Just when we thought we’d seen it all from online shopping — flash sale sites, Etsy and eBay, shoppable magazines — Aubrie Pagano came up with an online fashion concept that was truly original. Her site, Bow & Drape, allows shoppers to customize their clothes with dozens of options, from the length of their shorts, to the words spelled out in sequins on the company’s popular sweatshirts. And despite the logistical odds stacked against her — producing and shipping custom orders is no easy, or inexpensive, task — Aubrie was able to find a way to make the whole thing work.
Here, we chat with her about Bow & Drape’s big news, quitting her day job, and how she learned the fashion business from the ground up.
BOW & DRAPE JUST ANNOUNCED A ROUND OF FUNDING FROM THE FOUNDER OF ZAPPOS. WHAT’S THAT BEEN LIKE?
We’re thrilled and humbled that Tony and the VegasTechFund led the round; it puts us in great company and is a great strategic resource. We’ve immediately felt the impact of that relationship – Tony has really opened up his resources to us; now we manufacture many of our products in Vegas
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO GROW THE COMPANY THIS YEAR?
We’ve seen people really engage with the site, creating really awesome designs and sharing them with friends. We want to encourage sharing and community even more in our brand (because it’s fun). We’re evolving our UX to put the emphasis on this type of experience and grow it alongside our community of customers.
WILL YOU BE ADDING ANY NEW STYLES IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
Of course! We are super excited to collaborate with illustrator and write Katie Rodgers of Paper Fashion on our Spring collection, coming out this week – it’s incredibly beautiful fabric that is unlike anything you see in mass-produced garments. With Katie we developed a set of feminine silhouettes that can be customized in thousands of ways (and that is just the beginning this year!)
Essentially, we provide the building blocks for a look that celebrates grown-up femininity, individuality and creativity, and allow women to style garments according to their personal taste.
WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR BOW & DRAPE COME FROM?
The motivation for Bow & Drape came from a personal frustration – I had to find a dress for a wedding and couldn’t find anything off the rack that truly represented my style. I ended up designing and sewing a dress myself and felt great wearing something I knew was totally unique to me. I want every woman to feel that sense of satisfaction by building garments true to their taste, that can act as a centerpiece for their outfit.
IS IT HARD TO FILL SO MANY CUSTOM ORDERS? HOW DO YOU DO IT?
We have a passionate and dedicated team in the garment district and out in Vegas. That said, it’s an ongoing challenge and creating a scalable process for custom is absolutely part of the secret sauce!
WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SO RESPONSIVE TO THE IDEA OF BOW & DRAPE?
I think it’s probably for two reasons. One, we provide an opportunity to create a custom look that is really and truly personalized, more than any place on the market currently. The options customers have are so varied and no two orders are 100 percent alike. Our customers are women who want to make a statement and we give them the opportunity to do so. I think the second reason is because we “make custom clothing that is actually cute” – we’ve heard this funny sentiment from many customers and I think it’s what keeps people coming back!
WHAT ARE YOUR BEST SELLERS?
Our Billie sweatshirt (now in both short and long sleeve) is really enjoying a heyday moment and the Golightly dress has been a firm favorite.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO QUIT YOUR DAY JOB AND PURSUE BOW & DRAPE FULL TIME?
After I had a working prototype and a co-founder. You would be surprised how long you can stay at your job while still pursuing other passions outside the office. I launched my first concept two weeks after I quit (and you can, too!)
WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
Awesome. I have always been entrepreneurial (I had my first business when I was six) so for me I was absolutely living my dream. If failure was the worst that could happen, I was pretty excited.
HOW DID YOU LEARN ENOUGH ABOUT THE FASHION INDUSTRY TO MAKE THE COMPANY A SUCCESS?
I did it through a tried and true model: apprenticeship. When I first began dipping my toe in the fashion pool, I sought out a local designer that I loved and struck a bargain with her. I said “teach me about garment design and production and I will help you launch your brand.” So I began at nights and on weekends traveling to her studio and helping her launch her line. That really gave me the grounding to strike out on my own, because I helped someone from the ground up; from sewing buttons and steaming seams to building a business plan.
ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR BUDDING FASHION ENTREPRENEURS OUT THERE?
Don’t be afraid to do it. And keep at it – dreams don’t come true overnight so be persistent. Many people get stuck when they get pushback from other people on their idea or hear a “no” from a potential partner, or they start getting anxious about all the unknowns. If you have a solid plan and clear goals, don’t be afraid to fail! You will come out the other side more capable and better equipped for the next opportunity. Keep going. Be fearless.