Today’s interview is with Roxy – tech executive and blogger extraordinaire at Effortless Anthropologie. Even though I’ve been quite a fan of Anthropologie for a while, it’s a store that I rarely go into these days because a) the selection and choices can be overwhelming and b) I only justify buying a certain number of whimsical doorknobs…which at this point I suspect may exceed the actual number of doors in my apartment.
That’s why I adore Roxy’s blog, which I catch up with almost daily in my reader. Roxy is of course a huge fan of Anthropologie, and her site often has the latest and greatest new items and sale updates. On top of all of this, Roxy covers the business of the brand as well – customer service, logistics, pricing and even the quarterly earnings call. Her passion is rooted both in an appreciation of style and of business fundamentals – so I was excited to interview her today. Enjoy meeting Roxy!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
Online I go by Roxy, which is a nickname I’ve had since college. I do a lot of things but if you’re reading this you probably know me for my two blogs, Effortless Anthropologie and (the woefully under-updated) Parallel Universes Resolution Tumblr. In the real world I’m currently on a break from work in the internet/tech industry while I recharge my batteries.
I live in New York City! And because I’m totally biased I can tell you that it’s the best city in the world.
You previously worked as a tech executive and social media strategist, all while managing your blog. Can you share more about how you were able to achieve balance, and if learnings from your roles ever were mingled?
I’m on a break from full-time work right now which makes it much easier! Strangely though I seem to do better when I have a full plate bordering on overloaded. I’ve been working since I was 15 and get a lot of satisfaction out of putting in a good day’s effort. I started my side business in 2007 and for five years I was doing that and my full-time job simultaneously. The key for me is being organized and planning ahead as much as possible. I’d work about 50 hours at my regular job (sometimes up to 70 or 80) and then devote about 20 hours to the blog and my side projects. The only problem is that sometimes work and my side projects can take over my life!
When my full-time job started demanding more of my time the blog had to take a backseat and my overall quality of life suffered. Now I’m focusing on a better work/life balance. To be honest I haven’t figured it all out yet – it’s still very much a project in progress.
My day job absolutely informs my blog work, and vice versa. I’m equally fascinated by the business and fashion sides of Anthropologie, with a side of technology interest for good measure. When my real work started raising Series A financing, the operations and financial reporting of companies became interesting to me and that led to digging into the business background of Anthropologie. When I started closing fashion and ecommerce clients for my side business, I used my interest in Anthropologie to foster my terminology knowledge growth. I made a portfolio sample of strategy ideas for Anthropologie that I use in my side business presentations to help close new clients. The two sides of my life feed each other in a symbiotic way. It’s awesome!
Anthropologie has had great success over the years. How have you viewed their expansion and growth? For other brands like J.Crew, some of that expansion was met with a perceived (by some) decline in quality along with increasing prices. Do you see the same with Anthropologie?
Frankly I think Anthropologie is expanding too quickly. We’ve seen other retailers make this mistake – Gap, J.Crew, Esprit come to mind. As a publicly-traded company there’s all these bloodthirsty investors who care only about revenue growth, growth, growth even if it comes at the expense of operational stability or overall company health.
In 2008 when many other retailers were suffering, Anthropologie did quite well. They did well because while their competitors missed the boat on trends, Anthropologie’s usual design fare just happened to be in the bullseye of the latest fashion crazes. The problem is that instead of using that success to solidify their passion for well-made, slightly off-beat clothing, Anthropologie instead tried to use it as a launching point to attract new customers with trendier clothing. And so far that plan has been a failure to my eyes. The new clothing doesn’t seem to be attracting new younger customers in the way Anthropologie hoped it would nor is it satisfying the loyal customerbase it already had. Change is good. No retailer should remain stagnant. But that change has to speak languages both familiar and new, and Anthropologie is only speaking new right now. They have forgotten how to connect with their existing customerbase. This will continue hurting them until they figure their error out.
