“Be clear about your mission and your value proposition and don’t waiver from that.” — Jodi Arnold, creative director, ELOQUII
When we first heard the story about ELOQUII, we were wowed.
It had all the trappings of one of those Hollywood tales: the underdog bouncing back from seemingly insurmountable odds. The plus-size women’s clothing store is truly a “comeback kid,” having been shuttered by its parent company but then resurrected as a stand-alone entity thanks to its vocal legion of fans. Eager to learn more, we spoke with Jodi Arnold, the brand’s creative director, who was on board throughout the entire adventure.
Jodi is a fashionista of the first degree. Years ago, armed with a degree in Fashion Design from Baylor University, the Birmingham, Alabama native made her way to New York City and into the various positions in the fashion industry. Then, over a cup of mint tea in Paris in 1999, she made the decision to set out on her own and launched the press and retail favorite contemporary line, MINT Jodi Arnold. Her next move came after a successful designer collaboration with The Limited; the company hired Jodi in 2011 as Vice President of Design for their then-new plus-size line, ELOQUII. The rest, as they say, is history.
Here’s what Jodi has to share about her beloved brand, standing out from the crowd as well as bouncing back from career challenges:
You’ve gone through ups and downs with ELOQUII. What were a few things you learned from the process? There are too many to name but first would be the power of being small and nimble in a manufacturing business. Second, go with your gut. The plus-size business was one that made so much sense, given our knowledge of the average woman’s shape, and we could not understand why no one was catering to her. Third, be very clear about your mission and your value proposition and don’t waiver from that.
What would you like the plus-size women of the world to take away from the story of ELOQUII?
I hope that plus-size women will be inspired by the passion it took to re-launch this brand for THEM and to finally give them the fashion choices they deserve. Everyone on the team passed up other lucrative job offers and took a risk to do what we really believed in.
So many companies make significant missteps with regard to their online/social media presence. How did ELOQUII successfully negotiate those waters?
We try to be as human as possible and do everything we can to ensure our customers are taken care of. They are our #1 priority. We also stay really nimble – as little pre-scheduled content as possible so that we’re able to react to current events, or even priority changes on site. If she follows us on social, she knows what is happening on the site at all times, and even a few exclusive deals she can’t find anywhere else. Thanks to our in-house social media expert, Sarah Conley, we are able to interact with and react to our fans at all times!
What advice do you have for businesses or brands looking to harness their fan base like ELOQUII did?
If you genuinely care about what your fans have to say, let them know! We do our best to respond to every question and comment, most of the time in under an hour. We’re not going to be able to make everyone happy, but we want her to know that her feedback has been heard and we’re trying to accommodate all of our customers in the best way that we can. If they want personal shopping advice, we’re happy to help guide them in the right direction. If they want us to offer a certain style in another color, we’re going to give it serious consideration. It’s that level of attention to detail that will bring her back to us time and time again.
“Perseverance and gumption are even more important than talent in this business.”
It seems that much of this success is about knowing your audience and offering something that they can’t find elsewhere. Would you agree? If so, could you talk a little bit about how you originally developed this brand?
The brand was originally launched by The Limited Stores in reaction to many requests that they received from their lapsed customers who had outgrown the Limited’s current sizing. Being that we were a part of The Limited, we followed their merchandising and product stories. As we understood the customer a little better, we came to see that she wanted more fashion and often the most fashion-forward pieces sold out first. When The Limited shuttered the brand in May of 2013 to focus on their core business, the team had no doubt as to what the white space was and what the winning formula could be.
Everybody loves a comeback story. Tell me a little about the process and progress you’ve made to get to where you are now as a company?
Right around the time that ELOQUII was shuttered, I was contacted by someone on LinkedIN who had an interest in starting a new plus-size business. As fate would have it, I told him about the ELOQUII closure and introduced him to the amazing partners that I had on the ELOQUII team (there were five of us). After a few months of really intense discussions around who the customer is, what will we do differently, what exactly is our business model, we decided to move forward and raise the initial funding. We began our design process in July 2013 and we launched in February 2014 with an assortment of styles ranging from dresses and tops to skirts and pants.
What skill or technique have you, yourself, used to get ahead or get a job?
I would have to say perseverance and gumption (if those are skills)! For me, these two things are even more important than talent in this business. So much about design and being creative is subjective so you can’t take rejection or criticism personally. You have to believe that you have a point of view to share and be willing to roll with the punches and bumps in the road. It’s extremely hard to create and not take opinions to heart. I love the craft of making clothing so really understanding the way a garment is made and how it should fit and ultimately be produced was a skill I always wanted to master. I think it is the basis for being a good designer.
Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?
It’s important to make a name for yourself and truly be knowledgeable about all facets of your business. With a landscape as competitive as is currently is, you want to be known as the “go-to” or the “source” in your field. Your experience will translate through your product and services and you will gain the respect of your coworkers, competitors and customers alike.
What’s an example of a creative way you have attracted attention for ELOQUII?
A consistent bit of customer feedback we received was surrounding the desire to see real people wearing ELOQUII items on the website. Many fashion brands only showcase models in the collection and our customer was looking for something more. As a team, we put our heads together with the goal of creating a balance between featuring models and real women. That initial conversation naturally led us to social media, and how we could incorporate various platforms. We decided to create a hashtag to be used when sharing photos on Instagram – if a customer tags #XOQ, their image will populate on the ELOQUII website and the response thus far has been amazing! It’s moments like this that we love – listening and giving our customers what they want is why we come to work every day.
” Opportunities come along that are better than you can imagine — even when things seem tragic in the moment.”
What’s an example of a time you failed and what did you learn from it?
Well, I guess I’m not supposed to call this a failure but I closed my own clothing line in 2011, after 12 years in business. The biggest lesson I learned? Opportunities come along that are better than you can ever imagine — even when things seem tragic at the moment. Three years ago, I would have never said I would be designing contemporary, plus-size clothing, and I have never been more fulfilled with what I am doing. I can firmly say that closing my business was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
What is the guiding principle or mission for your business or how you engage in the workplace?
Talent aside, I am a proponent of passion and willingness to learn. This is a crazy business (as any manufacturing business is) with problems to navigate daily. The ability to solve problems and withstand the pressure is what I would look for in those working on my team. There are constant deadlines and twists and turns so you have to be flexible and open to whatever comes your way – no two days are ever the same!