Few love stories give way to startup success. But for Reflekt Me’s Co-Founders Tope and Gerald Mitchell, who met in graduate school at Indiana University, their story included not only falling in love, getting married, and having a child together but also launching a SaaS startup to help create a better world for their 3-year-old daughter to live in.
No matter what size or color you are, Reflekt Me is working to ensure you can see yourself when shopping for clothes online. The B2B software enables e-commerce customers to click a Reflekt Me button, hyper-personalizing what the clothing model looks like based on size measurements, skin color and the other unique markers of every individual. Reflekt Me charges companies a set-up fee and a commission on each item sold.
While Reflekt Me is based in Fayetteville, Triangle startup watchers can get an up-close look when it presents at CED’s Venture Connect conference on Wednesday, March 18.
While Gerald’s experience is in college administration, Tope is an academically trained sociologist who had explored the concept of “in-betweeners,” or body shapes that don’t fit the beauty standards provided by most models, whether ‘standard’ or ‘plus-size’. But the full idea for the startup, which incorporated in 2019, came to Tope through her reaction to her daughter’s love for fashion.
“It was weird because that scared me,” she said, “and I was like, well, why does that scare you that your daughter loves fashion? And I’m afraid they’re all going to laugh at you, it’s going to hurt you, right? Fashion is created to make you feel like you are ‘less than’ so that they can sell to you. So I went back to this inbetweeners concept, dug deeper into sociology and looked at these theories of annihilation and how when these worlds are created online, when they’re creating movies where you don’t exist, that it actually teaches society that you’re not important.”
Now, children the same age as the Mitchells’ daughter have diverse Star Wars casts and Disney princesses to look up to, Tope said. But Reflekt Me wants to translate that to the fashion world.
The name itself, Reflekt Me, also comes from Tope’s experiences with her daughter.
“I was literally trying to teach my daughter how to wash her hands because when she went to the restroom, it was taking forever,” Tope said. “And I realized she is in love with her reflection. I don’t know if you’ve been around a lot of little kids, but they’ve got the best confidence. They don’t need Beyonce to tell them they’re flawless. They don’t need Lizzo. You know, she just loves herself. And so I thought that the name of the company being Reflekt Me is like a call to action for me to remember that it’s a call to action for businesses.”
As Vogue editor Anna Wintour laments, although fashion is often seen as frivolous, it is the ‘armor’ we choose, Tope said. Thus, for the Reflekt Me founders, fashion businesses have the responsibility to stand for inclusivity.
Whether it’s the rise of Black music artists or the presence of Black people in mainstream McDonald’s advertisements or the Cheerios advertisement showing an interracial family, representation matters, Tope said. This is the service Reflekt Me seeks to provide.
“When those things started to become a part of a glimpse into normalcy, a glimpse into humanity, people grew more empathy,” Tope said. “It’s debatable, but that’s what a lot of us in academia have seen is this shift of once people are seen, once different lifestyles are seen, they just become seen as more human. So we spend a lot of time online, and we’re hoping that that can be a medium. We can’t change the movies people make, but we can definitely affect people’s experience online.”
Gerald and Tope now work together as a husband-and-wife co-founder team, both bringing different skills to the table, with Tope as the CEO while Gerald serves as COO. When he heard the passion in his wife’s idea, Gerald came on board, seeing the idea as a potentially successful movement rather than merely a product. Reflekt Me is a way to infuse technology into that movement.
“I think that we can bring people into the industry who don’t shop online,” Gerald said. “Talk to anyone that’s not a millennial or anyone that doesn’t fall into the typical body-type standards that you see online. They have reservations about shopping online because they can’t see themselves in the clothing, and our tool solves that problem. Once we gain popularity and get our tool out there, people will be able to shop online and feel confident that they understand how things will fit on them because the shopping experience will truly reflect them.”
As they expand their business, the Mitchells hope to create a space where their daughter can continue to love herself.
Reflekt Me won $30,000 as part of the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Black Women Talk Tech conference. The duo will also be presenting at CED’s Venture Connect conference on Wednesday, March 18, in 301A/B, and are looking to meet fellow entrepreneurs and forge connections.
“We’re academics, so learning is so important to us as we move forward,” Tope said. “So that’s why we’re just super-excited about it. It’s about connecting, gaining partners, even potential clients, and meeting other people who are grinding like we are and trying to make a difference.”