How did the Fashion Industry miss the Boss Lady?

If you are familiar with the theory that all things fall into the infamous Trade-Off Triangle, it’s easy to see how traditional apparel appears to map to this paradigm. The idea of “Cheap, Good, Fast: Choose Two” is easily translated to clothing “Affordable, Quality, On-trend.” Prioritizing cost and trendiness produces fast fashion, (think Zara, H&M, and Forever 21). Trendiness and quality give way to designer contemporary, (think DVF, Phillip Lim, Derek Lam). Quality coupled with affordability equals “next gen” brands (think Everlane, Uniqlo, or Reformation), which produce minimalistic garments built to last. Akin to the paradox of the Trade-Off Triangle, no [single] brand meets all three criteria. We’re left with a gaping hole in apparel, especially when it comes to the Boss Lady. For professional, adult women, who make up the majority of consumer spending, the demand for clothing that is affordable, on-trend, and quality is high, and yet she has long been asked to compromise between these pillars. The idea that the free market will move to meet existing demand has, extraordinarily, failed. How did the apparel industry miss the Boss Lady?

The Market Has Misunderstood The Boss Lady

Women drive 80% of consumer spending, whether through their own buying power or their influence. Yet, there is a large subset of this group — professional, adult women — who have been repeatedly overlooked. Boss Ladies are powerful, intelligent, pioneers in their industry, but (and commonly forgotten) they’re also busy. 71.3% of mothers with children under 18 years of age participate in the workforce, which means she’s balancing a career, a family, a social life, and somehow still finding time for herself. Shopping probably isn’t her top priority, which is a good hint at why 91% of women feel that advertisers don’t understand them. The market has missed the Boss Lady by dramatically misreading her needs. 

The Walk-In Closet Is A Dream of the Past

Traditional apparel retail relies on convincing consumers that more is more. Consumers, and women in particular, are told they can never own too much clothing, they need a different pair of shoes for every outfit, and they can never be seen in the same outfit twice. Driving the idea that women need to own a different dress for every occasion is what generates revenue in the apparel industry. For the modern Boss Lady, however, the value of ownership is outdated. The rise of the sharing economy serves as evidence that consumers are seeking new models of ownership, and more and more, are hesitant to contribute to the clutter that ownership generates. This attitude is echoed over and over again from our members— consumption is a problem. As Armoire member and Managing Director at Madrona Venture Group, Hope Cochran said, “I really, really hate a cluttered closet, and so I hate buying new stuff and feeling like my old stuff is passè.” As evidenced by services like Spotify, Netflix, or Uber, access is the new ownership. Retail doesn’t afford consumers the same access to variety without ownership. The “more is more” mentality isn’t valuable to the modern Boss Lady, no matter how hard advertisers push it. 

“I love the solution of Armoire because… I don’t like to have a lot of clothes, but I don’t want to wear the same thing to my meetings over and over again. This way, you rent the clothes, I can then turn them back in, I know I don’t have the same thing I had in my closet last time I had this meeting, and I can guarantee I’m going to wear something fashion-forward that no one’s seen before.”

Hope Cochran, Armoire Member & Managing Director, Madrona Venture Group

For most women, simply buying less isn’t really an option, either. “Next-Gen” brands like Everlane have found success in selling a more minimalistic, timeless wardrobe, but this isn’t an overarching solution. Between the all-too-well-known stigma of women wearing the same outfit twice, and the fact that consumers do, in fact, want to engage with trends, the Boss Lady is stuck at an impasse— how does she access a variety of clothing without constantly buying? For Hope, Armoire’s rental service provides the solution. As she stated, “I love the solution of Armoire because… I don’t like to have a lot of clothes, but I don’t want to wear the same thing to my meetings over and over again. This way, you rent the clothes, I can then turn them back in, I know I don’t have the same thing I had in my closet last time I had this meeting, and I can guarantee I’m going to wear something fashion-forward that no one’s seen before.” Armoire gives her the ability to access new — a new style, new trends — without the commitment and clutter. This sentiment is reiterated by Armoire member and Product Manager at Gap, Madison McIlwain. She explains, “I love so many things about renting. There is the sustainability aspect which allows me to feel proud about cutting down on my consumption of clothing. I also really appreciate the fact that I can try a trend temporarily and learn how it fits into my style.” By focusing on the needs we actually heard from women, we created a service that meets her needs, contrary to what traditional retail was telling us she wanted. 

“I love so many things about renting. There is the sustainability aspect which allows me to feel proud about cutting down on my consumption of clothing. I also really appreciate the fact that I can try a trend temporarily and learn how it fits into my style.”

