Greyscale Goods: Oral History

Sara Medd for Greyscale Goods was interviewed on November 13th, 2017 by Kelly Reddy-Best via Zoom. This interview was 39 minutes and 33 seconds. The oral history transcript reflects the history of the brand at the time of the interview.

Oral History Video

Oral History Transcript

SARA MEDD: I’m Sara Medd and I’m the founder and CEO of Greyscale Goods.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And so can you tell me a little bit about your background? Like where did you grow up and then where have you lived and where are you living now?

SARA MEDD: I grew up in Virginia, right outside Washington D.C. and then I moved up to New York City for college. I went to The Fashion Institute of Technology and I was there for seven years. I then moved out to Los Angeles, in 2010, and I’ve been here ever since. So now, it’s going on eight years.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Did you go to FIT for your undergrad?

SARA MEDD: Yes. Yes.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And what did you study when you were at FIT?

SARA MEDD: I studied merchandising there. Fashion merchandising management and I graduated with bachelor of science.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about your work history between, graduating and now?

SARA MEDD: Sure. I think it’s kind of important to note that I started my career in retail. So I have a visual display background, and I’ve kind of grown up in clothing stores. That’s kind of where it all started for me. I worked in clothing stores during school, at the J.Crew in Rockefeller Center. After graduation, I got a job at a wholesale company and we did private label for Dillard’s, which was the career sportswear label there. So, I started out in wholesale and then I moved over to the product development and design department, and I worked as an associate designer.  Then I decided I hated being in an office and I needed to switch it up a little bit so I reached out to — this is fun for history– I reached out to someone who Tweeted that they needed an intern at Vogue. I said, “I’ll intern!” and that’s how I started in styling.  I started interning at the Condé Nast International Office and, worked on shoots for Russian Vogue and Italian Vogue and I loved it. Then I started getting hired as assistant stylist and that’s when I moved out to LA and I was assistant styling out here for five years.  I still continue to do shoots. I work on shoots here and there, if it’s a client that I really love, because it’s fun to be on the production side of things. It’s just kind of a fun, active environment.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And then,  which term do you use to describe your gender identity?

SARA MEDD:  I’m cis female and,  I use she/her pronouns.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And then what about your sexuality or your sexual identity?

SARA MEDD:  I say I’m gay.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And then, can you tell me about your role in the company and what a typical day, or if it’s not typical maybe just describe a little bit about why it’s not so typical?

SARA MEDD: Sure,  I pretty much wear all the hats. I do almost everything myself.  I have a couple of rotating assistants, but really at this stage it makes the most sense for me to do most of it myself, so.  I’m answering customer emails, I’m shopping, I’m writing notes to the customers to include in the boxes, I’m doing the budget, and invoicing, and all of that. So, yeah, really every day is different.  but on a weekly rotation things kind of mirror week to week.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And then, how would you describe your personal clothing style?

SARA MEDD:  I like to use the term “hard femme.” So, it’s on the more feminine side, but it’s where a lot of people will say “tomboy femme,” if they’re on the more feminine side of tomboy. I like to say “hard femme” because I like a little edge to it, you know? I’ll wear heels with a leather jacket, or I’ll dress up and  I’ll wear a dress for a special event, but, I’m usually just more comfortable in a tee shirt and jeans to be honest.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: So, what was your experience shopping for clothing, or styling yourself, before starting Greyscale Goods?

SARA MEDD:  [sighs] I’ve never really gone on shopping trips for myself because, when I was working for brands, I would just wear that brand and then, working in styling, I’m constantly shopping, so I kind of just pick things up for myself as I go. I don’t really go out shopping for myself. But, I would say that as a professional shopper, I’ve kind of learned for the most part, how brands fit. So, I can kind of just look at something and know if it’s going to fit or not. I don’t have to  even try on anything anymore, I just buy it if I like it.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Do you feel like your past shopping experiences, related to your personal style, influenced you to start Greyscale Goods?

