Whitney Casey is on a futuristic quest to help women solve some of their most troubling wardrobe woes with her new fashion-focused tech platform, finery.com.
By Shelley Seale, Photos by Caitlin Mitchell.
The 1995 hit movie Clueless–a modern-day high-school version of Jane Austen’s novel Emma—remains a cult classic more than 20 years later and has sent shock waves of influence into the fashion and pop-culture spheres for years to come.
In one of the movie’s many memorable quotes, the teenage protagonist, Cher, asks her nemesis, Amber, “Do you prefer ‘fashion victim’ or ‘ensemble-y challenged?’ ”
But the movie’s defining moment of plot revelation-a la Jane Austin and My Fair Lady-comes when Cher and her best friend, Dionne, observe the hopelessly unfashionable Tai.
“Let’s do a makeover!” Cher proclaims.
As the très chic owner of a technologically ahead-of-its-time computerized wardrobe-organizing program to accompany perhaps the most glorious, color-coded closet ever, there is no question of Cher’s qualifications for this undertaking. As if!
One fan of the film is Whitney Casey, an Emmy Award-winning television journalist who worked at CNN and ABC News. Casey has appeared on nearly every major network and has interviewed prestigious celebrities, millionaires and politicians, including Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, Paris Hilton and Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, as well as foreign royalty.
She moved from New York City to Houston in 2006 to become the host and senior producer of Great Day Houston, a live daily talk show on CBS.
Casey is also a major fashionista, one who cites Cher’s futuristic closet seen in Clueless as a source of inspiration for her newest venture, finery.com.
Her path to style savvy was helped along by her television viewers.
“People would write in and say, ‘You’re wearing what you wore two weeks ago.’ No joke,” she says. “They would remember the outfit I wore and remind me that I was an—Oh, no! Wait for it.—outfit repeater!”
As Cher would say, that’s way harsh.
Casey soon became hyperaware of every outfit she wore on the air.
“I would write them down and take a Polaroid so I wouldn’t repeat the same outfit that month,” she says.
At the same time that she was manually tracking her wardrobe, she began taking advantage of the latest high-tech apps and products to assist her with productivity in many areas of her life.
“I used Mint to manage my finances, Spotify to manage my music and TripIt to manage my travel itinerary,” Casey says. “Yet, when it came to managing my wardrobe, there was no software at the ready. Why was there no technology available to help manage the spending, the returning, the sales, the redundancies, the styling, the recommencing?”
Casey realized there was a huge unfulfilled need in the fashion-meets-tech realm.
“Our wardrobes are rife with opportunity to optimize, so it was finally time to get a team together to help problem-solve in this arena,” she says.
Casey teamed up with her best friend, actress and model Brooklyn Decker, to create an operating system capable of managing a woman’s wardrobe. The concept, finery.com, was born in March 2017.
“We call it the Wardrobe Operating System because it operates in the background, tracking your purchases and managing your wardrobe without any manual work on the part of the user,” Casey explains. “It gives you access to your wardrobe anywhere. It’s right there in the palm of your hand wherever you go, so you can easily pack for trips or decide what to wear while you’re out and about.”
The web platform and mobile app, releasing this fall, also help customers shop smarter by sending notifications when something they want to buy goes on sale, so they can avoid paying full price. It will also send reminders when return windows are expiring. Possibly the best news of all: The entire service is free to use.
“Our goal is to save women time, money and mindshare,” Casey says. “You can plan your outfits for the week while you’re sitting on the couch with your family and not have to think about it every morning. We’re creating technology to manage your clothing from the moment you buy it throughout its lifetime while you’re wearing it, and then providing a visual reminder that it’s there when it has made its way to the back of your closet and it’s time to donate it or lend it out—all on our site.”
New features the team is working on include a recommendation system that will provide users with a personalized online-shopping experience based on their specific purchase history, and create a unique style using artificial intelligence. It’s the Cher closet brought into the 21st century.
“If I had a dime for every time a friend or a teammate of mine quoted Cher and Dion from Clueless, I would never need to talk with a venture capitalist about funding Finery,” Casey says.