Additionally, another error retailers make in their” vogue” moment is to flood the market with new stores so they can get more national name recognition. This strategy rarely succeeds. Though Anthropologie’s USA store presence is still relatively small with just over 200 stores – versus say J.Crew with closer to 350 and Gap with over 2,500 – as more Anthropologie stores open that means they need more inventory, more products and a better back-end ERP and fulfillment system. We’re seeing both the upside to this, such as when a popular item gets re-ordered quickly so more people can buy it, to the downsides, such as lower quality of items so they can afford to produce more. When an item costs a lot to produce and doesn’t sell, it hurts at any level. But a failing item in 100 stores hurts a lot less than a failing item in 250 stores. The balance between successful items and failures is off right now, with too much of the latter.
I have not seen allowances in Anthropologie’s capital and operating budgets to allow for their production and quality levels to remain intact. Instead, new capex pushes go towards expanding warehouse facilities and steamlining efficiency. Those are good developments but if the product quality sucks and it isn’t resonating with customers, then who cares? It’s very hard to justify quality as a capital expense because there is no way to quantify customer loyalty or the whims of the consumer to buy a better-made item over a poorly-made item. At Anthropologie’s price point they simply cannot afford to ignore quality, bottom-line be damned.
Quite a few items catch my eye in Anthropologie, but I usually ultimately pass them up because of their price. Do you wait for most items to go on sale, or do you buy full price? How do you decide when to take the full price plunge versus waiting it out?
Normally, I am a full-price shopper. I prefer instant gratification to the satisfaction of a good deal. However, everything at Anthropologie is hitting sale these days. Usually pretty quickly. So my pleasure in owning something quickly is overtaken by a feeling like I paid too much for it. Which means more and more I’m waiting for sale and often I end up not buying the item at all, no longer so enamored with it once it hits the sale bin.
The prices at Anthropologie don’t bother me when the material and designs justify them. In the past I often felt that the prices were well worth it. Now there are very few cases where I’d pay $150 (or more) for polyester, or rayon, or some other inexcusable synthetic where an organic would do better. Yes, some rayons are made via organic processes and yes much of our cotton now comes from other countries. But there is a movement gaining steam to bring both source materials and production back to the USA. I want to support that as much as possible!
Whether the item is Anthropologie, Proenza Schouler or Céline, I’m not dropping $$$$ if I don’t feel it’s worth it. Anthro is hitting more often recently. Still not as much as they used to.
What are some lessons from other brands that you think Anthropologie could learn from?
I think they need to take a look at J.Crew’s fiscal 2009-2012 very closely. J.Crew expanded rapidly after a good 2008 and beginning of 2009 and then was hit very hard by the recession. Their customers became trained to wait on the fast sale cycle and saw quality suffer as J.Crew changed its cashmere production house. After a few down quarters, the company went private so it could fix the operational and design aspects away from the prying eyes of investors and analysts. I don’t know that Anthropologie has that luxury as part of a multi-brand umbrella under Urban Outfitters. But it would be nice if they did.
They might also do well to take a look at brands like Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger, both of which had a few years of explosive growth followed by overexpansion, brand dillution and poor sales. Both have recovered fantastically with Michael Kors eclipsing his prior success to an exponential degree. I see no reason why Anthropologie couldn’t do the same.
What are aspects about Anthropologie do you admire, that you wish other brands had? Why is it one of your favorite brands?
Mainly I admire Anthropologie’s designs. They speak a language no other retailer does and when their items hit I would pay almost any price to own those special pieces. I was initially attracted to Anthropologie in college. I saw them as a place where I could build pieces of my professional wardrobe that would also work on the weekend – classics with a twist. And then there were some gorgeous pieces that reminded me of the handmade stuff I’d see at fairs with my parents as a kid. I wanted to mix those two styles together and Anthropologie helped me do it seamlessly. I wasn’t interested in black and grey and boring like everyone else. I wanted textures, and prints, and mixing of materials in a way that helped me stand out. I still want that in a more sophisticated way.
