Hundreds of workers at the personal styling service Stitch Fix have quit their jobs after incoming CEO Elizabeth Spaulding announced earlier this month that employees would no longer be allowed to work any hours they choose, according to interviews with half a dozen former and current employees. The changes to the company’s scheduling policies led to an exodus of around a third of its stylists, part- and full-time employees who work from home selecting clothing items for customers.
“It was a gut punch,” said Kara Calagera, who used the extra income from Stitch Fix to pay her mortgage and car insurance. Keeping the job “wasn’t feasible without the flexibility.”
For years, Stitch Fix has attracted employees who — because they have part-time jobs, stay home with kids, or have a disability — needed flexible, remote work. Until now, the company allowed employees who could provide their own computer and internet to work from home, some for as little as five hours per week, recommending and sending Stitch Fix clothing to customers at any time of day.
But in an email sent to staff earlier this month, the company informed stylists that employees would now be required to work at least 20 hours per week on a set schedule during regular business hours; their log-on and log-off times would be tracked, and stylists would at least temporarily no longer be allowed to become full-time employees. Those who couldn’t work within the new rules were offered a $1,000 bonus to quit, provided they agreed to sign a nondisclosure agreement that promised, among other things, they would not sue the company.
Stitch Fix, which has a market value of over $4 billion, previously laid off 1,400 California-based staffers in June 2020, saying at the time that it hoped to save money by replacing them with cheaper labor from other states. Some employees, citing the company’s expanding use of computer-generated clothing recommendations, said that the recent workforce reductions made them feel like their jobs have shifted from styling clients to training an algorithm that will replace them.
“We knew from the beginning we were teaching the algorithm,” said an East Coast–based stylist who requested anonymity because she still works at the company. “We know the ultimate goal of Stitch Fix was to get rid of us.”
Stitch Fix acknowledged that recent changes were inconvenient for some staffers but said the shift would help the company expand the variety of “styling services” it offers. “Our Stylists are instrumental in building relationships with clients and creating the highly personalized experience Stitch Fix is known for,” a spokesperson said via email. The company declined to comment on the number of workers who’ve left.
But employees across the company are working together to track how many have quit since the August 2 announcement, connecting on social media and sharing internal staffing numbers in each region: a tally from earlier this week found that around 1,500 stylists had left following the policy change.
To many workers, the policy shift meant losing a source of income.
“I’m a mom to two kids whom I homeschool,” said one former stylist who quit her job this week and asked to remain anonymous while she continues to receive Stitch Fix benefits. “The strict scheduling just doesn’t work with kids.”
One Midwest-based employee said she had started working for Stitch Fix on top of her full-time day job after her husband got laid off at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. “If I couldn’t work after 8 p.m., it wasn’t going to work for me,” said the stylist, who requested anonymity because she hasn’t decided whether to sign the NDA. “I certainly felt for the working parents. I know a lot of people really rely on this.”
Many employees who haven’t yet decided to quit remain frustrated with the company, according to three current employees and dozens of screenshots from the company’s internal message board reviewed by BuzzFeed News.
A Texas-based stylist decided to stay with the company despite the changes; having left her teaching job due to the pandemic, she said, she needs the money to pay back her federal student loans. But she’s worried about how the new scheduling policy will impact her ability to care for her son.
“The great thing about the job was being able to do the work any time of the day you wanted,” said the stylist, who requested anonymity to protect her job. “When you have a toddler, you need to have the flexibility to work at their leisure.”
Of the 30 people on her team, fewer than half remained, she said.
The East Coast–based stylist said that she stayed at the company because she’d recently been laid off from a full-time job and needed the money, but she’s worried about whether she’ll get reliable hours within the new system. While the new policy requires that stylists be available at least 20 hours per week, company guidelines reviewed by BuzzFeed News said they can be scheduled for as little as zero hours as “availability does not guarantee a certain number of working hours each week.”
“We have to trust [management],” the stylist said, “and that really hasn’t worked out so well for us.”
As Stitch Fix leadership attempted to explain the policy changes to staffers, backlash inside the company — and publicly — was intense. On Monday, regional managers in the Southwest (the largest region, which includes all of Texas) told stylists there via the company message board that some of the new policies, like tracking when employees clock in, would be delayed. Stylists erupted, leaving over 300 comments on the internal post, screenshots of which were shared with BuzzFeed News, which opted to keep their names anonymous.
“This is disrespectful and incredibly frustrating,” wrote one employee. “Stylists’ roles are the last to be thought about and stylists are constantly talked down to and given no voice. I hope the company as a whole is taking a long time to think about the approximate 30%+ loss they have undergone.”
Another employee pointed out that, in exchange for scheduling flexibility, Stitch Fix stylists had made certain workplace sacrifices. “It’s hard to understand and tolerate when we do not get laptops provided, a raise, or any type of assistance with our internet,” this employee wrote. “I’m wondering how we’re supposed to feel that this change is to better help us? It seems as if we have to just deal with it and move on or leave.”
“I’m not worried about how I will be scheduling within these time restraints,” wrote another stylist. “I’m worried about what this means for the future of [Stitch Fix] and how they will continue to mistreat their employees in the name of ‘change.’”
Indeed, Stitch Fix has been going through a period of significant change. After the company missed its revenue goals in the beginning of this year, its stock price fell. In April, founder and CEO Katrina Lake stepped down. HR head Jevan Soo Lenox left earlier this year as well, according to his LinkedIn profile, as did chief algorithms officer Brad Klingenberg and Tatsiana Maskalevich, the director of data science. The company has also brought in multiple executives from productivity-obsessed Amazon in the last year, including CFO Dan Jedda and chief product officer Sharon Chiarella. Lake was replaced by Elizabeth Spaulding, who came to the company in 2020 from consulting firm Bain; her first day on the job was the same day the scheduling changes were announced.
Five current and former Stitch Fix employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News said they wondered whether the company’s intention was to reduce its workforce and replace the stylists with computer-generated recommendations. Last year, the company rolled out a program called Preview that presented customers with a selection of clothing items, half of which were selected by a human stylist and the other half by an algorithm. But in recent months, employees said, the company began increasingly sending out boxes of clothing that were entirely selected by the algorithm, with stylists only getting involved to write a brief note and make corrections if customers complained.
“It’s like we’re constantly making the algorithm better by fixing their mistakes,” said the Texas-based stylist. The new CEO, she said, “thinks that the [technology] can do better than us, and that clients don’t care … that there’s not a person behind the computer.”
Asked whether Stitch Fix is moving toward a more algorithmic model, a company spokesperson pointed BuzzFeed News to a recent earnings call in which Spaulding said it would “continue to invest” in stylists, who she said “play a role in a number of places for our clients.”
“They also play a very active [role] in training our machine learning models,” she continued. “Our ability to generate algorithmic outfits in a feed is, we think, a real source of differentiation.”