Q&A: Eloquii CEO Mariah Chase

Mariah Chase is CEO of ELOQUII, a fast-fashion go-to for trend-savvy women in sizes 14 to 28. Privately held ELOQUII offers everything from dresses, tops and bottoms to outerwear and swimwear, along with accessories and wide-width footwear. In addition to its website, select items can be found at Rent the Runway.

Eloquii was originally launched by The Limited in late 2011 (the name is a mashup of “eloquent” and “soliloquy”) and was shut down in 2013 when the Columbus, Ohio-based retailer returned focus to its core business. The closing created an outcry among Eloquii customers, whose fashion options are often limited. A handful of former Eloquii employees mobilized and months later, Chase was recruited to lead a rebirth; she has spearheaded the brand’s emergence — rebooted as ELOQUII — as a leader in plus sizes.

Strategies include capitalizing on digital and social media to engage with customers, including the #XOQ hashtag, which allows customers to share their Instagram posts with the company and potentially be featured on its website. There, visitors find no trace of body-shaming terms — zero reference to “flattering” garments or items that cover “problem” areas. The only language the site speaks is fashion trends, which is intentional considering the average American woman wears between a size 16 and 18, though the majority of women’s fashion brands nominally serve the growing demographic.

Chase was previously co-founder of Send the Trend, an ecommerce site for fashion accessories and prestige beauty that was acquired by QVC in 2012. Prior to that, she was president of Kara Ross New York, a luxury accessories company, and senior vice president of fashion at Designers Management Agency, where she was responsible for licensing, business development and partnership opportunities for Fortune 1,000 companies.

Tell us about ELOQUII’s beginnings and your involvement in the re-launch.

The decision process to re-launch as ELOQUII was twofold — a few of the original team members were really passionate about the customer and recognized a potentially bigger business opportunity than what The Limited had gone after.

Second, with the announcement of the original [brand]closing, the customer outrage and demand was palpable. She, the customer, rightfully wanted more options and was upset that a brand which she’d supported and given her loyalty had disappointed her. I was recruited — along with a few others — to join the original team members. We all saw the opportunity and wanted to serve this customer in a new way and for the long term.

What describes the core ELOQUII customer?

Our customer is the best! I would dare anyone to find a better group of customers than ours. Given that we are talking to an underserved market, we have a relatively broad group of customer ages, [market concentration], style preferences, interests — it really ranges. She spans multiple demographic segments.

The two common traits we can point to are, first, our customer is a professional. I’ve spoken to hundreds of our customers at this point and every single one has had a full-time job. Second, she’s relatively urban — she lives in or near a big city. This makes sense, given the broader urbanization trends we as a society have witnessed over the past several years.

Does your business model set you apart from other brands?

I don’t know that our business model sets us apart, but we are continually reviewing our supply chain to make it as quick as possible and allocate as much of our inventory in season as possible. With the collapse of the trend cycle, the new trend is no trend and we try to work to continue delivering innovative and fashion-forward merchandise to our customer.

That leads right to ELOQUII’s fashion point of view. What’s the story?

We want to be the first place our customer thinks of for fashion. We want to own her fashion consideration mindset. We have a deepening and strong selection of best-in-class key items and basics, but at our core, we are fashion-first. We take fashion risks when no one else will. We love to do what looks the hardest and the riskiest.

We want to be first to market with the fashion must-haves of the moment. [Our customer] can count on us for that. We absolutely have a growing and strong selection of “best” basics and we really try to walk the walk when it comes to being fashion-first for [our] customer.

What can you share about the range of product and the frequency of new styles?

We offer every department in apparel and have launched swim, shoes and lingerie over the past three years. We will pursue intimates and active wear in the future — all executed through our specific design and trend point of view. We launch two new collections each month — averaging about 60 to 75 new styles per collection. Each collection has its own distinct creative story and inspiration, as well as editorial look book.

How is fit a differentiator for ELOQUII?

We start with measurements and sizing for the range we offer — we’re working with the size 14 to 24 customer in mind from the start. Often you see a brand just sizing up, but [that]doesn’t address the fit. We fit every single style at least twice and recognize that fit is dynamic. While we want our customers to have the consistency of “ELOQUII fit,” we also want to respond to her changing needs and wishes.

Are there plans to offer more sizes?

We often get customer requests to address different body shapes and proportions, which we do. We launched a test of sizes 26 and 28 in the fall of 2015. By this fall, every single new style we launch will be available in sizes 26 and 28, and we’ll also begin testing into sizes 30 and 32.

You opened three retail locations last year after a pop-up test near Washington, D.C. Why was it important to add physical stores to your business model?

It all goes back to the customer. About a year into our relaunch, we had customers repeatedly asking us to open a store near where they lived. We thought, “She wants to try things on.” And, yes, in part, it’s that.

But one customer summed up a potentially bigger reason why customers wanted stores from us. In her words: “ELOQUII, you’ve given me fashion online for the first time and now I want to see fashion in a store from you.”

This customer’s in-store experience has been lackluster — there is no “fashion” destination for her. So we asked ourselves if we could we provide that. And that was the challenge we gave ourselves.

How did you select the Washington, D.C., Illinois and Ohio locations?

We chose the Pentagon City and Chicago locations based on ecommerce market performance. The Columbus store is in our backyard. We also wanted to test how a store in a smaller market performed — both from a four-wall and ecommerce market lift perspective.

Any plans for additional stores?

Yes, we are looking at new markets as well as retail concepts. While we can’t disclose details, we are definitely in exploration mode.

Janet Groeber has covered all aspects of the retail industry for more than 20 years. Her reporting has appeared in AdWeek and DDI Magazine, among others.