If you’ve ever felt yourself paralyzed with indecision while getting dressed in the morning, Mayan and Ruban Rajendran understand your pain, and they’d like to help. A few years ago, Mayan, 33, a menswear designer and Cornell University adjunct professor with over a decade of experience in the fashion industry, and his brother Ruban, 30, a full stack developer, sketched out a plan for a “style calculator” that would help men dress better by teaching them what to pair with various basic items of clothing.
Many rounds of surveys, trial and error, and coding—lots of coding—followed before they landed on a formula that worked. Today, the finished product, which they’ve named Twelve70, works simply: Tap an item of clothing on the app’s sleek, minimalistic grid, pick a color, and you’ll receive an instant rundown of everything you’re safe to pair it with before you step out the door—or hop on a Zoom call, as it were. (Try it out for yourself here.)
After initially showing off the finished product on a niche web design forum, the Rajendran brothers were encouraged to post it to r/malefashionadvice, a popular subreddit where men share style and grooming tips. The post elicited a strong response, with more than 15,000 “upvotes” to date, placing it safely among the community’s top 10 most popular posts of all-time.
Ruban and Mayan are now working on making Twelve70 available for download on iOS and Android later this year. Men’s Health reached out to the brothers to learn more about what inspired the app, and where Ruban and Mayan see it going from here.
What inspired you to make a ‘Style Calculator’ for men? Where’d the idea for Twelve70 originate?
Mayan: I’ve worked in the fashion industry in some capacity for over a decade. Having a lot of experience in retail and an affinity for clothes, I found myself in a position where I was often called upon for my opinion. One person to whom I would—sometimes unwantedly— give my thoughts was my brother. Just being the big brother, I would share whatever I was learning and seeing about clothes.
As I made my way through university as a painter and began my MA in fashion, our conversations around clothes became more frequent. Ruban was getting his Mechanical Engineering degree at the time and we would share thoughts and ideas about sneakers, fashion, colors. Through these conversations, I found the biggest challenge in putting together an outfit for many was color coordination, and it was in this revelation that the idea for an outfit generator was born.
With Ruban moving into computer science after his degree, we began to have more serious conversations about how we could simplify the solution for the universal question that has plagued men for decades, “Honey, what do I wear with this?”
You’ve said it took about four years to go from concept to finished design. Take us through that process. How much research went into it?
Ruban: Initially it started as a project for me while I was getting my computer science diploma. Mayan brought the idea to me. It was a way to apply my learning to something I was genuinely interested in. So, during this time, we were building the first iteration of the application, which looked a lot different than what it is today, but the core algorithm is pretty much the same, just evolved. It was a side-project during the first few years. We were learning and growing in other aspects of our lives. Around the time we posted it to Reddit was when we started ramping up focus on it again, and now we’ve committed to working on it as a full-time gig.
Mayan: We conducted four rounds of surveys to get concrete primary data that would serve a customer who was looking to solve a problem he didn’t even know he had. We noticed services were selling subscription boxes with full looks, but ignored the fact that clothing is tactile. We all have different sensory systems, and we are not always looking to re-invent ourselves. We are men, and we know what we like even when we think we don’t.
We were able to confirm that when the question came down to ‘What do I wear with this?’ our user already had a decision made that just needed a bit of nudging. We didn’t intentionally plan on doing this much research but as we got deeper into twelve70 we began to discover more questions we wanted to have answered by our user. We set some mission statements that laid out the foundation for what we intended on growing: Keep it simple, empower, and educate.
Why should guys trust it? What’s your background in fashion?
Mayan: My professional career has taken me to Hong Kong, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Milan, Paris, Berlin, and Frankfurt. I’ve worked alongside a number of reputable brands (Common projects, Stone Island, Vogue), agencies, and stylists over the course of my career. I understand that style is subjective, but my track record, experience, and instincts have proven their merit in my industry. My MA thesis was focused on the development of streetwear back in 2012, and the process of aggregating all the primary research at that time had me traveling the world to interview and observe style icons from 16 major cities.
Have you learned anything interesting from the data you’ve collected? What do men seem to have the most trouble matching?
Ruban: We haven’t spent a whole lot of time analyzing the data just yet. We’ve been more focused on building features that make twelve70 an everyday utility for our users. We’re a small team—just Mayan and myself at the moment—so we’re doing our best to prioritize our time.
