Think like a tech company — utilize data and create feedback loops.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Couch + Brittany Hick of WOC Worldwide.
Jessica Couch is a fit technology expert and the founder of Luxor + Finch Consulting. Jessica received her undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles in Fashion Product Development and her Master’s in Digital Innovation and Fit from Cornell University under the guidance of Professor Susan P Ashdown. In 2018, she received her certificate for Digital Product Management: Modern Fundamentals from the University of Virginia.
Since the completion of her Master’s, she has worked with and advised numerous companies, brands and retailers in the fit technology space. Jessica has published over 60 articles on the matter of fit and fit tech, a thesis on fit and perception and curated events and panels on the subject of fashion and fit technology. As a consultant, Jessica works to resolve the pain points caused by fit through technology integration. Through Luxor + Finch Consulting, she is able to focus on integrating technology throughout the supply chain to improve fit, educate brands on fit as a competitive advantage and to devise sustainability solutions.
Brittany Hicks, Brittany Hicks is a fashion technology expert, process consultant, strategist, educator, and the co-founder of WOC Worldwide, an inclusive community of women at the intersection of technical and creative careers supporting students and professionals as a result of her diverse background working in fashion. Early in her career, Brittany noticed pipeline flaws in academia that continued into corporate, inspiring her to educate students and professionals on the intersection of fashion and tech, working to close gaps that inhibit gender and ethnic diversity.
Brittany earned her Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain Management at North Carolina A&T State University before beginning her career in merchandising. Most recently, Brittany worked at Amazon Fashion buying Contemporary Denim and Fast Fashion before transitioning to their global private label product development team. At Amazon, Brittany partnered with and advised major brands across the industry, creating tools and processes to streamline and automate merchandising science. True to her commitment to leverage every opportunity to support diversity and her alma mater, in 2018 she established a partnership with Amazon and NC A&T to grow alumni engagement and student recruitment.
After hosting the first Women of Color FashTech Brunch, Jessica and Britany co-founded Fayetteville Road to help brands and retailers match people to product leveraging technology to create immersive consumer experiences for women of color. Fayetteville Road curates the WOC Worldwide community and hosts The Women of Color FashTech Brunch semi-annually, bringing together women of color in fashion, tech, and other creative spaces. Jessica has written almost 100 articles highlighting gaps in the retail space, including contributions for publications like Women’s Wear Daily and Brittany has been highlighted in Seattle Magazine and The Startup on Medium for her contributions in fashion education.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
Jessica: When I first started my online store in 2011, there wasn’t a ton of affordable technology to bridge the gap between products and the online experience. Shopping online was a risk mainly because of the size issue, people were not confident about trying new brands. After experimenting with peer shopping techniques to drive more sales and lower returns, I realized there was a need for consumer-centric technology based on resolving size and fit issues. Having a background in product development and spending thousands of hours in fitting rooms with various people, I started asking questions.
Brittany: Before landing at Amazon Fashion in 2015, I always worked in buying offices for department stores and felt the culture was somewhat antiquated, but I was “paying my dues”. So, when I got to Amazon, I loved the innovative energy and that they were willing to try new things, instead of focusing the business on comping last year. I had my hand in everything from UX, to editorial, to product development and merchandising. I worked with hundreds of brands, of all sizes, to evaluate and evolve their supply chains and what I learned from that experience confirmed my initial instinct — that retail is antiquated and although we’ve perfected the art of advertising, the customer experience and supply chain are built on an outdated manufacturing process supported by the incorrect assumption that designers, buyers and brands know more about what women want than we do as customers. Women know their bodies and have strong opinions on how they want to look and feel.
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?
Jessica: Brittany and I started the WOC FashTech Brunch series as a way to build a robust community of women in fashion technology and adjacent fields. We needed to connect with allies, advocates, mentors, and peers in this new space. At our first brunch, we scraped together sponsors to help us get 35 women at the top of the industry into a bougie, “champagne Brunch” at the Ludlow House. We were not event planners but we desperately wanted to have this brunch so we could expand our networks. While packing gift bags on-site the day of the event, confirming last-minute details and brunch about 20 mins from starting, we realized we had locked every case of champagne for the champagne brunch in a WeWork in Midtown that was closed on Sundays.
