It's our Chief Product Officer Rhyanna Taylor's 3-year anniversary with Newmine, and to honor the strides that returns reduction and Chief Returns Officer have made over these last few years, we're re-publishing her employee spotlight published in 2019 with some new questions sprinkled in.
Newmine’s Chief Product Officer, Rhyanna Taylor, walks into Newmine headquarters in her typical work uniform: a simple black tent dress, classic Adidas with three rose gold stripes and champagne-framed sunglasses pulling back her hair. It’s stylish and effortless, and everyone in the office makes sure they upgrade their outfits on days she travels from southern New Hampshire to Southborough.
Rhyanna fills any room she walks into with energy and passion for the work she does at Newmine. In fact, her professional journey is a fundamental piece to the origin of Newmine’s flagship software, Chief Returns Officer. “My journey to get to Newmine was serendipitous,” says Rhyanna. Graduating with a Fashion Design degree from Drexel University in 2001, Rhyanna grew from an intern to a pattern department manager, where she oversaw all activities relating to in-house managed fit, sampling, and pattern making, giving her the knowledge of apparel construction she needed when she transitioned to a Quality Control manager in a catalog company distribution center. That role grew and expanded in unique directions. As someone who had a broad knowledge of the technical design and fit of apparel, Rhyanna was hired to manage all the quality issues at the DC—Including Returns. Working as a liaison between the Corporate and Distribution teams, Rhyanna saw first-hand: “Everyone is responsible for a piece of returns, but no one owns them. That’s why, the Chief Returns Officer name, I think, is epic.”
“I ended up setting the standards and providing training to the returns department personnel to determine the basis of an acceptable customer return, as well as why and how a product fits a certain way,” says Rhyanna. At that time, return rates were spiking and becoming a real business issue. Rhyanna joined forces with the VP of Distribution and Logistics to launch the retailer’s “silo-busting” Returns Reduction Task Force. “We realized no one was communicating with each other, so we said, ‘let’s build a bridge,’ and that’s what we did.” But the work was anything but easy, as the returns reduction initiative required painstaking review and research of independent return reason reports, lab test results, QC reports, customer feedback, and other operational reports in an attempt to determine the root cause and resolution of the returns issues; One category and one SKU at a time.
The next phase of Rhyanna’s journey took her upstream in the supply chain process to a position where she not only was responsible for lab testing and compliance but managed sourcing for Woven Direct Imports—meaning her expertise spanned full-circle, from product development to the DC. “Because of the exposure to all the different facets of the business and the supply chain, I am able to be conscientious about the different areas of the business that impact returns, from quality to fit to sourcing.”
It was her returns reduction collaborator, the VP of Distribution and Logistics that introduced her to the partners at Newmine. At the time, the need for a Returns Reduction Software was clear, but not a single line of code had been written.
What do you think it is that makes you so passionate about returns?
Rhyanna: To me, returns represent the ultimate disappointment of the customer. There are so many touchpoints to get that product to that customer. I believe that everyone in every department cares and wants to do the best they can, however, there are tremendous challenges to working effectively as a team to reduce returns. There are so many examples of this friction: Everyone pulling reports that may not reflect the same core data, personnel in the DC that don’t think anyone really cares whether they record important information, sourcing managers who have sent back lab tests 4 times because the color doesn’t match and then not having visibility into whether that effort impacted customer satisfaction. To me, it’s bigger than returns. Chief Returns Officer is a tool that really should make everyone’s lives a little bit easier. It’s all to protect saleability, customer satisfaction, and profitability.
What was it like transitioning from a corporate retail environment to a software startup?
Rhyanna: It was quite a leap. I did have my reservations about it, but at the same time, it was very exciting! I’ve always been a very motivated self-starter, so to think of [leading a team of developers] was really exciting, especially to grow something from just an idea. But at the same time, there was risk in it. When you have been working for the same company for a long time, there is a comfort level. Jumping into the unknown is a little scary. It was a tough decision to make, but I was ready for a new challenge. I had been at the same company for 10 years, so that helped me with the decision to make a change.
