The startup getting men properly dressed

In our weekly feature series, The Local looks into a successful entrepreneur's life - the story behind their successes, major challenges and how being an entrepreneur changed them forever. This week, Emma Anderson talks to Anna Alex, co-founder of Berlin-based Outfittery.

The startup getting men properly dressed
"Real men have someone shop for them" is Outfittery's motto. Photo: Emma Anderson

Outfittery is an online and app-based personal shopping service for men that allows customers to talk with a stylist, upload a few selfies and receive a personalized box of two to three full outfits in the mail, which they can keep or send back.

Alex, 30, co-founded the company with former Zalando colleague Julia Bösch just three years ago.

They have since expanded into eight countries with 100,000 customers total and recently launched an English-language site for expats.

What was your experience before Outfittery and what inspired you to create it?

I was working for Rocket Internet, and that’s where I got to know e-commerce. I saw this huge potential in the menswear market, but what really inspired Outfittery was when we were actually in New York and a friend of ours used a personal shopper for himself.

After a few hours, he was coming out of the shop and was totally amazed, happy and said ‘This is such a cool experience, I now have everything I need for the next six months. I don’t need to do any shopping anymore.’

We recognized that this could really be the perfect male-user experience and then we tried to figure out how we could bring this online.

Julia and I, in the years before, would talk in the middle of the night and figure out business ideas and so on. At a certain point we said ‘Okay, let’s do it. Let’s quit our jobs and start.’

I still remember New Year’s Eve 2011 and we were celebrating together and saying ‘Okay, this is going to be the year and we’re starting tomorrow.’

You started the company when you were both in your twenties, at 27. What was that like?

I never cared about age that much, but it was good for me that I at least had some working experience before I started this company. This is what I would advise anybody as well who wants to found their own company, to have this first because you just recognize a little bit how businesses work and learn about the tools that you need if you want to found a start-up.

In the end, as soon as you feel comfortable and you’re eager enough and you just want to do it, then the age doesn’t matter.

Why did you decide to focus on menswear?

We saw a huge potential in the menswear space. Men have been neglected for a long time in fashion.

It’s just now actually that the brands are realizing that this whole menswear space, there’s so much in it and it’s really, really heating up as well from the brand side.

Back then, it was like ‘Okay, men don’t like shopping.’ Most online shops still today focus on womenswear and we saw that men are just a great target group and there’s no need to neglect them in terms of fashion. You just need to understand them.

Men are a very, very loyal target group if you get them right, in terms of fashion. With a male customer, you see the kind of thinking more often of ‘first, I want to buy everything and then I want to have this off my to-do list for the next few months.’

On the other hand, women enjoy going out and buying one piece here and another piece there. It’s kind of different shopping behavior, and this is not just the cliché, but what you see in reality.

When did you start to see the company become more popular?

We saw customers who came back and said, ‘I got one box and now I want another box’, which is the highest sign of quality that you could have for your service.

I have been asked, ‘When did you know that you were going to be successful’, and my answer is that we still see so many things and we internally just know how much we want to grow.

We don’t say we are successful now. We want to go even further, and I think that is what really drives us.

Has starting this company impacted your own ideas on fashion?

Totally, I learned so much about it. It’s a very interesting industry. You need to get it right, you need to have good relationships with the brands since this plays a very important role in the quality of the stock that you get from them.

It has also influenced my own style as well, since Julia and I are actually the only women who have their own stylists here. We wanted to get the same experience as our customers.

The tech scene tends to be more male-dominated and you are two women, founding a start-up in men’s fashion. How has that been?

To be honest, it has been great fun. There are so many men who think they know what women want, so we said we are doing it the other way around. It could really be an advantage if you are at so many events and you are the only women.

But across the whole start-up scene, having female founders is heating up as well, it’s taking off, and we see more and more women.

If we could contribute a little bit at least to being role models for strong women out there and to encourage them to found their own companies, I’d be very happy about that.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Work in some start-ups for a few years. Learn how things work and what’s happening in the company and with outside partners and investors as well. And then, just do it.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network.