There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Kat Siddle, Librarian for lululemon athletica

Portrait of Kat Siddle.

Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

This is the newest post in our There’s an Archivist for That! series, which features examples of archivists working in places you might not expect.  COPA member Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist at Iowa State University, brings you an interview with Kat Siddle, the Sample  Librarian for the Historical Garment Archive at lululemon athletica.

As a self-described “clothes librarian”, Kat Siddle manages the historical garment archive at lululemon athletica’s headquarters in Vancouver, BC. During her 12 year career, Kat has worked in public, academic, and special libraries, with a short stint in copywriting.

How did you get your gig?

It’s a long story!

I’m technically a librarian, not an archivist. And I got this job because I left libraries for copywriting.

After I graduated, my first full-time position was at a public law library. I liked my job, but after a few years, I started feeling like it was time to move on. I didn’t quite know what to do next. Library jobs were scarce and public law libraries are pretty unusual institutions. I didn’t have an obvious next step. I went back to the drawing board and started applying for non-library jobs. I got a job as a junior a copywriter at lululemon athletica, the company that invented yoga pants. I didn’t have any experience, but I was interested in the apparel industry and I was a good writer. I didn’t know if I would ever end up in libraries again. I did copywriting and content management at lululemon for 2.5 years – and then a role in the archives opened up.

Now I’m librarian running an archive. And instead of books or documents, my archive is filled with clothes. It’s a hybrid library-archive space, because employees can check items in and out, and they’re able to self-serve if I’m not available.

Tell us about your organization.

lululemon is company that makes yoga and fitness clothing, plus accessories and clothes for everyday. It’s known for having an intense culture. It’s very outgoing, sporty and goal-driven—which was a big change for me!

View o f hoodies in pastel and gray shades hanging on a rack.

Garment racks are absolutely essential. They’re my bookcarts. They’re the best way to organize and transport clothing in a workspace. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

lululemon is a vertical company, which means that we create everything in-house. We develop our own special fabrics and design our own garments, and sell them in our own stores. This means there’s lots of opportunities for information professionals. Right now, there are three librarians/archivists working here.

Describe your collections.

Right now, my collections all contain clothing and accessories. I have a few other products, like bottles of skincare and cans of lululemon-branded beer that we created for our annual half-marathon.  We keep the lululemon products that come out globally every season, plus products made by our Lab line and our little-sister company, Ivivva. Ivivva made clothing for girls. The Ivivva brand will be closing soon, so right now I’m working on transitioning that collection from a “working collection” that needs to be referenced by merchants and designers to a historical collection. I want to capture the aesthetic character of the brand and really honor all the hard work that went into it.

Some day, I would love to keep designer’s sketches and other artifacts from the design process, because I find that fascinating.

What are some challenges unique to your collections?

One challenge is that our accessions are driven by the company’s productivity. The company has been growing, so the amount of archival garments that I’m keeping is increases every quarter—but my space remains the same. So I’m always on the verge of a space crisis.

Another challenge is defining what makes up a meaningful or useful collection. I don’t always know how or why people are using my collections, which can make planning and weeding a challenge.

View of women's mannequins in storage.

Behind the scenes at a clothing company. Piles of mannequins are pretty common, and I almost don’t find them creepy anymore. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love that I have the chance to apply my skills in a design-driven environment. I always wanted to be a special librarian, but many of those positions deal with dry subject matter that doesn’t inspire me the way clothing does. I love working with colours and fabrics. It’s just inherently interesting to me. And I’m always learning — there’s so much I still want to learn from the fields of archives and museum sciences.

9 scrunchies on display, various colors, w/ exhibit tags.

I keep collections of all kinds of clothing and accessories. For some reason, the scrunchie collection is one of my favourites. Courtesy of Kat Siddle.

Stay tuned for future posts in the “There’s an Archivist for That!” series, featuring stories on archivists working in places you might not expect. If you know of an archivist who fits this description or are yourself an archivist who fits this description, the editors would love to hear from you—share in the comments below or contact archivesaware@archivists.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!

5 thoughts on “There’s An Archivist for That! Interview with Kat Siddle, Librarian for lululemon athletica

  1. Marina Seeley says:

    Hey there big shout out to Kat Siddle my cousin so happy you found your niche position at this company how very interesting.I have a love for fabric and personal style too. Way to go Kat wishing YOU all the best in your new career whiOknew there was such a thing

    Like

  2. Lynda Stanley says:

    I love this article, and find it so relatable and inspiring! I’ve had a long history in working with fashion imagery as a retoucher in the beauty industry. I ended up going back to school for library science because I realized that I also very much enjoy the organizational aspect of archiving files, and the problem solving that goes along with it– organizing is creative too, and I love that Kat mentioned how much there is to learn from the archival field! So true..would love to hear more from other archivists, especially those that transitioned into the field from other disciplines.

    Like

  3. Samantha says:

    What is your job title? How would someone who doesn’t work on the inside find out about jobs like that? Loved your story. 🙂 olive in the Atlanta area and haven’t really been able to find anything.

    Like

    • Kat Siddle says:

      Hi Samantha! My job title is “sample librarian.” It’s true that special library jobs are a little hidden compared to jobs in public library systems or colleges. When I decided that I wanted to work in the private sector, I made a list of all the companies in my geographic area that were big enough to be able to employ a librarian. Atlanta has a LOT of big companies I imagine, so you’ll have lots to start with! From there, you figure out the ones you’re most interested. (For me, fashion, media and healthcare seemed more interesting than mining or forestry). Then you start trying to figure out if those companies have librarians or archivists. You can always send their librarian a friendly email asking about their job. If someone answers, stay connected through LinkedIn. Networking can feel challenging, but it’s really worth your time, especially for “hidden” jobs like this!

      Like

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