BASED IN: HOUSTON, TEXAS
Merin Guthrie is the CEO of Kit, a year-old women’s clothing company that marries the impeccable fit and personal customer care of old-school dressmaking with the convenience of e-commerce. Each Kit garment is designed, created and tailored to fit in Houston, TX.
What is the inspiration behind the company- how did you get started?
Clothing should be made to fit the woman; the woman should not fit the clothing. I realized people come in lots of sizes while clothing only comes in six or nine. As a busy working woman who always struggled with fit – I’m pear-shaped – I really wanted to build a clothing company around what I needed and wanted out of my clothes: impeccable fit, great construction, beautiful fabric, classic style. In short, really wearable, adaptable clothes that made me look and feel confident.
As someone who doesn't have a background in the retail industry, you are able to bring a fresh perspective, which is amazing- how were you able to go about this?
I’m a business model person; I love models, developing them, fine-tuning them, and scaling them, and since I am my own customer – which is true of our all-female team – we spend every day trying to figure out how to adapt our model to the needs of our customers. Essentially, we’re much more connected to our model and our customers than we are to ‘fashion’ writ large. And I think that gives me a very different perspective.
How important is it to connect and be empathetic with the customer in your line of business?
It is everything. I can’t stress that enough. I grew up in the restaurant business. My family has owned an operated a chain of restaurants for over 90 years. This in an industry where three out of four restaurants fail in the first couple of years. And you know what the secret to their longevity is? It’s not that they have the trendiest, most popular restaurants, or that they are winning James Beard awards left and right. They have the best service around. Hands down. They built their business around selling a good product at a good price with phenomenal customer service. A lot has changed over the years, but not their commitment to extraordinary service. And if you build a company around values, not products, like customer service, that gives you a lot of space to grow and evolve. No matter your industry, if you don’t connect to and empathize with your customer, I think your days are numbered.
Why do you think now is the time to be a female entrepreneur?
To be honest, I’m not sure that now is the time to be a female entrepreneur. I was reflecting the other day on how hard my mother’s generation worked to try to earn an equal footing in the world, know that that they would not be the primary beneficiaries of their toil. I am getting to reap the benefits of what they sewed. But I still have men ask me if my father and/or husband are involved in the company. That happens frequently. And I’m less likely to get funded – whether via venture capital or traditional debt financing like an SBA loan – because I’m a woman. But I know that everything I work for today will allow my daughter to be an entrepreneur without someone asking her if her husband is involved in her company.
I know that sounds kind of negative, but here’s the upshot: it is a really wonderful time to be a female entrepreneur, because women are, quite literally, the future. We compose the majority of the population; we are getting educated at higher rates than ever before; traditionally female industries (health care, education) are our growth industries. But I think something else is happening. We’re in the midst of a technological revolution that has and will continue to dramatically change the implications of ‘work.’ The pace of change has quickened. Skills like creativity and problem solving are becoming more important. I’m cautious about making blanket statements, but, in general, women are really well suited for this future.
What do you envision for the future of Kit?
We’ve iterated so much that it would be foolish to paint a really clear vision for the future. I probably have an inkling of the broad strokes, but I’m sure a lot will change. In large part, that’s because we try to be 100% responsive to our customers’ needs. Ultimately, we’d like to make every garment that you need in a full wardrobe: from a perfectly fit-button down to an elegant little black dress to a go-to trench, and everything in between. Accessories are definitely in our future, because I think we can create value for our customers in that space. But beyond that, I’d love to grow the company from our values: beauty, quality, service. There are a lot of ways to grow off of that platform, but those will be our guiding principles.