SARA MEDD: I would say that my partner’s shopping experiences inspired it. I tend to date people that are just a little more masculine of center. Like, I date women that identify more masculine of center and seeing them trying to shop for special events, for suits, even for just every day. Like, you know, finding the perfect pair of Chinos or something. That experience for me really opened my eyes to the struggle that’s out there and realizing that there is a severe lack of options for shopping. I live in LA, and I did live in New York, and we have a lot more access to shopping outlets. Stores like Top Man, or even Zara, aren’t everywhere in the U.S. We have access to a lot more stores here, so I was realizing that if it’s this difficult for someone with this style and this body to be shopping in LA and to find something that they like, I can only imagine how much harder it is for someone living in the Midwest, even in a city in the Midwest. There is just the pure lack of options for stores, and then shopping then in the Men’s department is not an option, just because of the stigma that surrounds that, and the impact it can have on someone’s self-confidence. Therefore, I would say it was not necessarily my personal shopping experience, but definitely those of my friends.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Was that how the idea came about? It was witnessing your partners or your friends’ experiences with shopping and trying to find aesthetics that matched sort of the reflection of what they wanted their gender to be?

SARA MEDD: Yeah, I mean my friends would always come to me and say, “can you help me shop? Can you go shopping with me?” So, I was always kind of the go-to person already.  But what really gave me the idea for the company is: I had some friends that were ordering from Stitch Fix, which is a similar business model to what I do. I really kind of based it around that, like, the on-demand styling service that gets delivered to your door. So, I was sitting, talking with a couple and one of them had been ordering Stitch Fix and was loving it and loving everything that she got. Then her partner, who was more masculine of center, tried ordering and tried her best to put in, on the style profile, all the answers that were the most similar to her style, and when she got her box she was like, “they clearly don’t get it, you know? There’s nothing in here that I would ever wear, it’s just way too feminine.” So, when I had that conversation, it was kind of my “a-ha” moment. And, I really was like, “this is something that I can do. This is in my wheelhouse. I know how to shop. I know how to style people. I know where to go. And I should try this! You know, why not?”

KELLY REDDY-BEST: When that conversation or experience happened, what year was that?

SARA MEDD: That was early in 2014.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: That was when the idea happened? The idea that you had the skills to be able to style people in the same way as Stitch Fix?

SARA MEDD: Well, I wouldn’t say that I had all the skills because I had never started a company before, and I had never worked at an executive level in a company before. I had no idea what it would take to operate and own a business. So, I spent that whole summer researching and Googling and getting books on how to start a business and, also, you know, “how am I going to fund this thing.” So that’s when, in September of 2014, I actually incorporated Greyscale Goods and officially started. Then for the month of October we had a Kickstarter.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about the name? Why did you chose that and what’s the significance behind the words you chose?

SARA MEDD: Yeah! So, you know, we live in this world right now, where nothing is binary. Gender is not binary, and style is not binary. So, I was playing with the thought of like, “style is so much more than black and white,” and there’s all these shades in between, there’s all these, you know, shades of grey in between. I thought,  “I want something to reflect the greyscale of style. It’s so much more than black and white.”

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about the business model? How do people get the services and just how does it work?

SARA MEDD: Sure. It’s all online. So, the customer will go online and fill out a style profile and tell me about their sizes, and about their style. It’s mostly comprised of a lot of pictures, and you click on what you would wear out of those pictures. Then they place an order, pay a $48 styling fee, and then they receive a box in the mail that has been personalized and everything is personally selected. It also includes a prepaid return envelope, so that anything that they want to purchase, they can purchase, and I’ll charge them for it, and then anything that doesn’t work out they can just stick in the mail and send it back to me.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: So, it’s like Stitch Fix, the same kind of thing. When they engage in the service they’re buying unless it doesn’t work out. So, you’re helping them to purchase items.

SARA MEDD: Right. Essentially it’s the same idea as a personal shopper, except they’re just getting it delivered to them. So, they don’t have to have the access to the city with the personal shopper, or the access to the stores. They get it. I have customers that are in very rural areas and small towns, and they’re getting the same access as someone that lives in Los Angeles or New York. 

KELLY REDDY-BEST:  Where are your customer? Can you talk about where some of them are, in addition to small towns? Like, what’s one of the small towns that they’re in?

