Womxn’s Empowerment Comes to the Dressing Room with Joanna Hartzmark

I get it. Shopping during a pandemic in and of itself has been a challenge. I’ve been getting by largely with sweats over here, and shopping feels quite frankly daunting.

But then I think back to shopping pre-pandemic. And in all honesty, it didn’t always feel like an incredibly empowering experience either. 

Shopping, especially as womxn, brings about an interesting confluence of commerce, capitalism, marketing, and branding that shapes our perceived standards of beauty in such an influential way. And when that size that we think is our size doesn’t fit in our latest online order, or we have 4 different sizes in our closets from different brands, or we go to order something and have zero clue what size to order… we reflect that back onto ourselves. And it doesn’t feel good. So JoAnna Hartzmark decided to address it.

As the Founder and CEO of Revelle, an e-commerce brand sitting at the cutting edge of fashion and technology, JoAnna set out to champion womxn by serving as a change agent for how they shop. After working in the fashion industry in luxury retail, she had the ultimate realization that female-focused brands were not doing their part to solve female-focused problems.

We’re delving into all of the shopping and fashion norms that she is working hard to disrupt, how this plays into our feels of worthiness, her abrupt shift into the world or entrepreneurship, and why, as Revelle always says, “Your body is not the problem.”

Your path has taken you from an explosive career in the fashion industry to leaving corporate behind to found your own company, Revelle. Tell me about your entrepreneurial journey and what led you to go out on your own as a founder and CEO. 

I’m going to be totally frank here. As recently as three years ago, I would have told you that there was zero chance that I would ever start my own company. Thinking about starting a company was like contemplating conquering Everest. Sure, people do it, but they train for it for their entire lives, have always known that they were the type to strive for the (literal) top, and have just enough crazy in them to be certain they’re going to succeed. I am none of those things. I had never seriously considered starting a company, so neither my education nor my career were set up to help me get there. And I’m an annoyingly practical person, so it always felt like too high a risk of failure. Because we all know most startups fail. So why try? 

The best way I can think to describe it is that the notion of starting a business was like a little nagging seed in the back of my mind that I wasn’t even aware had been planted. And I didn’t properly acknowledge its existence until an actual bud was peeking out of the soil, way too late to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there. In hindsight, I’d moved through careers in wildly different industries because I wasn’t quite happy with the status quo, masking it as a constant desire for a new and exciting challenge. 

It took quite a bit of soul searching for me to realize that the discontent I was feeling wouldn’t be solved by a promotion, a role in a new department, or even working for a new company entirely. I’d reached a point where it felt like my career was holding me back, not propelling me forward. So I quit. Without really knowing what I was going to do next. Without even being sure exactly what it was that I wanted to do. But I knew that I wasn’t going to find it being stuck as a cog in someone else’s machine. 

From there, the decision to become a founder was an absurdly easy one. It’s as if all I’d had to do was to give myself permission to believe that it was possible, and suddenly all the dominoes began to fall into place. With this shift in mindset, I felt like all of these doors that I never knew existed were suddenly opening up. And I was so excited to see where they lead. Starting with Revelle.  

What in your personal history and experience led you to pursue your mission through Revelle? What did you see (or not see) while working inside the fashion world that led you to say “there’s a major issue here and I’m the woman to address it”?

Not just in fashion but also in tech, I was reminded over and over again that women are expected to carry extra burdens in life, and no one seemed to have any desire to rectify that. I couldn’t get the question out of my mind — what would it be like to work at a company that was dedicated solely to the objective of actually removing one of these burdens, or better yet adding value to women’s lives? 

When I made the decision to start my own company, I made it my mission to find one of these burdens and obliterate it. I took a hard look not just at my own professional background and skill set, but also at my own personal experiences with these burdens that women face every day. 

Finding clothes that fit has always been a unique nightmare for me. While I’m incredibly lucky to live in a body that enables me to purchase clothes from pretty much any brand, my size has always been wildly inconsistent. The first time I ever took a garment to a tailor when I was a teenager, she looked at me like I was her new best friend. At the time I just assumed she thought I was the coolest teenager she’d ever met (pretty sure I had pink hair at the time), but in reality what she saw in me was a lifetime of business. Over the years that I’ve been visiting her — because I still save certain garments for her nimble fingers even now — she explained to me that what made finding clothes that fit so difficult for me had nothing to do with my size, it was my shape that was the issue. Although I could technically walk into any store and find a garment that would ‘fit’ me, it never fell quite right on my figure. There were always little nips and tucks that had to be performed to make the garment feel like it actually fit me. To make me feel like myself when I wore that item of clothing. 

