Lilly Pulitzer’s Michelle Kelly: ‘The customers are in charge’

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When she first joined Lilly Pulitzer over a decade ago, Michelle Kelly was a huge fan of the brand and in search of the best way to get to know the fashion industry. Her mentors suggested she get her start in sales, which Kelly said taught her one of the most important lessons of her career.

“The customers are in charge” said Kelly. “It is our job to delight them and to serve the needs they do articulate, and more importantly, the needs they haven’t articulated yet.”

That customer-first thinking has informed Kelly’s long-spanning career at Lilly Pulitzer, and has remained a priority since she took on the role of president and CEO of the company.

In this episode of The Glossy Podcast, Kelly discusses what it’s like to have a truly loyal following, how Lilly Pulitzer approaches capsule collections and how influencer marketing is a natural extension of the brand. Below are excerpts from the conversation, edited for clarity.

Jackie Kennedy as the original Lilly influencer
“We are very much guided by our heritage and what makes the brand iconic. We think often about, ‘What were the elements that made the brand and the style, and the fashion take off back in the 1960s, and what are the real fundamentals of those elements that still apply today?’ We always remember that Lilly was good friends with Jackie Kennedy, and [Kennedy] was on the cover of Life magazine wearing Lilly, looking relaxed and calm — that was definitely a part of how the brand took off in the ’60s. What’s the version of that today? It’s probably influencer marketing. We all still need a recommendation from someone who we believe in.”

A new retail approach to keep up with demand
“We just transitioned to what we’re calling ‘the capsule approach’. I think people’s social needs and what they’re in the mood for can really change on a week-to-week basis, especially these days when we’re all more in tune with what is happening and what is the exact right thing to wear for each moment. So we’re really now focused on trying to deliver fewer, more special products, more frequently.”

The importance of knowing your customers and how they are changing
“We all need to keep focused on the customer, and we have that extra lens of not just doing what she wants, but we are paying attention to, ‘How she is shopping?’, ‘How she is dressing?’ and ‘How is that changing?’. We actually have a pretty consistent, almost systematic approach to reviewing changes in how the customer is shopping and how she is dressing. Those are our two key questions because those are the changes that will affect us the most.”

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