Why Collaborating Creatively With Your Customers Helps You Transcend Being Just Another Brand

If we’re going to size up Ethan Song, the CEO of online men’s clothing boutique Frank & Oak, we need to first get the seam right. Yeah, that’s sartorial metaphor, right there.

For only being a one-and-a-half year old, Frank & Oak is putting a fresh crease in men’s fashion: the site now boasts 1 million members–stemming from 490% growth year over year. Not only that, CEO Ethan Song explains to Fast Company, but these users aren’t in it for a one-night stand: 65% of the customers who make one purchase return for another in two months, with the average Frank & Oak customer making more than six purchases a year–that’s a lot for a dude.


Song recently explained to us how building such a relationship with customers requires agile, aplomb, and curated collaboration. Find a selection from that interview below.

Ethan Song

One of the things we’re able to do is actually build a relationship with our customer. It’s not like a one-time relationship. It’s a relationship over time and I think that really it’s a deeper understanding of who that customer is and what he wants not just from a shop base but just the fact that even the values that are in that demographic that we share so that way we know we want to be the advisor to that new generation of men and I think that being an advisor is not just for profit but for content. I think that integrating the storytelling element was always a big part of our brand.  

It was always a big part of how we want to position ourselves where we are really creating a product that’s obviously the clothing that you wear but also the experience that you have as a shopper but also someone could see the content. All of this allows us to create in some ways a new definition of why this brand has the philosophy. People ask us, “Is this a clothing brand? Is this like a tech company? Is this a web brand?” The reality is it doesn’t matter how you call it. It’s more the edge that we’re creating that matters.

We focus on experience and just when you do all your shopping, you’re not just a buyer for a product but you’re actually a part of a larger community that shares certain values. The fact that we care about making shopping simple to save you some time to make it easy for you.


A lot of the competition for us is focused on the price point. They have the flash sales. For us it’s really about the relationships. What we do is that we basically we’re able to push both product and content across multiple channels and in some ways you have a relationship with Frank & Oak that’s not just I’m going to be the store and buy like once or twice a year.

On a continuing basis here, you’re consuming content, you’re interacting with the site.. You may be buying product. You’re wearing the product. You’re providing feedback through the ambassador network where you’re providing feedback to your friends. That’s how to create the full loop around the product.

There are a few things that we do to achieve this kind of relationship. The one thing is that we integrate our customer as a part of, as a feedback group as how we develop product, how, what content we choose. We look at what people are saying that’s their favorite item. We look at the feedback we get from basically our ambassador’s network. We look at the input that people actually have on product. That really helps us to loop the product back to the customer in a way that’s closer to who they are as people.

As an example, one week ago with our chino line for our line of pants called the Newport Chino, especially. That product came out last fall and basically what we did is that instead of just going ahead and designing a fit that we think would be the absolute best for our customer, we went out and asked our customer what are you looking for in a pant? What kind of characteristics would you like? What do you do with it? Are you more into travel? Or are you more into things like that? Without a lot of doing a bunch of research, we created a style that we basically proposed to our customer and we did a small batch.  

We only produced 200 of them. Sold them to, actually, to customers, got their feedback, improved the fit and then like got it out on the market again and now it’s one of our best selling products. It’s just kind of like openness and things like that.  

It’s not a regular brand. It’s not my brand as the founder. It’s not our brand as a company. It’s our brand as a community. I think its the continued discussion that I don’t feel like a lot of brands are able to do. First of all you have to be open but also you need to have the infrastructure in place to actually deliver on a quick product, smaller batch run and I don’t think everyone will be able to do that.


Right from the beginning we went and built teams that we thought were open enough to work with new processes, new technologies. One hundred percent of the products are designed internally. We have our own sourcing team and made sure we searched and traveled the world to find them. We do the creative direction, the photography internally. The graphic design and all the artwork you see on the label, all that we’re doing internally.

And I think one thing I think we do better than a lot of people is we actually sit our fashion design team, our graphic design team, our creative team, with the tech team and we do a multi-functional team. We don’t see, you know, “fashion is fashion” once the products are made, you know, we test them and then we ship them. The entire experience, we want to be integrated as a company, and that allows us to be more integrated in the products we offer.

The technology allows us to have a lot of feedback on the product, right? So as the feedback we receive is back on some product, our designers will be designing the product at the same time–sort of an agile way of doing things. Our data and technology guys will be sitting with the designers and the designers will come up with new ideas on making the product. Right away, our content and technology team will think about ways of basically telling the right story or the right features about the product as the product is being designed so when the product comes out we have the right platform to present that product, we have the right content or the right video to present that product.

The experience then becomes so integrated the way you buy the product and the actual product becomes one. With the number of repeat sales we have on a yearly basis, you can see that it is part of our success to be able to tell the right story and to add the right features and the right technology to present the product, and we’re able to do that because we have that really tight focus on collaboration on the internal side of the company.

Bottom Line:

The reality is that in some ways, people always say, “Well what kind of company are you?” I guess we’re a product company because we have web products and we have a high focus on quality fashion products. Ultimately, what really matters is not the product; it’s actually the relationship we have with our customers–and how do we maintain that relationship over time?