June makes everything think about weddings, doesn’t it? Some of us just never stop thinking of weddings, gowns, brides, and business! I hope you have a wonderful June that includes some sunshine and outdoor time - away from work.
In researching an article for this month’s newsletter about indie designers and the stores that carry them, I conducted a survey of some brides. Every single respondent said she either had shopped in a traditional bridal store or she was planning to do so before purchasing her wedding gown. The majority of respondents also said that they made their purchase from a traditional bridal store. We know that online and non-traditional purchasers are out there and the opportunities for brides to buy gowns from them are going to stay around; but it’s encouraging to know that brides are still entering our stores and giving us a chance to impress them. Our challenge comes in offering them items and services they want but cannot find otherwise. Independent brands, personal experts, and gown care services are all part of that answer, I believe.
Most of this newsletter and the articles included were already written when the news broke of Bonny Bridal closing their doors. I am always sad when any business decides they need to close; there are too many dreams and tears poured into an endeavor like that to take it lightly. It does, however, give us one more reason to look more closely at independent lines and designers; which I believe are going to be the heart of our industry in the coming years. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the article “Indie Designers and the Boutiques Who Love Them” below! Also, a big THANK YOU to the ever-gracious Robert Bullock, who responded so quickly to add his own thoughts on this issue to share here.
Happy June and best wishes for a profitable and productive month! Thanks for reading!
“Over the last few years the Bridal industry has watched several major companies shutter their businesses. This week Bonny Bridal announced their closure which is very sad for industry insiders and scary for Brides who may have ordered a gown from them. It's also hard for anyone to step in and save a company when it is too large or carries too much distribution and production. When I stepped in to save the Augusta Jones brand, it was because of their stellar reputation and similar philosophy to my company, Robert Bullock Bride. It's not only important to support smaller companies but to also see who is behind it. I am self-made and the creative director of both of brands. When you support me you support a small business in America and a small town boy who had big dreams and worked endlessly to achieve them.”
Pictured: Me with Robert at National Bridal Market, Fall 2018
Indie Designers & The Boutiques that Love Them
Diane D’Angelo began designing wedding gowns prior to 1985, the year she opened her own store. She was indie before indie was cool. Over 30 years later, her line of gowns is stronger than ever; she knows how to survive the cycles of the economy and business. As both a store owner and a designer of D’Angelo Couture, Diane knows the bridal biz inside and out.
A newcomer to producing her own line, Teresa Eklund started Renee Grace Bridal in 2016, but has been designing custom gowns since 1988. Located in Cincinnati, where there is a long tradition of garment production and one of the finest design schools in the country, Teresa manufactures all her gowns in-house.
These two women help represent the part of our industry that we call the “independent designer”, or “indie”. Not associated with a major brand or design house, indies do their own thing. They design, oversee manufacturing, market, rep, and run the businesses themselves, often with just a small in-house or remote team. With the recent demise of Alfred Angelo and the loss of domestic design houses such as Priscilla of Boston over a decade ago, the independent designers have become a larger force in our industry.
What is the advantage to carrying independent designers in your bridal boutique? The two reasons most cited are the ability to price gowns 3X, 4X, and even 5X over wholesale and the avoidance of minimum order requirements. A close relationship with a designer who can customize for your brides and your boutique is another great advantage. As more designers like Eklund opt to manufacture their gowns in-house, boutiques who want to offer items made in North America will have more choices.
D’Angelo often travels overseas to choose and design her own laces and fabrics, as well as personally oversee her manufacturing partners. She often uses the brides who come into her boutique as inspiration for her designs and then adds the gowns to her line.
At Renee Grace, Eklund has enjoyed the freedom to design her own size chart after noticing that today’s average 19-35-year-old woman tends to be pear-shaped and is frustrated and confused by the industry’s standard use of European sizing. She takes this body shape into consideration in her designs.
In an informal poll taken on The Gown Doctor Facebook Page, every responding boutique listed that they carried at least one independent line; several are 100% independent. Most of them responded that their stock is split at least 50/50 between known brands and independents. Espeically interesting are the boutiques who are nearly 100% indie. One such boutique is our partner in Traverse City, Michigan. I recently chatted about independent designers with Renee Clark-Sovis and Annie Zimmerman, owners of One Oak Bride.
1. Tell us a bit about your shop. Where are you located, when did you open, and what is a favorite part of your story? One Oak Bride is located in the heart of downtown Traverse City. Our boutique is a little off the beaten path, which helps to provide our brides with a little more privacy than if we were to be right on Front Street. We opened our doors in December 2016. We had a very tight timeline from conception to opening our doors and we really relied on our friends and family for support and free labor! We hosted many painting parties with beer and pizza as payment. Our furniture is either antique heirlooms or handmade by Renee's grandfather. The wallpaper and fitting room was installed by Annie's parents. When they say it takes a village, it truly does!
2. How and why did you decide to carry mostly independent designers rather than traditional bridal lines? It was important to us from the start to support women designers in the industry. We also found it very important to carry designers that align with our mission and aesthetic. During our own wedding dress searches, we found a gap in the market for unique gowns. When it came time to find designers for one oak, we searched high and low for designers that would help to fill that niche. If we loved the dresses and their designer, we went for it. We are not only supporting other women, but we are also supporting small businesses that design and produce gowns in North America. Every one oak bride is helping to support our business but also another small business that we stand by and support wholeheartedly.
3. Do your brides understand the difference? Do they care? Brides today do their research! We've found that many of our brides find us via our social media or often direct from one of our designers. They've done their recon, read our mission statement, and looked up our designers. We are often told they felt so aligned that they just had to check us out. We're also like a hundred miles from the nearest highway, so the fact that people make special trips from Chicago, Detroit, etc just to see us speaks volumes. And is so humbling!
4. If you do have bridal customers who understand independent designers, what are their responses? What are their reasons for wanting a gown by an independent designer? The ladies we have that come especially for a designer or knowing that our designers are independent are the same ladies that probably shop small in their own community. These women know that every dollar they spend in their local community is circulating around and enriching the very same community. These are the same women who probably support their local bookstore rather than Amazon and belong to a CSA, just as an example! Supporting small means something big to the people involved.
Another reason brides love working with us and our designers is that it offers an elevated experience and service. Our designers are often working on the same floor as the people making the gowns, so when we have a customization request or other questions, the bride is literally one degree of separation from the people making their gown. It isn't every boutique that has their designer's cellphone #s in their phone. Our independent designers make that possible.
5. What makes a designer a good fit for your store? The aesthetic comes first. As you can expect, if the gowns aren't gorgeous, well-made, and reasonably comfortable, it's a no-deal. And then we assess the designer: how they and their team interact with us, the public, the environment, and their previous brides. We're really investing in these people and their brand, so if they don't hold the same values of customer service, fair work practices, and environmentally conscious production then it's a no-deal as well.
The next time you’re at bridal market, plan to visit a few independent designers if you don’t already know and carry a few. You don’t have to buy their gowns until you know it’s a good fit, but time invested in sharing stories and learning more is never wasted!
eye candy from one oak bride
Successful Sample Sales
They don’t just happen…but with some planning and creativity, they can provide you with a boost of cash and some fun!
Ask us how we can help you with cleaning and preparing your gowns at a very reasonable cost (just $29 each!)
Or…sell our Aisle Ready Package as an add-on when a sample gown is purchased. Wholesale cost is just $45, but most boutiques sell for at least $169 retail!
Interested in learning more about our services, have an idea for the newsletter, or just want to say Hi…