us when we launched, and we also offer custom sizing for free because of the cost it saves our customers in alterations, but also because we know that every body type is different and not every woman is going to fit in a standard sample size. So several of our competitors, I would say, are finally catching up to that, but it’s only been in the last, I would say six months to a year that you’re starting to see more brick and mortar retailers offer sizing up to a 30.
If I order a gown, am I able to sample it, try it on, and then if it doesn’t fit, I could send it back to you. Is that correct?
Ranu Coleman: Yes. Correct. So if you go into a bridal store, you have very limited options, in terms of the sizing that you can try on, of the dress you’re interested in. So what we offer is we have this at home try on program, and if you’re interested in a dress, you can get it in your specific size. We send it to your house, you have about five days and then you have to send it back. But yeah. So, our sample program has been great for us.
Sherri Langburt: That’s amazing. Especially now. No one could go into a shop pretty much.
Ranu Coleman: Yes, exactly. The sample program in that way has been really beneficial. And now we actually have very recently in the last month have offered the option to keep your dress and buy it. So if you want to actually purchase your sample dress, you can now.
Are there people that order three dresses because they want to try on three different styles?
Ranu Coleman: You don’t actually see that very often. I think most people do take advantage of our sample program because it’s just easier, and we pay for the shipping.
I know this year is like no other, but 2019, you had tremendous rapid growth. What would you say contributed to that?
Ranu Coleman: Great question. So a huge driver of our growth has been, I would say, owned, earned, but mainly organic, increased media coverage, for sure, and peer to peer recommendations. Over, I think at least 70% of our growth to date has been through people just saying that they love Azazie. The experience of getting it is great. The customer service is really great and the product itself is very high quality.
I think, especially in the bridal industry, we live in a world where the customer review is king. And in order to have great reviews, you have to have a great product. I think the bridal industry is very referral-based and you basically get one opportunity to blow away the expectations of a bride, which is really different from fast fashion or other apparel markets. So it’s just very important that we get that right. Otherwise there are a lot of other competitors that she can turn to instead, and we’ve just invested so much in our customer service aspect of our business. And I honestly think that that has been a huge driver of our growth.
Sherri Langburt: Whenever I think about your company and what you do, I think of the movie, The Intern and how specific, in the first scene, there’s a bridal dress or something. And it’s like only the people who are involved and really care about it can make customer service, you know, and it makes the whole difference. So very important. Thanks for sharing that.
In 2020, with all the weddings being pushed or smaller, how has that impacted growth?
Ranu Coleman: Obviously it’s been a very challenging year, but what’s really interesting is it honestly hasn’t really impacted our growth significantly. And I think that’s mainly because when all of the brick and mortar stores closed, we actually saw a huge influx of traffic to our site because people had to shop online. There was no other option. So the first couple of months, like March, April, May, traffic was like almost triple what we would normally see.
I think just being a digitally first company, being direct to consumer during a time like COVID was actually beneficial for us in some ways. I think people are still getting married. Honestly, probably more than ever because they want to have that connection, and somebody to kind of go through all of this with. It’s just on a much smaller scale. But yeah, we’ve just had to shift and kind of adopt, we created a bridal collection called Azazie Romance that had gowns starting, I think it was starting at about 199. And those were meant for more kind of simple elopements, micro weddings. So, you just have to kind of listen, shift, and cater to the consumer’s needs based on what’s happening.
Sherri Langburt: Yeah. And it’s interesting. Now that there are micro weddings or more people are taking weddings in a different way, you’re perfectly positioned because it could just always be a trend now. You might see that continuing.
Ranu Coleman: Yeah, definitely. And I do feel like a few years ago, consumers were very hesitant to purchase something as big as a bridal gown online, but you’re definitely noticing that brides are definitely, they’re just more comfortable with it now.
What are some of the challenges you’ve seen and what have you done to address them?
Ranu Coleman: I think that for us, the most important is that we could react as quickly as possible. We have a really agile business model and I think it helps us to do that. So one of the things was production, especially in March. We did see a little bit of some production issues just in terms of factories being closed. But something that we did is we actually moved some of our production to different locations. We did that fairly quickly. One of the other things that we decided to do was increase our return window from 30 to 45 days, just because we had a lot of brides who didn’t know what the status was of their wedding. And we just wanted to be able to give them a little bit more of a buffer in terms of that.
The other thing that we really had to do with everything going on, was reduce our prices. They were already pretty low, but we reduced them for bridesmaids dresses. Before our bridesmaid’s dress has started at about 109. Now we have one starting at $69. So, I think those were some of the things that we had to do really, really quickly. Affordability is more important than ever. I think I read somewhere it’s 60% of consumers say they’ve cut back on spending. So for us, that’s really what we’ve been heavily focused on since COVID happened.
