Limitations can breed creativity. I am no longer scared of budget or time constraints. Sometimes they lead to the best ideas and most efficient ways of executing things.
I had the pleasure to interview Homa Zaryouni. Homa is the founder of Wooster Box, a clothing subscription service that sends women personalized sets of clothing they can borrow and buy from. After noticing that the majority of subscription and styling services targeted women who view getting dressed as a chore and avoid trying new trends and styles, she designed 10 Wooster to cater to women who find joy in new outfits but needed an easier and more effective way to experiment with styles and develop a closet they love. 10 Wooster is for the woman who is confident in her taste, likes trends but chooses which ones to follow, and knows she can pull off out-of-the-box items as long as she finds the right ones. The rent before buying model allows women to take their time when deciding to make a purchase, and separate one-time wears with pieces that really speak to their style and the style they want to have. Prior to starting her business, Homa was the Editorial Director of retail research and consulting firm L2 (acquired by Gartner). At L2, she wrote about how retail and consumer brands and how they adapted and transformed their business models to adapt to the digital age. Before L2, she was a business journalist for The Financial Times and Blouin Artinfo. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Utah, a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s in Comparative Literature from New York University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Homa! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I wanted two things in college: to be a journalist and to live in New York. My first job was a reporter for the Financial Times Group where I reported on merger and acquisitions in the media and technology industry. In 2013, when I was an editor at a different publication, I came across a research firm called L2 that benchmarked the digital performance of fashion brands. Hard to believe now, but in 2013 fashion brands were debating whether or an online presence would dilute their brand. Meanwhile, the smart ones were live-streaming fashion shows and inviting undiscovered style bloggers to sit in the front row.
I became intrigued with L2’s research and contacted the creative director to ask if they were hiring. Turns out, they were looking for a new editorial director. I accepted the offer and my career took a different direction away from journalism. My goal was to create content that brought attention our research and was valuable to people.
Being immersed in retail and consumer product research for four years, I constantly thought of how could I be part of this shift towards digital. I discovered the clothing rental and subscription markets when we published a few reports on circular and sustainable fashion. Luxury brands like Stella McCartney coming on board to encourage their customers to reuse products was proof that this sustainability trend was lasting.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story is how my first customers became contacts and people I enjoyed getting to know. The first person outside of my circle to use 10 Wooster was someone who I connected with on Instagram. She moved away from New York and now we keep in touch.
I also reconnected with an old contact because she followed our company page not knowing I had started it. Stories like this make me realize it is a small world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My funniest mistake is calling a source at 10:30 pm during my first journalism internship. She told me to call her sometime after work so I thought that would be an appropriate time. She was asleep and responded to her cell in a groggy voice. She went off on me and did not hold back!
I was a night owl from a family of night owls so it never occurred to me that someone would be asleep at that time. The lesson I learned was to put myself in other people’s shoes. I also learned that I could survive getting yelled at. J
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Personalization: There is so much clothing out there, but it’s become hard to find out what is right for you and your body type. Every day we hear about a new fashion launch, and it really takes time and effort to curate the products that are right for you and you can wear over and over again. We take on that chore for our members.
Fun: We have a fun approach to fashion rather than a utilitarian one. I met one of my first customers at a barbeque and she gushed over how great it would be to have a set of fun clothes delivered to your door. She had unsubscribed from other subscription services because of their utilitarian approach to fashion and focus on work clothing. She had already curated a closet full of suits and work clothes, but wanted a subscription service that catered to the other parts of her life.
A high-quality closet, at a fraction of the cost: Our customers love that they have the option to purchase every item in their closet for 50% to 75% of the retail price. Buying high-quality pieces can be expensive, and 10 Wooster solves for that. On top of that, members have time to wear the clothes and decide what to buy rather than making a split second decision. This leads to fewer regrets and impulsive sale purchases.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working on a collaboration with a sustainable clothing retailer. We are both female founders who started businesses in sustainable fashion, and she is a very creative individual. It’s too soon to share details, but I am very excited to see what joining forces will lead to!
I am passionate about reducing clothing waste and helping customers make sustainable choices Obviously, it’s a complicated problem but every step in the right direction helps.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
1. Always be energetic and positive. It’s contagious and your responsibility when you manage a team. I no longer have the luxury of putting headphones on and being heads down in my work. If I’m dealing with a setback and feeling temporarily discouraged, I need to force myself to have a good attitude when I’m around my team.
2. Encourage creativity. I like to set guidelines and give people free reign on the rest, and they have usually surprised me in a good way. When tempted to micromanage, I remember that they are specialists and experienced in the area they are working in.
3. Be honest. If something is not good enough yet or could use more work, I bring it up as soon as possible in a neutral way. If a campaign or product feature didn’t go as well as expected, I tell everyone involved so we can figure out what to do differently next time.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
My team is small, so I will have to look to other female leaders for advice on this. 🙂
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I can’t name a particular person who helped me along the way, because there were so many. I can think of several middle managers who taught me tricks of the trade when I was starting out, as well as advocates who emphasized my accomplishments and the value I brought to other senior managers.
My peers were also resources for me in terms of intros, exchanging ideas, and learning how to navigate a career path.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In the same way that I never had a mentor, I’m not a mentor to any one person. I do try to pay it forward and be helpful others when I can. It can be as small as making an intro, making use of my editing skills to polish off a proposal or resume, or volunteering to test out a project or idea a friend is exploring.
I don’t think success matters in this case, it’s more about being attentive and willing to set aside some time for others.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Be detailed and clear about expectations. Anytime something is left vague or to “we’ll just use common sense to resolve later”, bad outcomes will follow. I’ve learned that common sense means different things to different people. In the early days of the business, I did a collaboration that didn’t go as well as I hoped. The other party never spoke to me after that, and I think communication had a lot to do with it. We rushed through things instead of clarifying in writing what we wanted and what each of us was expected to bring to the table. It’s a shame, because we were both driven female entrepreneurs with good intentions.
2. Never make decisions when you are rushed or tired. I made hiring decisions I regretted because I didn’t take a couple of days to think it over and negotiate all the points in the contract. Now I force myself to wait before making big decisions that are difficult to reverse.
3. Limitations can breed creativity. I am no longer scared of budget or time constraints. Sometimes they lead to the best ideas and most efficient ways of executing things.
4. Expect roadblocks. Every person I’ve spoken to says entrepreneurship is a rocky path — to put it mildly. Expecting things to go haywire keeps me prepared.
5. Avoid stress. Stress has never benefited me in any situation, and that is a helpful reminder when things get crazy. Not stressing doesn’t necessarily mean inaction, it just means doing as much I can without freaking out.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like us to reverse global warming and save what is left of the earth. It is a complicated problem and requires cooperation, but it affects everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I like the Reid Hoffman quote” “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
Time spent sweating over details of a product is valuable time that could be spent getting the product in the hands of users and learning from their reaction. Technology tools also make it easy to keep tweaking and making improvements after a launch.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I admire Whitney Wolfe, founder of Bumble for being a badass. After being ousted as a Tinder cofounder and having to sue the company for a settlement, she was intent on starting another company on her own and was able to grow Bumble to become a rival dating app. That is good inspiration for never being discouraged.