July 24, 2020

One Size Does Not Fit All – Meet JoAnna Hartzmark, Founder of Revelle

By Emily Merrell 

What does a stint in China, an author, a job in financial services, and business school have in common? JoAnna Hartzmark! JoAnna is one of the most multi-passionate women I’ve ever met. All of her passions have led her to fix a major problem in the fashion industry – finding the right clothing fit for your body type. This year she’s launched a solution called Revelle. While it primarily focuses on jeans at the moment, the goal is to find and master the fit of clothing across all brands with her platform. Learn more how JoAnna found her entrepreneurial spirit and launched her game-changing platform. 

Founder of Revelle, JoAnna Hartzmark. Courtesy of JoAnna Hartzmark.

SDS: Tell us about how you started your career and the more “conventional” path you were originally on. What worked, what didn’t work and how did this pave the way for your eventual foray into entrepreneurship?

JOANNA HARTZMARK: It took me years, and many career shifts, to realize how much I was allowing the perception of other people to impact my professional path. My first job out of college was in financial services, not because I had any particular interest in the finance world, but because I understood that taking a position like that would be viewed as “successful” by those around me. I ended up loving that position more than I ever expected, because a job is so much more than just the type of product or service your company provides — it’s the people you surround yourself with and the opportunities you’re given to learn and grow. Even as I realized the value in all of this, I knew deep down that I wasn’t destined for a career in the finance world.

My next step was to attend business school, again because that was what was expected from someone on my trajectory. From my first day on campus, I was told that there were certain predetermined positions and industries that I was expected to consider, especially as a woman coming from the finance world. But I had come to business school to explore different areas that I may never have considered before. I hadn’t come to be told there was only one direction I could go in. This was the first time I was really able to take a step back and reflect on my past career choices and to observe how much they had been influenced by my desire to be viewed a certain way by others.

The need to be perceived as a success — as a high achiever, as someone who would go far — had been subconsciously impacting my every career move. Parsing out exactly what that meant took time and even more career shifts. At the end of the day, my career path has been anything but linear. Since my start in financial services, I’ve done stints in luxury retail, technology, and now entrepreneurship — a field I stated unequivocally for years I would never venture into.

It would have been impossible for me to end up where I am now — launching my own company, in the middle of a pandemic, no less — if I hadn’t been able to separate out my desire to meet external expectations from my own desire to succeed as an individual. I still want to be viewed as successful (don’t we all?), but what determines that success is defined by me, not anyone else.

Internalizing this distinction is what ultimately enabled me to take the plunge and start Revelle. I truly had never wanted to be an entrepreneur. In fact, when people would ask me if I had ever considered starting a business, I easily answered that I would NEVER do that. I had a few well-reasoned responses at the ready, because this topic seemed to come up quite often for some reason. I felt quite secure in my belief that starting something from scratch simply wasn’t meant for me. Looking back on the elements of each of my past jobs that fueled me with the greatest sense of purpose, it shouldn’t surprise me that I am now eating my own words. But if I hadn’t been able to fundamentally alter my perspective on how I viewed myself and my achievements, I never would have been able to recognize that I had in fact been wrong all along.

SDS: During your time at Gwynnie Bee, what did you find was lacking in the fashion world? 

JH: When I first started work at Gwynnie Bee, which was my last job before starting Revelle, I truly felt that I had finally found the sweet spot for my career. The e-commerce company sat right at the intersection of fashion and technology, two fields that I was both personally passionate about – allowing me to leverage the different parts of my skill set that I was most interested in developing. While I was certainly able to hone those skills, and I finally found a niche I loved in e-commerce, I began to feel a nagging suspicion that there might be a different way for me to add value to women’s lives in the world of retail.

Technology-based companies often find it difficult to straddle the line between being data centric and user centric. Truth be told, these terms are frequently used interchangeably at tech companies, and it took me a long time to fully understand the impact of a company making (or not making) that distinction. As with most things in life, I personally feel that finding a balance between the two worlds to be the best approach. Unfortunately, that approach is also probably the messiest. Focusing on data first enables a company to create concrete solutions and seemingly “solve” problems in a straightforward manner. Prioritizing customers first elicits loyalty and a positive user experience. But, it’s oftentimes difficult to properly evaluate, as human needs are rarely as cut and dried as databases.

I found that in the world of e-commerce — and specifically when thinking about how women shop — it was impossible to disentangle the two. How women choose to get dressed every day will never be a purely technical endeavor. There will always be underlying emotions fueling the experience, whether it be style, fit preference, societal pressure, or any other of a myriad of factors. I started to wonder how I might be able to use data and technology to improve women’s shopping experiences, while still honoring the human elements of what it means to be a woman trying to find clothes that actually fit. Although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, Revelle was born out of this moment of curiosity.  

SDS: Let’s talk about the difference between passion and life mission? You’re a very multi-passionate person. You’ve learned Mandarin, lived in China, sang opera, played piano, wrote a book – but what is your mission? 

