Q & A with Gillian Brown, Co-Founder of SuitableYou.com
I am constantly finding it a challenge lately to find clothes I love that translate well at work, but can also serve me well at the happy hours I attend. I recently tried out SuitableYou, a monthly delivery service that delivers - quite literally - style in a box that can flow from the office to that after-work event (and not break the bank in the meantime). I was thrilled with my picks (and amazed at how well my stylist seemed to know me, despite never meeting me)! Here's how it works:
1. Take a Style Survey to help your stylist get to know your style and wardrobe needs.
2. Stylists get to stylin'! Prepare to receive your box, filled with 5 staple pieces to match your fit, career style, and budget.
3. Keep what you love - and return what you don't at NO charge.
I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Gillian Brown, Co-Founder of SuitableYou, and I asked her what led her to the vision for SuitableYou (and how the rest of us can hope to emulate her success).
What inspired you to start SuitableYou?
After graduating college, I needed to find an interview outfit and my mom took me to Ann Taylor and picked a “matching” suit—meaning the blazer and skirt were the same. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought this is not me and I felt so old and out of place. My girlfriends were having the same problems and it felt impossible to find cute yet professional work clothes that I could also wear out and on the weekends and that didn’t cost a fortune.
After working in the fashion industry for five years, I realized this was still an issue for a lot of young professional women just starting out or early in their careers. The major question was, “Why is it so hard to find affordable, age-appropriate, stylish work wear?” So I thought, what if there was a way to find great professional clothing that didn’t break the bank, so we could still buy that awesome halter for Saturday night?
That’s how SuitableYou came about, and we believe in empowering working women through fashion. Our goal is to partner with a nonprofit that supports underserved women in the workforce or who are trying to re-enter the workforce. When you feel good in an outfit you will have the confidence to nail your interview, presentation, first day at work and every other day.
What is SuitableYou’s mission and how do you achieve it?
We take the “work” out of wear-to-work wardrobes. We aim to dress women so they feel comfortable and most like themselves when they set out to make their mark in the world. Because when you look and feel confident, it’s easier to be confident.
The four elements that set SuitableYou apart:
1. Work wear for women whether your work environment is corporate or casual
2. Each box builds off the last box; we don’t just send pieces, we build wardrobes
3. Provide great quality work-wear at an affordable price
4. Women can be further empowered at their jobs through their wardrobe
We believe with the right resources, inspiration and wardrobe, a woman’s power knows no bounds. We achieve our mission by appointing a stylist to each member and styling her based on the specifics of her work environment and personal style preferences. We send each box with custom styling notes to help educate our members on how to get the most out of everything in their closets. As we get to know our members, we work together to decide what pieces they should be splurging or saving on, how to dress for various work situations from the everyday to big presentation to nighttime work events and travel.
What were the first logistical steps you took to start a business?
After we came up with the initial business idea, we started researching to see if our idea was viable. We looked at the marketplace, competition and our potential customer base to see if there would be interest in our service. We then started exploring sourcing and merchandising to see if we could buy at a price that would allow the company to be profitable.
After we completed all of our research and determined that our business idea was viable and we wanted to move forward, we had to line up our financing and start putting together our team. We started with a soft launch for the first six months to work out all the kinks. Without any marketing, we launched to friends and family. Now that we have been operating for five months and have proven our model works, we’ve started launching our marketing program to acquire new members.
What is a day at SuitableYou / as Gillian like? Please walk me through a day!
Running a startup company, I wear many hats, so every day is little different as I’m involved in all areas of the company.
I am the lead buyer so I am constantly monitoring our inventory and communicating with our vendors. I attend as many trade shows as possible to look for new sources of the latest work wear. I supervise our stylists and style members, which is a real passion of mine. I enjoy spot checking our stylists to see what they are suggesting for our members.
I’m involved in our web development so I sit on various conference calls throughout the week as we update our site. I also interact with our social media consultants so that I know what we are planning on posting and add my thoughts into those posts. I usually meet with our entire team to talk through finances, members and any other issues that might come up. Since our team is spread out throughout the country, most of our meetings are on Google Hangouts. I love how every day is different and our new company is definitely bringing out my creative side (which I never I knew I had)!
What has been your proudest moment from your career so far?
My proudest moment from my career so far is hearing from our members about how much they love the service and how good they feel in our clothes. For example, there’s nothing better than when a college student thanks me for sending her the perfect outfit for her first job fair, receiving a picture of one of our members wearing a SuitableYou dress to her white coat ceremony, or when an attorney lets me know how much she looks forward to receiving her next box. When I hear that I have helped someone nail their interview or just having great clothes that make them feel empowered is the best feeling possible. I know that our company is helping professional women feel great about themselves!
What have you learned about yourself since founding SuitableYou?
The biggest thing that I’ve learned since founding SuitableYou is that I am capable of running a company. Before starting SuitableYou, I worked for other companies and always knew the type of manager I wanted to be and what kind of culture I would want in my company, and now I have a chance to implement those visions. When I first started SuitableYou, I knew it was going to be hard work and long hours, but I had no real idea how hard it is to start a company and then continue to grow it. I have learned more about myself with this endeavor than any other - I am tough, resilient and I learn something new every day. The experience of starting SuitableYou has definitely helped me with my confidence as a young woman entrepreneur.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting SuitableYou?
I didn’t know how much time and effort went into developing a website. I went in blind and found out that it was a lot more complicated than I ever expected. The other great challenge is marketing our company and developing brand awareness and making really big decisions that I know are going to affect the company, my team and our members. Making those decisions is never an easy task because I want to make sure that I am doing the right thing for everyone.
On the flip side, my biggest reward of starting SuitableYou is knowing and seeing firsthand how many young women have responded so positively to the company, our message and our service.
What is the most important characteristic for entrepreneurs to have?
There are many characteristics that entrepreneurs have and each entrepreneur develops their own unique style. I believe every entrepreneur has to be passionate about their business idea and company. They have to be able to communicate their vision to everyone, including employees, customers and investors. Entrepreneurs have to have the staying power to persevere even when everyone around them may doubt them.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were starting out your career?
The one thing I wish I had known when starting out my career is that making mistakes and having some failures will happen and that’s okay. The key is that you learn from them and then you move on. It’s crucial to not dwell on them for too long. When I was first starting out I was so afraid of making a mistake or the thought of failing, but now I realize that they were some of my greatest lessons.
What is on your desk right now?
My desk gets very cluttered because I keep a lot on it, and I am always rearranging it. At the moment my desk has my laptop, tons of cute notepads (because I am obsessed with them), pens, a calendar, fresh flowers in a small vase and lip gloss.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever received was from my Dad who is an entrepreneur himself. He told me to never give up on my dreams and myself, and that hard work does pay off. I have never forgotten those words and live by them today.
What are you reading right now?
I have never been much of a reader. Now that I work between 10 and 12 hours every day, I fall asleep as soon as I hit the bed. I do read quite a few trade magazines, blogs and profiles on successful women leaders.
What is your career advice for other young professional women?
The best advice I can give to all the young professional women out there is to trust yourself and your intuition. Nobody knows you better than yourself, and when you believe and trust yourself it comes across towards other people in the most positive way.