Fashion Tech Talk: Rent The Runway’s Camille Fournier

camille

Camille Fournier is the Vice President of Technical Architecture at Rent The Runway, a New York City startup described as the “Netflix of Fashion.” She was recruited to the startup by a friend who said that Rent The Runway was more complex than the average e-commerce startup. “Boy he was right!”

We chatted with Camille about her simultaneous love of style and computer programming, Rent The Runway’s top challenges and her views on the future of fashion tech.

Decoded Fashion: What is your background with technology? With fashion?
Camille Fournier: I have been into technology since I first learned to write programs in Logo in grade school. I studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon University for my B.S., and later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my M.S. I’ve loved both technology and fashion from a young age. I like to joke that my current job combines a love of tech that I cultivated in middle and high school with my 5-year-old dreams of becoming a fashion designer.

DF: What are your challenges as VP of Technical Architecture of Rent The Runway?
CF: My most important job is scaling our technical architecture to meet our business growth. This means I must tackle some well-known growth challenges such as scaling our website to handle additional capacity and scaling our software to enable developers to develop new features quickly. It also means that I must lead the team in tackling problems that are very unique to Rent the Runway.

We are not your typical e-commerce company. Because of our rental model, we share problem sets with industries like car rental or airlines; you’re not just buying something, you’re renting it for a short period of time, so we must factor in a hugely complex logistical pipeline. No one else out there is renting high-value items like this for very short periods of time, so we’ve had to develop our own warehouse software, and this is a major challenge for my team.

DF: How do you feel Rent The Runway has changed the fashion industry?
CF: Our goal is to democratize luxury, and I believe we are succeeding in that goal. We’re introducing women to luxury brands that they may have never been able to afford to purchase, but they can rent for a special event.

We are also bringing a set of data into the industry that most traditional retailers do not have access to. We use data to predict what women will want to wear based on actual rental patterns, and since our inventory is experienced by many women, we’re really able to understand what kinds of looks, fabrics, and cuts are actually desirable.

DF: What are some new features or products that Rent The Runway is working on?
CF: We have an enormous catalog of styles, and we’re constantly working on ways to help women find the styles that they will like best. Fit is a major challenge for us, we want to make sure that women will have a great experience when they rent and a big part of that is finding styles that fit well. We’re constantly evaluating how we present fit information and customer reviews to our users so that they can find styles guaranteed to fit them well.

DF: Where do you see Rent The Runway in 5 years?
CF: I believe that we can grow into markets beyond the United States, taking our vision to democratize fashion around the world. I think that we will also have solved the problem of fit beyond simple algorithms and will be able to deliver perfectly fitting dresses every time,

DF: What do you think is a top problem in the fashion industry that tech can help solve?
CF: The fashion industry has always relied on a few tastemakers to determine what to make, season after season. Tech can bring a set of data to the table that helps the fashion industry understand who their customers truly are, what they are buying, and helps designers reach the right audience. I don’t think that data will ever take the place of creativity but I think the two can work together to produce beautiful results.

DF: What tips do you have for early-stage fashion-tech entrepreneurs?
CF: It’s not just about social and mobile. The hard but profitable problems will probably involve logistics and a lot of data…more Amazon than Vogue.

Camille will be a mentor at the Fashion Hackathon, Feb. 2-3, at the Alley NYC. Look for her to chat fashion tech! @skamille