Everything about my work within the fashion industry is disruptive. At large — the mainstream fashion industry is pretentious, exclusionary, racist, fatphobic, ableist and more. It is built off over consumption, mass production, and exploitative labor. With SmartGlamour — I am offering customizable, ethically made, affordable clothing in sizes XXS-15X and beyond — the largest size range I have yet to see. Our models represent everyone — of every size, shape, height, weight, gender, ability, ethnicity, and age. I don’t photoshop or airbrush them in any way. They are welcome to wear their glasses, flat shoes, use any kind of mobility device etc. I make the clothing to fit them — I don’t cast models to fit my clothing.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mallorie Dunn.
Mallorie Dunn is a NYC based fashion designer, business owner, and professor. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology and Pratt Institute, she worked in both corporate design and freelance sectors before launching her clothing brand, SmartGlamour in Spring 2014. She is also an adjunct professor for Parsons/Open Campus at The New School.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
All my life, I was interested in fashion, personal style, and clothing — but I didn’t realize it could be a career until high school. I had assumed maybe I’d be a math teacher — but when I learned my high school offered a fashion design course, my whole perspective changed. However, leaving high school and moving to NYC (I’m originally from Newburgh, NY) — attending FIT for fashion design — I quickly learned just how image and appearance obsessed our society, and the fashion industry is. I was not interested in fashion for the “glam” or brand names — I just love clothing, making things, and using those things to express yourself as a person. And I feel that should be available to all people — not only a select few.
After FIT, I transferred to Pratt Institute and got a degree in Art and Design Education. I was disillusioned by the fashion industry, didn’t want to participate in it — and thought maybe teaching would be a better fit after all. But — then I missed making clothes! So I tailored my degree toward teaching fashion — doing my student teaching at the High School of Fashion Industries in Chelsea. After Pratt, I decided to give the industry a try, and began work in corporate fashion in the Juniors sector. Unfortunately, all of my negative assumptions proved to be true — and I was completely put off by the high pressure, complete lack of creativity, and beyond unethical production of mass market clothing.
I moved into a life of freelance — doing everything I knew how to do — from alterations, to custom pieces, to teaching design to others — and it was during that time that I had the creative space and emotional energy to come up with my current brand, SmartGlamour — which I then launched in February 2014.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Everything about my work within the fashion industry is disruptive. At large — the mainstream fashion industry is pretentious, exclusionary, racist, fatphobic, ableist and more. It is built off over consumption, mass production, and exploitative labor. With SmartGlamour — I am offering customizable, ethically made, affordable clothing in sizes XXS-15X and beyond — the largest size range I have yet to see. Our models represent everyone — of every size, shape, height, weight, gender, ability, ethnicity, and age. I don’t photoshop or airbrush them in any way. They are welcome to wear their glasses, flat shoes, use any kind of mobility device etc. I make the clothing to fit them — I don’t cast models to fit my clothing. And I work hard to pair models with outfits I think would speak to them and their personality. What you end up with — are happy, confident, radiant people modeling clothing they actually like and feel comfortable in — and that resonates with our customers very strongly.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t think I made any funny mistakes — that I can remember — but I think the biggest problem solving moments came from hosting our first few events. At our launch event, our first runway show, in February 2014 — I had selected a venue specifically for the way the room was laid out, with an area for my models to “be” before walking out onto the runway. When I arrived day of the event — the partition was gone, and room was rearranged and we had to problem solve to create a new space that would work on the fly. This taught me to always double check, ask every question, discuss every small detail — to ensure expectations are met.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I haven’t really had any specific mentors per say — within the inclusive fashion industry — it’s just not really a space where tons of folks have come before current indie brands. However, I have had incredible teachers in the past, and have a very supportive group of family and friends. Very often — my models become my friends, as we build a safe, inclusive community of folks. The people I have met through running SmartGlamour are some of the most inspiring, caring, kind, and helpful individuals I’ve had the pleasure to know. They are the people that keep me motivated.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I don’t believe there are many current systems or structures, that have been around for decades, that are positive. American society has been built up on the backs of Black folks, people of color, indigenous folks — so any industry or system that has lasted decades — either exploited those people or excluded those people. This is why we need disruption. Racist, fatphobic, transphobic, homophobic systems must be torn down and replaced in order to create true equity and justice for all.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I believe the most impactful advice I’ve ever gotten was from a stranger, who worked at my local laundromat. She told me “You don’t have to wait to be happy.” I was just 20 at the time, and it really gave me the courage I needed to make some dramatic personal changes in my life. Obviously, we can’t wish away all of our hardships — but some things are in our control, and that was a great reminder of that fact.
The next best piece of advice, I’d say — came from my mother when I was in high school, in the form of a ring. Engraved on it was “To thine ownself be true” and I wore it everyday. In college, I got that tattooed on my wrist, instead of wearing the ring daily. It’s just a classic reminder to stay true to myself.
And then lastly, my most recent example — is advice I’ve given to myself. I am an over achiever and perfectionist in recovery, and am definitely harder on myself than anyone else will ever be. Watching TV a few months ago — I heard the addage “I am enough and I have enough time.” — and it’s become a bit of a mantra for me.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I have already begun this a bit — but I plan to move further into the fashion education space. Fast fashion and mass manufacturing works for a number of reasons — but one of the largest, is that consumers are uninformed on exactly how clothing is made, and at whose expense. I teach virtual classes, but am also a fashion business professor at Parsons — and I teach these classes from an inlcusive, ethical, sustainable angle. If we truly want the fashion industry to change — we must also change the way fashion is taught to future designers and fashion industry professionals.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women are challenged in this society first, simply by existing in a patriarchal system. Men are the majority of CEOs, investors, executives and so on — they hold the most power. This then trickles down into every aspect of women attempting to run businesses and disrupt systems with those businesses. For me, specifically — I also do “womens’ work” — I sew clothing, and I heal women and femmes. These aren’t industries or causes that men take seriously.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I don’t really listen to, or read, any business related media. I am, however, constantly taking in media made by, and discussing the lives of, marginalized groups. I think it’s of great importance to learn all you can about everyone around you — especially if you are creating a business that supports them, hires them, and caters to them. My favorite authors and content creators in that space are: Ijeoma Oluo, Sonya Renee Taylor, Ragen Chastain, The Stoop, Queery, Substantia Jones, and Rachel Cargle
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh I suppose I combined this question with the advice question above — as my advice were all “quotes.” I really just don’t separate “business” from life, in that way. I run my business the same way I run my life.
If I could pass on advice to other women entrepreneurs — it would be to remember to take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would encourage as many people as possible to believe that they are enough — right now — as they are.
And I also hope to inspire folks to look further into ethical, accessible, inclusive fashion — to shop in ways that cause less harm to people and the planet.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram — @smart_glamour
Facebook — www.facebook.com/smartglamour
Youtube — www.youtube.com/smartglamour
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!