From expanding plus size offerings to creating jobs for Nigerian women, Stitch Fix’s Elevate grant recipients are diversifying fashion in powerful ways. Launched in 2020, the grant awards designers of color $25,000 and eight months of mentorship and data access from Stitch Fix to grow their businesses—the results of which have been life changing for many of these entrepreneurs, embodying Stitch Fix’s goal of creating “a more equitable and diverse retail landscape”.
This year, Stitch Fix awarded the grant to six entrepreneurs of color, including Sophia Danner Okotie, founder of Besida, who has used the grant to grow her team by 4X to create more jobs for women in her hometown in Nigeria. Pieces from this year’s grant recipients—including items from Besida—can be found under Stitch Fix’s ‘22 Elevate Collection. Another recipient from 2021, Bettina Benson, founder of Chloé Kristyn, has used the grant to launch a size-inclusive line that will go live with Stitch Fix this fall. Here’s what both Danner Okotie and Benson had to share about their experiences as Stitch Fix’s Elevate grant recipients.
Olivia O’Bryon: How has receiving Stitch Fix’s Elevate Grant impacted your business and your plans for the future?
Sophia Danner Okotie, Besida Founder: Elevate required Besida to really step our game up both creatively and operationally. We are designing collections 6-12 months ahead of time instead of 3 months as we’ve done in the past. In Nigeria, we now have a well equipped facility and incredibly trained team of artisans to make production run seamlessly. Overall, the Elevate program boosted my confidence to initiate conversations with other retailers, and the competency to execute.
Bettina Benson, Chloé Kristyn founder: I find Black and Brown Founders to be over-mentored and underfunded. The Elevate grant provided an opportunity for both mentorship as well as funding and connection. Having already had a strong foundation in terms of product, the Elevate Grant empowered us to invest in branding, marketing, an office space, expansion of our product line, as well as expanding our team, providing much needed support to me as a Founder and for the business. Both the grant and the Stitch Fix partnership, helped to accelerate several short-term goals I had for Chloé Kristyn, inclusive of the launch of a Plus Size line, which will be launching exclusively with Stitch Fix this Fall.
OO: How has the access to Stitch Fix’s advisory support and data helped to inform and/or transform your business?
SDO: I believe this portion of Elevate is the most impactful. I personally don’t have any formal education in the fashion industry, so sitting face-to-face with industry experts is monumental for me as I navigate the retail space. The program initially paired me up with my “buddy” Alexa Galan who is a wealth of knowledge at Stitch Fix, my compass throughout the program, and my therapist when imposter syndrome creeped in. Alexa went the extra mile of finding other experts within the company to mentor me in topics like client experience, consumer communications, and merchandising planning. These advisors gave me a better understanding of what goes on behind the curtains of a retailer’s process, and how to better position myself to partner with more shops. Additionally, Stitch Fix’s data and predictions on style trends are out of this world. I strategically chose the prints I used in this collection after consulting with Alexa about fall color trend predictions.
BB: The advisory support provided many opportunities to uncover solutions and strategies to address pain points in my business. The data accelerated product development as well as informed us of categories in which we should continue to invest and/or decrease our level of investment. The data also uncovered an opportunity in Plus Size development. This is a market that we’ve wanted to serve for a while; however, finding the right strategic partner was of utmost importance.
OO: What makes the grant feel meaningful to you personally?
SDO: The grant money allowed us to expand our team, and buy more equipment to boost production at our in-house workshop in Nigeria. One of my motivations behind launching Besida was to provide quality jobs in my birth place. Nigeria has a massive pool of well trained tailors, but a lack of quality jobs. This grant allowed us to hire 13 more team members at Besida’s workshop. We went from a team of five at the beginning of the year, to a troupe of 18 today. I get emotional thinking about this because I remember a dream my shop manager Christy shared with me in 2018 when we launched the workshop. In her dream, she saw the facility full of tailors sewing Besida garments. Four years later, her dream came true.
BB: Stitch Fix and the grant made me feel seen, heard and appreciated as a Founder and a creative. I also felt respected and uplifted as a business woman. Stitch Fix provided a platform for my work to be seen and appreciated. The access to mentorship and information that I could immediately apply to the business is invaluable.