Workers Trade Business Casual for Business Comfort, Says Stitch Fix CEO
When the pandemic hit and millions shifted from working in the office to working from home, Stitch Fix, the online personal styling service, knew it had to keep up with rapidly changing fashion trends and trends. customer needs.
“We definitely had to change inventory and change things that we had purchased that were already in our warehouses,” said CEO Elizabeth Spaulding, who took over in August.
Stitch Fix, founded in 2011 by former CEO Katrina Lake, began as a subscription service for women’s clothing: customers tell the company what they like and it sends them five items, which she calls the Fix. Spaulding said the data collected from these patches helped it outpace the competition when it saw a big jump in requests for “comfortable and cozy.”
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Spaulding about what it was like to take over a business during a pandemic, as well as style trends for 2022. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Rysdal: What’s it like to take over a business in the midst of a pandemic?
Elizabeth Spaulding: Well, that was definitely not what I expected. You know, first of all, I was in the same place for the first 20 years of my career. So it was already quite a big and really exciting change to join a company that I deeply believe is the future of how we’re all going to shop and find what we love. You know, consumers started shopping very differently, very quickly. And what COVID has done is it’s allowed us to start bringing even more value to that experience for each of our customers. But I certainly didn’t expect things to change and evolve so quickly when I took on this new role.
Rysdal: Well, so I’m not going to talk about myself, but I’m a good case study, aren’t I? Because I was a Stitch Fix shopper for a while, then the pandemic hit and I didn’t need nice clothes anymore. I didn’t even need casual clothes. You know, none of us did, did we? And, oh, by the way, I’d bet – and I don’t know you from Adam – but you probably don’t dress to go to work in front of your Zoom every day, do you? You wear, at least at the bottom, sweatpants and slippers. What do you do with that when you run a business like Stitch Fix?
Spaulding: You know, I think one thing that we were lucky with Stitch Fix was that we weren’t just nice clothes going out. We definitely had to change inventory and make changes to things we had purchased that were already in our warehouses. But a huge benefit was that we saw this signal – with every patch we send, we get a very specific input. And so, we immediately saw a 10-fold increase in work-from-home requests. We have seen requests for convenience and comfort. It got us moving probably faster than a lot of people because we saw that signal so quickly. Yeah, I was definitely wearing sweatpants and leggings. I think I have more leggings in my wardrobe than I ever imagined.
Rysdal: Okay, now look – I hear you. You’ve mentioned it a few times now, the information you have, the signals you’ve gotten, the data you have. Would you be offended if I called Stitch Fix – for everything you do for fashion – you’re some kind of data company, yes?
Spaulding: You know, that’s a great point you raise. And I think we’re incredibly proud of how data-driven we are, and it’s really the marriage of art and science. Here’s a fun data point, right at the data point: we have a widget in the app called style shuffle. Customers look up and down for items in our catalog or even things we may have had but no longer have, but it gives us a good idea of what they like. We have over 10 billion of these data points. More than a million customers play it every month. Within two days of any new item entering our product catalog, we test it. We know who is likely to really like this article. And so yeah, we really are a data business combined with, I like to think, a very deep relationship business because of our stylists.
Rysdal: Alright, so look, what’s new for 2022? Clues ?
Spaulding: Well, you know, unsurprisingly, everyone says there’s a big talent shuffle going on. There is also a great refresh in clothing. We hear about two-thirds of our consumers say they’re willing to swap clothes, maybe replace a whole third of their wardrobe. People are just into comfort and style. We talk a lot about the comfort of business.
Rysdal: Excuse me, business comfort?
Spaulding: I think people – in your opinion of everyone wearing sweatpants during COVID – people have gotten used to being a little more comfortable, and now they want to look good, but they still want to be comfortable. ‘easy. I don’t know what you’re wearing right now, Kai, but I hope it’s a polo, not a shirt. We hear that polo shirts are trending right now from our customers.
Rysdal: It’s so funny. So it’s a khaki and a T-shirt.
Spaulding: Well, t-shirts and graphic tees are also on the rise.
Rysdal: Oh that’s good, because it’s actually a graphic t-shirt. So look, now where are you going? We are in this phase – we all hope so – of reopening. Consumer tastes have changed. You have changed your business in many ways. What are you expecting for 2022? Not on a fashion level, but on a business level?
Spaulding: A big goal of our past year and a half has been to help customers not just experience what we’ve always called the Fix. This is our classic model where you give us some information and then we send you five items at a time. We’ve moved into what we like to think of as our on-demand era, on top of that patch, where you can, you know, open our app and buy your own custom store at any time. And so really, our future is about being that destination that, you know, helps you get dressed every day, makes it more of the discovery and the fun of shopping versus all the hard work, which we think is always the problem with e-commerce and that we are really happy to solve.