Women in Business: Ambika Singh, CEO and Founder of Armoire

Ambika Singh is the CEO and Founder of Armoire. Armoire is a clothing rental subscription company that gives you access to thousands of high-end styles for one monthly price. It’s a great way to save money while looking your best every single day.

Ambika was one of our first guests here on ExecuTalks, where she opened up to Host, Ash Faraj, about her childhood and growing up, starting Armoire, and her journey raising money for her new company.

After personally hearing her story, I was so intrigued by what I heard about her journey, but also excited about what I learned too. So, I wrote another Women in Business article on her where I talked about raising money as a woman entrepreneur. However, for this article, I was able to ask her some questions about entrepreneurship, being a woman in business, career advice she has for other women, and more. I was so excited to learn what she had to say, as there is a huge wealth of advice she gives. Below are the questions I asked and the answers she gave:

What would you say to other women wanting to start their own business/company?

I would say to go for it, because it’s an amazing journey! You’ll find that there’s an amazing network of women mentors and supporters who went before you, as I did. I basically have a built-in support network in the women that work with me and the Armoire community overall.

Fill a need, solve a problem. Do something people care about - and that you care about! I have found that it means a lot to Armoire members to support a company that is both female-founded and champions small women-owned brands. We have also attracted a very diverse workforce which is something I’m super proud of. At Armoire, we’ve created an environment where women can grow and thrive. We’re also a community where our members enjoy supporting each other and creating opportunities for women.

There is great joy in creating things - be it a piece of art, a company, a movement, and perhaps even another person. You get the incredible opportunity (and responsibility) to imagine something from nothing and then to shape it to the best of your ability. To infuse it with life. Wow! One of my favorite parts of the creation process is doing it with someone - and actually now many someones. Together we have created and continue to shape and watch over Armoire, and it’s an incredible feeling to know that she is the result of our collective effort.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman in business?

One challenge for most women entrepreneurs is that Venture Capital tends to be a male-dominated space, so getting them to think in terms of what the Boss Lady wants and needs, and the value we are bringing to her can be challenging, but it’s not impossible! Only 2 percent of venture capital funding in the United States goes to startups with all female founders. I’m proud to say that many of our early investors were women and first-time investors. I enjoy the responsibility of making sure new investors know what they’re getting into.

A big challenge in 2020 has been one that everyone else has faced: the global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic strain. We had to close our retail stores and basically lost all of the investment we put into the spaces and the team. Even our ecommerce business has been hurt as some of our customers have lost their jobs and most are now working from home. So our struggle now is to support a community of women who are now facing more demands on their time than ever before and so much less certainty.

What advice would you give a young woman professional looking to advance her career, who feels like her ideas & contributions aren’t taken seriously because she is a woman?

I would tell her to be confident and stand in her power as she perseveres. Your career will always be full of challenges and this is one that you can learn from and eventually leverage to your advantage. Yes, there are some days when you’ll feel limited. But a mentor once told me, “Don’t agonize over the options that do not exist. Go create the option. Then let’s discuss it.” I come back to this almost daily.

Find your support network. Professional women's organizations of all kinds have been my support system, braintrust, key to accessing new revenue streams, earliest and most loyal members, and pool talent and capital. I have been truly lifted up by other women in my journey.

What do you think male allies can do to help create equality in the workplace?

It comes down to culture, which is really set by the people in your organization. You have to truly trust and respect the people you work with, and it will show. Give women chances, let their voices and ideas be heard. Armoire has been built for women, by women and some great men too! We have built a team that’s 90% women, which actually wasn’t intentional. Creating a workplace that is supportive for everyone, regardless of gender, race, etc, is what truly makes us successful, and drives our mission forward. Many male leaders in tech don’t focus on fostering supportive environments for women, and that’s a shame!

What would you go back in time and tell your younger-self in the context of being a woman in business?

When I was little, I was the person trying to have a lemonade stand, and trying to organize people to do one thing or another! I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and that’s something that has a lot of value where I grew up.

My advice to anybody who wants to start something in business, is to try and make it as gradual as possible; there are ways that you can start if it’s just you. If there’s the smallest thing that you can test to figure out, ‘Does anybody want this?’ That’s the key question every entrepreneur is trying to solve. We need to ask, ‘Are we solving a problem?’, and ‘Does my idea help people in the world?’

I would also say you don’t have to know all the answers. Ask for help when you need it. I don’t always have all the answers, and my answers aren’t always right, but I know I can ask for help when I need it. Knowing that I can lean on others when I need help makes me feel like I can achieve anything and teaches me to be more open to others’ ideas.

At one point I realized that there was never going to be the perfect time for me to start Armoire, and I knew I needed to dive in because I would regret not trying more than failure. I am constantly trying to take risks because that is what helped me begin the most rewarding thing in my life.

As Megan Rapinoe said, “This is my charge to everybody — do what you can. Do what you have to do. Step outside of yourself. Be more. Be better. Be bigger than you’ve ever been before.”

Has being a woman given you any advantages in the workplace? If so, how? If not, why don’t you think so?

I think in many ways it has, especially in the perspective Armoire is bringing to the clothing industry now. I’ve been sharing clothes with women my entire life. I think that, unfortunately, in the past, fashion has been used as a tool to make people feel bad. I want all that prescriptiveness about what you “should wear” to go away and for us to help people to find what they need and want and what makes them feel great. We want to give back to and lift up women across the board.

There are unachievable double-standards for female leaders, and I’ve certainly encountered them. We’re either looked down on for our nurturing side, or criticized for being too “cut-throat” as businesswomen. We can’t catch a break! So we need to redefine what it means to be a female leader. As a CEO, I realized that I needed to be a real person, be myself. An authentic ethos is what drives retention and promotes inclusive environments. We created a culture where it’s okay to fail, to learn, and to grow, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it if I hadn’t ignored the noise and just focused on being myself.

I also have to emphasize that my greatest asset is and always has been an incredible network of women doing this with me. It’s our ability to see things differently due to our lived experience—which is, in fact, a competitive advantage, not a weakness.

If you found Ambika's story interesting, check out some of the other Women in Business articles including one we did last week on Elissa Unton, CEO of ArcVida. Also, don’t forget to listen to ExecuTalks podcast for inspirational stories from today’s top executives!

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