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The word “suit” may elicit visions of measuring tape, tailors and brick-and-mortar stores filled with crisp jackets and slacks. However, as consumption evolves from being within the mall to on the computer, and from cashmere to casual, Sene, an apparel brand that started with a focus on being the Lululemon of suits, has adapted accordingly.

Since the brand launched in 2015, Ray Li, co-founder and CEO, has spearheaded Sene’s transition into an online purveyor of custom suits under the brand values of sustainability and inclusivity. In 2019, Li decided to close down Sene’s Los Angeles location and relaunch the brand on Kickstarter with a SmartFit Quiz to hone in on the custom sizing aspect of Sene. This changed the trajectory of the business, Li said.

“Our mission was always to make custom clothing possible for everyone,” he said on the Glossy Podcast. “But it was a very long journey to get here.”

After moving the brand fully online, Sene introduced its FlexTech Suit, a “custom suit [made of] athleisure fabric,” and soon after, its custom denim. Li, who sees a “$17 billion opportunity for custom denim,” plans to expand Sene’s denim selection with shorts and jackets. He also plans to introduce more athleisure styles like joggers. 

“Each time we enter a category, we want to feel like we’re making the best possible version of the product we have,” said Li. “We also want to price it at an off-the-rack price.” 

Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

On building a closed-loop model for FlexTech
“One of the oldest denim mills we’ve [used] has been making denim for over a half-century. Their dyeing process is great, [and] they recycle the water so that it’s so clean you could drink it … We’re looking at actually how to build a closed-loop model. We’re going to be doing that on the flip side because we use polyester, which is bad for the environment. The first step is in this next batch of FlexTech that’s launching in the fall. We’re using 50% recycled [material]…We’re going to try to do that on the denim side too, as we’re exploring ways to recycle any excess FlexTech into new FlexTech. The ultimate goal is that we never make any piece of clothing unless there’s someone who’s going to own it. But then also, if there’s anything that’s refunded or needs to be remade, we’re recycling every single piece into a new garment.”

Evolving SmartFit into the Netflix of shopping
“Traditional custom is not only expensive, [but] it takes a ton of time. You have to go somewhere and you have to get sized. We created SmartFit as a way [that] you could take the quiz and create a custom size without getting up, without using a measuring tape. We’re launching a release next year…. It’s like Netflix, where each person has a unique shopping experience. We’re going to launch a beta next year, where after you take SmartFit, you get a unique shopping experience. You’re seeing models and you’re seeing content that are specific to you. It’s more relevant and more relatable.”

Go to customers for insights, not solutions
“The framework we have is that you want to go to customers to understand [their] needs, but you don’t go to customers for solutions. You want to understand their world and the things that are challenges for them. For [female] denim customers, we want to understand the typical pain points, but we don’t go to them and say, ‘Tell us what fabric we should be using, what the design and cuts should be,’ and all that. Ultimately, you have to have your own creative inspiration. You have to do the work of being thoughtful and designing the product. The downside, and what sometimes happens with DTC brands, is you’re too focused on just doing customer research and then just doing what they tell you to do. But it’s still important to have soul, to do the work of respecting the heritage of everyone who’s come before you. And then you have to have your own inspiration to create the product.”