SARA MEDD: Sure. They’re really all over. I mean, I have some customers in Hawaii, and I think that’s important because, my parents actually live in Hawaii and they complain all the time about the lack of shopping there. So that’s something that was important to me. Not all companies will ship to Hawaii for the same price, but that was important to me because of that. I have customers in New York, Brooklyn, I have them in Los Angeles, I have them in San Francisco. I have a lot of customers in North Hampton, Massachusetts, and, which I’ve learned since, in conversation, that there’s quite a big queer community there. So, that makes sense now. But I really have customers all over. and so, it’s really important to me when I’m selecting clothing to make sure I know where it’s going because the climates are different everywhere. Even in November, if someone’s in Iowa I’m going to send them something completely different than something I’m sending to someone in Miami.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Do you have anyone in Iowa?

SARA MEDD: Do I have anyone? I’ve had customers in Iowa. My family actually lives in Iowa. 


SARA MEDD: Yeah, all of my cousins and my aunt and uncle and, yeah, I have a huge family in Iowa.  I’m pretty sure my cousins went to Iowa State.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: That’s cool. Yeah it’s funny, I just moved here like year ago, or a year and a half ago, and it’s an interesting place to live. It’s rural.

[Both laughing]

KELLY REDDY-BEST: If you were going to describe who the people are who are customers, like what do they look like? Or is it a broad range or is it a tight range?

SARA MEDD: It’s really a huge range. My customers are primarily, I would say, in their late twenties up to thirties, early forties. There are a lot of professionals and a lot of people looking for clothes for work, and a lot of people looking for special event clothing. I’ve had like high schoolers looking for prom and graduation. I’ve had a lot of people that are attending weddings and they need something to wear to their weddings, or to their friend’s weddings, or their sibling’s weddings. As far as what they physically look like, I have such a wide range. I mean there’s some people who are just very small bodied, and they can’t find clothes that are small enough, because they can’t even fit into men’s sizes at all. So, that’s one challenge, and then, I have a lot of plus size customers, actually. I try to really accommodate plus sizes, even though I don’t put it on the website, because I know how important it is. You know, the lack of options in the plus size industry is ridiculous right now. That’s something that is close to my heart. I think that there needs to be more options, but, especially for queer, plus-size style because it’s almost non-existent.

KELLY REDDY-BEST:  How do most folks find out about you?

SARA MEDD:  I actually ask them in their style profile: “how did you find out about us?” A lot of them will say that they just Googled “lesbian Stitch Fix.” [Laughs] I guess we come up when you do that!  So, I mean, a lot of people are just Googling. We have an Instagram, and it is not as active as it needs to be, so the goal for next year is to really amp up our social media presence and social media following. People find on us Facebook. Also a lot of word of mouth. Just friends talking about it.  and also, actually, I guess, we have quite a big following through Autostraddle, because Autostraddle has written us up a couple of times. People will read an article that mentions us there, and then, also this year, Buzzfeed did a video and that had a huge impact. I mean that brought in a lot of customers.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: So, are trends important to you? Can you talk about how you think through trends? Or if you do? How do you think through trends or like, inspiration for the customers that you have?

SARA MEDD:  I mean, I watch runway shows, I read magazines, but, I would say, that my biggest inspiration for what I’m sending to customers– because, you know, they’re just regular people, and they’re not looking for red carpet or couture or anything—comes from mostly looking at my friends and seeing how my friends put things together. We have a really stylish queer community in LA and therefore I’m constantly watching what people are wearing out to the bars, or parties, or whatever. I’m constantly inspired by how they’re putting things together, with accessories or just, you know, little nuances, layering. Yeah, there’s some really stylish people out here.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Do you ever look at like what queer celebrities are wearing or any inspiration in that sense? Is there anyone who you might keep on the radar for like, Instagram or things like that?

SARA MEDD: Yeah. Actually, that’s a yes. We have a whole list of style icons in our customer profile, the style profile that they fill out and so they click on who their style icons are.  A lot of times my customers will suggest certain ones, like I learned about Esther Quek through some customers that were saying “That is my style!”  and then I’m always watching what Evan Rachel Wood wears on the red carpet. I’m watching what Ashlyn Harris is wearing on her Instagram. Ellen Page always puts together some good outfits, both on the red carpet and in every day. So those are probably my top three. I’m also watching what the guys are wearing, like, what David Beckham’s wearing, and what Ryan Gosling’s wearing. I’m really watching everybody and trying to really take the best of the best, and put those into our style icon list.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Right now, do you envision that you want to expand in any way? Like, what is your dream? What would you add to your business or something like that?