What do you like most about the work you do?
Rhyanna: I think I have a knack for troubleshooting and creating a plan to solve a problem. I’ve made a career out of it. You must be creative in your thought process. And that’s what I apply to every facet of Chief Returns Officer. Also, the challenge and reward of creating something that didn’t exist before—That’s intriguing and keeps me going all the time.
What are you excited to watch unfold in the next few years for the retail industry?
Rhyanna: There are so many things I am excited about–Sustainability, technology, and innovative fabric development are the trifecta for me. I’m excited by the way apparel is turning from being a disposable industry. I love fashion, but I love heritage pieces. I love quality. I believe in access to everyone because I think that’s important, too. But I think the trend of disposable fast fashion has tempered, and you see customers going back to the more traditional ways of thinking and wanting to maximize their purchases and to keep products for longer. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations around sustainability. Retailers are getting insights from big data technology that will enable them to understand their customers and better meet their needs, so there will be less overstock. Technological advancements have made the development of new sustainable fabrics from recycled plastic… It’s almost every day that I hear about a new fabric!
Let’s talk sustainability and fashion. What misconceptions do consumers have about sustainability?
Rhyanna: Sustainability is becoming more and more important in the industry. The biggest “misconception” is the blind spot customers have about the work it takes to get a product from concept to their closet. I don't think the average customer realizes the depth of the entire process and how much of an impact each step makes on the environment.
Part of our mission is to shine a light on the back end of returns—which stages of the product creation and delivery are impacting return levels. We’re having these great discussions about returns with retailers of varying types, and these conversations spark further interest into understanding the full picture of where a product comes from and what stages of development and/or delivery impact whether a customer will return keep their purchase.
What is Newmine's latest sustainability-related initiative?
Rhyanna: Our biggest effort right now is educating and enlightening the retail industry about the full cost of returns and how they impact retail business, consumers, and our planet. We’ve recently released an Incisiv State of the Retail Industry report and a report with Coresight about the environmental impact of returns.
Research has shown that many C-level executives don’t know how to measure their returns problem. And if you can’t measure it, you can’t solve it. That’s where Chief Returns Officer and returns intelligence come in: You can reduce returns and get clues into areas for efficiency and improvement across the entire business. If we can shift even a portion of retailers to pay attention and minimize returns, we’ll be moving in the right direction sustainably.
What do you consider to be the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity?
Rhyanna: The biggest roadblock in the retail industry is that we are continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done in a world that is more different than it has ever been. Retailers are actively missing opportunities. The accelerated speed that retailers move to fulfill consumer demand has magnified with the growth of e-commerce. There is so much data, but never enough time to turn that data into insight.
This is why we focused on making Chief Returns Officer as easy to implement as possible. New advancements in automation and AI have made it possible for us to diagnose why returns are happening and prescribe measures to prevent and reduce returns, so retailers can focus on making more informed decisions and taking corrective action. With a new tool comes new perspective, and visibility is key.
What’s your definition of Work Hard/Play Hard?
Rhyanna: Work hard, stay humble, and let your actions speak for themselves. My first job was at Marshall’s. I was able to work enough and build up enough paid time off that I continued to collect a paycheck through my first year of college! I was hustling before I even know what hustling was. For play hard… the beach is literally my favorite place to be.
Chief Returns Officer will have such a big impact on the fashion industry—But what's your fashion philosophy?
Rhyanna: Michael Kors, Loft, Lucky Brand – For me fit and fabric are everything. I’d rather have a nice-fitting black top made with nice fabric than a cheap fast fashion item. I’m passionate about quality and making things that last. My primary rule is that I don’t throw clothes away. I will always donate or re-purpose. For example, I once converted an old dress into a cute bag! With a background in fashion, I can’t bear to throw away fabric!