Sherri Langburt: There’s so many consumers that are engaging with your brand. How much of your content, of your social content, I should say, because they’re obviously posting and excited about getting either a bridesmaid dress or wedding dress.
How much of your social content is user generated versus brand generated?
Ranu Coleman: A lot. I would say that at least 80% of our content is user generated. We get tagged in like, hundreds of images a month on Instagram, especially. And we honestly love showing our user generated content versus brand, because I think our customers just really like to see the dresses in real wedding parties versus something that we set up. They get a better visual of how the entire bridal party is going to look and kind of how to coordinate everything together. Yeah. And I would say just even like the colors, everything. We see much higher engagement on our user generated content, for sure.
Sherri Langburt: Well, the lucky thing in this category is even though it’s user generated, there’s probably always still a photographer taking the picture. So they’re probably really nice user generated photos.
Ranu Coleman: Oh definitely. They’re always beautiful. Like, on a mounted side and I mean, we get the most amazing pictures. So we always have a lot to choose from, which is great.
Do you work with influencers on the paid side at all or?
Ranu Coleman: Actually, no. We do work with influencers and it has been good for us from a brand awareness side, but we really work with them like 95% of the time via trade. That’s mainly because it’s a big purchase. It’s not like we’re giving them a t-shirt. So we’re giving them a free bridal down in exchange for social coverage. We prefer going that route because I think in general, it’s more authentic, it’s more organic, and we know that these people who are coming to us for a bridal gown truly love our brand.
So that has kind of been our route when it comes to working with influencers. It’s a little different when it’s a bridesmaid’s dress. There’s a little bit more flexibility there. And a lot of times when it’s a bride, it’s a bit of a one and done, and we’re never really going to work with them again. But on the bridesmaid side, a lot of times they end up kind of showing our dresses more as special occasion ware, and then in that case, we’ve worked with them, on an ongoing basis, which has been good.
Sherri Langburt: It definitely makes sense. And when you do organically work with these influencers, I’m sure you get a ton of requests.
How do you vet them and select the ones that you want to work with? Is that based on reach? Is it based on aesthetic, category?
Ranu Coleman: Honestly, it’s usually based off of, for one, they really need to meet our target demographic. And the other is mainly engagement. I feel like for us, that’s always been the most important. Not too much of an aesthetic, but just more, do they align with our brand and do we feel like this is a good mutually beneficial partnership for us?
Looking back on your career, whether it’s here or elsewhere, what has been your most successful or favorite influencer marketing campaign that you’ve done?
Ranu Coleman: We did one, we did a marketing campaign at Azazie in 2019. It was called An Enchanted Evening. And what we did is we gifted influencers a dress and we encourage them to wear it and describe their ideal enchanted evening. It was just very fun. We had a few talk about what makes a date night special. Some took pictures in Little Italy in our dress. Some of them, we saw some of them in like Secret Garden in Central Park. It was really great because I think it made us realize that we can repurpose our bridesmaids dresses and really show them in a way that, hey, it’s a bridesmaid’s dress, but you can still wear it other places.
And it actually really helped us from, for one a sales perspective. But also, we just had a lot more influencers want to work with us after that campaign, because I think before they would just look at the dress, as like, okay, it’s like a chiffon dress. I’m not going to wear this again after I wear it as a bridesmaid, but we came out with actually a lot more styles to that were velvet and like jumpsuits and just styles that were a little bit more versatile, but I love that campaign because I just thought the whole kind of vibe and energy was really great. And I think it just opened up a lot of doors for us.
Sherri Langburt: Yeah. It’s amazing to see the feedback and the creativity from the influencers, but also for us, we get a lot of people saying, can we do surveys or polls with influencers or even focus groups, because it ends up bringing so much of new ideas and product ideas to our partners.
What do you think are bridal trend predictions for 2021?
Ranu Coleman: What we feel like is going to be big is 90s inspired, bridal ware. Very modern, very unique. I think you’ll see a lot of slip dresses, very reminiscent of like Kate Moss’s style in the 90s. We still see a lot of bridal capes. I definitely think shorter styles are still going to be really popular because I still think there’s going to be a lot of smaller weddings in 2021. So you’ll definitely see shorter looks for a elopements and those type of events.
What is exciting in your plans for Azazie in the new year?
Ranu Coleman: So the new year for us is actually engagement season. Our sales go up dramatically around that time. I think our plan really is to launch some new product categories. We have some things in the works, and just from like, a social marketing side, we definitely want to run some large scale giveaways and partner with some other bridal brands and do some cross collaborations around engagement season.