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Blue Jean Queen

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A love of personal shopping inspired this entrepreneur to launch a tech tool for denim.

By Susan Johnston Taylor, Photo courtesy of Redenim

In August 2016, Kelly Ernst was working as a developer for an Austin ed-tech company. But then the company got acquired and she received a severance package. That was the kick in the pants (pun intended) Ernst needed to focus on Redenim, an Austin-based startup she’d launched that January as a side project.

“I turned 30 the week after,” she says. “I had this company and a severance package. I could go through the motions and try to find another job or I [could]just do [Redenim].”

She chose the latter. Two weeks later, Ernst took an early version of Redenim to DivInc, an Austin-based pre-accelerator program aimed at bringing more women and founders of color into the tech-startup ecosystem.

A few years prior, Ernst had discovered a love for personal shopping and designer jeans while working as a developer on Wall Street. However, she felt there must be a way for women to find a flattering pair of jeans without schlepping to the boutiques of SoHo or enduring several agonizing hours in poorly lit dressing rooms. “There’s got to be a technology solution to this,” she thought while Christmas shopping in 2015.

So, she used her tech background to create it. The result was Redenim.

“We combine technology and a personal touch to create a highly personal experience that also scales really well,” Ernst explains. “When a customer is onboarded, they fill out a style profile, and a series of algorithms determine proportions. We’ll distill down a handful of styles we think are going to work for you based on the numbers.”

Picture Stitch Fix but specifically for premium denim. Redenim ships customers three pairs of jeans from its fulfillment facility at Austin’s newest creative co-working space, The Refinery. Customers then have seven days to try on the jeans at home, keep the pairs they want and mail back the others, or keep all three for a 20 percent discount.

“Our goal is to basically never have women go to the mall again,” Ernst says. “No more malls, no more sitting rooms. Get what you need delivered to your door.”

Available denim brands include AG Jeans, James Jeans and DL1961.

Redenim received a $5,000 grant through a pitch competition in March 2017, and earlier this year, Redenim began at Sputnik ATX, a 12-week tech-accelerator program through which startups have access to office space and are given $100,000 in funding. Redenim is part of the first batch of startups in the program.

“This is the first scale point of our company,” Ernst says. “We’re moving out of ‘this is a scrappy startup’ into ‘OMG, this is a real company.’ ”

The startup currently has four employees with plans to reach a head count of 11.

When Ernst pitched Redenim to the accelerator program, a male investor initially said he didn’t understand the concept, but she quickly changed his mind.

“His daughter, who doesn’t wear jeans, had never been able to find anything in her size, pulled them on and was blown away that they just fit,” Ernst remembers. “A few days later, I got the call [that we were getting funded].”

While Silicon Valley is known for its tech-startup scene, Austin and its so-called Silicon Hills have their own allure for tech-startup founders like Ernst.

“I feel like we’re closer to our customers and closer to real-world problems,” says Ernst, who moved to Austin after falling in love with the city during South By Southwest. “In doing so, we’re founding these companies that fill in gaps with technology that we didn’t necessarily know we had. Redenim is a good example of that. I saw an opportunity to change the way that people shop for jeans.”

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