The things we wear are meant to help us embrace, explore and express ourselves. But too often, fashion retail is about dividing us into gendered sections, conquering our curiosity and limiting our potential, by forcing us into predetermined molds.
Why do we have to identify with one side or the other? Why can’t we be both?
Our gender-free flagship store launched in the NoHo neighborhood of Manhattan earlier this year. It’s quickly become a community hub for people to stop, shop and engage. Global buzz and growing sales have proved the concept. Over the next 18 months we’re committing to spreading the love by opening community stores in other strategic North American markets and building a phluid online presence that helps people throughout the world express themselves from the inside out.
A growing inventory of 50+ brands plus a budding private label offering. We’ve got apparel, accessories, gifts and an in-store cafe. We provide a platform for forward-thinking discussion and activism through weekly events and artist residencies.
Right now, our website is primarily a forum to welcome LGBTQA+ people and allies. It promotes style, culture and resources to challenge boundaries with humanity. We do also have a low-key online store which is focused on our private label offerings and selected brands.
The Phluid Project is the world’s first gender-free store - we’ve trademarked that. Our first months have been about building awareness and proving people care. Job done. Now we’re all about growing sales. Our in-store metrics are pointing up, and our first holiday season is just around the corner. The next step is serious online growth.
Our private label offerings stand side-by-side with multiple curated brands. We sell apparel, accessories, shoes, home decor, books, food & beverage, cosmetics and fragrance. Our accessible price points range from $25-500.
We’re planning to grow our business into three primary channels:
$143B Gen Z spending potential by 2020 including allowances, earned wages and gifts
Our strategy is to foster and serve the market for gender neutral clothing through influential thought leadership, creatively curated, accessibly-priced fashion and accessories, and making a gathering space for our kind of people to embrace, explore and express.
We’re the world’s first gender-free store - it’s the core of our identity. And, it’s not all about us. We’re a community hub designed to promote fellow gender-neutral labels and push other brands that didn’t even know they could be gender free. One of our core principles is accessibility - and that’s always reflected in our pricing. We’re not here to one-up other players in this brave new space - we’re more inclined to take stock, collaborate and listen.
It all starts here at Republic. Rob personally invested nearly $600K to kick things off. The Phluid Project has obtained a $300K business credit card loan and has $200K cash in the bank. Conversations about potential future funding are underway with high profile individuals in the LGBTQA+ community.
Most of our raise will go toward building out our ecommerce business. The rest will boost our content, marketing and private label offerings and cover increased overhead.
The Phluid Project will build on our first mover advantage, establish our position as thought leaders and create new revenue streams by curating multi-channel content focused on inspiring individuals across the globe.
Our strategy is designed to grow our ecommerce offerings from 2% of today’s revenues to 59% in Y5. Overall revenues are projected to surge from an estimated $1M in Y1 to $50M by Y5.
Rob Smith | Founder & CEO
Rob’s spent 30 years orchestrating multi-billion dollar business lines through ecommerce, digital branding, marketing, and product development. He was Macy’s youngest ever VP, then their youngest ever EVP. He became Macy’s trusted General Merchandise Manager before moving on to EVP and GMM roles at Victoria’s Secret. He was Chief Product Officer for Haddad Brands - Nike, Levi’s Jordan, Hurley, Converse. He mentors numerous fashion brands and serves on the Board of Directors for Steve Madden Ltd. and Athlete Ally. He’s the Board Chair for Hetrick-Martin Institute which empowers, educates and advocates on behalf of LGBTQA+ youth. He facilitates their HMI Emery Awards. He’s raised $20-30M for non profits and politicians he believes in. He’s a graduate of Michigan State University.
The Phluid Project is supported and encouraged by a high-caliber advisory board that shares their expertise in founding, investment, marketing, e-commerce, and fashion.
Together we can celebrate what makes us different and cherish what makes us the same by creating a community that is profitable in every sense of the word. Thank you for your support.
The smallest investment amount that The Phluid Project is accepting.
The Phluid Project needs to reach their minimum funding goal before
the deadline. If they don’t, all investments will be refunded.
The Crowd SAFE is an agreement for future equity in the startup,
meaning that it can convert to equity in the future.
