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Up Close: In Conversation with Faire CFO Lauren Cooks Levitan

Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Lauren Cooks Levitan, chief financial officer of wholesale marketplace Faire, discusses why fashion could benefit from a just-in-time inventory model and how her company is responding to the need for virtual trade shows.

Name: Lauren Cooks Levitan

Title: chief financial officer

Company: Faire

Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?

The auto industry was revolutionized by just-in-time inventory (JIT) management, which allowed manufacturers to increase efficiency by receiving goods only as they were needed. If the apparel industry can shift from buying goods on a speculative basis to embrace JIT on a mass scale, we’ll see far less waste as well as higher margins from a reduced cost of inventory.

How would you describe yourself as a consumer?

As much as possible, I try to support merchants in my local community, as well as businesses that share my values. Understanding how a product was made, and the story behind who made it, delivers a much more meaningful experience as a consumer. I always enjoy discovering a new brand or product that offers something unique, but I also have favorites in a wide range of categories that I go back to time and time again.

As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?

Consistency, quality and great service.

What’s your typical work uniform?

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Well, that has changed a lot over the past year! My typical work uniform is denim, boots, sandals or sneakers, a silk or cashmere top—I’m all about texture—and a denim or leather jacket. Since I’ve been working from home during the pandemic, I’m usually still in jeans to avoid treating joggers or yoga pants as work attire as best as I can, but my footwear is far more casual. I’ll wear flip flops, shearling lined slippers or flats, and my tops are comfortable shirts, sweaters or hoodies.

Which fashion era is your favorite?

Right now, because anything goes and you can incorporate fun elements from all prior eras. The disco era of the ’70s is one of my favorites, but I don’t want to go backwards. I lived through the suit and pantyhose attire of Wall Street in the ’80s and ’90s, and I have no desire to repeat that!

Who’s your style icon?

My mom. She has always been on-trend but not trendy.

What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?

Investing in our new virtual trade show model, because we believe that online connection is the future for the wholesale community. So much of the industry is built on connection; however, the pandemic accelerated what was already beginning to happen with trade shows. As business shifted online, it became evident that the traditional model needed to change in order to continue bringing value to retailers. Last August, we pioneered our first event, Faire Summer Market, which proved to be instrumental for small businesses looking for a safe and effective alternative to in-person shows. Because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from our community, we hosted another event this February and will continue to invest in this efficient buying format long-term.

What can companies learn from Covid-19?

As a customer-driven business, this past year reminded us just how crucial it is to ensure you have direct and consistent access to customer feedback. Being empathetic, receptive, and willing to respond to their changing needs is key, especially amid the unpredictable challenges borne out of the pandemic. It’s been particularly impressive to watch entrepreneurs everywhere keep their foot on the gas in the face of adversity. These businesses continue to innovate and adopt new operating strategies to accelerate forward, while always putting their own customers front and center.

How would you describe your corporate culture?

Everyone at Faire is incredibly passionate and motivated by our mission of empowering small business owners to chase their dreams. Our customers are truly at the core of everything we do, so it’s especially fulfilling to see firsthand what a positive impact we can have on their lives. Because of that, every day at Faire feels like an incredibly rewarding challenge that you get to work on with a dedicated team that shares the same values as you.

What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?

This past year has been really difficult between mandated lockdowns, material shortages, and extensive business closures. The top priority right now should be rebuilding the apparel industry in a healthy way, which means avoiding the pitfalls of excessive leverage and inventory.

What keeps you up at night?

I often think about when we will get to a vaccinated, post-Covid world and what that world will look like for my family, for Faire, and for our employees and customers.

What makes you most optimistic?

The resilience I have seen from everyone around me—my children, my community, my colleagues, our customers. We have all learned that we can take on so much and still take care of each other. I’m optimistic about how we can continue to channel that resilient energy into the future.