This is the key insight that drove me to start Revelle. Women are supposed to reduce their bodies down into the linear line of the size chart, but women’s bodies don’t, and shouldn’t have to, conform to such restrictions. If I could find a way to help women navigate the world of fashion with the goal of helping them feel beautiful in their own bodies as the number one priority, how valuable could that be? That became the mission of Revelle. 

Talk to me about the issues with the current system that Revelle is striving to alleviate.

I truly believe our adherence to the size chart is the cause of so much of our constant frustrations with finding clothes that fit. Looking back over time, the inception of the size chart was in and of itself problematic (it was originally modeled after the development of military uniforms, which were based on a single measurement of the entire human body and extrapolated from there — read more here if you also think this is completely ridiculous). And the fact that we still allow brands to dictate to us what standards we should be trying to squeeze ourselves into is beyond absurd. 

Every brand has their own definition of what a ‘size 8’ means to them, and we as women are just supposed to accept that we’ll never really know what that means. Beyond that, we’re taught to feel bad about ourselves when that arbitrary label changes from brand to brand, or season to season, or when our bodies change as they naturally do over time. The lack of transparency into how brands decide what qualifies as a particular ‘size’, coupled with the oftentimes nonsensical nature of the size chart itself, makes it impossible for women to understand how to properly navigate the tens of thousands of brands out there. 

At Revelle, our goal is to demystify that experience and help women navigate the overwhelming number of brands out there to find the ones that actually make her feel beautiful. Finding the right ‘size’ to buy is secondary. The goal is to move away from meaningless labels like size and instead prioritize what it means to find clothes that actually fit the way that women want them to, and make them feel at home in their bodies when they get dressed in the morning. 

One of Revelle’s core messages is “Your body is not the problem.” How is Revelle helping to shift some of the deep-seated female history of lack of body confidence, diet culture, and unrealistic standards into body neutrality and positivity? 

Too many companies these days make their profits — and determine their success — by making women feel like they aren’t worthy. At Revelle, we unilaterally reject that way of thinking. Our business model thrives when women feel valued, listened to, and appreciated. Not simply when they shop more. By dismissing the assumption that customers are only valuable if they spend money, Revelle is shifting the paradigm on what it means to be a successful e-commerce brand. We hope you’ll come to our site when you’re ready to shop, but we’re just as excited when you come to our site, visit our Instagram page, or engage with us for any other reason. 

Interacting with Revelle should feel inspiring, so we strive to create and elevate content that furthers our mission of helping women feel beautiful in their bodies every day. This means pulling back the curtain on the hazards of diet culture and talking openly and honestly about how unrealistic standards of beauty have poisoned our society. At Revelle, we know that getting dressed in the morning is about so much more than picking out the right clothes. And we’re not afraid to acknowledge the deep-seated inequities that have led certain women, and certain bodies, to feel left behind by the fashion industry. Revelle is being built by a community of women who want to feel worthy, and we’re here to amplify their voices and make sure that they feel heard every day. 

What’s the ripple effect of women feeling comfortable in their bodies, in their clothes, loving themselves and feeling empowered in their day to day lives?

Women are taking back control of our own narratives. We live in a culture where our bodies are viewed as commodities rather than parts of our humanity. But if we can break free from the societal pressures to look, feel, or dress a certain way, we can deny society’s attempts to shrink us down to only the superficial aspects of our being. If we commit to dressing to feel beautiful in our bodies on our own terms, suddenly we’ve diminished the power of a slick marketing campaign. Because we define what beauty means on our own terms. 

In today’s world, our wallet can be a powerful weapon. And this is why at Revelle, it’s critical for our customers to understand that our goal is not to simply get them to shop more — it’s to help them shop on their own terms, for their own pleasure, and with the only objective to make themselves feel beautiful. Clothes are an important part of how we decide to present ourselves to the world every day. But shopping should be a joyful experience, not a frustrating or shameful one. Revelle is here to help women reclaim that feeling, that they alone can decide what makes them feel beautiful. 

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