The Crowd SAFE is an agreement for future equity in the startup, meaning that it can convert to equity in the future.
$25,000 – $1,070,000
The Phluid Project needs to raise
before the deadline. The maximum amount The Phluid Project is willing
to raise is $1.07M.
Rob Smith: Hi, my name is Rob Smith. I am the CEO and founder of The Phluid Project based in Manhattan, New York City. The Phluid Project is the world's first gender free store. And what's so important about that is that whether you're non-binary, trans, queer, this is an opportunity to shop and be in a space that's safe and inviting. You're greeted with an acceptance of who you are.
Rob Smith: Ultimately, what I wanna do is have society rethink about this binary structure that we've created, these limitations we created by being strictly male and strictly female. Why should it be possible for a man to not wear makeup or jewelry? Why is that strictly female when now we're finding what women can do when given the opportunity that only men have given in the past?
Rob Smith: So right now this is a really important time for The Phluid Project because it's been completely self funded by me. Now the opportunity is where do we go from here? It's about getting people who believe in the mission to invest in the mission and spread the word that I couldn't think of a better opportunity than create a crowdfunding opportunity, do it with the Drapers, and share this with people around the world.
Tim Draper: Alright. You ready?
Bill Draper: Break the leg.
Rob Smith: Come here, you.
Tim Draper: Welcome to Meet the Drapers.
Rob Smith: Thank you very much.
Tim Draper: Give us your pitch.
Rob Smith: You got it. So my name's Rob Smith, but I'm gonna tell you about The Phluid Project. So first of all, this is a store for everyone, but it's really focused on Gen Z. Gen Z right now will be by 2020 20% of the population of this country, but 40% of the spending power. So they're coming in, and they're a force to be reckoned with and they're a fascinating group of people. Almost 60% of them shop in a area other than what's designated for them. So boys will shop in girls department, girls will shop in boys department. They're not stuck.
Tim Draper: Gen Z is about ...
Rob Smith: 13 to 22. So this is a 13 to 22 year old group.
Tim Draper: Okay.
Rob Smith: So they're moving into this buying power, and a lot of companies don't really understand who they are. They're trying to adapt to them. We built a company for them, but it's for everybody. Our mission statement is to challenge boundaries with humanity. That's what we do every single day. We're also gender free, so this space where gender does not limit you on what you are, what you're capable of.
Rob Smith: The next is gender neutral fashion. It's happening right now if you follow designers. They're going into androgyny. They're mixing up the men's and female's line. They're starting to do it at the very high end, but this is about ... Phluid Project is approaching more of a commercial space that's for young people.
Bill Draper: Who do you have helping you in the company?
Rob Smith: So the company right now, it's essentially me, but I've got a really talented team of young people. Are really hardworking. Holds about 20 of us. And then I have a board of advisors who are my peers or people who know different parts of the business who coach and advise me every single month through the business.
Tim Draper: What are your biggest sales items?
Rob Smith: The biggest is t-shirts by far. So about a third of the sales come from graphic t-shirts. I'm wearing one right now. It really reflects who we are. They're made in California. They're printed in New York. We work with a company that works with young people, teaches them a skill. They've been marginalized. So it's all about investing back in the community.
Andy Tang: What percentage of your SKUs or [crosstalk 00:30:52]
Rob Smith: Zero.
Andy Tang: Can be found on Amazon? Zero?
Rob Smith: Zero. Zero.
Andy Tang: So it's all unique.
Rob Smith: It's all unique.
Tim Draper: You're creating every one of the items.
Rob Smith: So what we do is there's different things. First of all, we work with a few brands like Levi's and Fila. We merge the men's and women's lines together which is really interesting we have curating it. Then the other brands we carry you're not gonna find anywhere else. Every Tuesday from 11 to 12 we have an open house where designers and artists come in and show us their product, and then we set up a week long installation so there's always something fresh and different.
Andy Tang: How much of this is mission driven? How much of this is shareholder value creation?
Rob Smith: Yeah. I mean, it blurs together. Because if you look at Gen Z, they care about this stuff that they're gonna see the mission and the purpose and they're gonna start spending dollars that way so everyone wins.
