Jenny Houser believes that the best way to make ethical fashion accessible to everyone is to talk about it.
Jenny is the operations manager at Bryr Studio, a San Francisco-based made-to-order clog business, founded in 2012—a time when apparel companies who leaned into sustainable practices were still trying to figure out how to reach and resonate with a broad audience. Today, Bryr has 96K followers on Instagram with a quickly-growing online and offline community.
With Bryr, Jenny thinks that despite fast-fashion dominating mass markets and prices dropping globally, there’s plenty of room for companies like theirs. “People are getting back to basics.”
It’s been intentional how Bryr’s founder, Isobel Schofield, positioned the company with a community-first, conversational approach. The company’s success has allowed them to build a closer relationship with customers than other brands.
Jenny spoke with Shippo about what she thinks about “slow-fashion”— kitschy and over-used as it is—and the benefits of running a business in San Francisco. Answers have been slightly edited for clarity and length.
How did you get started with Bryr?
I joined Bryr because it really combined my love for working with small teams and that day-to-day hustle. I joined the company when it was four years old and really experiencing significant growth. We had a lot of data to work with and I could jump in and make some really good data-driven decisions while working with a small, scrappy team who was making an exceptional product.
Tell me more about the expertise that you’ve developed at Bryr since you’ve joined?
The space is changing. There’s so much new, exciting technology. The best thing is just to keep working hard, learning, and optimizing. One thing that I’m really passionate about in my role is continuing to build community and connection with our customers. I’m learning about merging those two worlds: traditional operations as well as a focus on providing excellent customer service and making sure you’re honest and authentic.
What are people talking about in your industry right now?
We have an online presence and we also have a physical space. It’s a really interesting business model that is gaining a lot of traction. There are some really cool brands that are working in a similar fashion to us, and they are made-to-order. They are using, high-quality materials and employing small-medium teams to make these products that have international audiences. They are doing the same thing that we are: focusing on brand identity, doing away with wholesale, having better customer service, a really exceptional product, and building community.
People always say growth is always positive. That’s what’s expected of you. But it comes with so many challenges. With the landscape changing, prices are dropping; clothes, shoes, and mass-produced goods are so much less expensive now. But with that, I do think that a lot of people are getting back to basics.
Are there any managerial lessons that you’ve learned over the past years that you’d want to share?
With our community growth, we’ve also worked to grow our team. Something that I have loved digging into with Isobel, our founder, is our culture and how we manage our cultural standards, and how we run through everything from our job posts, to our interviews, to hiring, supervision. We have a pretty specific way of hiring and interviewing. Our first touches are learning about these wonderful folks who are excited about our company and see if they fit into those cultural standards. Then we base everything off of that.
What is a common customer question you get?
We get people who see us online and they happen to be in San Francisco, they come by the studio and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, you make them here?” It’s delightful and it’s really fun to explain. People will come into the shop and our retail staff will be rapping with them about different leathers and wood and manufacturing processes. I love that. I really love when people ask questions about our business, our materials, and our process.
What does 2019 hold for your community?
We’re focusing on creating an exceptional experience for our customers, from design iterations to new colors and styles, to the service they receive in our store, online, and through our customer service team.
Anything going on in your industry that really inspires those long conversations amongst you and your colleagues?
I love the conversations our team has throughout the day, most especially at lunch. There is so much happening in this industry – so many companies redefining retail, manufacturing, made-to-order and direct to consumer models. Bryr, like so many others, is more than our product. I have learned an incredible amount from our community and we talk a lot about how we can build a culture that’s inclusive, supportive, and representative of what we see in the world. We’re excited to do more of that in 2019!