The days when shoppers must contort themselves to fit into the styles of the moment are coming to an end. The future of fashion is fit technology, and Wilson College of Textiles alumna Jessica Couch (Textile and Apparel Management ‘10) is leading the revolution as founder of Luxor + Finch — a fit technology consulting firm that works with the best in the business as they prepare for the brave new world of fashion that actually fits.
“The fashion industry is quite antiquated,” she said. “There are no research and development departments in fashion, so data analytics and [research into] more efficient practices is not a natural process for this industry like it is for so many others.”
Couch aims to fix this, working with clients in several different ways, including bridging the fashion/tech gap by helping those in the fashion industry utilize technology — and helping tech companies understand the fashion business.
“We specialize in helping brands and retailers integrate the best technology across the supply chain and help to resolve fit issues,” she said. “We also work with tech companies that are creating fit-based technologies. We work as product developers to help create better technologies for these brands and retailers, and on the consulting side, we help brands who are starting in fashion take advantage of these resources and understand the importance of fit.”
Couch began her career in the fashion industry while still at NC State, working on the sales floor at Nordstrom, which she says was “one of the first companies that taught me the importance of customer centricity.” After graduation, she opened an online store and ran it for three years. The store paid her bills, but also gave her insight into the way people shop online.
“I realized that every time I put a piece of clothing on an actual person and put it up on social media, more people would buy it than if I put it on a model,” she said. “I knew this was going to be a huge issue, because people no longer really identify with models. They want to identify with people who look like themselves.”
Working in retail, her talent for helping customers find clothing that fit and flattered them made her a top seller.
“But what I realized with my online store is that I couldn’t do online what I could do in person, by assessing that person and directing them to the product that fits them perfectly,” she said. “I began to get curious — how do I do what I’m great at, not just for one person, but parametrically across every person who interacts with me online in my store? This problem ate away at me and I wondered, ‘Is this just a problem I’m having with my small store, or is this an industry-wide problem?’”
She shuttered her store and moved to New York City, where she took a position in the design room at Tracy Reese. Once behind the curtain, she saw that the fashion industry was not addressing the problem of fit.
“I found that no one in the fashion industry had a grasp on fit — and on top of that, no one was integrating technology that would make this process more efficient,” she said. “A lot of brands didn’t even have social media and weren’t collecting any data or statistics on who their actual customer was…so people were essentially designing in the dark.”
Couch was intrigued by the idea of fit technology integration and wanted to learn more, so she returned to school, earning her master’s degree in Human Ecology from Cornell University in 2015. After graduation, she worked for now-defunct SourceEasy and then for technology company Lectra, which specializes in software and cutting equipment. In her spare time, she authored dozens of articles on fit and fashion.
“Brands would come to me and say, ‘We are having all these problems we read about in your article. Do you think you could talk to us a little more?’ And I said, ‘You know what? It’s time to open a consulting company.’”
Luxor + Finch counts as its clients some of the leading fashion brands, from athletic wear to high fashion (many have signed nondisclosure agreements, so Couch is unable to reveal their names). The firm also serves parametric pattern grading company Bespokify, which works with one of the busiest retailers in Japan, and MySizeID, a sizing app that Couch calls “the best thing since sliced bread.”
She believes the fashion fit tech industry is “extremely niche,” but that her background makes her the perfect person for the job.
“I’ve spent thousands of hours in the fitting rooms with people who have crazy ways of understanding their own body types, I’ve spent thousands of hours developing ecommerce and I have a more sophisticated background in fashion product development,” she said. “I understand every angle of these problems, so I’m able to talk with brands on various levels.”
Couch believes that attending the Wilson College of Textiles helped prepare her for the realities of working in the fashion and textile industry, giving her a solid platform of real-world skills.
“It’s expanded my mindset about how I would run my business, what I could contribute to the industry and how to identify problems,” she said. “What NC State prepares you for is enterprise…There’s actually a skills gap problem right now, as a lot of institutions are not properly preparing future designers or fashion workers for actual positions in fashion, which now need you to think about the whole supply chain, to understand the engineering side of it.”
One of her most sought-after skills is helping tech companies tailor their product to the fashion industry.
“A company I worked with was creating a sophisticated 3D foot-scanning tool,” she said. “However, the usefulness of the product was not apparent…people already know which size shoe they are and they simply want to know, ‘Which shoe will fit me best?’ I came on board to help them understand the fashion consumer, how people shop for shoes, what they’re looking for and how to turn that technology into something useful.” She conducted user-based tests for feedback, then worked with the engineering team to streamline and simplify the tool.
As an advocate for fit equality, she believes the widespread adoption of fit technology — eliminating arbitrary sizing and producing garments made for actual, not aspirational consumers — can empower people generally overlooked by the fashion industry. This paradigm shift could also save billions of dollars in returned merchandise and dead inventory, and save millions of tons of textile waste every year.
Couch will be sharing her message at some high-profile events next year. She is planning the second Women of Color FashTech Brunch, which will take place during New York Fashion Week in February 2019; its goal is to network and foster community among women in the fashion and technology industries.
“The first one was amazing,” she said. “We brought in women in tech, women in finance, women in fashion. We had some of the top retailers represented, we had a very esteemed scholar come and we had a lot of people there who were heavy hitters in the industry…it was really an amazing event. We focus on genuinely networking.”
She has also been chosen to speak on a panel about fit and inclusivity at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas in March 2019.
“We will be talking about the issues of fit and representation in fashion: why we don’t see people with different body types, why we aren’t seeing more and different races, why fit is such a big issue and why it all ties in with sustainability, as well as what we can do to create better fashion processes moving into the future,” she said.
Couch is working with a developer to create her own fit-based shopping platform, which she plans to launch next year.
“My parents are entrepreneurs, so I grew up in a household of people who make their own everything,” she said. “It’s just the environment I grew up in. I’ve always felt confident in trying and failing. I’m not afraid to fail — I just feel you need to be passionate about something and try it…If you have a problem and no one else is solving it, it becomes your responsibility to do so.”
Written by Cameron Walker