Ambika Singh CEO of Armoire Shares Lessons Learned from Running Her Business
July 7, 2023
Ambika Singh is the founder and CEO of Armoire, a clothing rental membership for ambitious women. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School, she held roles at Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group, and startups TravelPost and Rover before embarking on entrepreneurship.

What propelled you into this category with Armoire? Many would have thought the market was already owned, but you have carved a growing niche.

I founded Armoire to help women reclaim time. There are so many demands on the time and attention of women in modern society, and there are outsized expectations for women to show up strong in all of their daily roles–whether that’s in their career, family, or community. The process of shopping and showing up stylishly is an additional tax on the finite hours in the day. Armoire stands in opposition to the traditional “eternal scroll” ecommerce experience, and helps women look and feel great–without requiring them to forfeit valuable time on building a wardrobe.

Very few categories are owned by only one or two key players. If we think about the apparel industry more holistically, there are over 150,000 clothing boutiques in the US and over 20,000 fashion designers building brands. These numbers demonstrate the appetite that the market has for clothing, and the breadth of preferences that need to be served. There are absolutely a few big players in the clothing rental category today, but they’re largely serving a 20-30 something trend chaser renting for events.

Armoire has a vision for more ubiquitous clothing rental to serve professional women every day, regardless of what’s on her calendar. Our members make clothing rental a habit to feel confident about their style without the downstream financial or sustainability implications of owning more clothing.

How did you navigate the pandemic and come out ahead? What did you learn that can be applied to your future business growth?

Armoire members vote on the inventory that we buy, so as you can imagine, there was a pretty significant shift that started in March 2020. All of a sudden, our members had fewer in-person meetings, speaking engagements, or social events. While the “Zoom top” was a persistent request, we suddenly had to realize this new demand for athleisure. Come summer, we had requests to rent shorts. That might sound normal, but up until that point, we didn’t think about shorts as something that would generate rental excitement!

This inventory shift toward everyday outfitting–while the product of a very fraught time–helped us solidify a vision for clothing rental as a true lifestyle, instead of a transactional service for one-off events. Because for the most part, our members stuck with us through the pandemic. They continued to rent clothes and experiment with style and find joy in getting dressed for “micro events,” whether a socially-distanced happy hour drink in a backyard, a virtual conference presentation, or even a weekly FaceTime with the family. Dressing members for everything on their calendar has persisted in our merchandise and product experience to this day.

What have you learned most on your journey that you think would help other women considering careers in entrepreneurship?

When I founded Armoire, I was really focused on the potential outcome of the business. Startup narratives in the media often paint success stories in well-defined containers: huge fundraising rounds and high valuations as stepping stones for an impressive IPO or major acquisition. They don’t often focus on the years of thinking and decision making and mistakes that it takes to get there.

I would encourage women considering entrepreneurship to fall in love with the day-to-day work, instead of focusing so exclusively on desired outcomes. Building something thoughtfully takes time, and the day-to-day work needs to fuel you.

Have you learned any particularly surprising growth hacking skills that you’d be able to pass on?

One of our strongest growth drivers continues to be member referral. Clothing rental is a paradigm shift–it challenges the concept of ownership as the end goal, and requires people to rethink their relationship to clothing. As a result, people often have a lot of questions and concerns about getting onboard–how does it work? Will I like the clothes? Does this make sense for my life? Of course, we have a lot of FAQ content on our website, but members who refer their friends and family already have established trust and can personalize their pitch. Our members are stellar evangelists!

Have you had successful mentorship relationships in the past? What about them was particularly effective?

Creating accountability systems in my mentorship relationships has made them feel more effective. A quarterly mentorship check-in–or whatever the cadence–can sometimes feel arbitrary or transactional. To be more respectful of my mentors’ time, I’ve started taking more notes in our meetings and writing action items. What’s more, I start each session with a status update “based on what we talked about last time, I pursued A, B, and C things. Here’s what happened.”

I want my mentors to know that I respect their time. This rigor and meeting structure aims to put their insights into action.

Do you have advice for women who are seeking out female mentors?

Don’t just look up! Traditionally, mentorship has flowed from more tenured individuals to those with less experience (read: older → younger). But generationally, values are shifting dramatically–the things that were important to our parents are not necessarily relevant to us today. Instead, I’d recommend cultivating mentoring relationships along more dynamic parameters, and not just with those who have more life experience. Peer mentors have been hugely beneficial in my personal and professional development, and our Gen Z employees have provided excellent coaching on the criticality of sustainability in the future of our company.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle for females looking to enter the C-Suite in 2023 and beyond?

One of the biggest hurdles for women with C-suite ambitions is that even as their earnings have grown, they're still doing more household and caregiving labor than men in their marriages. There are a finite number of hours in the day, and we need to figure out how to better serve working women in navigating their ever-expanding scope of responsibilities.

What is one opportunity that female leaders can take in 2023 to continue to grow the number of women in the C-Suite?

I block a few hours every month to connect with or contribute to the female founder ecosystem. Being a C-suite leader can be overwhelming, but having a candid chat with a fellow executive can offer the affirmation and sounding board you need to stay motivated. I also try to speak publicly about my experience as a founder on a regular basis--you never know who might be in the audience, and get inspired to chase a leadership position themselves!

What one thing helped you the most as you stepped up and into the C-Suite?

My personal "board of directors" helped me most as I stepped into my role as a CEO. There will always be problems that I have to solve without much expertise. I spend time cultivating my network of just-in-time mentors to supplement my critical thinking abilities with direct experience.

Why do you think now is a good time for females to step into leadership?

The work environment is in an incredible state of transition right now. As the pandemic's impact lessens, leadership teams are making major decisions about how and where we work. Current economic pressures are shaping human resource strategies and team compositions. We're at an inflection point in the "future of work" trajectory, and women need to be a part of that conversation.

Who are a few women you admire?

  • Hitha Palepu - Hitha is a great supporter of Armoire and a personal mentor of mine. I love that she, as a Southeast Asian woman, used her platform to celebrate and elevate another incredible Southeast Asian woman with her book, We’re Speaking: The Life Lessons of Kamala Harris.
  • Ruchika Tulshyan - Ruchika is a member of and an investor in Armoire. She’s the author of the book Inclusion on Purpose, which has served me in becoming a more inclusive company leader.
  • Sheena Iyengar - Sheena is a psychologist and the author of The Art of Choosing who conducted the famous jam experiment about choosing (fewer options = more likely to act!). I am captivated by Sheena’s work, and love talking about it whether in a work meeting or over a glass of wine.

What’s one product you can’t live without?

Pepper bras! I love everything about this brand and their products. They offer such a great base layer for all of my style experimentation with Armoire.

Find out more about Ambika here

Ambika serves on the board of United Way King County, and has volunteered as Seattle Chapter Leader for Pratham USA, the largest NGO working to eradicate illiteracy in India. She has been featured on the Puget Sound Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list, and was a finalist for GeekWire's Startup CEO of the Year. Ambika is a sought-after speaker, and has been invited to share her story at Amazon, Microsoft, American Express, Harvard Business School, MIT, and the UW Foster School of Business.



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