Jessica Couch was on a path many would envy. Over a decade ago, she was standing in Steinway Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y., on an enviable assignment with music star Lady Gaga. At the time, Couch had run her own online fashion boutique, Luxor + Finch, parlaying it into a career as an ascending fashion designer.
On the surface, it seemed Couch, in her early 20s at the time, was on a fast track to incredible success and access. Instead, she did the unthinkable; she gave it all up to return to school and get her master’s degree.
“That was the hardest decision I had to make,” Couch told theGrio. “And a lot of my friends who were stylists, a lot of people that were in the fashion industry, even my own sister and a couple of other people were like, ‘What are you doing?’”
What Couch’s friends, family, and colleagues didn’t understand at the time was that she had noticed a void in the fashion industry; a problem that had grown to enormous proportions but was mostly being ignored. She took it upon herself to find solutions, and her choice to enter the styling world had been a step toward dealing with the issue head-on.
“I fell into styling while looking to solve a bigger problem. And although styling came naturally—it was great, and it got me there—I had to make a decision: Am I being true to what I first got into this for? And I have this bigger vision of a problem I’m trying to solve. Do I stop now and just enjoy this, or do I go after the problem I’m trying to solve?”
That problem was the fashion industry’s lack of understanding when it came to fit technology, a method of ensuring consumers can efficiently match desired fashions with their body types.
Couch, with partner Brittany Hicks, then created Fayetteville Road.
The management consulting firm focuses on matching people with products, with a particular focus on fashion technology and fit technology. It also serves as a community builder for women of color, fusing creatives with technical professionals. Fayetteville Road is an innovative firm bringing much-needed attention to the underserved in fashion, catering to both professionals and consumers.
What Couch and Fayetteville Road do is address the fit tech issue head-on by supplying niche companies with ideas and data. Over time, Couch has made some startling discoveries about the industry.
“Currently there’s about $62 billion worth of returns. 70 percent of those are due to poor fit,” Couch explained. “There’s also about $50 billion of dead inventory with a large percentage of dead inventory that never leaves the sales floor, a warehouse, anything due to poor fit. But it’s an indication that not even brands or retailers can match a product to a person successfully.”
Through her postgraduate studies at Cornell University, coupled with data she acquired from styling, Couch has been hypothesizing how to fix the fit tech problem through Fayetteville Road.
“A lot of products are multi-sensory, especially if it’s beauty. You want to see it on your skin, you want to smell it, you want to feel it, but you have the absence of that online. How do we create these experiences where we identify who is shopping for this, and what do they need to drive a conversion [to sale]? And so I took everything that I learned in the size and fit side, and then we built this agency where we hyper-focus on these niche markets.”
Couch identifies racism and classism as significant reasons why there is a disconnect between consumers of color and fashion houses. She considers fit tech to be a “social justice issue.”
“The genesis of fashion was catering to the elite. It wasn’t for everybody, to begin with,” Couch said. “The seamstresses, the tailors—the idea of having these different dresses were reserved for the aristocracy. And always, that meant people who were not of color.”
Another way Fayetteville Road attacks the issue of prejudice is by providing a safe space for women of color to network and learn from each other. The firm’s company division, Women of Color Worldwide (WOC Worldwide), provides in-person brunches and panel discussions where women in the fashion industry collaborate with women in creative fields.
“Bringing together people in the intersection of both creative and technological careers is an awesome opportunity for people of color in general,” Couch said. “Our Women of Color Worldwide organization was designed to encourage these thinkers that can go on both sides. And because something like fashion tech is literally both the creative side and the technological side, there’s only a few types of people that can exist there.”
Health and wellness are also essential cornerstones of Fayetteville Road, and the reason Couch has incorporated the conversation around cannabis into the firm. Through panel discussions on cannabis reform and cannabis ownership for entrepreneurs of color, she realized that the cannabis industry fits into Fayetteville Road’s mission.
“We did some research and we learned that Women of Color’s involvement in cannabis was interesting because women wanted to use cannabis to mitigate health issues,” Couch said. “We didn’t know that we should get involved at first until we realized that there were a lot of Black women on the front line of the cannabis industry that were doing great work.”
Now, Couch is coming full circle, branching into the realm of personalized social media to further advance the issues of fit tech and fashion. This year, she launched an online engagement platform for users—stylists, aspiring stylists, or people who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s fly in fashion—to be able to “monetize your style influence.” Couch sees it as a method for influencers to get paid for influencing while also helping to lessen the gap in fit tech.
“I’m building a tech platform called Looks where we’re matching people to products using peer-to-peer engagement. I think it’s super important because no one solved the problem in fashion yet.“
As a Black female entrepreneur in fashion and fit tech, Couch has encountered plenty of myopic executives who have prejudged her due to preconceived notions of Black women and their intellectual prowess. She hopes that through Fayetteville Road, she can foster change in many industries when it comes to giving women of color opportunities to thrive.
“Being Black and being a woman has always empowered me. I like when people underestimate me,” Couch said. “I think that Black women, people of color in general, should anticipate that and use it as a superpower. It’s great when people underestimate you because you see their [faces] change when they hear you and they realize, ‘Oh, my God, this person is nothing like what I thought.’ That moment is always a great moment for me.”
Matthew Allen is a Brooklyn-based TV producer, director and award-winning music journalist. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and .BRIC TV.
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