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Contactless shopping gets fashionable: Inside the newest store from clothing rental startup Armoire

At Armoire Go, subscribers place apparel for pick up or drop of on a table capable of detecting RFID tags sewn into the clothes, allowing for contactless exchanges. (Lucinda Roraback Photos for GeekWire)

Since launching in 2016, online clothing rental service Armoire has experimented to find the right balance of online and in-person perks, seeking a combination that can keep the Seattle-based startup ahead of competition that includes Rent the Runway, Stitch Fix and others.

Armoire Go is the latest test. The high-tech physical store, which opened this week in Seattle, gives subscribers the opportunity to touch, try on and exchange items in-person.

“It is truly kind of a offline-online marriage experience where you get the best of both worlds,” said CEO Ambika Singh in a recent GeekWire interview.

The store offers a contactless system for picking up or returning clothes. A subscriber signs in on a tablet and places the items on a table capable of reading radio frequency identification (RFID) tags sewn into the apparel. Images and descriptions of the clothes appear on the tablet for confirmation. In a matter of minutes, the shopper is on her way.

Armoire CEO and founder Ambika Singh (left) and design technologist Megan Woodruff.

If they have more time to spend, Armoire subscribers can try on the clothes that they pre-ordered online. If they don’t like an item or it doesn’t fit, they can swap it for something off the rack in the boutique.

“For fashion, being fully virtual isn’t the only play,” said head of product Natasha Gupta during our tour of Armoire Go on Wednesday.

Before the shop could launch, the startup’s employees had to hand-sew the RFID tags into 75,000 hats, sweaters, coats and pants.

Beyond offering a faster in-person service for subscribers, the RFID tags are also boosting operational efficiency of the company. When a subscriber returns clothes, they’re cleaned and sanitized before getting sent out again. Now an employee can quickly scan an entire rack of apparel at once when it’s back from cleaning rather scanning individual tags.

The contactless technology at Armoire Go.

In addition to the store located in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, subscribers can still exchange their clothes by mail using Armoire’s traditional service. Seattle-area customers can receive same-day delivery through GoFlyy.

Armoire has subscriptions for four or seven items per month, or an unlimited plan. Customers can also buy and keep apparel that they can’t bear to send back.

In 2019, Armoire opened pop-up boutiques in Seattle and nearby Kirkland. Then COVID-19 hit. The in-person shops closed and Armoire shifted some of its apparel from a “boss lady” esthetic to more comfy and casual.

The company went through a round of layoffs, but has now hired back all of its furloughed workers and is up to 45 employees.

In January 2021, Armoire landed a new round of venture capital funding from investors including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani, and others. It has raised more than $12 million to date.

As the startup launches its new iteration of in-person shopping, another Seattle business is moving into the space.

Amazon, which is now the No. 1 apparel retailer in the U.S., recently debuted Amazon Style, a brick-and-mortar clothes store. The first location will open later this year Los Angeles.

Armoire, however, isn’t trying to be the Amazon “everything store” of clothes.

Armoire Go’s inventory is limited, focusing on items that the company’s own data suggests will be popular grab-and-go options. The Armoire platform in general offers a curated wardrobe selection with name-brand designers chosen to appeal to busy, professional women. Over time, the site’s algorithms finely hone its suggestions to a subscriber based on her past choices.

“The only way to win is to be able to deliver more value to the customer,” Singh said. “And that has to come from innovative experiences.”

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