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Startup survival story: Armoire’s outstanding journey from sequins to sweatpants and again once more

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Armoire CEO and founder Ambika Singh. (Armoire Photo)

Armoire CEO and founder Ambika Singh and her team built a women’s clothing subscription service with their “bosslady” members in mind, providing an on-demand wardrobe of apparel primarily for work and events.

Two years ago, the Seattle-based startup was on a roll, posting a record month in February 2020 after growing nearly 400% in 2019. But then came the pandemic. Armoire’s members no longer needed to dress up for the office or to go out.

So close the door on Armoire, right? Not so fast.

“You can imagine, there were many days where I woke up and expected the entire customer base to have evaporated. But somehow it didn’t happen,” recalled Singh, a Dartmouth College and MIT Sloan School of Management graduate who worked at companies including Microsoft and Boston Consulting Group before starting Armoire in 2016.

Instead, she said, the company discovered that members were eager to continue incorporating Armoire into their routines, albeit with a much different wardrobe.

Hello, cashmere loungewear.

“We had really hoped that we had created a sticky habit that brought people joy, but this was the biggest testament to that,” Singh said. “So, we pivoted the inventory. We’d never had an athleisure category, nor did I know that sweatpants can cost $500. … We dressed people for what they were looking for.”

Armoire has boosted its long-term membership base and even briefly turned a profit during the pandemic, an extraordinary milestone for a growth-stage startup that had been facing an existential crisis.

The company raised a new round of funding from high-profile investors to extend its financial runway. It has been able to hire back everyone who had been furloughed, now with a total of 50 employees.

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In the process, Armoire has expanded its footprint in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, and just reopened its office on a voluntary basis to the segment of its workforce that had been working at home. The company’s warehouse team had been coming into the office for the past two years, but a recent meeting reunited the company in person.

“There was a good amount of tears,” Singh said. “We’ve been on Zoom together, but it was different to have the whole family back in the room. … That said, it will always look different now than what it looked like before, because it’s fully optional for any of our employees who can work remote.”

However, she said, “the desire to be back together is super-real.”

Armoire will soon mark another milestone, opening a new facility that uses RFID technology to create a contactless boutique shopping experience for its members, blending digital and in-person commerce in a unique new way.

Ambika Singh joins us on this episode of the GeekWire Podcast to talk about Armoire’s survival story, how its underlying business works, competition with Rent the Runway and others, and what’s next in its startup journey.

Listen above, or subscribe to GeekWire in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.

Edited by Curt Milton. Theme music by Daniel L.K. Caldwell.

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