The journalist turned entrepreneur has a lot of experience in breaking new ground. She was one of CNN’s youngest correspondents when she started there, reporting for the 24-hour news network and sharing Headline News anchoring duties. She reported live and on the scene for many high-profile breaking-news stories, including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, the Anthrax Investigation, Elián González’s custody battle and the 2000 presidential election recounts in Florida, the state where she was born.
A perhaps unexpected fact about Casey is that she was a top volleyball player in high school and college. She may have gotten some athletic inspiration from her father, Charlie Casey, who was a football player drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. In high school, she left home to play volleyball for the country’s top junior national team in Northern California.
“I lived with my mom’s sister and pretty much ate, drank and slept volleyball for four years,” she says.
Casey was one of the top recruits nationally when she graduated, and went on to play on a full sports scholarship at the University of Southern California.
“Top-10 college programs in the country are highly competitive,” Casey says. “As one of the top recruits, I only wanted to go to one of the best schools and then play on the national team.”
Unfortunately, between her freshman and sophomore seasons, Casey sustained an injury to her ankle and ended up transferring to the University of Virginia’s premed program, also on a full scholarship.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to compete at the highest level,” Casey says of her injury. “But I was still going to be pretty good at a less competitive school. [Virginia was in] a much less competitive league, so even with a bum ankle, I could get a full ride and play for a college team that just wasn’t going to be the top-tier volleyball school.”
In Virginia, she found she had to fight the old-boys’ network in an uphill battle.
“I came from a school with 15 women’s scholarships at one of the top programs to the last-placed team in the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Casey says. “I realized that there weren’t even enough scholarships at UV for women, and so, I immediately started fighting the system and demanding that they create equal opportunities for women. I even reported various Title IX violations. It was egregious there.”
Casey says her alma mater has recently improved in this area, but cites the University of Texas as a stellar example of a program that takes women’s athletics seriously.
“You will often find me at their games rooting on that amazing team, and so happy that they fill stadiums full of fans and that young women can see such badass examples of women,” she says.
Overcoming her own set of challenges, Casey graduated from the University of Virginia in 1997 as an Academic All-American in volleyball with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
But it was television news that sparked her interest and where she found her niche. She planned to go to medical school, but decided to take a year off first and live in New York City.
“Because I loved sports, I started helping out as an intern at NBC Sports,” Casey says. “That’s when I got the news bug. I did an interview with Keyshawn Johnson, who played for the New York Jets at the time.”
Johnson had also been an athlete at USC when Casey was a student there, a connection that helped their conversation. It was her first on-camera interview, and she was hooked. She took the tape to an audition for a news job in Atlanta, where her best friend lived.
“They laughed me out of the newsroom,” Casey admits. “Everyone who worked there had at least seven years of experience, and I had one interview on one tape! One news director told me to try working in a smaller market like Macon if I wanted to get into news. So, I got in my car that very moment and drove 90 minutes to Macon, Georgia.”
There, she went to the Fox affiliate and gave the newsroom’s general manager the same interview tape. She got the job. Casey recalls working all night, catching bits of sleep at her desk, so she could catch up on all the things she didn’t know because she had never attended journalism school.
The hard work and furious learning curve paid off. After only six months of being on the air at the Fox station in Macon, Ga., a major agent saw Casey on the news and offered her a job in Miami at the No. 1 NBC station there.
A year and a half later, she got her big break when she landed a job as an anchor at ABC News in New York. Her first day on the job was September 10, 2001.
“That was intense,” Casey says. “I was so young and green. I learned so much about human nature and life from that experience, but there were also a lot of deaths and funerals—a very sad time for the world.”
At ABC News, she also hosted and produced a daily political show called Politics Live. But after three years, she was ready for a break from hard news. She received what she calls an amazing opportunity to run her own daily show in Texas, Great Day Houston, which allowed her to produce her own content geared toward helping other women.
“I took it and ran with it,” Casey says. “All-female topics on a live talk show at Dan Rather’s original station!”
Casey won two Emmy Awards for her work at Great Day Houston, and also wrote a popular Sunday column for The Houston Chronicle.
It was while she was covering a story for the show that she visited Austin for the first time and met her future husband, Silicon Labs Co-founder Nav Sooch, at a sushi restaurant.
