Stitch Fix Has Learned the Secret to Building a Thriving Shoe Business — Here’s What That Means for Footwear Brands

Stitch Fix has grown by leaps and bounds since it launched in 2011, and now the online personal styling service is betting that shoes will help carry it to the next level.

The Silicon Valley darling, which sends users a box of clothing and accessories on demand for $20 (deductible from the cost of any items they choose to buy), is expanding its men’s and women’s footwear offerings from both private-label and third-party brands. In doing so, it is leveraging its competitive advantage over most traditional retailers — robust data about the preferences and buying habits of its 2.7 million active users — to design styles and curate collections that fill gaps in the market that other shoe sellers may not even be aware of.

Stitch Fix, which went public last year and is now valued at roughly $2 billion, now carries about 40 women’s shoe brands, including Frye, Keds, Cole Haan and new additions Hunter and Loeffler Randall, and about 20 men’s shoe brands, including Greats, Sperry, Toms and recent introductions Ralph Lauren Polo, Mark Nason and Dr. Scholl’s. It also carries three exclusive brands: Market & Spruce for women and Alesbury and Hawker Rye for men, the latter of which expanded from two styles tested in the spring to almost 20 for fall at an under-$100 price point that hits the sweet spot with the company’s clientele.

To determine pricing, the team factors in the usual components of raw materials, silhouette and details, then analyzes the price-preference data its users supply when they sign up and again every time they order a Fix. Based on this, Brandon Kettle, Stitch Fix’s men’s buying director told FN, “we identify where we have the most opportunity with unmet demand from the market and fill into those price preferences with our exclusive brands.”

Stitch Fix men's clothing accessories
Some of Stitch Fix’s men’s clothing and accessories.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Stitch Fix

While just about every retailer today is investing in data science to better understand its customers, online competitors like Stitch Fix have a running start. In launching Market & Spruce, said women’s buying director Jenn Kramer, “our knowledge of which types of constructions, such as toe shape, heel height, etc., and design details yield the best fit helped inform our exclusive brand product decisions. We also leveraged the feedback we’ve gathered — about comfort, such as flexible footbeds and padded insoles — since launching footwear, and ensured we were incorporating these elements into our product.”

Stitch Fix clients work with a personal stylist (human, not AI) and submit information about their preferences via their profiles, notes included with each order and feedback questionnaires after each return or purchase. What they’ve found, Kramer said, is that “women have no trouble finding basic items at sharp price points in the market. They often tell us they already have basic items in their wardrobe and are looking for something special from us — a little bit of novelty, while still being understandable, wearable and comfortable. This combination of attributes can be challenging to find at a reasonable price point. This is the biggest ask we hear from our clients.”

On the men’s side, despite the market’s trend toward sneakers for all occasions, the team has found that the Stitch Fix client tends to have a bigger need for non-sneaker options like chukkas and brogues. “What’s been interesting as we look at his qualitative feedback is how well he responds to styles that provide versatility,” said Kettle. “Many of our clients are looking for footwear options that he can wear to work, but then also wear out after work or on the weekend.” This, of course, is something retailers can only find out if they listen.

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