The moment Janice Trayes realised her much-loved, much-worn blazers were destined to be replaced with new ones was the pivotal turning point in starting her own clothing company.
After searching everywhere for the perfect day to night blazer to take her from desk to dining, it became apparent this blazer was impossible to find, and that existing blazer designs were either too structured and office-like, or they were too casual. Janice knew at this point that she would have to design the perfect blazer herself.
House of Coco Magazine wanted to delve deep inside the pockets of Janice’s blazer company, Connecticut Country Clothing, to find out more about her career path into fashion.
HOC. What was your background before embarking on fashion, design and clothing?
Janice. For some time now I’ve worked in the legal industry, with an emphasis on corporate legal work. This knowledge base has been helpful with structuring and organizing my current business, but I also draw on other work experience as well as having owned and managed two small clothing businesses.
At 22 I moved to NYC and landed an entry level job at IZOD. Not a glamorous job, but I learned a little about the internal workings of a large fashion business. From IZOD I went to a small, well-funded fashion start-up of preppy casual clothing. Later, I worked for a large international advertising firm where I had the opportunity to learn and observe.
My first fashion endeavour was launched when I was 24. I repurposed men’s used white cotton tuxedo shirts (purchased from a tuxedo rental company); hand dyed them, hung them on a clothes line in my apartment, and sold them on Sundays at “The Grand Bazaar NYC.” This essentially is a pop-up, and my little line was surprisingly successful.
Fast forward to 2000. I launched an on-line surf shop selling water wear, and sponsored a nationally competing surf team. E-commerce was a new thing then (and so very different from today). Just imagine – no social media!
HOC. We’ve learned that it was your personal search for the perfect blazer that nudged you back into fashion, can you remember the first blazer that you made, and was it everything you hoped for?
Janice. Well, we are a new brand, so our current blazer, The Kate, is our original, signature style. And yes, it fully embodies everything we set out to achieve, which was fusing form, fit and function with comfort and style. Our design motto is: Professional Plus Chic, meaning, the blazer is professional enough for the office, chic enough for social engagements, and “plus” is a play on being plus size inclusive.
We incorporated many design objectives (such as a pop-up collar and inside breast pockets), but above all else, an exceptional, comfortable fit for a variety of body types, with a truly transitional day to night design were critical. I had owned two blazers which I could wear anywhere and not look like I was heading into a meeting (although they were perfectly appropriate for the office). I wore these blazers until the linings disintegrated. A search to replace them ended in frustration, and culminated with the launching of Connecticut Country Clothing.
Living in Los Angeles proved advantageous since the city is now a fashion mecca. I worked with two seasoned design technicians to bring my vision to life. One has designed for Hollywood red carpets, and the other studied and worked in Paris at name fashion brands (oh-la-la).
HOC. At Connecticut Country Clothing you stock blazers for all sizes of women from the smallest US size zero to a larger US size 24, did you always intend on including blazers for plus size women?
Janice. Absolutely! Because I’m a plus sized woman. The quest to find quality plus size clothing is real. Most clothing brands begin their designs on a size 6 woman. A style designed on a size 6 woman usually doesn’t flatter a size 16 woman. So, we begin by designing on a plus size woman to ensure the fit and style works on a larger frame, and then we make a new pattern in the style for smaller (missy) sizes. We do the exact opposite of what the industry typically does.
This is a point of pride, that our styles look great on a variety of body types at different sizes. We put a little extra room through the upper back. This makes for a more comfortable fit. Busty women said that if a blazer fit them across the chest – it probably didn’t fit anywhere else. We made this a challenge to conquer, and are delighted by the results.
By the way – we don’t stock inventory, instead we use sustainable manufacturing called on-demand manufacturing. This means we only sew a blazer once a person has ordered it. This allows us to individualize the blazer’s lining if desired, and prevents wasteful stockpiling of inventory – one of the major causes of pollution/waste in the fashion industry.
HOC. How do you market your brand differently to other independent clothing designers, and does social media play a part in the marketing of Connecticut Country Clothing?
Janice. You’re asking me for our secret sauce! I will say that it is important for every brand to find it’s unique authentic voice and stay true to it, and to not copy other brands. In this regard – we are cultivating our unique, authentic voice. It takes time.
We do advertise some, but mostly because U.K. Conde Nast invited us and, well, who says no to being in Vogue?
We use select social media, but don’t see it as the be all and end all of marketing. It’s important for brand awareness. We have built a small, loyal following – many of whom share our social and environmental values.
We’re a socially and environmentally conscious brand, and are strongly connected to our fair trade, eco-tribe. The wonderful thing about the eco-tribe, is that fellow eco-brands often support each other however they can – even when in direct competition, because we’re about achieving something bigger than providing stylish garments – we’re about revolutionizing the fashion industry for fair wages and a cleaner earth.
Our number one sustainability goal is for our blazers to be as close to 100% biodegradable as we can possible get them. If our garments’ fibers are going to make their way to the ocean, then let them be edible! Synthetic microfibers are now found nearly everywhere – even at the bottom of deep ocean ravines. We are passionately opposed to this.
HOC. You are currently crowd sourcing in order to be able to launch your new styles, can you tell us anything about the next collection and what styles we can expect to find?
Janice. Well, not to let the cat out of the bag, but the next style grouping will have a more traditional “town & country” look and be offered in completely different fabrics, from a gorgeous supple fabric in luscious warm colours, to a washable black wool. We already have a prototype and I’m excited!
HOC. As Connecticut Country Clothing is a relatively new business, what has been the biggest learning curve you have come across?
Janice. That’s a good question. I think understanding, interpreting and applying the marketing analytics, along with learning the email automation platform are my steepest challenges. There are wonderful tutorials, but they require time – and time is limited.
HOC. What was the best piece of advice you were given before you launched your clothing company?
Janice. “Have faith, it’s a marathon not a sprint.” The fashion business is one of the toughest businesses to break into – and even if you do establish your brand, will it endure? Being a fashion entrepreneur is like climbing Mt. Everest in high heels. It’s not for the faint of heart. So, best advice was to have faith; to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
HOC. What advice would you offer someone who is embarking on a career designing clothing?
Janice. First and foremost, you need to be a business person. Actual time designing is minimal. Most new businesses fail within the first couple of years, and very few make it to the five year mark. So, before you embark – take your time, do extremely thorough market research and learn as much as you can about business processes before your days are full of obligations. One of the best designers I know is completely held back by inefficient business processes.
Yet, don’t let a fabulous idea slip through your fingers. Back in 1989 I backpacked around Europe, and spent an inordinate amount of time in lovely comfortable cafes sipping coffee. When I returned to NYC, I realized my neighbourhood (and most of Manhattan) didn’t have lovely comfortable cafes for sipping coffee – we had Greek diners or Jewish delis. I and a friend began planning to open a comfy cafe, but didn’t see it through. Now how sad is that, because today it could be JaniceBucks instead of Starbucks. Sometimes you just need to persevere with your great idea.
Visit www.ctcountry.clothing for more info
Thank you for sharing your fascinating business story for House of Coco Magazine’s Women Worldwide series.