Fashion

Stitch Fix keeps getting smarter. Launched in 2011 as a personal styling service, the company recently expanded into e-commerce, introducing a “personalized mall” called Freestyle that suggests individual products for users who’d rather avoid the hassle of snail mail. But the company has also made clever investments in the fashion industry writ large—as evidenced by the brand’s Elevate collection, debuting today on October 8.

Elevate, an annual grant and membership initiative, was launched in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd protests. The goal was to uplift and usher in the next wave of industry-changing Black fashion designers, with the grantees receiving $25,000, in addition to advisory sessions and access to Stitch Fix’s product analytics.

“It takes a lot to create change in the [fashion] space,” says Loretta Choy, general manager for women’s fashion at Stitch Fix. “We wanted to leverage our resources and create a program that would be evergreen, where we can actually provide to entrepreneurs the deep insights that we have that may not be an easily accessible resource for everyone.”

This year’s recipients represent an impressive array of global talent from different corners of the fashion marketplace. They include:

  • Diarra Bousso, owner of Diarrablu. Featuring inclusive sizing, women’s fashion brand Diarrablu’s specialty is algorithm-generated prints sustainably created in Dakar, Senegal.
  • Jamela Acheampong, owner of Kahmune. High-quality footwear in sizes 6-11 is Kahmune’s singular focus; each shoe is made in an array of inclusive skin tone-matching hues.
  • Busayo Olupano, owner of Busayo. Inspired by traditional African prints, Busayo’s gowns and blouses feature eye-catching pops of color in sizes ranging from 0 to 16.
  • Marcus Thomas, owner of Marcus Alexander. The gender-inclusive footwear brand makes unique yet utilitarian sneakers in sizes 8-13.
  • Bettina Benson, owner of Chloe Kristyn. A classic, sophisticated womenswear brand making workwear chic, Chloe Kristyn sells an assortment of blouses, bottoms, dresses, and knits in sizes 0-16.
  • Robin Sirleaf, owner of Sarep + Rose. As the only accessories brand in the Elevate line-up, Sarep + Rose already stands out. But the company’s ethically sourced materials, made into handbags by all-African entrepreneurs, are what make the products shine.
    stitch fix elevate products

    Stitch Fix

    The Elevate collection pulls from each brand’s lookbooks and features Stitch Fix-exclusive products, such as Kahmune’s first-ever bootie and Sarep + Rose’s mini bucket bag. But while the curation offers shoppers an opportunity to acquire new favorites from outside traditional retailers, it also gives the grantees the chance to learn exactly what their customer wants.

    Olupano, for instance, has found a huge increase in print popularity following the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. People are ready to dress up again—in a big way.

    Trained as a lawyer, Olupano has only been running Busayo since 2012, but she’s been designing patterns since she was young. “Coming from Nigeria, there’s a little bit of an advantage in the sense that we have a culture of you making clothes for yourself,” she says. “If you have an event, we have something in our culture called aso ebi, which literally means clothes of the family. So every event that you have, we pick a fabric, a particular print that we have to wear that identifies us as [relatives].” In 2012, she began learning how to make specific textiles in bold and beautiful prints, an attitude that eventually became the encapsulation of the Busayo brand.

    During the pandemic, she created the Bayo Maxi dress, thinking no one would want to wear it except her. When a customer did purchase the garment, Olupano messaged her to find out where she planned to wear it. A gala? A wedding?

    “She lives in Chelsea, and she was like, ‘Well, I’m think I’m going to wear it to the grocery store,’” Olupano says. “That was the point where I was like, ‘Okay. We have something here.’”

    a busayo dress from the stitch fix elevate 2021 collection

    A Busayo dress.

    Stitch Fix

    But figuring out exactly which prints will trigger this response has been Olupano’s toughest challenge yet. She needed guidance from a source with more resources, more data. The Elevate program first came to her attention on the day of the application deadline in 2020. She saw the potential prizes—$25,000, as well as those key analytical insights—and decided to cancel her plans for the evening. She knocked out her application in two hours, and ended up winning.

    “It has really been incredible,” she says. “I don’t bullshit, really. There’s a lot of programs that different companies have created post-George Floyd. [But] I think that what’s really powerful about this one is the opportunity to talk to [mentors]…You see the gap between where you’re at and where a Stitch Fix would be. So I felt like I was nerding out on a masterclass every month.”

    Olupano and her fellow grantees have become close friends in the process. “We text all the time,” she says. “When we all met each other, we felt like we’d known each other for a very long time.” Such comments have convinced Choy—and the rest of the Stitch Fix leadership—that this program is much more than a face-saving D&I initiative. It’s a reach into the collaborative, global future of fashion.

    Elevate products are shoppable both through Freestyle and Stitch Fix’s traditional subscription box. Take a look at some of ELLE‘s favorite picks below.

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