One of the most exciting parts of building a retail company in the Bay Area is the opportunity to work alongside leaders and thinkers who embrace technology, and often adopt early. At MakerSights, we have a tradition of hosting Fireside Chats. These unique experiences offer a chance for our team to bring more voices to our table, and learn from peers, innovators, and accomplished industry leaders. Last week we had an opportunity to sit down with a true retail veteran and entrepreneurial leader. Lisa Bougie is the former Chief Merchandising Officer and GM of Women’s at Stitch Fix, prior to which she held merchandising + leadership roles at The Gap, Patagonia, and Nike. Here are a few takeaways from my time with Lisa…

build your career with intention

Focus on building a repertoire of experiences that complement each other and ultimately work together to build a path uniquely perfect for you. I was taken by Lisa’s ability to fit different pieces of a puzzle together over time to unlock the ability to chart a path toward a GM role, something she set as a north star for herself early on in her career. Each experience lent different skills to her future success as a leader.

The Gap

In Lisa’s case, she set a foundation for herself in the art of merchandising and product creation under Mickey Drexler’s leadership at The Gap. She emphasized the importance of understanding the touch and feel of product, capitalizing on a merchant’s intuition and a brand’s need to develop an artistic brand voice that influences consumer taste + trends over time.

Next up, Patagonia. Here the brand was able to deliver a refreshing perspective on core values, creating an environment in which professional and personal life were integrated in the best possible way, such that employees of the company could prioritize a mission of betterment over revenue or profitability. A true testament, in my mind, to the fact that building for the consumer wins, and that delivering what people want in a way that authentically resonates with them trumps your average market sizing report or sales pitch.

Upon arrival at Nike – Lisa learned the importance of brand. A product, an assortment, a team, a culture. Nike seemed to resonate most for its all-encompassing ability to fill a person’s mindspace with all things Swoosh. I would imagine with the goal of GM’ing, the ability to holistically observe, analyze, and react to a business environment with many separate entrepreneurial pods operating within the larger ecosystem of a corporation was unmatched.

I would venture to guess that perhaps the pinnacle of her career was Lisa’s time at Stitch Fix. The passion, empathy, and excitement exuding from her voice as she reminisced on her time there was enough to turn the entire room upside down. A couple of takeaways from her Stitch Fix stories:

(1) Personal investment can be subtle, and powerful. One of the reasons Stitch Fix was a pioneer was that they wrote new rules and set new expectations among consumers. The idea that a consumer shared information about themselves, their size, style needs, product preferences, pinterest boards set a new framework for consumption. Personally, I came to observe the relationship between consumers and Stitch Fix along these lines… I’ll give you some information, you deliver great product. If you do it well, I’ll take more. If you do it wrong, I’ll tell you how to get better. According to Lisa, this is the way Stitch Fix wins. By catering to you, and me, and each unique individual, independently. As many in the retail community strive to build businesses, and in some cases turn them around, may we all take time to consider that question carefully. What sets us apart? What is the unique way that we can win?

(2) While many industries that exist today operate in silos, the collaboration across industries can unlock real opportunity to think differently. Lisa talked a lot about her work with Eric Colson throughout her time at Stitch Fix, and the ideas that emerged two peers from different worlds coming together to build solutions to meet people’s needs. The idea of bringing unique and incrementally valuable experience to the table, while keeping an openness to “unlearn” certain tactics, encouraging the addition of new knowledge, based on the new challenges and opportunities set in front of you also created space to build innovative solutions, in new ways.

Overall, it was inspiring for our team to get a firsthand look at the success of someone who has intentionally worked to pave the way for the future of retail. In many ways, Lisa’s career mirrors the path forward we envision for the industry at MakerSights. As consumers continue to seize control over the set of options they have to choose from when looking to buy, brands are learning to adapt their product creation processes to move faster, become more responsive, and start more conversations with consumers. These steps will hopefully unlock the ability for brands to effectively marry consumer feedback with the brand’s DNA in the products they bring to market. Above all else, it’s clear that the table stakes are changing in retail, and we’re quite fortunate to be able to learn from leaders like Lisa, and contribute to the future of the evolving industry.

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