SARA MEDD: I have so many ideas, and so many ways that I want to expand, because I think that we are at the beginning of this journey for queer fashion that there’s both so many opportunities and there’s so many things that need to be done. So, I’m always coming up with new ideas, but I think that one of my top two would be manufacturing, because right now I’m limited to what other people are manufacturing and that is still lacking. So there’s certain things that I would really love to manufacture and just have readily available for customers at all times. Then, plus size, definitely! Once I manufacture, I want to have plus size offerings for anything that we make. So yeah, I would say that those are like, next in line.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And then,  so on your, and I apologize for not looking before I ask this question but, are there, can you talk about the models or the imagery that you use on your website and like in the promotions or in the style choices? Can you just talk about like how you, like why those models are there versus other models, and like the aesthetics and why it might be important to have those folks represented there?

SARA MEDD: Sure. Most of the people I feature specifically for Greyscale are friends and people in the community, because it’s important to me, for it to feel relatable. I want people to look at the website and say, “I could see myself in that shirt.”  I’m using friends also because I don’t have a big marketing budget to pay for, you know, big-name models. But, mostly it’s important for me to represent just everyday people.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: So then can you, so you had said you had done a Kickstarter in 2014 in September? Or August?

SARA MEDD: October.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: October, okay. I was getting there. And so is that how you initially funded the business. And then, did you ever try to think about investors or not necessarily there yet?

SARA MEDD:  So, when we, yes. The Kickstarter kind of funded, it funded the website. Then it just kind of just got me started on bringing customers in and being able to begin shipping. At this point, I haven’t gone out to do fundraising or find venture capitalists or anything. That’s something else that’s next on the horizon because of the visions that I have for the company and the ways that I want to expand in the next year or two. Those will require much larger amounts of money and so, I look forward to having investors in the near future.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: What types of positive feedback do you get from folks related to the brand, and their experience and how they feel after they get their box, or the moment they get their box? I don’t know if there’s any one story you could highlight, or just a general sort of broad brushstroke of how folks respond?

SARA MEDD: Well, first of all, the feedback is what keeps me going every day, because, you know, I’m doing this to help people, essentially and I’m doing this to make a difference in people’s lives. So, when I’m getting feedback from someone saying, “I have never found jeans that fit me. You must be a magician that you found these jeans that fit me perfectly.” So, it’s stories like that, that keeps me going every day. I’ve also found a video online of a customer doing an unboxing, and, she wasn’t a big YouTube star or anything like that, but she has a channel and she ordered a box. So I got to watch a customer unbox her box of goods, and see on her face the reaction she had! As well as the things that I sent her! I sent her a jacket and a shirt and something else, but, you know, she tried on the jacket and just watching her move and be like, “This is actually really cool!” You know? It’s like she didn’t really expect to like it as much as she did. Or that it’s something that she wouldn’t have picked out for herself, but then, once she put it on, she was like “Okay, this is cool.” That’s what I really love: when a customer says, “It’s something I never would’ve picked off the rack for myself, but when I tried it on, I loved it, and now I’m buying it.” So that’s the kind of feedback I love to hear, because I want to expand people’s idea of what they can wear and I also want people to try things on and have self-confidence. You know, when you look in the mirror and you like how you look, and you can align how you look with how you feel, I think that’s the ultimate self-confidence and when you feel good, you move through the world in a much different way. You just exude this confidence and I think that being able to help people just move through it, aligned with how they look, and with how they feel in their gender identity, is so important, and that’s really what drives me.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: When you choose garments and other accessories, do you have go-to brands? I’m just wondering because I’ve been interviewing these other brands that really cater to, and make garments for LGBTQ, masculine of center, and trans masculine folks. Do you use a lot of those brands or is it a mix, a variety?

SARA MEDD: Sure,  I have a mix of everything.  but when I can I really try to incorporate those other brands. I’ve worked with Kipper,  I carry some items from Kipper. I work with be Bespoke, Bespoke? Sorry, I’m going to say this wrong. … Becoming Bowties.  Gold Coast Goods does bowties and they make bowties for smaller neck sizes. Which you can’t find in the stores usually.  I’ve worked with ???? and I frequently buy from ???? up in Canada. And, so whenever I can order from them,  those are always the bestsellers. But, they’re still small, too, and so I can’t keep up with the inventory from just those companies. And so I really mix and match. I’ve found some other brands that fit really, really well. Top Man chinos fit really, really well and… yeah. I’ve kind of, just through trial and error, found brands that work well on a female body. Or, you know, non-gender conforming, you know, it’s just kind of gender neural.

