Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix
“Shopping for fun is no longer part of the equation,” Katrina Lake declared on our recent coffee date, and it’s so true. My visits to stores these days are always purpose driven. Aimless browsing is as dated as shoulder pads. We’re shopping in the age of iPads, and I’m noticing that when I admire a friend’s new sweater or patterned pants, her response, with increasing frequency, is “Stitch Fix!”
For those unfamiliar, Stitch Fix is an online subscription shopping service. You fill out a questionnaire that covers everything from measurements and lifestyle to favorite brands, budget, and a wish list. About a week later, five items arrive at your door, complete with style notes on ways to wear them. The $20 styling fee goes toward your order, but an envelope is included to make returns as easy as finding a mailbox.
Lake, a Blake School graduate, is the founder and CEO of Stitch Fix. Her sister Chelsea inspired the concept: “She was always able to look great without spending a lot of money,” Lake says. “She would tell me what to buy and how to wear it. I started thinking, everyone should have access to someone like that.”
Geared toward those of us who’ve only dreamed of having a personal assistant bring us new outfits, the average price of a Stitch Fix garment is $55.
Lake developed her business plan while working on an MBA at Harvard. She launched right out of grad school, hoping to attract young, tech savvy women like herself. Interest was much broader than she initially imagined. “The common thread is busy women—moms, professionals, doing everything at once.”
When I ordered my first “Fix” as the service launched in 2011, the selection was fairly limited. But as the San Francisco–based company has exploded—with a team of about 1,000, including more than 800 personal stylists—so too have the options. The Harvard professor who warned Lake that her business would be an “inventory nightmare” underestimated the power of the data she is collecting. Stitch Fix stocks a wide range of styles with greater precision than most chain stores because it knows so much about its clients—things like, the percentage of shoppers that hate yellow, what’s already in their closets, and how clothes fit.
“I would love to rip the size off every garment,” Lake says. Stitch Fix assesses each item of clothing internally and adjusts sizes within its system, noting details like “tight sleeves” or “runs long” that better serve customers’ actual body types.
This data (and, no doubt, Lake’s econ degree from Stanford) helps to distinguish Stich Fix from the glut of fashion websites and shopping services. With direct knowledge about what women want and which styles work, Stitch Fix is able to identify holes in the market and, in turn, has started manufacturing a handful of its own lines. Likewise, expansions into new product areas, such as denim and dress clothes, are based on actual demand rather than general trend reports.
I’m not ready to give up the experience and inspiration of going into stores—nor is Lake, who raved about the boutiques I suggested she visit in the North Loop while she was back in town. But eliminating the hassle of trying on a dozen pairs of jeans is helpful. And the delight of receiving a blouse I never would have considered, and finding that it fits perfectly, is compelling.
“At the end of the day,” Lake says, “women want to look great in a black dress at their reunion and find the best white shirt that doesn’t need ironing.” To get that payoff without spending any time on it is today’s version of luxury shopping.