Using Female PhDs as Models, Betabrand’s E-Commerce Edges Closer to Becoming the Flickr of Fashion

Brains, beauty, and a bit of balderdash are taking Betabrand to new heights of social selling.

We’ve seen Dove’s “real women” and Aerie’s unphotoshopped teen models. But as the quest to promote realistic female beauty that sells product continues apace, one online clothier is taking the road less traveled towards truth in fashion.


Betabrand, San Francisco-based e-commerce company, is showcasing a group of smart women in it’s newest assortment of spring clothing. But you won’t see just any smarties are appearing in Betabrand’s pants. “We sought out women with doctorates,” cofounder Chris Lindland tells CoCreate. You’ll see them reading or riding on the back of a motorbike, sporting stretch selvedge denim or shirtwaist dresses that range in price from $80 to $178. “Is it an industry first to focus on only the brainiest women? My guess: Yes.” 

Lindland’s never been shy about pushing the boundaries of branding. He based the entire business on a sardonic twist on corduroy trousers, then broke out with such products as gold lame hoodies and a “Vagisoft” blanket. The latter became a viral hit thanks to an endorsement from director Paul Feig (of Bridesmaids and The Heat fame).

From there, e-newsletters heavy on double-entendre and humorous hijinks (Lindland’s background is comedy, not apparel) boosted engagement, while hackathons spawned a string of promotional concepts, including one for faux products flogged by tech titans, purely for fun–not profit.

Betabrand is big on crowdsourcing, in part because of the success of its Model Citizen campaign that created memes of customers from their user submitted photos.

The strategy goes beyond the fun of attracting everyday folk angling for 15 minutes of e-commerce fame. “Thanks to iPhones and Instagram, people are capturing each and every bit of their lives and sometimes they’re wearing our products,” Lindland observes. Asking neighbors and friends to model at the start, Lindland found out that one happened to be a PhD candidate in neuropsychology at Stanford.

“Thanks to our Model Citizen app, it’s always an open casting call on our site,” Lindland says. Though Miuccia Prada may be the fashion world’s most celebrated intellect, Lindland says he’s never seen a women’s line launched by nuclear engineers and neuropsychologists.


Request to fans on Facebook and Betabrand’s newsletter garnered 60 replies. The shoots were arranged shortly afterwards, without the kind of fanfare regularly seen when a battery of fashion photographers and editors train the lenses on professional mannequins in exotic locales. Lindland’s business model won’t allow it. “Our motto is “New Ideas, Non-Stop.”  And this applies to our effort to unveil new product concepts and photo projects each day,” he says, “So it’s a privilege to work with models with far more ideas in their heads than I do.”

The power of social selling isn’t lost on Lindland who says Betabrand has grown 4x since topping out around $2 million in 2011. Though the preponderance of its apparel is for dudes, Lindland says the most popular women’s item right now is Betabrand’s Dress Pant Yoga Pants. “They’ve contributed about 40% our sales so far this year,” he says, and retail for just under $80. Take that lululemon.

In typical Betabrand fashion, Lindland says, “we’re racing similar products to market right now and we’ll be having a public design hackathon around this idea later this month.” You can be sure it will include crowdsourced images, too.

“If we can encourage our customers to tag us or send [photos] to us, we’ll become the Flickr of Fashion,” notes Lindland, “We have 17,000 images so far, so we’re off to a good start.”


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.