Stitch Fix is the future of humanity

An Extremely Cynical analysis of Stitch Fix’s upcoming IPO

Fashion e-commerce startup Stitch Fix recently announced their intention to go public, and I would like to explain to anyone who cares why they’re an excellent symbol for the future of humanity.

You can think of Stitch Fix as an algorithmic approach to personal styling, which then eradicates the need for a human personal stylist. Thus Stitch Fix joins the roster of startups automating away jobs that traditionally catered only to the rich: WealthFront is automating away personal wealth managers; HelloAlfred is automating away housekeepers; Juicero automating away having a personal servant manually squeeze the fruit pulp out of your juice pack.

It’s an impressively audacious aim of using technology to extend a ridiculously indulgent service — formerly available only to the top 1% — to the top 10%.

On an individual level, though, Stitch Fix falls into a different category of startup: the sort that aims to automate away inconvenience altogether, in exchange for a small fee. Pay Uber or Lyft and suddenly you are whisked away to your intended destination. Pay Seamless or Deliveroo and suddenly there is a delicious meal in front of you. Pay Cleanly or Rinse and suddenly your dirty laundry has been magically cleaned. Pay Stitch Fix and suddenly you are decked out in a trendy but timeless getup that helps you achieve everyday confidence and is not merely curated — it’s truly personalized to you.

For all the talk of novelty that usually surrounds these startups, when you take a historical perspective, they appear less like unprecedented innovations and more like the logical culmination of space–time compression under capitalism. Whatever the intentions of the individual entrepreneurs, they are functionally little more than the agents of capital’s need to reduce turnover time. The real innovation with Stitch Fix is not in the technology, but in the way that it sells more than just a commodity; it’s selling a lifestyle, an image, an ideal. It’s the purveyor of an almost divine conversion of your monthly fee into a better-dressed corporeal self.

What Stitch Fix promises, then, is transubstantiation. That’s the dream for these consumer-facing startups: to facilitate the glorious transformation of our money into a frictionless experience, allowing us to automate away the disorder of the Real. The startup then becomes almost like a vanishing mediator through which we can transcend our material selves. Abstracting away anything inconvenient and messy and well, human, about life, we become much more efficient. When all the complicated decisions are made for us and everything we need is delivered straight to our door, we have so much time and energy to put into the rest of our lives, which is to say: work. We become liminal, blurring the distinction between machine and human, capital and labour; we become ever more willing slaves of capital, better at hitting our OKRs and maximising value for our employers.

And so we gratefully seize onto the convenience provided by these startups because what else, in our empty little lives, can we turn to? What is there besides paying a service to mail us hand-picked garments in order to look slightly more presentable to people we don’t really like? How else can we address our lonely desire for deeper meaning in this fleeting existence without sublimating it into membership with a subscription-based startup?

Last year, Stitch Fix made almost a billion dollars in revenue, and had over 2 million active customers who filled the void by covering their decaying flesh with 100% grade-A Mongolian cashmere. If the ideology of late capitalism continues its insidious hold over our minds, those numbers will only go up.

Maybe if we were living in a different world — one that wasn’t characterised by bland mass consumption driven by the search of ever-higher profits — then something like Stitch Fix wouldn’t need to exist. Maybe then, resources would be allocated based on collective needs rather than on what venture capitalists think their friends are likely to invest in. Maybe then, eager technology entrepreneurs would put their efforts into solving problems that actually cause suffering in the larger world.

Alas, we are living in an neoliberal hellscape that promises nothing except more of the same commodification. And in this landscape, Stitch Fix is the perfect symbol of what humanity is becoming.

There is one market segment that Stitch Fix has hitherto neglected, which I hope they will address after they go public. For despite all the promises of transcendence, the truth is that we can never truly transcend our earthly bodies — in the end, the all-encompassing darkness of death comes for us all. And so Stitch Fix is faced with an upper limit on a customer’s lifetime value (it is lifetime value, after all). To break through this barrier, they’d have to find a way to create a new market for human taxidermy, which would allow them to continue to dress us long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil. If they succeed, their market penetration will know no bounds, and Stitch Fix will truly be the future of humanity.

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