After panicking for about 3 min, we made some calls. Then we had to digest the fact that there was no way to get into the building, the super and owner were not available, we tapped our networks and realized we were expecting a guest who was employed by WeWork. We had initially booked her to speak on the panel, then realized we mistakenly overbooked the panel — again we were not event planners! and had to rescind her invitation. It was the most humbling moment.
We reached out to her anyway, informed her of our heinous oversight, and asked if she could do anything for us. Although she lived in Jersey, and it was a weekend, she cheerfully agreed to meet us there to open the building and rescue our champagne. The restaurant graciously let us swap out bottles so none of the guests noticed and the bottles we left in WeWork arrived just in time for us to hand them out as parting gifts to our guests! HUGE relief!! We learned that there is no limit to what can be done when women support each other, and we live by this. We also learned the power of an extensive network and simply asking for help. Since that is our genesis story, we try and pay it forward by going above and beyond to support women who need it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Collaboration and diversity. We are a group of women entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and perspectives but united in our ideals and views of success. Some of us are from corporations while some of us have been entrepreneurs for over 10 years. Regardless, we share similar values of collaboration and problem solving and have respect for others’ talents and skills. This was actually put to the test. We flew our team into the city to prepare for an event and were faced with a difficult situation leaving us with an ultimatum two days before our event to cancel or postpone it. We all sat together and spent 30 mins providing perspective and scenarios to resolve this issue. No one person could have resolved the issue alone, it was the input and the ideation of the entire team that brought together the perfect solution and approach. When trying to accomplish big things there has to be diversity around the table. We call our War Room The Jungle because it gets kind of crazy!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Brittany: Set boundaries, self-care, advocate for yourself and say no. Women often have a harder time pushing back on things, even at our own expense. Whether it is voicing an opinion, creating a boundary, asking for pay raise, or handling an uncomfortable situation, we err on the side of polite or politically correct to save ourselves from judgment, humiliation, or whatever worst-case-scenario we imagine. As a result, we can all end up not putting ourselves first and then feeling cheated. It’s not bitchy to say no or have an opinion, it’s neither bossy nor pushy, it’s our human right to advocate for ourselves. No one will go harder for you than you. To avoid burnout, we suggest always advocating for yourself, your opinion, your mental health, your emotional health, and whatever else you need in a moment. Also, the spa — we really believe in the spa!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Jessica: We leverage our success by sharing everything we’ve learned with our community in a raw and transparent way. We use events to share stories, tips, actionable insight, and valuable lessons through content and community. It is not enough to experience success alone; it is better when you can share success with people and root for them as well. We believe this makes our ecosystem better. We have had the privilege of supporting members of our communities through finding jobs, mentorship, increasing their salaries, conducting business deals, and even giving birth! In just a short time, we have developed an entire community where people actually get the results they are seeking.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
Jessica: My father always says “let the game come to you” meaning, prepare, practice and be patient for your chance to play so that when it comes, you are ready. We prepare for a lot of things that we don’t put into practice until down the line. Being shortsighted can make it seem like this preparation is in vain or things are moving too slow. But we have learned that all your practice will eventually come into play so preparing yourself is one of the smartest things you can do. The second thing would be to develop the patience to wait and capitalize when it’s time.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
Brittany: I am excited about the potential for interconnected technology to improve the supply chain, reduce returns, dead inventory and inevitably waste. Additionally, we are excited about increasing diversity and inclusion as well as creating retail environments that truly reflect the needs of its customers. We believe in data-driven research to answer the “why” for women of color that have gone unexamined for so long. We are excited to roll out technology and continue projects that meet her needs.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
- Think ahead — Consider the future of everything you are creating today and have a plan for it
- Smarten your supply chain — find ways to create a supply chain that facilitate more sustainability whether that means to choose different materials and factories or learning to match people to products on a one to one, find one small way to take the antiquated parts of your supply chain and make them modern
- Go deep not wide — Everything is not for everybody but knowing exactly who YOU are for is profitable.
- Collaborate — Insulate your business with the right relationships, so you can pivot into expertise when the industry shifts.
- Think like a tech company — utilize data and create feedback loops.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
The Fashion industry can improve by understanding the importance of collaboration with the customer. Customer centricity has to be action based; fashion has to listen to the customer then create for the customer in a more collaborative way. This can be done by understanding the value of data in fashion and then utilizing that data appropriately.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Movement of catering for others’ well-being in order to have your own taken care of. I wish there was something in place for social capital and helping people take care and consider others.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@_jessicaveronica_ @justcallmehicks @wocworldwide
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!