With NYC dreams in mind and a determination to make them happen, Lanie List graduated college and accepted a position with Target Corporation with hopes to break into the fashion industry. Combining her relentless dedication with her experience at Target, she discovered her passion and her business, Lovely Bride.
Through her ability to relate to the frustrating experience of shopping for a wedding dress and her knowledge of the business world, Lanie created a unique bridal store with city-specific collections and a fun atmosphere to ease even the jitteriest of brides. With her dream accomplished, she’s now helping other women hone their own dreams.
Here, Lanie tells us how she continues to uphold the originality of Lovely Bride and her one piece of advice for any entrepreneur.
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first ‘big girl’ job was working for Target corporation (we’ll skip my high school stint at the Dairy Queen). I was recruited out of college in Indiana (Notre Dame), and took the Target job in Minneapolis, although my heart was really hoping I would move to NYC after college. I decided to use it as a stepping stone to one day get into the fashion industry in the Big Apple. Plus, I was enamored with their Trend program, where they sent their fashion directors around the world to hunt for the latest inspiration.
I took a job in a buyer training program, starting as a business analyst, just so I could worm my way into the trend job. That first job was so far away from where I wanted to be, but looking back, the strong financial and business basis I got is the only reason I am where I am today! After years of ‘informational coffee chats’ with big wigs, I broke into the creative side. My persistence to get the job of my dreams really paid off. Five years later, and several product development roles between, I was a Trend Director.
That first job was so far away from where I wanted to be, but looking back, the strong financial and business basis I got is the only reason I am where I am today!
How did that experience lead you to the idea for Lovely Bride? Tell us about the start-to-finish process creating your own company.
I sometimes joke that I have a staring problem, but I believe that is what made me a pro at identifying trends and opportunities. So when I went through the bridal experience myself and exchanged war stories with other friends, I was thrilled to find an industry so in need of change. It almost feels like it fell into my lap!
What I realized is that buying a wedding dress is a one-time event (usually). So even though women were horrified by the bridal shopping options, there was no motivation to change the business… the experience was over for them. That is why bridal retail was stuck in the past for so long.
So I started to formulate a business plan by putting some thoughts on paper about ‘how we could be different.’ I remember the whole time thinking, ‘I’m not really going to do this, it’s just a crazy idea.’ But I kept moving forward and before long I was on the hook! I signed a lease on an adorable townhouse in the West Village of New York and had no other choice but to open a business. I think starting your own company can happen that way sometimes. You don’t have a 100% strong conviction that you are going to, or should do it. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before you know it, you are in business!
What distinguishes Lovely Bride from other bridal lines?
Lovely Bride is the OG indie bridal shop, established in 2010. We plucked many of our first designers off of Etsy, including indie darling Sarah Seven. We have continued to maintain the reputation of ‘unordinary’ wedding dresses, and often have magazine editors calling us first to let us know about an emerging designer that they think would be great for Lovely. Our shop is the ultimate girly haven too. We get loads of selfies taken at Lovely because we ‘go for it’ with the fun. Ultimately, our designer selection and dreamy environment puts brides at ease. We often hear brides say they can just relax in our shops. We work hard on not being intimidating by either being too stuffy or too cool. You could say we are for the Everygirl. 😉
Another major difference is that we have three exclusive brands now, that we have partnered with our best designers on. The are called Louvienne, Lovers Society, and Dear Heart. The coolest thing about exclusive brands is that we can use our designer’s creative talents coupled with our intel of knowing what our brides are asking for to fill voids in our assortment that we can’t fill otherwise.
What I realized is that buying a wedding dress is a one time event. So even though women were horrified by the bridal shopping options, there was no motivation to change the business… the experience was over for them. That is why bridal retail was stuck in the past for so long.
What is your average workday like?
An average work day doesn’t exist for me. I’m always working on the projects that are 10,000 feet in the air so I tend to take things in quarterly increments. I spent most of last year on a big rebrand of our shop and conceptual creative for our new exclusive bridal brands. This summer for me is all about tech, so I’m going to focus on internal systems and our website. If there is one constant, it’s checking my Evernote. Every. Single. Day. It’s my beacon of digital ‘to-dos.’
How did your transition from CMO to CEO change your perspective on owning and growing a business?
