Clothing may seem as traditional as a retail item can get, but with innovative businesses like Gwynnie Bee and CaaStle, today’s apparel shopping experience is anything but ordinary. With an impressive background in startup leadership, CEO and founder Christine Hunsicker uses technology to keep closets fresh and exciting through a Clothing-as-a-Service model, which allows retailers to supplement their offerings with a subscription clothing rental service. We spoke with Hunsicker, a Disruptor on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2017, about open leadership, the importance of size inclusivity in the clothing industry and what’s next when it comes to CaaS.
What does retail offer that other industries don’t? What was the deciding factor for you to enter the retail industry?
Retail — specifically apparel — has a lot of attractive properties. It’s a huge industry, over $2 trillion, it’s a basic necessity (based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and it hasn’t truly been disrupted by data and technology. It’s one of the few categories that hasn’t historically worked that well online.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would describe my leadership style as open and direct. I strongly believe in getting as much leverage from everyone around you as possible — if someone else can make the decision, they should. I like very few things coming to me.
I haven’t always had this philosophy. I’ve been in previous startups where I’ve been much more top-down. I don’t think that scales — decision making cannot be in the hands of a few select individuals. No one good will want to work for you. At Gwynnie Bee, we’ve focused on creating a culture that is open and direct so all teams can align their work with company goals and priorities.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to launch a retail business or become a leader in the industry?
Becoming a leader in any industry is a marathon, not a sprint. Be comfortable with risk and surround yourself with people that you trust and that have different talents than your own. I find that the more you invite people into the conversation to question ideas and the more prepared you are for various outcomes, the more comfortable you can be taking risks.
Size inclusivity is paramount for Gwynnie Bee. Do you feel you have created more than simply a clothing service?
We certainly did not pioneer the size inclusivity movement — we are standing on the shoulders of the early bloggers, writers and feminists who fought for acceptance. We, as a culture, have been on the edge of this movement, which is now finally taking off after many years. I really hope that this time it will become mainstream.
We are proud to be contributing to the size inclusivity conversation and feel we are in a strong position to lead the next chapter in fashion consumption by removing the limitation of size. A very rewarding part of my job is the overwhelming amount of emails and messages we get from our community about how the service has impacted women’s lives in some way. We hear most often that they feel more confident in their everyday lives. It is amazing what the right clothes can do. As a company, we believe that by making clothing about the experience rather than the expense, we can bring the fun of fashion to more women.
You recently launched a new technology platform, CaaStle, which allows retailers to offer Clothing-as-a-Service to their customers and brought you into business-to-business. Can you tell us a bit about that?
When we started the company about six years ago, this B2B platform was the model in the original pitch deck. We wanted to power the new economy for apparel and our model, CaaS, does that through the blending of traditional ownership with a new form of access. Before we were able to market our platform to other retailers, we needed to become experts in the space. We were able to achieve this with Gwynnie Bee.
What’s next for Gwynnie Bee?
Gwynnie Bee is always going to be a standalone service for consumers, but it also serves as our innovation lab. Gwynnie Bee is incredibly important for us to continue to understand how to optimize the rental experience and deliver the best experience to CaaS consumers broadly. We can push the envelope on new technologies, then deliver tested and cutting-edge technology solutions to our retail partners via CaaStle.
About figuring out how to meet the modern consumer where they are.
Explore more stories about The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future. To date, we have recognized over 100 Disruptors, Dreamers, Givers, Influencers and Power Players for their impact on the industry.