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Kate Bould
Communications Manager @ Yotpo
December 23rd, 2019

Amazing Women in eCommerce: Q&A With Annie Chen

Kate, Yotpo’s Communications Manager, sat down with Annie Chen, VP of Merchandising at Italic and one of our 2020 Amazing Women in eCommerce nominees, to talk about preparing Italic for the holidays, her love of TheRealReal, and who she’s excited to nominate as another Amazing Woman in the industry.

Annie Chen is the VP of Merchandising at Italic, a brandless luxury eCommerce startup, dedicated to giving consumers well-designed quality products without the brand markup. At Italic, Annie oversees sourcing, design, merchandising, and buying across a variety of categories including apparel, accessories, home, and travel. Prior to Italic, Annie was a Divisional at Barneys New York, responsible for over 100 Women’s RTW brands and the Barneys New York private label collection, and worked at Coach, where she helped create the brand’s growth strategy in Asia and Europe. After a decade in New York, Annie returned to Los Angeles this year, where she currently resides with her husband.

Q: How has your experience been impacted going from fashion to lifestyle? And what does that path look like in the future?

A: My focus from a product and customer standpoint has shifted dramatically. In my previous roles it was all about what’s new, trendy, and hot this season for the woman who is in-the-know and is not hindered by budget. Now, my goal at Italic is to offer our customers beautiful product at amazing prices that they can feel good investing in and keeping in their closet for many seasons — a more deliberate and thoughtful approach to fashion. eCommerce is all about choice, and I’m excited about the unique and compelling alternatives we are offering our customers — luxury without labels, investment pieces that aren’t boring, and high quality without the crazy markup.

Q: Italic has garnered a lot of interest for its unbranded approach to products — what interests and excites you personally about the company?

A: It’s really exciting to think about demystifying luxury and giving more people access to premium products from the same factories that manufacture for some of the top brands in the world. The more I learn about the manufacturing process, the more I realize how outsized the margins are for brands and retailers — to the detriment of consumers.

What’s also really exciting about Italic is that we can offer these products to our customers in all aspects of their lives — whether it’s sheets from the same factory that makes for Frette or bags from the same factory that makes for Prada and Celine. Italic isn’t one category or one product, it’s a business model that can disrupt any category with traditionally high margins and brand markups.

Q: You’ve had a front row seat to some of the more significant disruptions in retail. How has that impacted your career path, and what was a key learning?

A: My career is unique because I started on the brand side for a huge global business at Coach, to luxury specialty retail at Barneys New York, and now I’m on the ground floor of a brandless luxury eCommerce startup. I’ve been involved with almost every aspect of the retail industry — from product development and design, to curating an assortment, to figuring out how to create a non-brand brand in a competitive digital space.

Being a part of the fashion world while at Barneys was so fun and I learned a lot about what constitutes luxury and great design, but at the same time it made me see firsthand how truly challenging retail, wholesale, and fashion can be. Margins are razor thin for traditional retailers, and the fashion cycle, with its constant churn and promotional cadence, in a lot of ways is broken. It’s been a very eye-opening experience that has shown me that every company, whether it’s a brand or a retailer, needs to constantly innovate or die. My goal is to bring beauty, design, and quality to a direct-to-consumer market with a lot of sameness.

Q: Which brand is doing great things in eCommerce & how?

A: I think TheRealReal is pretty amazing. Consignment has never been easier, and their constant influx of new inventory keeps the site and their stores interesting. I love that it gives products a second or third life, which is one of many approaches to sustainability. I live by the beach and I just found a vintage Chanel surf-themed scarf from their 2002 collection which I framed and put up in our house. Where else could I find something like that?!

Q: How are you preparing for EOY holidays at Italic?

A: We’ve curated fantastic gift shops with items for everyone on your list, and at prices that will surprise and delight. It’s always hilarious to me when a site will have a gift guide where the least expensive bucket is $200 or less — that’s still a lot for most consumers! Personally I’ll be loading up on Italic cashmere sweaters, leather goods, bedding, and towels for gifts — these are truly everyday luxuries that I want to share with my nearest and dearest.

Q: Who is an Amazing Woman in eCommerce you’d like to nominate and why?

A: Veronica Collins Roberts, CRO at Havenly. We met while getting our MBAs at Wharton, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. She’s incredibly talented and has held roles everywhere from Bain & Company to Shopbop and Sarah Flint to her current role. She is always a great sounding board when it comes to day-to-day challenges on the job.

 

Know any Amazing Women in eCommerce? Nominate them here!

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Amazing Women in eCommerce is a community dedicated to honoring the women who are shaping our industry, while raising money for Girls Inc. to help build up the next generation of women business leaders. Yotpo initially launched the program in 2018, seeking nominations to recognize visionary women in the eCommerce space. The incredible response from the industry inspired us to expand our efforts, creating a variety of opportunities for the community to share experiences and build a formidable network of Amazing Women.

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