Table of Contents
- Ryen Anderson, 41, is the chief color expert and director of men’s apparel design at Stitch Fix.
- Anderson and his team predict when a color will reach its peak popularity using algorithms and data.
- Here’s his story and what his job is like, as told to freelancer Perri Ormont Blumberg.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Ryen Anderson, the 41-year-old chief color expert at Stitch Fix based in Oakland, California, about his career. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve worked as a senior graphic designer for girls clothing at Abercrombie & Fitch, an associate art director for women’s apparel design at Old Navy, and a director and design lead for global men’s apparel at Gap before landing my job at Stitch Fix in October 2017.
I was an artsy kid, and the trends I followed were based on what I saw living in Brooklyn. I joined Stitch Fix and quickly realized how massive the opportunity was for us to leverage data in the design process.
I went back to school part time taking night classes at the University of California at Berkeley in 2019 while I was at Stitch Fix to enhance my understanding of data science, which allowed me to work hand-in-hand with data scientists and engineers to explore hybrid, machine-learned, and AI clothing design. The certificate program was titled “Data Science: Bridging Principles and Practice.” Learning data science helped me to more effectively collaborate with our data scientists and engineers.
This is still a very new field — and while not many of us are working in this space, there are lots of opportunities to learn. I recently created content for The Digital Fashion Group in Europe, which is focused on teaching a new generation of designers to use all the digital tools that are starting to emerge in the industry. Designers who can toggle into data science will be very valuable in the industry in the coming years.
Color is what draws us to something, and people’s taste in color changes significantly over time
Right now, we’re in a decisive “neutral first” phase, and brown is slowly starting to trend again and look contemporary. Five years ago, if you wore chocolate brown pants, people would think you stepped out of the ’70’s or ’90s.
A lot of science goes into determining the colors of the clothes we send our customers on Stitch Fix. Color is a critical component of fashion that runs across our business, from sourcing colors and fabrics and buying into trends to updating our stylists on emerging trends and ultimately sending our clients designs in colors they will love.
Our customers share incredibly rich data, from making requests to our team of stylists and providing feedback on the items we send them to completing their style profiles and rating items and outfits on Style Shuffle, a quick and easy way for clients to share feedback on items to make our recommendations even better. People log on daily to give a thumbs up or thumbs down, and we have more than 7 billion ratings to date.
With these millions of pieces of data across our ecosystem, I think of my role as chief color expert as a translator
One of the ways my team and I understand color is through a deep partnership with our data-science teams and leveraging computer vision.
I’ve built a dashboard where I can look at specific colors, their value, if they’re neutral (black, white, brown, gray) or color, and how color families relate to any item category and age group.
This is an entirely different approach to the traditional ways of spotting trends in retail. Before working at Stitch Fix, I’d rely on trend services telling me that “This shade of blue will be cool” for the season. At Stitch Fix, we can say with great accuracy, “Our clients are really loving these specific colors, so let’s make sure we buy more of them.”
It was exciting to see green pop to the top color family recently. It’s a lot of olive and sage, which I predicted would be important last year. Another prediction looking ahead: I think people will drop minimal neutrals post-COVID-19 and go crazy with color.
One of the biggest challenges is adapting and foreseeing constantly shifting and evolving preferences and the ongoing fluctuation across the fashion industry. To mitigate this, we rely heavily on our tools to extract the data needed to fully understand the present in order to better predict the future.
What I’m working on changes depending on what part of the season that we’re in, but I keep a daily pulse on two things:
- What the client sees in the world. I want to be “in their head” as much as I can — seeing what they’re seeing and being inspired by what they are. I do this through social-media and trend forecasting.
- What the client is telling us. I do this by looking at what they’re requesting our stylists send in their Fixes and the feedback they share. I also keep a close eye on what colors our clients are buying more or less of and importantly, which colors they’re telling us they like most in Style Shuffle.
I love getting to use the creative and analytical sides of my brain in equal parts. I gather inspiration from street style, traveling, and what our clients see on social media from influencers, global cities, and runways.
At the same time, I also pore through data about what people search for on Google and fabrics our vendors introduce. Bringing them together is where the real magic happens.