Arts

Alumni Spotlight Samantha Shih ’99

This June, Samantha Shih ’99 will celebrate the ten-year anniversary of her graduation from Phillips Academy. As she reminisces about crew races won and lessons learned over the course of her four years on campus, she will have the chance to confirm what she asserts now: “I think that you’ll find this with any alum: their college experience has never compared to their Andover experience.” It was Shih’s Andover experience that provided her with both the independence and the creativity to launch “9tailors,” her own online tailoring business. “Those two learnings [of independence and creativity] that I had at Andover were exemplified, I think, by my Andover crew experience,” said Shih, who was a coxswain for the boys’ varsity crew team. “The very first day, I fell in love with the sport.” Despite the daunting obstacle of being one of the first girls to cox boys’ crew, Shih persevered, earned the respect of her teammates and became “one of the top coxswains in the country.” Shih wrote in an email to the Phillipian: “The lessons I learned from the Andover crew experience, charting my own course and working under extreme pressure, have helped me every step of the way in launching and pursuing my own business.” Like launching a crew boat, launching a business in a burgeoning industry does not come without hard work. “Nobody’s going to knock on your door, so you have to go knock on other people’s doors for any kind of attention or publicity,” said Shih. She sent out communications to publications such as the Boston Herald and Boston Magazine in an effort to spread the word about 9tailors. Since announcing the details of the service in August, 9tailors has begun selling tailor-made men’s dress shirts to the public. The journey to this point was not always easy. “I can’t even count the number of times when I’ve been like, ‘I don’t wanna do this anymore,’” said Shih. Over the course of the past year’s involvement with 9tailors, Shih finally found the right suppliers and partners to work with and found effective ways to communicate with clients and the public and learn the complex laws involved in starting a business. These tasks were made all the more complex by the location of all of 9tailors’ tailors—China. “I was in China for two years,” explained Shih. “I wanted my job to be related to China and also to be on the creative side.” Shih’s deep ties with China were further strengthened as she pursued an advanced degree in Chinese Studies at Johns Hopkins, and her inspiration for 9tailors can be found there. Shih elaborated in an email to the Phillipian: “When I went to study in China a year ago, I met a tailor who was able to custom-make all my clothes at a very affordable rate. I thought, ‘This service is something I could bring to the U.S.’” 9tailors is a company for anyone who has ever had trouble buying clothes off the rack. Clients visit the 9tailors website (http://beta.9tailors.com), fill out their measurements, design their shirt—specifying anything from collar style to cuff type to material to color—submit their design and payment information and can expect their shirt in the mail within 2 to 6 weeks. “It’s probably a little bit more… maybe 25% more work than going to Banana Republic,” said Shih, “but I think at the end of the day, you’ll have a really awesome product, since not only does it fit you, but it’s also to your own design specifications.” In the future, Shih plans to branch out into women’s clothing, experiment with more environmentally sound clothing materials, hire more full-time tailors, and expand 9tailors’s reach—perhaps eventually to a national level. In the meantime, Shih is thankful for all the support she has received along the way. Her three business partners—Austin Wei, Joey Ho and Joan Liao, as well as two other Andover alums—Lauren Carter ’97 and her brother Jonathan Shih ’95—have been indispensible to Shih during 9tailor’s path from concept to creation. Looking back on the ten years since Commencement—between coxswain, college student and now CEO—Shih has learned above all: “It’s really important to pursue your goals and… your dreams, and even if it’s really difficult and every day might seem like an emotional rollercoaster, just keep going. You’ll never know if you can reach your goal until you take the first step.”