When thinking about potential solutions to challenges faced by new families, Gavriella Risman-Jones was able to look close to home.
Her older brother and his fiancée recently had twins, and in talking to him, Risman-Jones — a senior studying Business & Technology at Stevens — realized the value of a subscription clothing service for infants.
That was where Wee Wardrobe got its start. The six women behind the company, all in the Business & Technology program at the School of Business, have done extensive market research and refined their idea to reflect the styles demanded of urban residents, delivered seasonally.
“In this year alone, I feel like I've learned so much, and I really see it as a result of this project.”
“My brother actually wants to start a service in San Francisco, where he lives, for organic baby food, so we called him to learn about his idea and the problems he’s faced as a new parent,” Risman-Jones said. “It seemed like the biggest problem is getting clothes that are functional — and cute, which is really important in urban areas.”
Market research by the Wee Wardrobe team — which also consists of seniors Paige Kelley, Jenifer Middleton, Brenna Puza and Erika Wilcox, and junior Genevieve Finn — was crucial in rounding out the final look and feel of the service, but the team also got plenty of guidance from Dr. CV Harquail, who teaches their Senior Design class.
The Stevens Senior Design difference
The team came back from customer interviews with all kinds of new ideas, from sustainable ideas like locally sourced clothes or donations, to complex style profiling, but Dr. Harquail encouraged the team to go for the thin slice and “make sure that our idea was actually a solution to the problem,” Kelley said. “When we’d present our new ideas to her, she’d say, ‘You’re going a bit too far, you have to think simpler.’ ”
That’s the value of Senior Design, a capstone in which students apply their business education to create a startup company, or consult with a company on a potential opportunity. Wee Wardrobe will showcase its subscription concept at Stevens' annual Innovation Expo on April 27.
“Senior Design is your moment to take everything you’ve learned at Stevens and apply it in a way that matters,” Middleton said. “We’ve taken things from social media analytics and applied that to our marketing campaign, we’ve taken things from our finance classes to make cost and revenue models.”
Her teammates share similar sentiments.
“In this year alone, I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I really see it as a result of this project,” Puza said. “It’s like I had all these different puzzle pieces, and all of a sudden, I can see the puzzle’s only missing a few pieces now.”
At Stevens, students are encouraged to rapidly prototype and test ideas as a way of quickly pivoting toward solutions that better meet market demands. It also means learning to “fail forward” and be able to learn from mistakes.
“For me, failure is a hard thing,” Risman-Jones said. “It was refreshing and definitely a little difficult to realize that it’s OK to fail, because you can learn from it, which will be one of the most beneficial lessons in the real world."
Finding opportunities in challenges
One problem Wee Wardrobe faced in its evolution was where to get the clothes that would be packed in the subscription boxes. The solution came from an interview, when a customer mentioned Etsy, the online retailer portal for small crafters. Those businesses were happy to supply clothes for Wee Wardrobe, and were able to include coupons and marketing materials as part of the exchange.
Other interviews also got them thinking about the size of their customer base, Wilcox said.
“There was a student in our class whose older sister just had a baby, which got us thinking about how he could have been a potential buyer, and could have given a subscription as a gift,” she said. “We had been just focused on mothers, and that feedback got us thinking about marketing to their sisters, friends and families — which almost doubles the market.”
The team is now wrapping up the loose ends for Wee Wardrobe, and while none have plans to continue it past graduation — Puza and Wilcox will do IT consulting at Protiviti, Kelley is off to Goldman, Risman-Jones to Deloitte and Middleton to BlackRock; Finn, still a junior, will have an internship with JPMorgan Chase this summer — they hope another team of seniors might take it to the next level.
“Even with the competitors that are in our market, we do have a niche with the gift giving part of it,” Finn said. “And working with the Etsy shops makes it a dual market. Not only are people buying from us, there’s a whole other side of the business that’s about making partnerships with these Etsy shops and getting their name out there, and it’s such a huge opportunity for those shops.”