What are the most common things men ask for help pairing up?
Mayan: From an item perspective, it has been loafers. Men are starting to realize how versatile a loafer can be in one’s wardrobe simply through the outfit they’ve generated. Long patterned coats, too. A khaki-brown houndstooth overcoat can go a long way and with a lot of looks.
Ruban: I wish we could tell you it’s something way out of the ordinary, but funny enough, the most selected starting item is a pair of black jeans. It’s probably because it’s the most common thing that a guy owns and wants to see all the ways he can wear it.
What else have you learned about men and the way they dress as you’ve seen people engage with the app?
Mayan: Guys want to keep it simple. They have color palettes that they feel comfortable and confident with and enjoy sticking to that realm. Sometimes they see a piece that is outside their comfort zone and want to learn how to make it work with what they already have; this is where we come in. The guys who use twelve70 like us because there is no guesswork, they can just plug in that piece and we’ll give them a range of options using what they have in their closet.
Twelve70 is kind of an ambiguous name. What’s the significance of it?
Ruban: Twelve70 was Mayan’s thesis project during his MA studies. He traveled to 16 cities, in 12 countries in 70 days to gather primary research about menswear—streetwear in particular. He set out on his journey and interviewed more than 60 participants in the creative, retail, art fields to understand how style and culture had evolved in their city.
That’s how he got exposed to the multiplicities of male self-expression around the world. Sadly, the project came to an abrupt halt when his rental car was broken into and robbed at the end of his trip. I joined him to celebrate the completion of his tour in Honolulu the day that it occurred. It was a rough situation, but a memory that brought us closer together.
When we decided to create Twelve70, we revived the name in honor of the project.
Now, it’s a moment in time that anyone in need of style advice can turn to for an answer to “what do I wear with this.”
How do you see the app evolving? Do you have any new features in the works?
Ruban: Layering is something we are working on implementing. Currently, we only show a single top item for a given outfit, but we would like to show options that include a top-inner and top-outer piece. This will open up so many more outfit possibilities. Another feature in the works is capsule closets. Essentially, allowing users to have separate closets for different seasons, occasions, if they are traveling, and so on.
We currently have an affiliate partnership with Mr.Porter. Garments that are available to shop will have a shopping bag icon beside it. Although we have it implemented, we’ve discussed removing this feature since our goal is to get users to make the most use of what they already own.
One commenter wrote, “Fashion is art, and robots don’t get art yet.” How do you respond to that kind of criticism?
Mayan: I can relate to and understand that. There is only so much we can address on a 2D platform. I feel like the commenter was under the assumption that we are based on ‘AI’ or ‘machine learning’, which we are not. To be fair, those terms get thrown around a lot, and the app was very raw at the time of posting, so I can see where they are coming from. What we are trying to accomplish is to be a step in the right direction for someone looking to learn about fashion, like how colors go together in an outfit, basic garment paring rules, terms, and definitions.
Ruban: We are continuously adding patterns to fill gaps that we know exist in the app. We are constantly getting emails with suggestions of items and colors to add, and that we do our best to address. I say ‘do our best’ because there are some items that just should not be made in our opinion.
How do you see Twelve70 differing from similar, existing options such as Lookastic?
Ruban: Lookastic is a fancy search engine. I have to give credit to what they built, but all it does is match items to images of people wearing similar pieces. It works as an inspiration tool, like Pinterest. There’s an aspirational aspect to it that doesn’t work for a lot of people.
Other apps also require you to take photos of your clothes, remove the background, and then put together your own outfits. They act solely as an outfit planner and closet inventory. Most of the other apps are geared towards women, which is understandable given the market size, but frankly, guys don’t want to be doing that much work. They want something simple, effective, and efficient.
Mayan: Twelve70 is an everyday utility that guys can turn to before they start their day and be confident that their outfit is on point. We have streamlined the process of adding items to your closet so it’s a simple and enjoyable experience. Once this is done, you can start generating outfits with your own closet, and apply preferences such as formality and weather to get more appropriate recommendations.
Based on what you’ve learned over the past four years, what’s the best piece of style advice you can give to men?
Mayan: Keep it simple. Pay attention to how clothes affect your posture. Find a good tailor. Style has no price.
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