Christine Hunsicker is the chief executive officer and founder of Gwynnie Bee, an online clothing rental subscription service exclusively for women sizes 10-32. In 2011, Hunsicker set out to launch Gwynnie Bee to tackle the limited access to trendy fashion for the majority of women – 67% of the population is size 14+ and yet they represent only 16.6% of apparel spending. Gwynnie Bee is the substantial buyer of plus size clothing in the United States with over 3,000 different styles and 150+ select brands available. After four years and over 3 million boxes delivered to members, the company has grown to over 350 employees, operating out of four offices across the US and India. In addition to filling an essential need for members, Gwynnie Bee presents brand partners with opportunities to plug into their growing membership and the unique feedback loop of consumer insights. These supply-side opportunities don’t stop with access to data. Gwynnie Bee has not only helped straight-size brands to expand their size range but has also worked with international brands to launch their collections in the United States. Prior to her time at Gwynnie Bee, Hunsicker worked as chief operating officer of startups Right Media and Drop.io, which sold to Yahoo! and Facebook respectively.
How did you get into the industry?
I've been in the tech and data start-up industry for over 15 years. In 2011, we were thinking about what to do next - which industry, what model, etc. We knew we wanted to go after a huge industry that hadn't yet been disrupted by data and technology. Apparel was one of the areas we looked into and we thought we saw a big opportunity to do something meaningful. After narrowing down the industry, we thought a lot about what demographic. The motivation for Gwynnie Bee came from recognizing that there was a widely underserved segment of women in the retail industry. We decided to focus on the size 10-32 market, which happens to be the majority of women in the US, and to provide the service as a rental subscription model.
Any emerging industry trends?
The plus size consumer is finally beginning to see herself meaningfully represented in the media and it is my hope that development will continue to evolve. We, as a culture, have been on the edge of this size-inclusive movement for quite some time. We need to continue to provide stylish options for all women – a full size range should be the mainstream, not just a small section of a department store as has been the case for years.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The biggest opportunity we saw was to change the way women engage with clothing. After talking with hundreds of women across the country, it became apparent women were open to explore a different relationship with clothing because theirs had been so suboptimal in the past. With Gwynnie Bee, we wanted to create a platform to give this consumer access to an unlimited wardrobe on a limited budget and the feeling of confidence that comes with fitted and stylish clothing.
The plus size space is under-penetrated, which means we also have the opportunity to bring a lot of straight-size designers into market. It's great for both our members and our partners. Our recent co-branded launches with Rachel Antonoff, Hemant & Nandita and Tocca have all been very successful.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Growing up, all of my clothes were made by my aunt - she would sew outfits for my cousin and I that we would then swap or consign at the end of each season to get fabric for new outfits. It created unlimited options with a lot of experimentation, and a confidence that comes with a great fit and being able to express yourself. I was inspired to create this same experience for the majority of women with Gwynnie Bee, one that tapped into my childhood experiences and could positively impact women’s lives.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Our goals over next few years are to continue to develop our technology to drive more personalization and features, to deepen our relationship with every member and help more straight-size designers expand their size range offerings.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
The partnerships we've done with straight-size designers have been great - for our members, for us, and for the designers. We are able to bring exclusive, unique product to our members - and the rental model makes it so easy for members to experiment and try these new brands.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
There is not a singular difficult moment - start-ups are jam-packed with difficult moments and it's important to recognize and internalize that. What we've focused on is how to build processes that allow us to make the best decision possible in a repeatable way. That approach, from what I've seen, is quite unique.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
The ideal experience for a member is to be able to wear great clothing every day that makes her feel ready to take on the world. Simple.
How do you motivate others?
The motivation that drives us is the overwhelming amount of emails and messages we get about how the service has impacted women's lives in some way. We hear most often that they feel more confident in their everyday lives – it is truly amazing what the right clothes can do.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Take risks, be direct and surround yourself with people you trust.