“I started out with absolutely no knowledge of the clothing manufacturing industry. Finding a viable factory in Los Angeles on my own proved to be an initial hurdle that hung me up for months. Finally, I threw my inhibitions out the window and started asking everyone I knew for referrals. And I mean everyone. It turned out that my facialist’s receptionist had a brother-in-law who had worked in textiles in downtown Los Angeles. One call to him, and I was on my way into the world of LA manufacturing.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Allegra Richdale, Founder of Maman & Moi, a little girls’ clothing company.
My professional background has gone through many seemingly disparate phases. After college graduation, I acted professionally for ten years, then decided to attend law school. I practiced law until my daughter’s birth, and always thought I’d return to litigation, but life took me in another direction. The death of my mother from ALS re-routed my thinking and inspired me to find more personally meaningful work. I had been mulling over the possible options, when one afternoon I unearthed childhood dresses of mine that my mother had carefully packed away. There was something so special about them — classic, crisp, but now retro in a very cool way. They happened to fit my then four-year old daughter perfectly and she loved wearing them to pre-school. It was so touching to see Tessa in clothes that my mother had picked out for me and thought were special enough to save. These darling little dresses seemed to me to be symbols of the treasured ties between three generations — my mother, me and my daughter. I had inadvertently hit on a eureka moment — a way to celebrate my mother’s life, to share her spirit and an incredible new venture that has blended my love of creativity, collaboration, and business.
So last summer, I had set up a wonderful itinerary for maman&moi: a trunk show at a resort area in Maine as well as a slew of meetings with buyers and boutiques in the Boston area. En route from Los Angeles, I got hit with Bells Palsy on the airplane. I went to smile at my daughter as we were about to land, and I couldn’t move my face. I was that person who provoked the announcement over the loud speaker, “Is there a doctor on board?” Upon landing, medics whisked me off the plane and into a waiting ambulance, and before I knew it, my daughter and I were deposited in the Mass General ER. With the diagnosis came the news that my drooping visage would remain this way for weeks to months. I’m the face of the company, and I literally couldn’t move my face. Well, this is where my acting training kicked in: the (trunk) show had to go on. Everyone acted politely and appeared not to notice, but I’m sure everyone assumed that the chick from LA just suffered from a bad bout of Botox.
I feel strongly that an integral part of any business is to give back to the community. maman&moi looks for ways to help organizations and causes that are related to children’s issues. For example, we have collaborated with Kaleidoscope, a non-profit founded by fashion model Suzanne Lanza, that serves adopted children of color and their families. Suzanne and her daughter modeled my our matching mother-daughter kimonos when we launched these pieces. A portion of proceeds from any kimono sales are earmarked indefinitely for Kaleidoscope.
Similarly, we tie our trunk shows to special causes. One close to our heart is the Charlotte and Gwenyth Gray Foundation, which is dedicated to the research and cure of Batten’s disease. This is a fatal degenerative neurological disease (much like ALS) that, while rare, afflicts children.
We are a very small, very new company, but from the beginning social responsibility and charitable giving has been central to our ethos. As we grow, so will our impact.
I treasure quality, and maman&moi is dedicated to making beautifully crafted dresses out of natural fibers that last — just like the ones my mother saved and I passed down to my daughter. I am dismayed by “fast” fashion and the sense that everything is disposable. Such thoughtless waste that generates, ultimately, nothing but landfill. The fashion industry must strive to shift priorities and we must educate consumers to become more aware of this problem. Consumers can drive change.
· Customers are a powerful resource, and it is important to listen to their feedback. While I have always had a strong vision for my company and our collection, I have learned to seek the advice, suggestions, and — sometimes most importantly — the criticism of my buyers. They have been invaluable in shaping the product.
· Think outside the box. I thought I knew my target audience when I developed my collection and how to reach them. But that quickly proved limiting. When you widen your view, myriad ways to reach different markets emerge. Collaborations, live-streaming trunk shows to the international market, and well-considered, carefully targeted give-aways are just a few examples. A creative approach to brand awareness is a key way to grow a company.
· Don’t be shy: use your network. I started out with absolutely no knowledge of the clothing manufacturing industry. Finding a viable factory in Los Angeles on my own proved to be an initial hurdle that hung me up for months. Finally, I threw my inhibitions out the window and started asking everyone I knew for referrals. And I mean everyone. It turned out that my facialist’s receptionist had a brother-in-law who had worked in textiles in downtown Los Angeles. One call to him, and I was on my way into the world of LA manufacturing.
· Learn Quickbooks. Not exactly scintilating, but true.
While it’s not deathless prose, it’s direct and has proven true: “It’s never too late.” When people around me have commented, “If only I had this degree”, or “I have this idea but I’m 40…”, I always encourage them to go for it. I have reinvented my career three times, and I have loved each phase. I am living proof that at 31, you can go toe-to-toe with 21-year olds in law school and keep up! And make a bunch of 21-year old friends! We are always evolving and our careers can, too. I encourage my now tween daughter to pursue her dreams and passions, but I always remind her that nothing is set in stone. It’s never too late.
I am fascinated by and admire women who create their own companies on their own terms. I had the honor of talking with Kate Spade last year who turned out to be a long-time friend of my sister-in-law. She generously spent almost 2 hours on the phone with me and gave me lots of great advice and moral support. She had always been a role model of mine, and I, like so many, mourn her loss.
I am also a big fan of Clare Vivier. Her brand, Clare V., reflects a clear vision — great style, sly wit, artistic sensibility, and accessibility. Her boutiques are intimate and light-filled and beautifully curated. And she has something to say. Whether it’s in artful statements on her merchandise or her collaboration with Every Woman Counts, she clearly strives to make the world a better place.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com