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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to be interviewed for ArchivesAWARE!