Armoire Founder Ambika Singh on Building Community for Working Women

How Armoire Builds Community for Professional Women, No Matter Where They’re Working

In these days of social distancing and remote work, throwing a nice blouse over pajama bottoms just in time to hop on a video call can feel like a big win.

Now, maybe more than ever, the clothes we wear can bring us joy and be our armor. Whether it’s the comforting hoodie you pull off the top of the laundry pile when you need to feel happy or the sundress you throw on to FaceTime with friends on the balcony, what you wear shapes your mood and confidence.

And for Ambika Singh, Founder and CEO of clothing rental company Armoire those clothes also build community — especially in a time when so many of us are isolated.

The Storied Future recently spoke with Ambika about how creating a shared closet for professional women has led to an incredible and supportive community that blends Armoire’s customers, employees, and colleagues.

Tell us about Armoire. How does the subscription service work?

The word “armoire” has the same root as the word armor, and we think about clothing in that way. Armor can mean all sorts of different things, and it’s a really old tradition that has been used for different things. It traditionally made you feel big and strong, and present yourself that way. But sometimes armor is also meant to keep you safe, help you blend in.

Armor is whatever you need to have an amazing day.

Armoire is literally a shared closet. It’s an unlimited subscription, so when members purchase access to the clothing, they could get four things for the month, or sixteen things, and they can change out as many times as they want.

That means our commercial relationship with our customers isn’t about selling an expensive jacket. It’s about, “Did we deliver enough joy that you want to do this again? Did we help guide you in a way that makes you happy?”

That lets us underpin the community in a really authentic way.

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Your community of customers is one of the biggest aspects of Armoire. Was that something you built deliberately from the beginning? Or did it grow up organically around the business?

Our customers taught us about community very early. A few weeks in, we started to notice a commonality in the feedback we were getting from our customers. They would say, “I loved this item, but I’m returning it because I think someone else should enjoy it.” Or, “I thought about keeping this for another week, but I crushed the meeting this morning and I hope someone else can crush their meeting this week.” Or, “My son really loved this on me and I hope it makes another mommy’s day.”

The fact that they wanted to use a physical object share their joy was incredible. These are women who have never met, they live across the country from each other, and they have the selfless idea that this article of clothing now has some power infused in it.

It sounds super woo-woo but when you read the comments on our Facebook page, our customers get no monetary value out of lending a helping hand on this. Everybody does it because our community is richer when we share things.

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Has your vibrant customer community had an impact on your company culture?

One thing I’m super proud of is a lot of the women who work here started as our customers — and a lot of our investors started as customers as well. Because of that, we implicitly have empathy for the customer. That’s the most direct way that it affects our culture.

The other thing is that our team is as diverse as our customers. We often have to remind people from the outside that “professional woman” does not mean one thing. That only means that she works. She might work in her home as a CEO mom, she might be a freelancer, she might run the construction site next door.

I love that on the inside of our company, we look really different from each other. We have stylists who grew up in a fashion background in retail, we have PhDs who grew up in an academic environment, we have amazing women who run our warehouse, who come from a different set of experiences and backgrounds.

We are all the colors, and all the backgrounds, but we’re also all the different kind of thought processes and styles.

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Being an entrepreneur can be very isolating, and there is a myth that you have to do it all yourself. How have you tapped into your own community as you built your business?

It is a lonely thing to be an entrepreneur, a founder, and a CEO. But only if you don’t have the willingness or the courage to share what’s going on. I have to remind myself that things are not perfect, and sharing that is a positive part of my own journey.

Community means so many different things to me now.

I do have a community that’s more public, where I want to be the strong face. But there are other communities. At home, my husband is literally the most supportive person. Sometimes I think he’s actually the insane one, because he has this incredible belief that I will succeed even on the darkest days. In my circle of colleagues, there are the women that I have met on this journey, who have maybe started our companies in a very similar moment, and we’ve been able to grow together.

The wider circle of professional women is another layer of community. We’re in an incredible moment for professional women. In the political climate before I started Armoire I wouldn’t have said I was hyper feminist, but in the last few years it’s become clear that, fortunately or unfortunately, we are rebuilding the feminist movement in a completely different way. It’s a tragedy that we have to do it, because it would have been nice to say, “Oh, yeah, we’re done with that. Thanks a lot previous generations!” But that isn’t where we are.

One of the things I love about this moment is that women have come to bat for me in all sorts of different ways. It happens literally daily. Because, as we’re rebuilding this movement, we’re all on the same mission. We’re going to help each other succeed, we’re going to pull up the women around us, we’re going to find them the opportunities, and make sure to open the doors. It’s a really powerful thing.

Let’s all be stronger together.

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Author: Jessie Kwak