We have to admit that we have quite the fascination with local e-tailer ModCloth. Whether we're falling into a black hole of browsing or peering into its color-splashed SoMa offices, we're pretty much smitten. The brand's modern spin on retro wares for the closet and home has our undying devotion. But, what we find even more intriguing is the lady at the helm of it all—co-founder and chief creative officer, Susan Gregg Koger.
That's why we followed her (no, not in a creepy way!) to find out where she soaks up inspiration, locally. Ever a good sport, the pixie-haired brunette (with famed pooch Winston in tow) led us around her Noe Valley neighborhood, showing us the nearby nooks and crannies she loves best — from homewares hub Pot + Pantry to her top-pick flower stand. If you're ready to delve into her captivating mod-meets-retro world and hear more of what this young entrepreneur has to say — click away!
Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
Tell us a bit more about what you do.
"As the Chief Creative Officer of ModCloth
, I help define and evolve the ModCloth brand, from the products we carry and how we display them on the site to the tech features we build and how our customers interact with them. I love getting to work with the product, meeting with independent designers, and designing exclusive pieces just for our customers. I work with our merchandising and marketing teams to think about how we’re telling a really compelling, exciting story, too. I get to do a little bit of everything and that suits my personality really well."
Susan hangs out in Pot + Pantry in a ModCloth dress and tights, Jeffrey Campbell boots, and a vintage bag and jewelry.
Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile
What inspired you to start ModCloth?
"I started ModCloth out of my dorm room in 2002, mostly to satisfy my passion for thrifting. My boyfriend at the time — now husband — had started a web-hosting business when he was just 16-years-old and we designed the first version of ModCloth together to help me turn thrifting into a money-making hobby. Both of us were attending Carnegie Mellon University at the time, and once we discovered the power of social commerce as a super powerful way to completely change the way fashion is consumed, the business grew from dorm-room project to what it is today, a shopping site where customers get to decide what we sell. They can vote on items they want us to carry via our Be The Buyer program,
and submit their own designs to our Make The Cut contests
, and we’ll actually produce them. They’re things I always wished I’d had an input in, and I get to give those experiences of democratizing the fashion industry to our customers."
How does the aesthetic of your brand influence your personal style?
"The ModCloth brand was built around my personal style. I started by going to thrift stores and picking out things that appealed to me. A lot of what I bought for ModCloth were things I would wear myself if I found it in my own size. I’ve always loved vintage, and it’s always been a big part of ModCloth. Everything I wear is either vintage or from ModCloth, with very few exceptions."
We love that you chose Pot + Pantry as one of your fave neighborhood spots. Are you a good cook?
"Sadly, no, but I love to eat so I’m holding out hope that one day I’ll be good at cooking, as well! One of my birthday goals last year was to develop a 'signature dish' — something that I’d cook by myself more than twice and successfully serve to people outside of my immediate family."
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
"I'm proud to say that I accomplished my birthday goal and can now make mean sugar-snap peas with goat cheese
. But that’s about as far as I’ve gotten."
Describe your personal style.
"I love getting dressed every day. I really believe personal style is a big part of your identity — it shows the world who you are and who you want to be. I love color. I love vintage, and I love wearing ModCloth. I almost never plan what I’m wearing ahead of time. I like to let my mood that day dictate what I’m going to wear. Most of all, I like to wear clothes that make me happy and it’s always fun to share that joy with the other people that I interact with."
Can you describe the ModCloth shopper to us?
"We like to think of her as the best version of herself, and she really is a huge part of the brand. She’s trend-savvy, but she’s more into wearing what works best for her. She won’t wear something just because it’s ‘in,' she wants what fits her body type and makes her feel good. She’s smart, thoughtful, and enjoys contributing to the conversation. It’s not unlikely to find her rooting on another customer because they nailed how to style a dress they were otherwise nervous to wear, and I think that desire to connect is one of the reasons why we have such a highly engaged community on the site. She wants to talk, whether it's via feedback in our product reviews or through casual dialogue with others on our blog. The ModCloth shopper inspires what we do — really, they are the reason we do what we do."
Susan (with Winston in tow) checking out the spectacular view in Bernal Heights in a ModCloth top, scarf, and shoes, Blank NYC jeans, and vintage jewelry.
Why did you choose Bernal Heights park as one of your fave spots — what do you love about it?
"I really love the time I get to spend there just walking around with the pups and getting out of my head a bit. I sometimes have my most creative ideas when I’m not thinking about ModCloth. They just kind of pop into my head when I’m doing other stuff. I like to go up there and get the beautiful view of the city, find a little perspective, and let the pups make friends with the other dogs. There’s a lot of good dog watching up there. I think it’s one of the most underrated parks in the city — it’s never super crowded, even on the nicest days."
Tell us more about your adorable pug Winston — does the fame ever go to his head?
"We got Winston at four and a half months old in 2004 — his 9th birthday is coming up this April! Growing up, both my parents were allergic to dogs, but I had a neighbor with a pug — I was obsessed — so I decided as soon as I was old enough to have my own, I would. He’s been a fixture at ModCloth since the beginning when we were working out of our house. In our first 'real' office space in 2008 in Pittsburgh, we knew we had to have a dog-friendly workplace, and now all three offices — San Francisco, L.A., and Pittsburgh — are. Winston has lots of friends at work, and yes, he’s so used to being in so many crazy situations like photo shoots and all this other chaotic stuff, I think he knows that he is well-loved. I do my best to keep him humble."