Coincidentally, Casey was in the middle of writing her first book at the time, The Man Plan. The book deal came about because of the success of her weekly column. Casey submitted to several agents her idea for an engaging guide for modern women on relating to the opposite sex, and got a national book deal from Penguin. She had interviewed 250 men for the book, which revealed how men really think about a variety of issues. But Casey says she knew Sooch was the one for her after their first couple dates.
“It was the best story I ever decided to cover,” Casey says.
She moved to Austin in 2007, and the couple married in 2010.
Today, she’s branching out into a new career as a budding entrepreneur with the launch of finery.com, a venture she’s challenged to contain her excitement about.
“If I had this system in my news-anchor days, it would have been a lot easier,” Casey says. “I could have made all my outfits and then drag and dropped them to the dates I last wore them and—bam—never be called an outfit repeater again!”
While users love the tangible benefits of the platform—saving money with sale notifications, shopping 10,000 brands in one place, making outfits for an upcoming trip—Casey says the less obvious benefit is the huge productivity increase it provides when shopping and getting dressed.
“Finery provides a comprehensive wish list where you can add anything from anywhere on the internet, so you don’t have a million open tabs and carts timing out right and left,” she says. “You can instantly share an item from your wish list with a friend, so you can get a second opinion and avoid buyer’s remorse. Or you can share a whole outfit, so maybe your friend or even a sales associate can help you find the right purse to match the dress and heels you bought for an upcoming wedding. Or [you can]show your friend what you’re going to wear on a date.”
Casey and her team are also using the venture to support the community, donating affiliate sales commissions from clothing purchased through finery.com to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing professional attire, along with a network of career support.
“Generous brands like Finery allow us to directly open doors and create opportunities for more women around the world,” says Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide. “finery.com aligns with our mission in their work to empower women as well, by helping women spend less time compiling their wardrobes so they have more time to focus on their families and professional career growth.”
The organization, which celebrates 20 years of service this year, has grown from a tiny operation in a church basement to an international organization that has served more than 1 million women, with affiliates in 150 cities throughout 26 countries.
“A woman’s journey with us starts with a suit that empowers her and gives her confidence for that first interview, but it then blossoms into so much more,” Gordon says. “When we look to the next 20 years, we see that journey continue to evolve so that each and every woman can achieve her fullest potential.”
Casey is no stranger to advancing the work of human-service organizations. She worked with the Clinton Global Initiative as part of a small think tank that worked closely with President Clinton and his foundation to create and develop the project’s core concepts and inaugural meeting held in New York City. She was also involved with the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, assisting in the creation of the Forum of Young Global Leaders. She attended the forum’s Arab summit in Jordan, working closely with King Abdullah and Queen Rania.
With all this travel, not to mention splitting her time between Austin and New York City, Casey is all about the ways that a system like Finery makes packing a nonissue. She even spends a little time planning her outfits on the virtual portable closet whenever she has extra time, be that at airports, in line or waiting for appointments.
“This has been a game changer for me,” Casey says of her new fashion-tech brainchild. “Every Sunday afternoon, I’m in my closet without physically being in my closet, picking out what I’m going to wear for the week. It’s such a relief to have this taken care of when I wake up every morning.”
Whitney Casey’s Wardrobe Planning Tips
Check out these three pieces of fashion advice from the pro.
- “Shopping’s golden rule: Only buy something if it goes with three things you already own. Finery helps you out here too. Add the item you’re thinking about buying to your wish list, then create three looks using that item and items from your wardrobe. If it passes the test, it’s a purchase you’ll actually wear.”
- “I am a huge proponent of the new wardrobe technologies that have become available to women in the past few years. I use Rent the Runway’s (renttherunway.com) unlimited subscription program and Flont (flont.club), a new service that allows you to borrow fine jewelry. I consign all of my old purses with Rebagg (rebagg.com). I really encourage using these services. Not only are they a huge value add to managing my wardrobe, but proving their success will only lead to more technology dedicated to making women’s lives better and easier.”
- “Every Sunday, for the week ahead, take 20 minutes to make four outfits. The Finery site even tells you the weather forecast [in your city], so all you will have to do is drag and drop a few outfits on our outfit board. Even if you plan just two or three for the week, it is so helpful for that extra press of the snooze button to know that your outfits are already ready to go!”