JH: My parents used to tell me when I was younger that I could be anything that I wanted, but I couldn’t be boring. I think this sentiment is reflected in my seemingly random assortment of hobbies (glassblowing being my personal favorite) as well as my non-linear career path.

My parents instilled in me a certain level of compassion for my own failures, because in their minds there was no failing in trying something new, as long as I was still willing to try one more thing. This has led me to embrace every “failure” or “mistake” in a completely different light, instead choosing to view them as critical stepping stones to figuring out what I was really meant to focus on.

This is perhaps where it became important to distinguish between the concept of one’s passion vs what I call one’s mission in life. By virtue of my parents’ encouragement, I have developed many passions — some fleeting, some I feel confident will persist forever. But my mission is what I am truly meant to invest myself into the world at any given time.

Today, my mission is to help women take control of the narratives of their lives. While this mission may appear broad (because it is), it has been a recurring theme throughout the entirety of my career in some form or another. Right now, this mission serves as the underlying foundation upon which I’m building Revelle, a company I started in order to give women more control when navigating the world of online shopping. There is no reason for women to suffer the constant frustration of inconsistent clothing sizing when trying to feel beautiful in their bodies every day. I want to end that with Revelle.

JoAnna Hartzmark, founder of Revelle. Courtesy of JoAnna Hartzmark.

SDS: Tell us about Revelle and why is it going to change our lives?

JH: Revelle is about making sure women feel beautiful in their bodies every day. The experience of online shopping is riddled with uncertainties and frustrations — is this the right size? Will it be comfortable? Will I even like it? There’s no reason for the burden of answering these questions to fall completely on women.

While brands may understand that there are inconsistencies in clothing sizing, they are not doing enough to help women find clothes that actually fit in a way that makes them feel beautiful. This is because shopping for clothing is about so much more than just size. It’s about how a garment falls on your unique body shape, your own personal style, and most importantly how you feel when you put on a particular item of clothing. The concept of “fit” is incredibly complex – one that most brands would rather not have to directly address.

At Revelle, we don’t think that this is fair. Every woman has ordered multiple sizes of the same garment, knowing they’ll end up returning most (if not all) of them. Every woman has had to grapple with wanting to buy something from an unknown brand, but not being sure whether that brand is cut in a way that will “flatter” her unique body shape, or if they even carry her size. There is no reason that every woman should have to figure out how to solve all of these problems for herself. This is why I built Revelle.

Revelle is a platform that will help women navigate the thousands of brands in the world to find the ones that will make them feel beautiful everyday — starting with jeans (we all hate shopping for jeans, right?) Our goal is to build a new shopping experience that has YOU at its center. While we leverage technology as our foundation to find the brands that are best suited to your unique body shape, we want to give you greater control over your own shopping experience.

After creating an account with Revelle, you are immediately in the driver’s seat of the platform. By telling us more about your style, fit preferences, and what you like (as well as hate), we’re able to tailor the site specifically to you and create a completely personalized online shopping experience.

But this is just the beginning. As more women join the platform, we gain more knowledge about what YOU feel is missing in the world of online shopping. We want you to feel beautiful every single day, so tell us what you need. 

SDS: Let’s talk about launching a brand during a pandemic. What has it been like building and growing a brand while also navigating all these obstacles? 

JH: It goes without saying, but this is certainly not the way I envisioned launching my company. In fact, the very early stages of building a company can be so isolating at times, that I was looking forward to feeling more connected to the world once the company was finally something tangible that people could see in real life. Instead, with just a few more months left before my planned launch date, the world turned upside down (Hamilton reference intended) and I was greeted with more isolation.

It was heartbreaking to cancel photoshoots and events that I’d been planning for months. It became clear very quickly that I would have to pivot my vision for what my company would look like, at least in the near term. Those first few weeks were painful as I reassessed what was possible, and more importantly what was appropriate and respectful given the fact that the entire world had just had the rug pulled out from under them.

I settled on launching a little later, giving myself time to make a few necessary shifts, and with less fanfare. That extra time was critical to give me the ability to take a step back and really assess what it was I had been trying to accomplish with a big splashy launch. The pandemic forced me to pause and gain some much needed perspective on my own values as an entrepreneur and how I want those values to translate into my company.

So instead of an exciting launch celebration, I completely turned the tables and focused on slow, organic growth, and really reaching new customers in a way that makes them feel heard and understood. The interruption — and isolation — of quarantine helped me understand how much more valuable Revelle can be if I build it with my customers, really listening to their needs and developing the solutions that will help them every day. And this is why we need you. Please join us as we reshape the future of online shopping. Together.

SDS: How can we find out more about Revelle and help spread awareness for the site?

JH: Please sign up at https://revellenation.com/ — the more women who join, the better the experience we can build! Additionally, I would be so grateful for you to pass along the site to as many incredible women as possible. Follow us on Instagram for regular updates on our amazing community of women. We would love for you all to be a part of it.

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