Christine Marzano is the co-founder and CEO of BODS, a groundbreaking digital fashion experience that is transforming e-commerce by empowering individuals to find their perfect fit and style. Christine is an early pioneer in bridging deep tech and high fashion, drawing upon her diverse experience in the fashion, technology, and entertainment industries (including 15 years as a runway and fit model for Dior, Saint Laurent, Balmain, and Gucci). Christine began her career as a tech entrepreneur as co-founder of a SoftBank-funded avatar creation and animation software company, staking her claim as the first fashion model to create a photorealistic avatar of herself.
Christine joined the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center team on Instagram Live to discuss her entrepreneurial journey in more detail. View it here.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Christine Marzano: For me, entrepreneurship is taking risks in finding innovative solutions to existing problems. Entrepreneurship to me means being “all in” on creating your vision no matter what.
Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
CM: When I was 9 years old, I started a little company selling curly hair scrunchies to all the competitors at Irish dancing competitions so that dancers don’t have to sleep with curlers in their hair. I found a Korean supplier in Manhattan and put together a sample folder and order sheet that I would take with me to all of the competitions. I would sell ones I had in stock and take pre-orders, so I never had too much unsold inventory.
What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business?
CM: I was working at an avatar tech company and, having worked in the fashion industry, I pushed to incorporate fashion into what we were doing. At that time, many didn’t grasp the concept of using digital avatar as a marketing or sales tool.
In 2017, I became the first model to have created a digital avatar of themselves. I couldn’t dress my avatar in anything other than a Wonder Woman looking outfit, so I knew there was space for digital fashion creation. I started surveying the problems in fashion and identifying what avatars could actually solve.
I dove deep into the research of fit-tech and sizing and knew this was the area in which my ideas could provide the most utility for both brands and customers, hence the beginning of BODS. I wanted to provide a solution to enhance the online shopping experience that is both immersive and personalized, based on metrics and data.
What did those early days look like and teach you?
CM: In the early days of BODS, we identified many issues beyond ill-fitting clothes that we are able to solve with our technology. Sustainability, inclusivity, and diversity are core values that quickly became pillars on top of which I wanted to build my company.
Fit is one issue, but I learned very early on that there were so many other areas in which our technology could make a positive impact, including environmental degradation and climate change as a result of the returns princess. We knew that with BODS, brands can redesign their online shopping experience to fight the negative environmental effects of returns by providing a more accurate “fit” in the first place.
We also looked at inclusivity and diversity, because long gone are the fashion shows and editorials with token plus-size or racialized models who were used to tick the diversity box. We want to encourage everyone to look at themselves as the model and discourage negative comparison. We also have a very diverse team internally, because we believe true diversity and inclusivity come from within.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
CM: So many things. There’s not a handbook on how to become an entrepreneur. You just have to dive in and be willing to get your hands dirty to do the work. One thing I wish I knew when I first started is that you could raise money without a working product. When a problem is solved, a new commodity, a new value is created; and if you’re able to articulate the value your company/product brings, you can start raising money based on that. I wish I knew that so I could’ve increased the size of my team in the early stages.
What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream? What do you think will help you achieve it?
CM: Success for me would be hearing people say that they don’t know how they shopped apparel e-commerce before BODS. My boldest dream is to have BODS become a ubiquitous part of every apparel e-commerce experience, similar to the PayPal button. Success to me is this scale which would truly impact returns and all of their negative secondary effects.
Scaling a talented team and getting great brand partners will help me achieve this goal.
What is your superpower as an entrepreneur?
CM: I think my superpower as an entrepreneur in this particular space is my non-traditional background in getting here. My modeling background combined with my background in computer graphics allows me to see the opportunities, the challenges, and the goal in a more holistic way than most others who are often coming at it from a background in either fashion or tech.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
CM: Our proudest moment was when we successfully launched our beta with a top tier womenswear brand and when we raised our Seed round that was announced and highlighted by WWD, BoF, and many other publications.
Darkest moment was the start of the war in Ukraine, a large portion of our engineering team are based there. It was a very challenging time where I had to take a pause because my team has become my family and their lives were affected by circumstances beyond their control.
What are your personal driving principals, your top values?
CM: Hard work, fairness, listening, exploration, experimentation, and truth seeking
How have your personal principles and values shaped your company’s values and principles?
CM: I believe that talented people can be found everywhere and that CV’s are not always the final say. I don’t have a traditional background for what I am doing now, so I value people with varied experiences and believe that they can bring different perspectives and ideas to the table.
Talent is one thing, sharing the same values and goals for the company is another and that’s what I look at when I put together my team. I am able to look outside the box in certain cases for hiring because I want a diverse team that is not only skilled in what they do, but also provide unique perspectives and experiences.
Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
CM: Mentorship is so important for invaluable advice and direction, I have a lot of advisors and experts in different disciplines that I lean on.
What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
CM: I volunteer my time as a mentor to Los Angeles children who are currently in the foster care system. A lot of people grow up without a role model or mentor in their life and I think that can greatly impact one’s life path. You never know what impact you could have by just making yourself available to support and advise, delivering that support in a way that makes sense to them, and keeping that person’s best interests in mind.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
CM: I get up earlier now than I’ve ever had before because I work with people in all different time zones. One thing I make sure to do each day is to take an upbeat five minute dance break, where I just get up from my desk and dance it out. I tend to schedule it for 4 PM each day. It’s like the 7th inning stretch in a baseball game, it gets the blood moving and makes me smile no matter what is going on that day. It’s a great break to clear my mind.
What are you reading or have read?
CM: I am currently reading Endurance by Alfred Lansing. I think as an entrepreneur, it is helpful to occasionally read about people getting through what might seem like impossible circumstances and thriving. Always seems to put entrepreneurial struggles into perspective.
Where do you go for inspiration?
CM: Any live performance, or a walk around NYC streets.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
CM: “This could all be a simulation.”
What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
CM: It’s hard to say, it’s always changing.
How do you think about helping others through your work?
CM: Part of the main reason I created BODS is to help others. I truly believe if you can represent your own body digitally, you are opening up an entire world of representation, especially with the METAVERSE coming, the possibilities are endless.
When we first ran our software on Khaite’s e-commerce website, we received a message from a customer who is wheelchair bound who said it was an incredible shopping experience and she couldn’t wait to see it available on more brand websites. We really take everything into consideration and want BODS to be a truly inclusive experience for all.
Representation and body image are two things we are able to touch on with BODS and we are constantly looking for ways to become more inclusive and encourage a positive dialogue on body image where it should be about the fit, not size.
What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
CM: Always go with your gut. Hire people who want to work hard, give them an environment where they are able to shine and a clear and inspiring North Star towards which to work as a team.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
CM: I want my legacy to be known as someone who revolutionized the fashion industry and changed it for the better. I want to inspire people to go beyond what the society thinks they should be doing because of their background and step outside the box to pursue their dreams.
Do you have someone you’d like to nominate to be profiled in our Faces of Entrepreneurship series? Please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your nomination using this form.