There are lots of reasons we love Marie Whitney.
For one, she’s got style. She’s the creative eye behind Two Penny Blue, a luxe fashion line that focuses almost entirely on perfecting the fit and style of one of every woman’s most relied-upon wardrobe staples, the blazer.
She’s also an admirable business woman. Her company donates a portion of its proceeds to the purchase of school uniforms for girls in Africa, and her entire line is made domestically, in New York City.
Last but not least, she’s got ties to two of our favorite places. She currently resides in Chicago with her husband Theo Epstein, the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. If you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, then you probably already know that up until a few years ago, Whitney and Epstein lived in Boston, where he was the GM of the Boston Red Sox.
We recently got a chance to catch up with Marie about starting a fashion line, the perfect-fitting blazer, what she loves about her new home, and what she misses about her old one. Here’s what she had to say…
THE BIG FOCUS OF YOUR LINE, TWO PENNY BLUE, IS ON JACKETS AND BLAZERS. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO CONCENTRATE ON THESE PIECES? Blazers are one of my favorite wardrobe staples. Whether wearing it to the office for a big meeting or for a casual weekend look, few pieces of clothing have the transformative power of a perfectly cut blazer — it’s equal parts cool and timeless, and it always seems to elevate an outfit. Also, when I was in school we wore blazers as part of our school uniform, so there is a natural connection between blazers and education which ties directly into our mission of educating and empowering girls around the world. With every jacket we sell we donate a school uniform to a girl in need in Africa.
YOU STARTED YOUR LINE FROM SCRATCH: DESIGNING, SOURCING FABRICS, FINDING A FACTORY, MARKETING, ETC. WHAT’S THAT LIKE? HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO BRING TWO PENNY BLUE FROM AN IDEA TO A LINE CARRIED IN STORES?
The design and development process took about a year and a half leading up to our first collection’s launch in July of 2012. Starting your own line is a ton of work, and a crazy adventure filled with ups and downs, success and failure, highs and lows and lots of learning along the way. Although we present the final product there are so many other elements to starting your own line such as securing financing, manufacturing, marketing, branding, operations, sales, shipping and receiving, web design, and operations to name a few. But more than anything, it is so fulfilling to take a design concept and see it transformed into a product that people wear and love.
WHAT’S THE BEST PART OF OWNING A FASHION LINE?
I have always dreamed of starting my own company and Two Penny Blue allows me to combine my love of design with my passion for empowering girls through education. It’s an honor to be able to do what I love, with a talented group of people that I respect and admire, and to be helping others in the process means the world to me.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO DO THE SAME?
Dream big and take risks. If you succeed you’ll be happy. If you fail, you’ll be smarter. Perfection is often the enemy of productivity, especially for female entrepreneurs. Don’t wait until you have everything figured out before you begin. Start small and start now.
WHAT MAKES FOR A PERFECT BLAZER? HOW SHOULD IT FIT?
The perfect blazer should have a slim sleeve, a slightly defined shoulder and should gently curve in at the waist for the most flattering, feminine fit. I love the double rear vent which further creates that hour glass figure and makes the piece more comfortable. The jacket should have high quality buttons and hardware, should be fully lined and be made in a high quality fabric which really affects how the blazer will hold it’s shape and how it will wear over time. I love to use the finest wools and sateens from Italy and hand-woven silks from India in the line in order to achieve the highest quality and best fit.
WHAT BLAZERS OR JACKETS SHOULD EVERY WOMAN HAVE IN HER CLOSET?
Every woman should have a sleek black or white dressy tuxedo-style blazer that can be worn for any occasion, from over a gala gown to a weekend topper. Another favorite is the schoolboy-inspired look, a classic cut in the perfect wool with gold buttons that can be worn with jeans and boots on the weekend or with a pulled-together sheath or pencil skirt for work.
IS IT TOUGH TO COME UP WITH WAYS TO RE-CREATE BLAZERS AND JACKETS SEASON AFTER SEASON?
Not at all – in fact every season the hardest part is narrowing down all the ideas to the few that we will actually go on to manufacture! It is such a fun, creative process and we have so many fresh ideas that we can’t wait to share.
YOU DONATE A PORTION OF YOUR SALES TO OUTFIT GIRLS IN AFRICA WITH SCHOOL UNIFORMS. HOW MANY GIRLS HAVE YOU HELPED?
To date we have provided uniforms to approximately 600 to girls in Africa we are so excited to report that this number is growing year after year!
YOUR LINE IS ALSO MADE IN THE U.S. WHERE EXACTLY ARE THEY MADE? WHY WAS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Yes, I am so passionate about socially responsible manufacturing practices and am fully committed to producing all of out our jackets right here in the USA. The entire line is made in New York City in the historic Garment District – which is filled with such talented craftsmen that take pride in their work and have been creating high quality garments for decades. By producing domestically we have the opportunity to support US jobs and produce the highest quality garment possible for our customers – it’s a win-win.
YOU’RE FAIRLY NEW TO CHICAGO, HAVING LIVED IN BOSTON FOR YEARS BEFORE. HOW’S CHICAGO TREATING YOU? ANYTHING YOU MISS ABOUT BOSTON?
Chicago is an amazing city – and certainly very supportive of emerging designers. I love it here – the food, the art, the music, the diverse neighborhoods and some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Boston will always have a very special place in my heart since I lived there for so many years and it will always be a second home no matter where our travels may take us. Yes, there are lots of things that I miss about Boston – the Cape and the Islands, the Public Gardens on a beautiful spring day when all the tulips are in bloom, going for a long run along the Esplanade on a crisp fall morning, and dinner in the North End just to name a few. Luckily we head back to Boston frequently.