MIT’s Storyteller In Residence, Dom Smith chats to Ambika Singh (pictured with her team bottom row, second from the right) about her business, Armoire and how it has developed.
Can you tell me about what you do here at the MIT Martin Trust Center?
A] My name is Ambika Singh, and I am the founder of Armoire, and that is a Closet as a Service, or a Dream Closet for women. So, what does that mean? While we were in school at MIT, we interviewed about 500 women about their relationship with their closet, and how they felt about it, and the biggest word that bubbled up was ‘guilty’. Of all the things, the phrase that came up the most was, ‘guilty’. So then, we had to ask ‘why?’
Once we’d asked these questions, our conclusion after all of this was, that women do desire something new, and something fresh! Just like all consumers across various sectors; you’re looking for ways to express yourself and try new things whether that be food, gadgets or clothes. However, the guilt of that overstuffed closet, or the under-worn items. The data is there to back it up, the average American, in this year alone will throw about 26 pounds [in weight] of clothes away. 20 per cent of those clothes will still have tags on them. This so-called ‘fast fashion’ is fuelling our desire for newness, and it’s fuelling our ability to resolve that desire with our wallets. We are now arguing that there is a better way!
The Dream Closet is a rented closet and all of the items in it, are shared by the amazing women who also have a membership to Armoire. These items are curated for you using a mix of algorithms that understand your preferences, and also personal human stylists.
The customer paradigm is that you login to your virtual closet, which is always updated, and you have about 15-to-20 things in it.
Where did that entrepreneurial spark come from?
A] If my parents were here, they would say that I’ve always had it! When I was little, I was the person trying to have a lemonade stand, and try to organize people to do something! I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and that’s something that has a lot of value where I grew up. As I got older, I had a job at Microsoft, and I was a Management Consultant – I was pretty happy doing things like that; I had a good span of control, and an ability to create within the confines of my job. When I came to school, I realized that there were opportunities that were way beyond that. People were running all sorts of businesses here, in sectors that I knew nothing about: biotech, and an amazing solar business that came out the same year. My conception of entrepreneurship, and what it could mean was just broadened, and that made me more interested.
What advice would you give to a young person who also has a similar entrepreneurial spark?
A] To be honest, when we started this is was really unglamorous, and we are really grateful to MIT, to have grown up here, but the way we started, anyone could do the same. The whole concept was this, ‘dream closest’, and we had these amazing visions around this technology, and algorithms. As well as this beautiful website, and marketing materials with beautiful clothes. We had no money, and very little time. We also had no idea if our idea was any good or not! How we started Armoire was that we made a Google Form, we took photos of ten things [clothes], and we sent it out to ten women that we knew, and asked if anybody would like to rent one of the items, from this Google Form, and one of the photographs. One of the women said yes! We bought these things from the internet, we paid for two-day shipping, had it shipped to our dorm room, packed it up, and delivered it to this person, by hand because back then, we weren’t quite sure how to mail things!
We had no website for a long time. My advice to anybody who wants to start something, is to try and make it as gradual as possible; there are ways that you can start if it’s just you. Granted, different things start in different ways, so if you want to build a robot to walk across Mars, then you might not be able to do that with a Google Form, but if there’s the smallest thing that you can test to figure out, ‘Does anybody want this?’ that’s the key question we are all trying to solve. As well as, ‘How much do I charge?’ but mainly, we need to ask, ‘Are we solving a problem?’, and ‘Does my idea help people in the world?’. To do that, you really need to create something that will let you start to understand that.
What are the future goals for the business?
A] Our vision, and our hope is that we can bring satisfaction to the women that we serve, and give them time back to do the things that they love. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have an early group of customers who are really inspiring. These women are mothers, doctors, scientists and CEOs, and it’s incredible to hear a lot about their lives. When we get to hear things like, ‘I don’t have to spend much time dry-cleaning, or looking for things, and I can now spend more time with family…’ Also, hearing about the emotional side, so when people feel happy because they’re doing things for themselves, and it makes them feel good. If we can provide satisfaction, then that’s a job well done.
Promo code: use promo code MIT2018 for $50 off first month to Armoire