KELLY REDDY-BEST:  Do you ever have negative feedback from folks– inside or outside the LGBTQIA+ community?

SARA MEDD: When I first started, I was using the word androgynous and I have had some feedback about how we were using that word. Because, in the pure definition of androgynous/androgyny, it implies that you’re not leaning one way or the other. It’s really dead center and I think for a lot of our marketing and most of our customers tend to be female-bodied queer people who have a slightly more masculine style. I guess our marketing and where we sit in the realm of style isn’t truly dead center, so I tried to stop using that word a little bit. Then, from customers, our biggest concern and our place of needing to improve, is that our waitlist is really long right now. I think, to be able to turn around more quickly, is very important. That’s probably the biggest complaint: that it takes so long to receive a box. Hopefully by the time people are reading this and seeing this, that will have been resolved.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: It’s a good problem to have.

SARA MEDD: Well, you know, that’s what people say, but I understand it’s frustrating for customers to have to wait a long time. When their need is time sensitive, I will move them up in line, but to have to wait for an order is frustrating.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Yeah, yeah. Especially when everything’s so fast. You know they’re used to everything moving so quickly, so.

SARA MEDD: Exactly.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: What are you most proud of so far?

SARA MEDD: . I am really proud of the Buzzfeed video. I mean, I didn’t do the Buzzfeed video, but being featured on Buzzfeed was really cool, as well as getting to see a customer experience unboxing their goods in that setting, on screen, and then seeing the feedback and then seeing that it reached almost two million views and just knowing that so many people were exposed to what we’re doing. That was really, really exciting. Then, I would say, I’m proud of just the fact that we’re still operating in our third year, because coming from a background of never starting a business before and never operating a business, you know, it’s tough. But we’re still here and I still have a lot of visions, so I’m pretty proud of that.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: And what do you think, from start to finish, what has been most successful for you? Is there something else that comes to mind? Or, what do you view as most successful? It could be anything.

SARA MEDD:  I mean, I think just making a change in people’s lives. Being what changes that for them. That the success is knowing that we’re changing people’s lives and helping them feel more confident in their clothing. I would say that is my greatest success.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Was there anything that surprised or shocked you about starting a company that is targeting or focusing on or leaning towards LGBTQ folks? Or just in general, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about the community, but it could be anything in general that was surprising to you.

SARA MEDD: I wouldn’t say surprising, but it has reaffirmed that within the queer fashion community we really like reach out to each other and try to support each other when we can. I’ve made some great friends with Nik Kacy, with Sharp Suiting, and Kipper, and Sloan and Tate, and it really does feel like a community, you know? I kind of expected that, but I think that it was a nice affirmation to really see that happen.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: What are still some of the biggest struggles? You talked about a few, but what are, or were, some of the biggest struggles starting or running the company?

SARA MEDD:  Just the amount of work that it takes, and not just balancing the work with my personal life, but also balancing all the different aspects of running a company. That’s challenging because I’m a creative person and I’m someone who thrives on creativity and not so much the operations and funding, the financial side of things. Having to switch gears so quickly, from looking at Excel spreadsheets, to putting together the styling of a box is challenging. I think just switching gears to so many different responsibilities is what is most challenging.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Is there anything else that we didn’t talk about in relation to Greyscale Goods that would be important for me to know as a historian to tell the history of the brand, such as how and why you got started and the nuances of your business?

SARA MEDD:  I would just say that right now, this is just the beginning. I still feel like we’re in a very early stage of the company and there’s so much more growth ahead. There are so many things I want to do and things I want to branch into. I feel like at this stage we’re very much functioning and running and serving customers, but there are a lot more facets that I want to add to the company and the brand. I think that there’s a lot more to come.

KELLY REDDY-BEST: Awesome. And then, I didn’t ask, would you be okay sharing your age, or how old you are?

SARA MEDD: Sure, I’m 35.



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