Saturday, August 12, 2017

In Which I Let a Stranger Select My Clothes

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Margaret Wheeler, the Chief People & Culture Officer at Stitch Fix, give a talk about building a company culture. It was during an employee engagement conference; in the same conference similarly titled leaders from Hulu, Tesla, and Columbia Sportswear shared various insights into engaging employees in different ways and what makes their organization unique. Wheeler was my favorite presenter of the entire conference. She was fun to listen to and talking about an interesting challenge Stitch Fix has in that most of their employee base is made up of remote stylists. Engagement of in-office employees is a challenge; remote employees bring an entire level of complexity to the engagement conversation. Her session was about the use of pulse surveys in assessing company culture, which are quick, frequent surveys of employees to test the "health" of an organization (Get it? Health. Pulse. Ha.). Their organization deployed this type of survey and had a lot of success learning about their employees and what they needed. Questions ranged from very organization specific questions to more social/fun questions designed to paint a picture of the employee group as a whole.

One of the questions Wheeler* shared was this one: What is Stitch Fix doing for you to help you reach your goals?" The question stuck with me long after the conference. I wrote a blog for my then organization about the topic and would return to this question often over the last few years, particularly when I was struggling with something at work. The question wasn't necessarily about professional goals, although you could answer it that way. Wheeler went on to share that employees shared goals about travel, learning new skills, connecting with people from all over, and being bold enough to try something new. When I originally heard her talk, I was really focusing my writing and my work blog focused on how I felt my old company was helping me expand my writing skills and giving me opportunities to do more writing. I saw in Wheeler's question a reality for myself and my colleagues shared my opinion too. That certainly changed over time but I still keep coming back to this question over and over again. When I was in the middle of my recent job search, this question was part of my process for evaluating organizations. I was able to dismiss organizations if I felt like the role wouldn't be advantageous to me or my career. Obvious right? Not so much when you're in the job search hustle. 

As much as I enjoyed Wheeler and her thoughts about creating a strong organizational culture, I didn't run out and join Stitch Fix. Despite the fact that she is a super-fashionable woman and was wearing a gorgeous white dress, I didn't sign up. At the time, Stitch Fix was still limited in sizes so I wasn't sure that they would actually be able to find anything for me. I was doing alright on my own in the fashion department anyway; I didn't need a stranger to help me. I may not have ever received lessons in how to dress like a woman, but I was making fashion work for me. Which is the point. I love avant-garde fashion as much as the next person, but I'm never going to wear it. I want my clothes to make me feel good. As Ariell Johnson so bluntly put it, "Like all my clothes, when I put them on, I was not thinking of you." I feel like it's taken me for-freaking-ever to really embrace this philosophy, but embraced it I have.

The thing is, I really don't enjoy shopping. I like shopping when other people are looking for something. I will be your shoe sherpa forever but when it comes to shopping for myself, I don't enjoy it anymore. I can trace this change, because I used to enjoy shopping, to the rise of skinny jeans. Now, I have come to enjoy skinny jeans (more on this shortly) but their initial rise in popularity made it so hard for more fuller figured ladies (like myself) to find pants and jeans that looked good. Eventually, clothing designers got their shit together and figured out that skinny jeans are actually flattering for all body types and made versions that look good even if you have hips or larger calves. I own skinny jeans/pants in several colors and black and gray. I still love my boot cut jeans but I have given friends in skinny jeans.

Since I don't really enjoy shopping BUT I want to be fashionable in my own way, I decided that the time has come for me to join Stitch Fix. In the last few years, they've expanded their women's size range and added a fix for men. They're running a new line of commercials right now were incredibly convincing about how awesome I would feel getting my first "fix" (that's what they call each box) and how I would love everything in the box. So I signed up. When I say signed up, I don't mean a simple "enter my email and create a password" process. No, in addition to those steps, I also had to create a style profile for myself. This includes questions about fit, what I like and dislike in clothes and accessories, and a long list of sizing questions. I was also able to leave a note for my personal stylist about what I'm looking for in clothing.

I liked this part of the process. It feels personal and it's fun. I got to really focus on what I love about fashion and clothes. I talked a lot about whimsical patterns and loving stripes and how I really love bold colors but also wear a lot of black. I want to look professional but also like me so a little humor and fun injected into things. I'd been cautioned by friends and some of my new co-workers to be very specific and provide feedback on my fixes or else I'd be disappointed. If you're going to pay for something, you should be honest about what you want. So I was very thorough with this stage. I even created a Pinterest board for my stylist to look at (no idea if she does this). Never ever did I think I would create a Pinterest board for anything. I'm never going to have a wedding in a reclaimed barn so why would Pinterest be in my life?