Madison McIlwain, Armoire Member & Product Manager, Gap

Women Value Time Over Shopping

Traditional retail radically misunderstood the Boss Lady in the age-old stereotype that women love shopping. As radical of an idea as it may be, maybe women don’t have an insatiable desire for sparkly dresses, jewelry, heels, etc. In reality, traditional shopping is a less enjoyable experience for women than retailers realize. The modern woman is busy, meaning she doesn’t have time to scroll through infinite web pages, dig through five different stores, or try on twenty different pairs of jeans just to find the right one. The 140+ hours women on average spend shopping for apparel annually aren’t always ones spent by choice.

“You often can’t gauge what will work for you, even if you have a great eye for that sort of thing. But Armoire brings together the best of both highly-trained technology AND highly-trained humans. You can’t beat that combo. You see it instantly when you become a customer, and it gets better over time.”

Julie Sandler, Armoire Member & Managing Director, PSL Ventures

While online shopping negates the need to physically travel to a store, the Boss Lady’s pain is far from addressed. Instead she’s faced with more guesswork into what will fit, and (counterproductive to time-saving) the endless scroll through 1000’s of inventory items. Armoire’s curation algorithm aims to provide a way to actually give women time back in her busy life. As Armoire member and Microsoft Leader Dona Sarkar put it, “Armoire’s algorithm… really works for me. I don’t need to spend a ton of time looking for what I want, or go in to find clothes… I really like the limited selection I see in my closet, and knowing that it’s tailored to what I want and need.” She’s not scrolling for hours, or guessing at what will fit, she’s only shown the items that the algorithm thinks she’ll like. As Julie Sandler, Armoire member and Managing Director at PSL Ventures, explains, “You often can’t gauge what will work for you, even if you have a great eye for that sort of thing. But Armoire brings together the best of both highly-trained technology AND highly-trained humans. You can’t beat that combo. You see it instantly when you become a customer, and it gets better over time.” The value in a curated closet is one that the apparel industry (whether it’s retail, rental, or secondhand) has vastly overlooked. 

Rental Makes Trends More Accessible

Perhaps the most important aspect where the Boss Lady is forgotten is in keeping up with trends. Most trends trickle down from runways or celebrity culture, but not in a way that is actually accessible to the modern woman. In fast fashion, these trends get translated into more approachable, and affordable items, but they’re not items that are work-appropriate or made to last. Designer contemporary retailers present more appropriate options, but aren’t a realistic option for keeping up with rapidly changing trends. In a recent article describing upcoming fall trends, suggestions for delicate satins were limited to a $700 dress or a $25 crop top. Translation of trends from the runway to the hands of consumers fail to give the Boss Lady any sensible options. 

“I rent because as a budding CEO, I need to look the part during the week and feel comfortable winding down on the weekend but I don’t have much time these days to keep my wardrobe updated.”

Aagya Mathur, Armoire Member & CEO, Aavia

Most of this comes from a false assumption that the professional woman doesn’t care about trends. Like all things, this is true for some people and not for others. Some women want what they love, regardless of trends, but some women want to engage in trends. Armoire gives her a way to build a style that feels truly her. Oftentimes, “engaging with trends” doesn’t mean fringe-lined crop tops. What she wants is to stay contemporary. As Armoire member Aagya Mathur, CEO of Aavia, explains, “I rent because as a budding CEO, I need to look the part during the week and feel comfortable winding down on the weekend but I don’t have much time these days to keep my wardrobe updated.” If fashion has moved from the low-waisted, bootcut jeans of the 2000’s to the high-waisted skinny jeans of today, she might want new high-waisted jeans. If rich jewel tones are trending for fall, she might want to try those new colors. Armoire members rely on our service to give her a modern wardrobe in a way that is comfortable for her. This means curating trending items that are appropriate for her meeting next week, or trying a new Diane Von Furstenburg dress she wouldn’t want to buy for herself. According to Amy Nelson, CEO and Founder of the Riveter, “So much of the value of Armoire to me is the clothes that are selected (both in the style sessions and the algorithm), which lead me to a place where I feel comfortable and powerful, and I’m taking risks and having fun with my clothes.” Women look to us for trends because we’ve created a service that women can rely on to stay modern, whatever that means to her personally. 

“So much of the value of Armoire to me is the clothes that are selected (both in the style sessions and the algorithm), which lead me to a place where I feel comfortable and powerful, and I’m taking risks and having fun with my clothes.”

Amy Nelson, Armoire Member & CEO, The Riveter

When we thought through what the modern woman actually wants, we found that The Trade-Off Triangle (affordable, trendy, quality) only applies when we limit ourselves to traditional retail. Armoire’s service defies this. By thinking through the needs of the Boss Lady, we found that what she wants requires a more innovative model completely. No one knows what women want more than women, yet only 7 of the top 50 fashion companies are run by women. The market forgot the Boss Lady because there weren’t enough women as the decision makers. As a result, this extremely important (not to mention profitable) demographic got left out completely. Armoire services a critical segment of the market, considering her every step of the way.

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