JANUARY 14, 2021
WHAT DOES WINNING THE STITCH FIX ELEVATE GRANT & MENTORSHIP PROGRAM MEAN TO ME
Back in October, I received a text from my friend Michele letting me know about a new grant program sponsored by Stitch Fix, the online styling service. After reading through the requirements, I knew this was something I should apply for. The problem was, my calendar was fully booked for the next 4 weeks with teaching, designing, recruiting and filming for a tv series.
This past Fall was so hectic for me and based on my calendar, the only time I had available to work on the application was on Oct 30, one day before the deadline. In the meantime, I reached out to colleagues and mentors to start gathering letters of recommendation and the financial documentation needed for my application. The Fashion Incubator San Francisco provided tremendous support in this process. Now all I had to do was find the time to sit and focus on genuinely answering all the application questions.
By Saturday Oct 31, the day of the deadline, I had just pulled an all nighter remote directing a photoshoot in South Africa and I was only a third of the way done with the application.I was exhausted, but as I answered the questions, it became clear how much this opportunity aligned with my vision of using tech to create a more responsible fashion future.
I pushed through and submitted my application at 8:59pm, exactly one minute before the deadline. Phew!
A few weeks later, I learned that I was one of the ten finalists, and that the next steps would be interviews to determine the five winners. I was ecstatic to even make it this far, especially given the time crunch I had with the application process.
On the day of the Zoom interview, there was a power outage in my neighborhood in the Bay Area and I was without an internet connection. My friends drove me to a nearby office and I attempted to have the Zoom call in a parking lot. The Stitch Fix team was so kind and supportive and decided it was better to reschedule so that I could have the full 30 minutes and be in a less chaotic setting. I was able to reschedule for the following week. I remained positive and calm and deeply believed that everything would work out if it was meant to be.
The interview took place right after I finished teaching my Algebra class. I literally put a Zena Kimono over my usual onesie, combed my hair and did my makeup (Thank you Zoom!). The panel at Stitch Fix was so warm and created a welcoming environment in which to present my work. They were so excited about my brand offering plus sizes (92% of US brands do not) and seemed very excited about my use of math in the creative process.
On Friday Dec 18, the StitchFix team announced the amazing news on a Zoom call we had scheduled. My sister was getting married in Dakar at the exact same moment and, being stuck in the US, I had just spent an entire week feeling so down for missing it.
I teared up on Zoom after forgetting I was on camera as this win and timing was so emotional for me. I shared with Loretta how I discovered Stitch Fix a few years ago on Twitter after finding someone whose title was Chief Algorithms Officer. It was while I was at Stanford, toying with the idea of merging Math and Art and having a legit title for it. I followed Stitch Fix on Twitter back then and became fascinated with following their strides in the fashion tech space.
What this means to me
Starting and running a fashion brand out of my childhood bedroom makes every achievement such a big deal because it always takes me back to where I come from.
Growing up, I was always fascinated with both math and art, but always felt like I had to choose one over the other. I chose art, at first, when I moved to Norway for high school, but really struggled with my teachers and classmates in agreeing on what was worthy of being considered art. I ran to math because it was always safe; there was always an answer.
In college, I faced the same dilemma again. I starting out by studying math, figure painting and computer science. I found myself struggling with the subjectiveness of art and found math and robotics a lot more accessible because there were processes I could follow and feel validated. A few years later, while working on the trading floor in New York, I started feeling very limited with numbers and rigid processes and ached for more art and freedom in my daily work. I started photography and resumed painting again and a few months later, quit my job to start this company.
The endless back and forth between math and art in my identity as a learner was always painful and finally during grad school, at Stanford, with the help of my mentors Jo Boaler and Nancy Lobell, I learned that both disciplines could co-exist, and as a matter of fact, could reinforce each other. It was around the same time that I discovered Stitch Fix.
Winning this grant means more than the financial support that I will receive from Stitch Fix.It means that I have found an ecosystem of other creative mathematicians, that not only validate a dichotomous identity of which, I was often confused, but also help to support my vision of using mathematics to create not only art but also to make responsible decisions.
I shared with Stitch Fix the innovations I was able to create using mathematics and I am humbled for the global recognition we have received for it. Our current structure allows us to generate thousands of print iterations with math algorithms and only produce what’s needed based on customer polling and engagement prior to production.
I am thrilled to work with the Stitch Fix data science teams to develop better insights into my products, customers’ preferences and supply chain. Furthermore, I am excited to amplify our message even further and work with Stitch Fix at the end of the program to supply our products to their large platform.
Ultimately, the goal is to use technology as a tool for a more ethical and sustainable fashion future and I am so grateful for this opportunity!