Inspired by her days as a dancer, Rachel Pally has taken her love of fluid moving fabrics and transformed it into a brand that attracts women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Despite having no formal design training, Rachel’s entrepreneurial savvy and appreciation for the female form inspired her to turn her love of dressmaking into an immediate job post college.
Packing her Volvo with samples and going door-to-door to retailers, Rachel’s confidence in her products made her a name that could not be ignored. Though having held her first fashion show just nine years ago, it is that same confidence and creative genius that quickly made Rachel Pally a hot brand, filled with pieces worth coveting. Juggling a busy schedule filled with fittings, meetings, appearances, and photo shoots, this mom-to-be’s work ethic is unstoppable.
Full name: Rachel Pally
Location: Los Angeles
Current title/company: Owner and designer Rachel Pally Inc.
Educational background: UC Berkeley
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
My first job was starting Rachel Pally! I landed it because I was the only one involved. I hired myself. My parents bought me two rolls of jersey fabric for my 22nd birthday, one black and one cream, and I sewed a set of samples in my bedroom. Voila! A job!
You majored in Cultural Geography and dance at UC Berkley. Tell us a little bit about how your educational background has translated into your career now.
I always knew that I wanted to work for myself. My parents always ran their own business and I loved the freedom and flexibility that it afforded us. I knew that was how I wanted to structure my life. College was amazing because it trained me to be a problem solver and kept me sharp, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it!
Did you always want to go into the fashion industry? When did designing go from being a hobby to a business?
I never treated it as a hobby. I knew that I wanted to give it a go as a business right from the start. I had only been making clothes for myself and my friends for a semester before I made my first collection. I knew all along that it was business or bust once I graduated from college and I am very fortunate to love my business!
You worked at a costume shop during college. How did that experience prepare you as a designer and business owner?
I made flowy, stretchy dance costumes. Now I make flowy, stretchy clothes! It prepared me for my business by making me tune into how to dress a woman, how to work with the movement of her body and her curves.
When you were first starting your brand, tell us about the process of getting investors and finding your niche in such a competitive industry. What steps did you take to market yourself after creating your first collection?
I’ve been in business for 10 years and I’ve never had an investor or borrowed any money. I started with the two rolls of fabric from my parents and $200 of babysitting money. And I was able to live at home which saved me money and gave me a workforce to tap into! My mom helped with orders, my dad helped with shipping, my brother made my lookbooks, my grandma helped sew in labels.
I sewed my first collection in my bedroom at my parent’s house. I cut and pasted sketches and made my line sheets at kinko’s. Then I bagged it up, threw it in the back of my volvo, and went door to door! I called every store in town, got appointments with buyers, or just showed up! I was incredibly persistent. I walked in with confidence and usually left with an order! And when I didn’t, I picked myself back up and tried a different store!
In 2004, you had your first fashion show. What was it like to see your designs on the runway for the first time? Briefly walk us through the process of taking your designs from sketches to the runway.
Seeing my designs on the runway was such a thrill. Seeing my designs on women on the street is an even bigger thrill! Its amazing to envision a collection, oversee the sampling, and then have a finished product.
You’re well known for your use of jersey fabrics that have a lot of movement. Does your penchant for jersey stem from your dance background?
I started sewing costumes out of jersey so when it came to making things for myself that was where I felt comfortable. I am also not the most meticulous seamstress so its more forgiving to work with! And I love the way jersey can hug certain parts and fall away from certain parts–its an incredible fabric.
Your designs have been described as comfortable, feminine, body-conscious, and sensual. How would you describe your own aesthetic?
All of the above! And easy! I love that you can just throw on a jersey dress and feel great and look great. Day and night! It really can work for anyone!
Jessica Alba, Oprah Winfrey, Heidi Klum, and Angelina Jolie are just a few of the famous names that have been longtime fans of your designs. How does it feel to have a-listers raving about your designs? What is your career highlight thus far?
My career highlight was being featured on Oprah’s favorite things and hearing her say, “I love Rachel Pally!” That was crazy. Jessica Simpson was also a great supporter early on. I always say, “Jessica wore a pair of my pants, and then I bought a house,” that was definitely a highlight as well.
In 2007, you launched your plus size collection, The White Label, which quickly became a success for its beautiful, classic, and flattering silhouettes. What was your inspiration behind this collection?
Rachel Pally was becoming known as a brand that fit and flattered all women–but it wasn’t true. It only fit and flattered up to a size 10! I knew I wanted to offer my same designs in a larger size range. I found that there was a hole in the market that Rachel Pally could fill.
What is the most challenging aspect of being both a designer and business owner? What is the most rewarding?
I love working for myself! I love that I can oversee the creative side and the business side of Rachel Pally. I learn so much every day. I really get to feel the highs and the lows, and grow as a woman and business person. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The most challenging aspect is balancing it all! Paying close attention to the business, finances, sales, customer service, human resources, logistics, being able to design, and keep the collection fresh season after season–its tough to split your focus so many ways!
Describe your typical workday or week?
Fittings, customer service, vendor meetings, fabric meetings, more fittings, photoshoots, meetings with my sales staff, and lots of emails and phone calls! What did we do before the iPhone?
What advice would you give aspiring designers who wants to one day own their own brand?
Hang in there. Stick with it. Intern. Learn from people who have tried and failed and tried and succeeded. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Take risks. Don’t take things personally. And don’t forget to spellcheck your cover letter and resume!
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Stop freaking out. Fix it if you can. If you can’t, go to sleep and try again tomorrow! And take a break once in a while! That was a crazy time!