Like many other trades, the fashion industry is navigating an uncertain future. Luxury brands are short on rent, unable to pay for their Fifth Avenue storefronts, while smaller designers are struggling to stay afloat entirely. Yet Julie Bornstein, formerly the COO of Stitch Fix, has come up with a way to deliver personalized fashion to shoppers amidst the economic downturn—with just a few simple “yes” or “no” questions.
Her free app, The Yes, uses Silicon-Valley technology to curate a tailored shopping experience. In working with more than 150 brands selected by The Yes’s Creative Director, Taylor Tomasi Hill, the app also offers a platform for smaller, privately owned fashion labels to gain notoriety. With The Yes's virtual storefront model, brands are able to sell their own merchandise directly to the buyer, including some that may be sitting in excess due to lower than projected sales due to COVID-19. On the front end, merch prices are matched with competitive websites to give shoppers the best possible deals. And, during their May 2020 launch, in the throes of the pandemic, the company even donated a dollar per download to Good + Foundation, a nonprofit that provides essentials to low-income families and front-line workers nation-wide.
Earlier this summer, we spoke with Bornstein about The Yes and how its novel technology will better change the way we shop.
Marie Claire: How is The Yes app different from other online retail experiences?
Julie Bornstein: People’s dependency on shopping online grew when stores closed temporarily due to COVID and, some stores, unfortunately, will close permanently. The reality is that shopping online is completely overwhelming with so many options. You can create preferences on music apps like Spotify and Pandora [by selecting thumbs up or thumbs down], but no one has used that technology within the fashion industry until now.
MC: How did you come up with the concept?
JB: I joke that it happened in 1980 when I was 10 years old. I was shopping at the mall and thinking that there's got to be a more efficient way to find the things you want. I joined Nordstrom when they first launched nordstrom.com [in 2000], and I helped build that business, but at the time we had so many ideas that technology couldn't yet perform. I spent my last 20 years working in e-commerce and over that time I've continued to think about the concept of The Yes while waiting for a time when technology could finally catch up.
MC: Describe the shopping experience.
JB: We came up with a new e-commerce infrastructure that marries AI machine learning with fashion expertise to build a recommendation engine that caters to each user. To create a dream store for each client, we need to understand a lot about them, which we initially do through a set of questions about a user's shopping and dressing habits. When you first log into the app (after you fill out your profile), there is a Q&A portion that asks people to tell us which items they would never buy, which cuts out the noise. The app gets smarter over time—a platform that learns with you as you continually say "yes" or "no" to items. If your tastes change, we are also able to capture that.
MC: What challenges have you faced in creating this platform?
JB: One of the things we worked on a lot was the fit and sizing of each piece of clothing. We wanted to take away the guesswork for the user. We worked with our fit technician and a group of stylists who have a really good feel for how our brands fit. We also talked to the brands themselves and the customer service teams within the brands. With those four data points, we created our own map to understand each brand’s fit on the body so that we could make size recommendations for every user. It was a big challenge because every brand fits a little bit differently.
MC: Are there any new features that have been shaped by the pandemic?
JB: One of the features that we added in the time since we were planning to launch [initially in March, but it was delayed several months due to the virus] is the ability to share your fashion preferences with friends. Friends on the app can see the clothes you’ve yes’d and vice versa—that way people can get ideas from one other. It felt very apropos in this moment because we all miss our friends so much, and it's fun to have that connection. While people certainly are in a different mental framework than they were before COVID hit, I would say the app is a fun distraction in a moment when there's lots of heaviness around us.