FASTCOMPANY.COM 37 march/april 2019 ILLUSTRATIONS BY MAUCO SOSA
body, but when it comes to legs, I have nursed
a nearly manlike loyalty to the same Urban
Outftters black skinny pants for the past eight
years in order to avoid the emotional turmoil
of the dressing room and the crapshoot of the
internet. (When a pair inevitably gets holes or
turns saggy, I order a replacement online.) So I requested some jeans
from my Stitch Fix stylist in my test-drive of the service, signing up
and paying like any other customer.
When I opened the Stitch Fix box and pulled the jeans on, I felt that
modern amalgam of elation and disquiet when totally nailed by an
algorithm, like when Spotify pushes a perfectly pleasing new blues
tune into my curated mix. The jeans alone convinced me to overlook
the duds in my box—and there were some—and consider that what I
thought was my highly personal, hard-earned taste in clothes, honed
by more than 30 years of victories and misses, might really be just a
complicated math problem of the sort Moody could solve.
Algorithms drive Stitch Fix’s every move. There’s one
to anticipate buying and repurchasing needs, letting the
company know, for example, that it’s going to need an
inventory refresh on sizes 12 and 14 of a particular style
of jeans. Another algorithm assigns each Fix to one of
fve warehouses, and one sets the most effcient path for a warehouse
worker to walk through the rows, assembling
its most recent earnings, indicating that all that data
science and personalization is paying off.
Despite all this steady momentum, Stitch Fix’s stock
has been volatile, peaking in mid-September when in-
vestors valued the company at $5.1 billion before drop-
ping two-thirds, to its IPO price, in three months, then
trending upwards in January. Investors and analysts
don’t seem to appreciate what makes the company run.
While data has developed a pernicious image in the
hands of Google and Facebook, in the context of Stitch
Fix, the bigger issue is that “data” has been leeched of
any meaning coming from a tech company. “There is
so much buzzword overuse in Silicon Valley that I think
when a lot of people hear Stitch Fix say ‘data science’ or
‘AI’ or ‘machine learning,’ they think it’s just being said for
the sake of it,” says Bill Gurley, a Stitch Fix board member
and one of the venture capitalists who bet early on the
company. “Some may think we’re just putting stuff in a
bag and sending it to you.”
Stitch Fix is not just putting stuff in a bag, as my time
among its executives, data scientists, and stylists re-
vealed. But I also have a fairly personal reason to believe
in the power of a thoroughly data-driven enterprise: the
dark-rinse Liverpool jeans that arrived in my second Fix.
I’m a veteran e-commerce shopper for the top half of my
This game, available on both Stitch
Fix’s site and app, asks customers
to accept or reject an article of
clothing with the prompt “Would
you sport this one?” giving Stitch Fix
more than a billion bits of feedback
to improve its style algorithm.
“The Style Shuffle was the moment
we added a ton of data into [our]
nervous system, and the company
flexed around it,” says Chris
Moody, a data-science manager.
When working on Style Shuffle,
data scientist Erin Boyle realized
that people naturally sorted into
fashion clusters. For example,
women who like ruffled shirts
are more likely to like floral skirts.
Boyle created the “Latent Style”
algorithm to determine how much
any client would like any particular
piece of clothing. Latent Style also
generates mood boards (and anti–
mood boards) for each customer.
While watching designers create
new clothing, Daragh Sibley, a
director of data science, says
the process closely resembled
evolution—in the scientific sense.
That is, designers looked at which
clothing traits had thrived in former seasons and mated them to
invent a new product that combined the best of both. Sibley
leads the data team that figures
out which styles to buy.
How Stitch Fix puts data to work
THREE TOOLS THE COMPANY CREATED OUT OF ITS OBSESSIVE INTEREST IN THE MINUTIAE OF ST YLE
Eric Colson of
all the feedback
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