Wardrobe Therapy has a new investor joining founder Elizabeth Bean Smith: Katie Wolfe Lloyd, vice president of civic affairs for Dispatch Printing Co.
When Elizabeth Bean Smith started Wardrobe Therapy in August 2006, people had an easy reference for what they thought her fashion consulting firm was all about.
“It was the time of What Not to Wear,” she says, referring to the former cable makeover show. “Everybody was like, ‘OK, you’re like ‘What Not to Wear.’ Which we were and we weren’t. It gave that commonality so people could at least identify with the service. But we weren’t like that. We don’t dive into your wardrobe and say get rid of everything. I can’t imagine doing that.”Stay up to date with the region’s business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
Wardrobe Therapy wasn’t made for reality TV. Instead, Smith says, it’s designed for reality. The service for women and men—its clients include executives, creative professionals and stay-at-home parents—offers wardrobe consulting and personal shopping, typically through two or three sessions per season. Stylists help organize newly purchased and existing clothing into app-based “look books” for clients’ easy reference. They also can help plan and pack for business trips and vacations.
The idea isn’t to impose stylists’ tastes onto clients, Smith says. The relationship starts off by learning about a client’s own taste and style, lifestyle, budget, and likes and dislikes. Shopping for most people doesn’t involve a wardrobe overhaul but the addition of a few new pieces. Stylists, whose fees are based on their experience, don’t receive commissions from stores.
“A lot of our clients want to have ease of a wardrobe,” Smith says. “Many of them are getting on and off flights throughout the month. They want things they can mix and match effectively and easily. They don’t want 100 different shoes with 100 different jackets.”
Smith’s first jobs in fashion were with Express, where she started as a visual coordinator after earning degrees from Bowling Green State University and the Fashion Institute of Technology. “I loved my work there, but it was hard. I was young, and I was really burned out. I traveled a lot. I didn’t really know people outside of the corporate office.”
After a year managing a boutique in Columbus and working as a freelance stylist, Smith went into business with Wardrobe Therapy. Former Express colleagues let her try out styling ideas and processes with them.
“My background was in styling and fashion, so I felt really confident doing that, but I knew I didn’t want to have a store,” Smith says. “I wanted to be able to work with real men and women and put what I was doing on mannequins [at Express] to life, put it on a real body.”
Smith started Wardrobe Therapy with a partner but has led the business on her own since its second year. In December, she took on a new partner and investor in Katie Wolfe Lloyd, vice president of civic affairs for Dispatch Printing Co., the former owner of Columbus CEO. Wolfe Lloyd has been a Wardrobe Therapy client, and Smith styled photoshoots for the former Capital Style magazine, where Wolfe Lloyd served as publisher.
“I totally believe in the business model, and I believe in Elizabeth,” Wolfe Lloyd says.
Among the partners’ plans for the company: pitching Wardrobe Therapy’s services as a wellness perk for companies to offer their employees.
Audrey Tuckerman, a private wealth manager in Columbus, is a longtime Wardrobe Therapy client who describes her personal style like many in the business world: conservative and professional. Among the benefits of working with Smith that she places at the top of her list is the time she saves in a morning routine that also includes working out and meditating.
But Tuckerman also appreciates Smith’s knack of pushing her a little bit outside her comfort zone, getting her to consider fashion choices she might bypass on her own. Smith finds most of Wardrobe Therapy’s clients enjoy fashion—“it’s like if you go to a gym and you hire a trainer; you enjoy working out and want to know the right way to work out”—but welcome help in expanding their style.
The old idea of the corporate “uniform” is out, Smith says. People have room to express their style within the bounds of professional dress.
“The idea is not to take away individuality. The idea is to make individuality a positive,” Smith says. “We all have different ways we showcase who we are and how we tell our story to the world. When you feel good about what you’re putting on, others can see it, too.”
Bob Vitale is a freelance writer.