Although I had a lot of ownership over the businesses I ran as a CMO, I have never taken business so personally as I have as a CEO. I was actually surprised to have so many business aspects of Lovely cut right to my heart. Your business is like a part of you! Which also means you take part in all aspects of the business, from top to bottom. I read a subway ad once that said ‘Congratulations, you are now your own boss! You are also your own accountant, janitor, and handyman.’ So true! But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is something so organic and natural about truly nurturing a business yourself, and knowing that you are committing to it for the long haul.
There is something so organic and natural about truly nurturing a business yourself, and knowing that you are committing to it for the long haul.
What role does social media play in your branding process?
It’s everything! Although it can be exhausting to keep up with at times, it’s exhilarating to be able to express our brand in relevant ways every day.
For example, we just created some fun videos for Pride month that we were able to post quickly. And we are shooting fresh content all of the time to show off the gowns that have just arrived at our shops.
It’s no longer about a photoshoot on a website that lives there for a year, but daily updates to keep our fans engaged and coming back. Our loyal customers aren’t getting married again, but they pay it forward and tag our posts with their newly engaged friends’ IG handles!
I always say we are a ‘Company of Mom & Pops.’ This tag line embodies the fact that we have a strong, nationally recognized brand, professional systems and standards, but each store has a heart and works hard to appeal to local brides.
You have different collections for different cities, how do you decide what dress goes to what collection?
Our local owners are instrumental in getting it right for their markets, and we talk about best-selling styles by market all the time. It’s fun to see a new designer and think ‘Philly and LA would love that’ or ‘this line belongs in San Francisco, DC, and Chicago.’ It feels like we are learning about the unique cultural differences within our own country.
We take our localization very seriously and wouldn’t trade that for anything. It’s been the key to our success. I always say we are a ‘Company of Mom & Pops.’ This tag line embodies the fact that we have a strong, nationally recognized brand, professional systems and standards, but each store has a heart and works hard to appeal to local brides. This is what sets us apart from the bridal retail chains the most.
Since the brand has so many different boutiques in so many different states, what is one thing that is the same throughout the entire brand?
Our pink! Lovely has had a signature pink — even before Millennial pink. All of our shops have the same design decor, with our custom wallpaper, furniture, and fixtures. But we pride ourselves with a little local flavor in each shop, like our ‘Y’all’ neon in Houston or art gallery style fixtures in our Wynwood, Miami shop.
What is your biggest piece of advice for a bride looking for THE right dress?
Don’t cast the net too wide. When going in for an appointment, have a general idea of what silhouettes you prefer and what styles you feel good in. Then stick to your guns when trying on gowns. You’ll find yourself numb with options if you want to sample all of the dresses.
What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s okay to ease into it. It may seem like owning your own business means you need to jump in with both feet, but it is possible to dip your toe in to see if it’s for you. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Bad days (and months) can feel like your worst breakups. Before you quit your day job, build a business plan, show friends and associates, take mentors, and work out some kinks. You’ll be on much better footing when you have built a good foundation and have wear-tested the idea a bit.
What has been your favorite experience from having your own company?
The pride I feel from it. I can truly see how we are doing something different than anyone else, even though other ‘like’ companies have emerged. We often have brides come back to tell us how unique and special their experience with Lovely was, and I feel so proud of our teams across all of our stores who are delivering on our brand promise.
I also love our ability to innovate and experiment. Our business model makes us so nimble, since we don’t really have anyone to answer to, except for our customers. That is why Lovely, more than any other bridal brand, evolves so quickly and so often. We are always trying out new and exciting ideas in our 13 shops, which is hugely important, considering we have new brides in every day! If we don’t keep on our toes, we will age as a brand, which is something I’m determined not to let happen! We plan to be the fountain of youth!
It may seem like owning your own business means you need to jump in with both feet, but it is possible to dip your toe in to see if it’s for you. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.
Lanie List is The Everygirl…
Coffee or tea?
Best way to relax after a long day?
Cooking a Hello Fresh meal.
Most recent splurge?
A convertible car! I’ve wanted one since I was a teenager.
Favorite ice cream flavor?
Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream by Ben & Jerry’s.
Most recent movie you’ve watched?
Moana… over, and over, and over.