Katie Sturino debuts her latest summer collection at Stitch Fix.

Plus-size fashion blogger and rising beauty mogul Katie Sturino is at it again. The megainfluencer’s latest collaboration with personal online styling company Stitch Fix will bring a new summer collection to the market on Wednesday.

But beneath the bright colors and comfy styles, there’s a bit more brewing at Stitch Fix, and it has everything to do with the company’s direct-buy business.

For the first time, the fashion e-commerce company won’t require a subscription to shop this collection, Stitch Fix’s new president, Elizabeth Spaulding, told WWD in an exclusive interview about the debut.

That means anyone can scoop up a khaki overall, banana button-down or tennis skirt — some of Sturino’s favorites — without any further commitment.

It’s a big shift from Stitch Fix’s model, and the first major evolution under Spaulding’s helm. It’s part of her purview to “sharpen and shape the next chapter of the company’s customer experience and business strategy,” she explained to WWD.

“How do we capitalize on this huge advantage of data that we have for the last nine years of being totally focused on apparel — selling $5 billion of apparel sight unseen, which is an extraordinary accomplishment — to where that can go next?” Spaulding mused.

Where that’s clearly going now is subscription-less e-commerce, ushered in by Katie Sturino.

A look at the app populated with Katie Sturino’s latest collection.  Courtesy image

Spaulding teased the collection during the company’s earnings call last week. Now there’s more clarity about the lineup, as Sturino shed some light on the collection, plus a few details on what the shopping experience will be like, thanks to the executive.

For starters, the social media star designed the new range — her third with Stitch Fix — to evoke a sense of playfulness and fun. “This collection is all about play, whatever that may mean to you,” Sturino said. “It has bright colors, comfortable clothes and is designed specifically for summer, because I am mindful of how hot it gets.”

That sensibility may seem especially refreshing for consumers who have been sequestered in their homes for weeks or months due to the coronavirus pandemic and may be longing for a little summer fun. And, of course, as an advocate of body positivity, Sturino wanted to bring that feeling to women of all sizes, which means no one’s excluded from the collection.

Feedback from Sturino’s previous two Stitch Fix collections informed the changes this time around. People wanted to choose items for themselves and buy the clothes directly, instead of getting items preselected in a “fix” or shipment.

Now they can purchase without commitment. For these shoppers, the sign-on process has been streamlined. Of course, the company still asks a few questions about fit and budget preference and asks them to play its fashion game, “Style Shuffle,” so the system can learn a little about the customers. Then it uses the information to create a personalized section of the app populated with curated recommendations. For existing clients, the online store will show customized looks based on buying history, feedback and other data.

The data also informs styling guidance, showing shoppers Katie Sturino pieces that go with other products from the company’s catalogue, which swells with tens of thousands of items.

Spaulding explained: “We started a few months ago, opening up this new, personalized shopping experience for existing clients that we call ‘direct buy,’ and essentially anchor that feed of a curated store to them based on what they bought before. What this collection represents is the ability to ungate that to new customers in a really fun, very lightweight way.”

The approach flexes the company’s data science muscle, as it “really demonstrates our capability to bring this personalized shopping experience to anybody,” Spaulding added.

It’s clear that the executive sees the launch as an example of the innovation she’ll focus on at Stitch Fix. And, it turns out, her new role as fashion e-commerce leader is not completely disjointed from her old one at consulting firm Bain & Co. Spaulding founded and ran the firm’s digital practice as its global head, in addition to founding a key software engineering group there and its Innovation Exchange group.

Elizabeth Spaulding, Stitch Fix’s recently appointed president.  Courtesy photo

It’s this pursuit of innovation that brought her to Stitch Fix, after a chance meeting with Mike Smith, fellow president, chief operating officer and interim chief financial officer, and Katrina Lake, founder and chief executive officer.

“We were introduced by a board member, and I just had an immediate chemistry with them,” she explained. “One thing that became really clear was just a remarkable fit with where the company is headed next and my background. The desire to innovate the experience and broaden the model for its next chapter, as well as its focus on globalization, really has been at the core of my last 10 years.”

As for the future, she’ll look at a broad range of enhancements, not just for the sales model, but other aspects of the operation, including inventory management and the way its data science develops alongside human styling, she said.

Of course, recent events have complicated things for the retail sector across the board, as the coronavirus pandemic still rages. Stitch Fix itself recently laid off 1,400 stylists in San Francisco, while looking to recruit in less-expensive regions.

Despite that, Spaulding remains optimistic.

“As we look at the last few months, and then what that means for the next few years, I think what we’re going to see is a lot of things that were already happening pre-COVID-19 get accelerated — whether it’s the adoption of technology, or the nature of consumer shopping online for apparel,” she opined.

She may not be wrong. Already, signs of a turnaround may be on the radar as fashion retail’s dismal April gave way to a jump in May of as much as 188 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures from its latest Advanced Retail Trade Survey.

“I think a lot of people were just more comfortable with technology than they ever were in the past,” she added. “We believe over the course of the next year or two, we will see three times the shift online that we have historically been seeing the last few years.”

And no matter who they are — or whether they subscribe — Stitch Fix wants to be ready to welcome them.

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