Siri Srinivas: Can you talk to us a little bit more about your products? [inaudible 00:31:32] how'd you design them? How do you procure them?
Rob Smith: Yes.
Siri Srinivas: [crosstalk 00:31:35]
Rob Smith: So a great example we talk about our own product. So when we do fittings we do it on a male and a female model just to see how it fits on both. So this is a t-shirt that's been fitted on a male and a female. Fits me pretty well. These are jeans we carry from another brand. They're women's jeans. I'm creating a gender free pair of jeans, but I wanted to see what it felt like to wear women's jeans. It's a really interesting experiment. So the pockets are really tiny. Women know this. They're really small. The zippers are super short.
Siri Srinivas: Pockets are a big problem. I don't know why they don't put pockets on women's clothing.
Rob Smith: It's ridiculous. I think women are gonna be so excited about this because you're literally ... if you put your keys in here, it's literally ... it goes that far. You can't really put anything in here.
Rob Smith: The other thing we did is we took sizing away. So it took words like extra small and extra large away replaced with numbers because there's a certain amount of body shaming that happens when you walk in the fitting room and you're like what size are you? Say extra large. Sometimes a person feels really bad about themselves. But you pass them a four, they feel much better about that. [crosstalk 00:32:24]
Tim Draper: And you have one store so far?
Rob Smith: So far one store. We've been open since [crosstalk 00:32:27].
Tim Draper: And so you're thinking that you might try to franchise this store?
Rob Smith: Absolutely. That's in the year 2020. Right now my goal is to make this store as successful as possible, which it's doing really well right now. Right now we're doing about ... My overhead's about $100000 a month, and we're doing about $100000 in sales.
Tim Draper: Those sales, what are the margins on those sales?
Rob Smith: So the margin's right about between 55 and 60% because we're ... private label is half the business, which is a higher markup, and the other half is other brands.
Tim Draper: So you're losing about 50000 or 60000 a month?
Rob Smith: This is the way I look at it. I invested in the glump at the beginning of the season which is the stuff. We sold it, so now it's getting to the place where I'm just selling the stuff that I invested in so now it's starting to make money if that makes sense.
Tim Draper: Yeah.
Rob Smith: Yeah. So I took the accountability for the investment and the [crosstalk 00:33:11].
Tim Draper: How much did you invest?
Rob Smith: I'm about $500000 [inaudible 00:33:14] into it so far.
Tim Draper: Wow.
Rob Smith: All my own money.
Tim Draper: How did you earn that?
Rob Smith: So my 22 years at Macy's. My last job there was executive vice president over all of buying for Macy's. Then I went to Victoria's Secret. Then I went onto Levi's and Nike where I was the chief product officer for global for kids. After that I kind of quit my job. I decided I was looking for more purpose in my life. That's where The Phluid Project was born.
Andy Tang: Is the gender free ... is that a big trend in Gen Z?
Rob Smith: Yep.
Andy Tang: Are there other movements that's going on?
Rob Smith: When I decided to do this and then I found out that this movement is happening that I didn't realize how big this was. So gender itself is a social construct that we've created over hundreds of years. They say men are this way, women are this way. What's fascinating, if you cross borders or go to different countries, you go to India, men are wearing skirts, [inaudible 00:33:55] and dresses and men are holding hands. And this social construct we created. So Gen Z is like, screw this, this is how we wanna be. And no one's taught them. It's just something that they've adapted and they're moving towards.
Andy Tang: You don't think it's a fad that with this ...
Rob Smith: Oh God no. It's not a fad.
Andy Tang: Okay.
Rob Smith: It's not a fad.
Tim Draper: But if the zipper doesn't go all the way down, there aren't many guys who are gonna be outfitted enough [crosstalk 00:34:15] to do what you're doing there.
Rob Smith: So yeah, I do have to drop my pants to pee which is always kind of funny at the airport bathroom with my pants down.
Siri Srinivas: Men's clothing is ... the focus is on comfort, and for women it's about style or fit.
Rob Smith: Yes.
Siri Srinivas: Which is stupid.
Rob Smith: It's so stupid.