We love these eyelash-embellished shoes. What’s the story behind them?
"These are the Pinch, Lash, Smidgen Flat
designed by Lorena Vasquez of Loly In The Sky.
We’re the first to carry them in the U.S. I just got them and have been wearing them all the time. They’re a great example of clothing that makes me happy, and they make other people smile, too. Whenever I wear them, people stop and ask me about them. Our first delivery sold out really quickly, but there are more scheduled to hit the site in early March!"
Who are some of your style crushes?
"One of my very first style crushes was Gwen Stefani. I bought Tragic Kingdom
when I was 13-years-old and thought she was the coolest person ever. She had such a unique style at that point in time, and I definitely wanted to emulate her look. Hello, plaid pants! As the years have gone by, my style 'crush' has grown to become my true style love
. She’s changed so much but always looks like Gwen — and I really respect that.
"I’m super inspired by street style and personal-style blogs, too. I have a kind of insane Google Reader list. One that I’ve read for years and still continues to blow me away is Hel Looks
. So many of the featured looks are so unlike anything that I ever wear, but the creativity feels so genuine. Also, my grandmother has amazing style — in the sixties she wore some sweet stuff, which I inherited and they’re some of my favorite pieces. I love looking at pictures of her wearing them for the first time back then."
Susan looking bright and cheerful in front of a flower market in a vintage dress she bought in Amsterdam, and vintage shoes and jewelry.
What item in your closet gets the most mileage?
"Probably my collection of tights. I love that it’s almost always 'tights weather' in San Francisco — probably because I wear a lot of dresses and skirts. I really like the Tights For Every Occasion
from ModCloth. They’re available in so many different colors and highly durable — even against pug paw attacks."
When you aren’t working, where can we find you?
"I love to eat and, of course, San Francisco is such a foodie paradise. One of my favorite 'hobbies' is trying out new restaurants. My husband and I try to do at least one date night per month at a new place. I make an effort to get outside and be in nature whenever possible. I’m still a relative newbie — we moved to the city about two and a half years ago and there are just so many amazing hikes, dog walks, and beautiful scenery to experience."
We know you must travel a lot for your job — what’s the coolest treasure you purchased abroad?
"Yes! I love to travel and am lucky enough to get to do so quite often. I just got back from Argentina — my first time in South America! — and found an amazing antique rug at a store-slash-gallery called Arte Etnico
in Buenos Aires. It’s about 5x7 with a bright, sort of digital-looking floral pattern and was made using traditional techniques in Northern Argentina in the ‘50s or ‘60s. It’s the most gorgeous color palette of brown, dark purple, hot pink, and green. I think I’m going to hang it above our bed!"
What do you love about living in Noe Valley?
"I really love all the green space, all the trees, and how it feels kind of small. We know the people on our street, and some of our neighbors have been living there for a very long time. Our next-door neighbor has been living there for 40 years, so it has a very neighborhood-like feel. I also like its central location. I can ride my bike to the Mission or the Castro and other places I spend a lot of time in. More practical, but important: I can get to the airport easily, which is key when you travel as much as I do."
Tell us more about why you chose BellJar as one of your favorite local shops.
"I really love the feel you get right when you walk in the door. I’ve never built a brick-and-mortar retail space, but I’m fascinated by the concept and am always impressed when I see someone doing it well — BellJar
does it well."
Susan strolling around BellJar in a vintage dress, belt, and jewelry, and Seychelles shoes.
What’s your most memorable or awe-inspiring moment since starting ModCloth?
"There have been so many! I am naturally an overachiever and our to-do list is always a mile long, so I have to remind myself to step back every now and then to appreciate how special this whole experience really is. It’s great to be featured in magazines and other press that shows how far we’ve come, but for me, there’s a lot of other little experiences that I find even more rewarding.
"I actually received a piece of fan mail recently from a teenage girl who said ModCloth helped her define her own style. That was so special to hear. I’ve heard from customers who tell me about how good they feel in our swimsuits, that they never thought they’d feel so good at the beach and now here they are uploading their photo online because they found this swimsuit that makes them feel like a million bucks. It feels amazing to play a part in that."
Walk us through a day in your life!
"My days are very different depending on where I am in the world and I travel a lot. When I’m in S.F., I go for a long walk with the pups every day — it’s something I’m passionate about because I work a ton and I think it’s important to have that time to step back, reconnect, and just chill out a bit. ModCloth’s headquarters are in SoMa, my days there are generally spent in meetings with creative teams talking about what story we’re telling next, and I generally spend about one to three days a week in L.A. with our buying team. On those days, I’m looking at samples and fabrics, thinking about how to make our assortment the best it can be. I travel to trade shows and designer appointments often, too — so far this year I’ve traveled to New York, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, and London."
What’s next for ModCloth?
"Being able to deliver what our community wants is the core of our success, and we’ve been paying close attention to customer requests for more of our styles in sizes 16 and up. We’re super excited to debut that this year, in addition to more ModCloth exclusives from our private label. We also just launched our iPad app and are planning on launching our iPhone app soon, too. It’s been amazing to see how much our mobile traffic has grown recently. We want to be there to delight our girl every time she has a few minutes to spare. She’s the reason we’re doing all of this in the first place."
What is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs?
"Do something that you love! Entrepreneurship is so rewarding, but it’s not an easy path. You have to find something that you love so much that you can work on it essentially non-stop and it won’t feel like work."
Photographed by Anna-Alexia Basile