And then I waited. I selected the quarterly fix option so I had to wait a few weeks between signing up and receiving my first fix. While I was waiting, my newest acquisitions from Modcloth arrived in the mail. Leave it to Modcloth to finally allow me to realize my dream of finding work appropriate dinosaur patterned clothing.

It's such a great shirt...subtle dinosaurs. One of my co-workers didn't realize the pattern was dinosaurs until she sat next to me in a meeting. I also love this picture and I never love pictures of me. I'm not saying it's solely the dinosaur shirt but I it deserves a little bit of the credit.

Finally, my fix arrived. Of course, Pumpkin claimed the box as hers (see above photo) so I had to wait until she got distracted by air to actually open it. It did, in fact, feel a like Christmas. I was excited and a little nervous about what I would find once I opened the box. Would this stranger hit the mark or be so off base that I'd end up disappointed? Would I love everything in the box so much that I'd spend money I really shouldn't on buying all the things?  I was cautiously optimistic that this fix was going to be fabulous.

And fabulous it was. First, let's discuss the lovely packaging that is a Stitch Fix box. Talk about a perfectly integrated brand. Everything goes together to invite me into the fashion club I now belong to. 

I "met' my stylist, Jami. According to the clothing guide included, she was "digging" a classic vibe for my first fix. She selected pieces that would be work appropriate and fun to wear more casually (exactly what I asked for). There were stripes and bold colors and a cute dress (lacking pockets but rocking sleeves). Jami seemed to get me.

Each fix includes five items that vary depending on my profile selections. Since I selected clothing and accessories, this fix included four clothing options and a necklace. The necklace was not my style but still nice. I put it aside and focused on the clothes. I wanted to keep all four items before I tried anything on. I liked everything. I didn't think I would but I did. I was hoping it would all fit...that would be the true test of whether Jami and I would continue on this fashion journey together or if I would run far, far away from future fixes.

I started with the one item that I truly hoped would fit me: a navy and striped three-quarter length sleeve top. I love stripes and think navy is one of the most underrated clothing colors in the world. It's also super soft and could be casual with jeans or a little dressier with a cute skirt and heels. I love this shirt. I decided the second I put it on that I would be keeping it. I should also note that none of the brands were familiar to me; that's another thing I like about Stitch Fix. I'm getting access to brands I wouldn't normally find or even know about.

Next up...the dress. I wanted to like this dress. Also in navy, it was a good length (just at the knee) and the addition of sleeves made me happy. However, it had an odd front panel that made me think of a nun's habit and it was a little big in the top. I don't have a full length mirror or a selfie stick so the picture isn't great but you get the idea. My feedback on this was "style is good, fit is off, panel is weird."

While they weren't styled together in the guide that came with my fix, I decided to try the last two items on together. Like the first shirt, I immediately liked both items and was hopeful they would fit.

Yes, that's a pair of fuchsia skinny jeans and a black lace top. I'm currently obsessed with these pants. I thought I loved my purple Elle skinny jeans but they have nothing on these. They fit perfectly. Pants never fit me perfectly. They're the right length and hit correctly at the waist. Turns out, this particular style is a Stitch Fix exclusive. I want to wear these pants every day. Did I mention they have real pockets? They do. It's so great. The top was nice but again, fit was an issue. It was a little big in the bust area so the drape was off.

Please excuse my cluttered sink.

All in all, my first fix was awesome. I kept two pieces and sent the rest back. After trying it all on and packaging up the rejects (although they were very nice rejects), I logged onto my account any provided Jami with feedback on each item. I hope she enjoys my enthusiasm for the fuchsia pants as much as I enjoy wearing them. In theory, Jami will use my feedback, her stylist knowledge, and seasonal trends to curate my next box. Since shipping my items back, I received a few emails from the company encouraging me to share my latest obsession (I would if I had a good photo of me in those pants) and how to transition summer items into fall. Now all that's left to do is obsessively add items to my Pinterest board while I await my November fix.

Pumpkin is a fan of the fuchsia pants too.

*Video is from a different conference on a similar topic. She's awesome.

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