Last year, Stitch Fix began accepting applications for Elevate, its first grant and mentorship program designed to support Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs in fashion at an early stage of business growth. And today, the six recipients dropped their collections on the online shopping site, including rising shoe designer Marcus Alexander.
As one of the winners of the grant, CEO and founder of Marcus Alexander, Marcus Thomas, received $25,000 to support business expenses, ongoing support from Stitch Fix’s algorithms and buying teams to leverage data insights to understand and improve the product-market fit of his designs with potential clients as well as one-on-one call with Stitch Fix Founder Katrina Lake.
“She told me to follow my gut, and not to limit myself,” Thomas told FN.
The designer first’s foray in footwear started in 2012 at the London Fashion of College. He then worked as the footwear design director for Levi’s and Bass, until launching his own brand in 2018. Though, the journey hasn’t been easy, he said, noting his 2020 Kickstarter campaign that he launched to help grow his business.
Based in Oakland, Calif., Thomas creates utilitarian and innovative shoes inspired by his upbringing and family. One in particular, the Gallow, was inspired by baseball.
“I design without fear,” he said. “As a Black designer, oftentimes, you feel like your product isn’t received.”
Through Stitch Fix’s Elevate program, Thomas said he’s now able to take more risks and up-level his product with higher-quality materials and technology.
“This is exciting to be able to get in front of a vetted, earned audience that spend money,” he said about the opportunity. (Four of his designs currently retail on Stitch Fix, from $299 to $359.) “It’s been a powerful experience.”
In addition, Stitch Fix teamed up with external program advisor, Harlem’s Fashion Row founder and CEO, Brandice Daniel, as part of the mentorship leg of the program. Thomas said that relationship has been a meaningful one.
“She gave me criticism,” he said. “She gave my direct feedback about my blind spots that I needed to hear, because I want to build a company that lasts.”