How Jessie Zeng, the co-Founder and ceo of Choosy, is using a social media algorithm to change the fashion industry for the better
By Katrina Froelich
10 • 14 • 2018
Every few weeks, big fast-fashion brands, most notably, H&M and Zara, churn out massive amounts of clothing styles in hopes that they’ll sell to the masses.
Trying to predict which items will fly off the shelves and which will die a fast-fashion death is a bit of a gamble, and it usually results in massive amounts of clothing being thrown away and discarded. The new clothing brand Choosy, launched in July of 2018 by Jessie Zeng, Sharon Qian, and Mo Zhou, has a solution — fast-fashion, but without the waste.
Choosy designs and ships the clothes that reflect the most talked-about styles on Instagram, making it easier than ever for everyday consumers to shop the trends that celebrities and influencers are wearing. Using a specific social media algorithm, the innovative company aims to augment waste .
I sat down with Jessie to learn more about her company and her plans to revolutionize the fashion industry, for the better.
What made you fall in love with fashion?
My family has deep roots in textile manufacturing in China, so I grew up with a love for the industry. Then, I started posting daily outfits on my social media channels and began to gain a small personal following. Fashion has always been a way I could express myself and I have a deep appreciation for quality clothes that make people feel most themselves. I think it’s a great way to feel confident and encourage self-expression.
How did you first get into the fashion industry?
Through Choosy! I started my career in finance, which is actually how I met my two co-founders. We were all working on the same trading desks and went through training together right out of college. Choosy is my first real fashion venture, but I’ve grown up around the textile industry my whole life and was able to experience a lot of the industry through my personal Instagram (@itsjessiezeng) and blogging experience.
What gave you the idea for Choosy?
I started noticing more comments like ‘Where can I buy this?’, and not just on my own posts, but on other fashion-focused accounts as well as I was browsing. The problem that people ran into time and again was that their favorite celebrities were wearing outfits that cost thousands of dollars, and they weren’t able to get those same looks.
I started to look into what really was making these pieces so expensive, and a lot of time it was due to branding and manufacturing. Because of my family’s background, I was very familiar with textile supply chains, and my co-founders and I began to reimagine how we could produce clothes that were still high quality and in-demand, but for a much more accessible price point.
I then wanted to be able to meet shoppers exactly where they were experiencing that pain-point of “getting the look”, which was on social media. It makes Choosy a super convenient way to shop and get style inspiration all in one experience.
How does Choosy work?
While browsing through Instagram, if you see a look that you like, DM the photo @getchoosy to reach our team. We use advanced AI and a team of experienced Style Scouts to scour the DMs for the most coveted items and ranking them in popularity to determine which styles to design and produce.
We drop collections every Wednesday at 12:00pm ET based off of what our customers want made, so every collection looks a little different! Shoppers will then have the freshest styles inspired by their fave celebrity / influencer at their doors in as little as two weeks.
What was starting your business like? What challenges did you face along the way?
Getting any business off the ground comes with its own set of unique challenges - it’s how you find a solution to each that will make or break you. Everything from building the perfect team to working through R&D [research and development] contributes to the greater purpose of running an ethical business that delivers quality to every customer. It takes basically dedicating your whole life to your business to perfect it, but when you reach that point there’s nothing more rewarding.
One of our biggest challenges was production delays. We encountered unforeseen demand, and supply just couldn’t keep up. Because we operated on a made-to-order basis, rather than keeping inventory, our products were arriving 3-5 weeks after a customer would make a purchase. It was heartbreaking to see girls scramble to find a replacement outfit for their homecoming or honeymoon because the Choosy item they loved couldn’t arrive on time. We decided that in order to deliver the best experience for our Choosy Baes, we would revamp our production and operational facilities. We shifted from a weekly drop model to a monthly drop model, offered faster shipping options, and began to only list items once they have reached our warehouse.
What is your creative process like?
It always starts with a screenshot. It’s my first instinct whenever I see something I like on my phone! My screenshots album is a continuously updated mood-board of fashion styles, design quirks, and business ideas. After that, I bring my team into the brainstorming process. I love bouncing ideas off of their different perspectives. We’re a diverse team of tech, content, operations, finance, and style specialists and it’s amazing to see how well we complement one another.
Choosy carries plus-sizes in all styles. Why was this important to you?
We launched offering all clothes in sizes 0-20 because the idea that sparked Choosy was to give everyone access to the looks their favorite celebrities or influencers were wearing. That meant making clothes for all body types.
So many expensive designers refuse to make their styles above a size 6 or 8, citing that the design or manufacturing process would have to change but that simply isn’t true. Because all of our looks are designed in-house, we’re able to make these styles no matter what size you are. We want to inspire and instill confidence in everyone and only offering a limited size range was never even a consideration when we first launched because of that.
What is Choosy’s overall stance on sustainability? What makes Choosy sustainable?
Choosy only makes what our customers demand, which allows us to maintain a zero-balance inventory as well as minimize wasteful production of excess clothing. Eliminating the guesswork that goes into supply and demand allows Choosy to be much more sustainable than other retailers that offer a similarly tight-turnaround in manufacturing. And, because we control the entire production process, we’ve identified a way to make it more cost-efficient without contributing to environmental concerns.
It must be tough to compete with online fast fashion giants like Asos, Zara, etc. What is your strategy to promote Choosy in such a crowded market?
Asos and Zara are great, I grew up with them. However, Choosy is a brand born on social media, and our AI has been integrated into our business from the start. Because of that, we’re able to offer completely different things for our customers. For Choosy, social media is at our core, rather than an afterthought. I think it brings a very different experience to the table than shopping in a crowded store or sifting through pages on an online website to find one perfect outfit. Our experience is much more interactive and community-based.
Who is your style crush?
Aimee Song. She’s an OG fashion influencer who helped push social media to the frontlines of trendsetting! She can rock anything and you never know what’s coming next.
What advice do you have for anyone who dreams of being a boss babe?
Be relentless and surround yourself with people who share your vision. Having a stellar team is the greatest motivation because you push each other to accomplish great things. Sometimes you won’t always nail it the first time around, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you keep going and learn from past mistakes to continue growing both as a person and your business.
Katrina Froelich is the Fashion Editor at Tough to Tame. She’s worked in the fashion industry for over four years, gaining experience in PR and Editorial work at companies such as GUESS and Forme. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photos courtesy of Get Choosy)