How The Female Founder Of Savitude Is Using Artificial Intelligence To Make Shopping Easier For 80 Percent Of Women
Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.
Camilla Olson is the Co-Founder and CEO of Savitude, a fashion tech company that uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning to automatically curate clothing options based on a shopper’s body shape and unique proportions. We had the pleasure of chatting with Camilla about how she’s building Savitude to disrupt the fashion industry, her role in educating VCs about fashion technology, and how she’s making shopping an easier (and more positive) experience for 80 percent of women.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was running my own fashion label struggling with fit, when I had the “Ah Ha!” moment. The fashion industry is focused only on an idealized body shape—the hourglass—thus leaving 80 percent of women without clothing that looks good on their body. We started Savitude because we [viewed that as an] injustice, and now we are on a mission to transform the [fashion] industry.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Fundraising. I think there are two reasons why it has been hard. First, Savitude is located in Palo Alto (California) in the heart of Silicon Valley and amongst an endless number of VC firms, but most [of these venture capitalists] don’t speak retail, and they don’t speak fashion. Although much of our technology is AI driven and utilizes elements of machine learning and visual recognition technology, [VCs in Silicon Valley don’t have an understanding of] fashion and body shape.
Second, VCs see the approach we are taking as somewhat flawed because there are about a hundred companies tackling this market now. However, we are the only company that has designed, sewn, and sold clothing on ecommerce and founded two successful predictive modeling companies. [To me], these are reasons to invest, not decline.
What’s been the greatest reward?
It has been exciting to see our product come to life. Since our initial product launched last summer, we have developed additional capabilities and discovered that our technology has the ability to serve other markets, not just apparel. Additionally, user feedback has been extremely positive and rewarding in itself.
But the biggest reward was when we did our first retail analysis with our technology. We discovered that department store inventory was overstocked in some silhouettes yet had holes elsewhere. [We were able to come to the conclusion] that there are women walking out of stores because they simply cannot find clothes to fit their bodies. The analysis confirmed we were on the right path.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
We want the fashion industry to rethink why they are in business. Who is their customer? They cannot all serve the hourglass-shaped woman because she is only 20 percent of the population. I am sure if our design schools, fashion magazines, social media, and stores served their customers with clothes designed for different body shapes and proportions, women would feel so much better about themselves. We built our technology at Savitude to enable this kind of transformation.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
I couldn’t ask for a better team. Our team has worked together for nearly three years, and I have known them for much longer. I may be disappointed by a call, but their progress in moving our company forward, and their growth as professionals gets me back on track.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2017?
Since we attended the PE Intensive, we have competed in TechCrunch Battlefield and participated in TechStars Retail in partnership with Target. We have successfully completed two pilots, and are now negotiating to continue our Target collaboration. Additionally, we have a strong pipeline, and are in talks with some major retailers.
We have raised some capital, but have been keeping our burn rate low. And recently, we were covered in a major piece on AI in Business Of Fashion (BOF).
Can you describe a problem you solved in your business that other early-stage entrepreneurs face and tell us how went about solving this problem? How can other early-stage founders repeat your success?
I’ve always heard the advice,”Be prepared to walk away,” and I had to do that some time ago. I was being pushed hard [to accept] the terms of a deal that was going to kill [the company]. Walking away [from those terms was difficult], but it was my only option.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Leave no rock unturned. You never know who you’ll meet, or what ideas will come your way. Talk through these ideas with your team and iterate upon the ones that stick.
For more motivation from our PE Alumnae, check out our interview with Ericka Perry. Erick is the Founder and CEO of The Stork Bag, a pregnancy subscription bag that meets mothers’ trimester and postpartum needs. Ericka is a mother herself, and her company is unique in that the products included in the subscription bag are sourced by other mothers and created by women entrepreneurs! We spoke with Ericka about the personal need that led her to create The Stork Bag, the challenges of curating products for a subscription service, and how she’s building The Stork Bag to disrupt the prenatal wellness space.