My main issue with Anthropologie right now is that they’re making too many items you could find somewhere else. And you could probably find those items cheaper somewhere else. I don’t need to buy my tees or layering tops or jeans at Anthropologie. I want to buy my dresses and skirts there; my sweaters and cardigans. My jewelry and bags occasionally too.
Can you share some of the favorite items in your wardrobe – that you love and wear?
From Anthropologie my favorite item is the Ferrous Flower Sheath. It hits everything I want in an Anthropologie item — flattering fit, interesting material and texture, and something to elevate it above a boring piece. (In this case it’s the embroidered flowers around the waistline.) Another Anthropologie piece I love is the Filamentous Cardigan, which is a constant wear for me on ski trips and cold days around the city.
Non-Anthrowise, I invested in a Proenza Schouler Dress that I really love late last year for its asymmetric hemline and fun shape. I also purchased my first-ever Céline bag last year with a bonus I received at work. It’s a tri-color Nano and it’s amazing. I have a pair of boots from J.Crew, the Brewster Tall Boots, from 2008 that I still wear all the time in the winter. There’s a few jewelry pieces I own that have sentimental value so those are constant wears too.
These days though I’ve been paring down my wardrobe. I am in that phase where I’m no longer building up my closet – now it’s about making sure what I own is truly what flatters me and what’s useful. Outward appearances are not as important to me as they had been previously. I still want to look good but I’m more focused on some inner work I need to do at the moment.
As you’ve built your wardrobe over the years – what’s something you wish that you could go back in time and tell yourself years ago, as you were first starting out with building your closet? Lessons learned?
I always seem to buy too much stuff. Sometimes I end up with lots of great items but not enough outfits. So I’d probably tell myself to hold fast to my three-outfit rule, which is, for each item I want to buy I need to think of three outfits I could make for it with stuff I already own. I broke that rule way too much when I was building my wardrobe!
What are some of your other passions and hobbies?
I love to travel, a common passion I know. Last year I was lucky enough to take several great trips including celebrating my 30th birthday in Paris! I worked really, really hard in my 20s and sacrificed a lot of fun to get to the point to be able to kick back for a bit. I don’t regret all that hard work but I hope to be more balanced moving forward. A little of the good life to go with all that hard work, you know? Aside from traveling I am an avid reader and I’ve spent a lot of my sabbatical devouring an overgrown stack of books to read. I enjoy art and consider myself very lucky to be in a city like New York with museums as diverse as the Guggenheim, MOMA, the Met, the Whitney, the Morgan Library and so on. I also love street art and have purchased a few prints for my apartment.
I spent a few months learning how to cook and now it’s one of my simple pleasures. I love cooking for company or parties. I wish I had the patience to learn to draw. I’ve got so many pictures in my head but my talents with paper and tool are non-existent. I can’t quite find the patience to learn.
Finally – please share something surprising about yourself!
Oh man, this one’s always tough. Let’s see, in high school one summer I lied to my parents and told them I was going on a trip with a friend’s family to their cabin for a few weeks, but in reality I went on tour with my band down the East Coast. (I was 17 and they were in the 19-20 range.) We played gross bars, one outdoor festival which was great and stayed in disgusting hotels. Four of us sharing one queen bed or we split between the van and the room. We got a flat tire in Virginia and I was sure we were going to die until our tour manager came and rescued us with a spare tire. I still have photos from that tucked in a secret place in my childhood bedroom. It was incredibly dumb but probably one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.
I adore Roxy’s last answer – having been a long time reader of her blog, I do have to say that it was a surprising and very fun fact to learn! I really enjoyed getting to know Roxy a bit more, and hearing her thoughts about the state of Anthropologie’s business and her retail observations in general. It’s clear that her observations are coming from somebody coming from experience and passion, and I have to say that I’ll be paying attention to a lot more things at Anthropologie going forward! Thank you again Roxy for taking the time to be here today, and for more of her, please go to Effortless Anthropologie, here.