Siri Srinivas: It shouldn't be that way.
Rob Smith: What's so fun is I watch people walk into the store and they're tourist. They think it's super fun. It's a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband, a wife, they're like, "We can shop in the same store together." Instead of going to different floors. They have a blast. Where there's two dads bringing their kids, one who's non-binary, the other is a 10-year-old boy and they're best friends and they're shopping together. And to find a space that they can be themselves to shop free, to be their authentic selves, it makes it all worthwhile.
Tim Draper: Well terrific. Thanks so much for coming on to meet the Drapers.
Rob Smith: You're welcome.
Tim Draper: [crosstalk 00:35:00]
Tim Draper: I kind of like pink.
Rob Smith: I know. [crosstalk 00:35:03]
Tim Draper: I can live with this. Yeah.
Rob Smith: And now you gotta take pictures [crosstalk 00:35:06].
Tim Draper: Good job.
Rob Smith: Get all of your social media. We want all your to know about it.
Tim Draper: Want it a little lower.
Andy Tang: Thank you. This is great.
Siri Srinivas: [inaudible 00:35:15]
Tim Draper: Fanny packs. [crosstalk 00:35:17]
Rob Smith: You know why it's not called a fanny pack? You can't call it a fanny pack in Britain.
Rob Smith: It was good in there. I think that I got most of my points across. I probably would do a few things differently to try to focus more on the money raising and what I'd do with it. I think we had a really good rapport. We had a really good conversation. I was a little concerned that they wouldn't completely understand the concept of the business because it is for Gen Z, for essentially 13 to 25 year olds, and some of them really got it and you never know.
Rob Smith: I think Andy Tang and Siri didn't have the most questions, but I think they understood it and understood the business piece of it, but also understood the human piece of it. Tim got warmed up at the idea near the end. He had a lot more questions, a lot more engaged, but just took a little bit of education to get there. But overall it was ... the rapport was great. The interest level seemed really good.
Rob Smith: I'm moving ahead with this crowdfunding with republic.co, and I'm gonna raise a million dollars. We're gonna take this business from being one store and a decent website to being a worldwide brand.
Tim Draper: So let's see what our judges thought of Phluid. What did you all think of Phluid?
Siri Srinivas: I really loved it. So again, we spoke a lot about branding. I think Phluid is at the beginning of this huge upside on what is a political movement as well. Gender fluidity and kind of questioning why women must wear pink or why men must wear blue all the time and why we can't really wear what we want, it's a big conversation, but it's also the right time for it to become a consumer trend. So I liked everything about the business as a consumer. Now, I have some questions about how the business would grow, but I think this is really cool.
Andy Tang: I learned something today. I don't know anything about Gen Z. I actually used to pride myself knowing a lot about millennials because I would hang out with them at Draper University. I think for me I knew very little about gender fluidity. I thought maybe that is a niche market, but maybe it's not.
Bill Draper: The gender free clothes, I don't think that's gonna fly very high. You think it will.
Siri Srinivas: Actually I ... We shouldn't be looking at this as something that's entirely new. So think about Dollar Shave Club, right? The first thing that they did was razors were always sold separately to men and women, and the women's razors were always more expensive. Dollar Shave Club came along, said there's just one razor, same price, it's low, and it's for everyone. And they grew because that's what people want. People don't wanna pay a gender premium.
Tim Draper: So my thinking was the store is really unique and interesting, and I think if those clothes were really great then they'd probably buy them. The market is one that even if he is the pioneer and he gets in there early will be replicated in somebody who's a really top marketing business person is going to win this market. If it takes off, his competition will flood him. I think he will require a true expert in retail, and it's ... This is a tough business.
Tim Draper: I'd be a customer, but I don't think I'd be an investor. But let's check with the crystal ball.
Bill Draper: Good idea.
Andy Tang: Might be surprised.
Tim Draper: Eenie beanie. Phluid, I'm feeling Phluid. Druid fluid. Alright. I got it. Okay, here we go. Thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs all around. Three down, one up. Actually that's usually a good sign. So it's not up to us. It's up to you. So you can vote up, vote down, or you can invest. Just go to meetthedrapers.com.
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