A Letter From The CEO

Totokaelo is my favorite topic of conversation. When tasked with writing an introduction to prospective employees, there’s a lot I’d like to say. As a starting point, I’ve addressed the most frequently asked questions during first-round interviews.
Totokaelo’s mission is to encourage people to dress distinctly and intentionally. We don’t use the word ‘trend’, and we believe there are as many right ways of dressing as there are people on the planet. We partner with clients to define their signature style. Our approach is unique and in-depth. We ask a lot of questions to ensure clients land on a thoughtful and unique look that reflects their values and perspective.
Totokaelo was founded in 2003, a time when luxury goods weren’t accessible to everyone. We don’t accept the idea that access to the most incredible clothing and art should be reserved for an elite few. We work continuously to create warm and inviting retail spaces where everyone is welcome.
We represent the worlds most beautiful, original and well-crafted fashion and art. Our egalitarian approach to luxury goods is coupled with a clear point of view when it comes to selecting the styles and designers we carry. We represent artists and designers whom we believe to have an independent and thoughtful sense of beauty. With few exceptions, if we don’t carry it at Totokaelo, we don’t believe in it.
Founded in 2003, our growth trajectory has been tremendous. What began as a 700 /ft2 boutique in a Seattle basement, has grown into a global luxury retailer with balanced bricks & mortar and e-commerce businesses. Today, Totokaelo represents the worlds most artistic and directional fashion designers, for both men and women, in a 12,000 /ft2 Seattle brick & mortar store and online at Totokaelo.com.
Our secret sauce is having a culture that fosters agility, collaboration and expedient decision making. We run more like a tech-startup than a traditional retail operation. Team members are challenged to test new ideas weekly. Try something new. Gather and evaluate results. Draw conclusions. Refine and Improve. Try it again.
Who are we looking to hire? Candidates that have creative-ideation and analytical chops in balanced measure. Individuals who are not only excited about testing new ideas, but who can quantify and evaluate results. It’s also a must that candidate’s personal goals and values align with the company’s. For a team of any kind to win, the team’s goals must come before the individual’s. This happens naturally when the company and those within it are working towards the same thing.
Our culture is entrepreneurial. Leadership is open to all new ideas that are good for the company and inline with our mission and values. We encourage staff at all levels to pitch new programs, ideas and ways of doing things. A handful of major company initiatives began with an employee pitch — ideas that re-defined our service level and in some cases, our business model. Pitching leadership and then owning the evolution of that idea into a company initiative or division, is a career-defining move.
Totokaelo bases compensation on contribution. Raises are given as frequently as warranted and in amounts directly tied to results. Our sales team’s compensation is commission-based. Earning potential is uncapped — we currently have million dollar sellers that earn six-figures annually. We also reward top sellers with trips to NY and Paris to visit designer showrooms and flagship stores. Our entry and mid-level staffers are paid on the upper-end of the fashion-industry average. Executive starting-salaries are smack in the middle of average. Most executives that come from larger companies (revenues of 500+ million), take a small pay cut to join Totokaelo. However, once they begin getting results, their compensation surpasses previous roles.
As a company, we’ve hit our stride. We’ve contained company growth to a manageable pace. We have a solid leadership team dedicated to cultivating and teaching our people. There was a season of business where Totokaelo’s growth was too fast. During this period, I was the sole leader and witnessed a rapid decline in quality and service. Unable to unite the team and present one goal or unifying mission, the company was like a boat with 30 individuals rowing in different directions. I was frustrated and exhausted. This was not mine nor Totokaelo’s finest hour.
How did we turn things around? In true Totokaelo fashion, we changed. The most dedicated and solution-oriented staffers across all teams and at all levels of the company came together and had real, candid dialog about what wasn’t working. Leadership and junior staffers each voiced their perspectives openly. We put into action a plan that united various teams towards a common purpose. We prioritized company goals above individual’s. The change included an organizational restructuring, unifying cross-functional teams, clearer lines of reporting and improved systems of accountability.
We had to move backwards to move forwards, and we’re proud to report that in the last 12 months, in an industry that averages 54.89% turnover, we achieved 30.1%. Our 2015 stats look even sweeter: 10.5% YTD turnover company-wide and 7.1% YTD turnover in leadership. We fixed what wasn’t working.
If what I’ve described above is something you’d like to be a part of, please reach out regardless of posted openings. We always have a job for the right candidate — someone passionate about doing things different and providing bar-raising retail experiences both on and off-line.
Jill Wenger
Founder and CEO