When I got married in 2012, the single thing that gave me the most stress was choosing bridesmaids dresses. I started looking about a year before my wedding at all the usual places: J. Crew, various boutiques, department stores, Pinterest, Etsy, Asos…everywhere, and couldn’t find anything that I liked. I got a little panicky about five months before the wedding, when I still didn’t have dresses. Around that time, I also got a new job, and my new walk to work everyday happened to take me right by the Jenny Yoo storefront in Chicago. I stopped in one weekend and found what I had been looking for for seven months (those are my lovely bridesmaids in Jenny Yoo, below) in about five minutes, and that was that.
The struggle to find a great bridesmaids dress was exactly the sort of experience that prompted Yoo to start her line in the first place. While working as a designer at Ann Taylor, she was in a friend’s wedding, and the bride couldn’t find dresses she liked, and that were flattering on all of the girls in her bridal party.”I quickly realized that there was an absence of figure flattering, well-constructed bridesmaid dresses in the market,” Yoo says.
So, she set out on her own, eleven years ago. Since that time, Yoo’s line has exploded. She has stand-alone stores in New York and Chicago, her dresses hang in major retailers like Nordstrom, Bella Bridesmaid and BHLDN, and she has a bridal collection that has also taken off.
Here, we got a chance to talk to Yoo about and how working at Ann Taylor influenced her career, and her advice to brides on choosing “the dress.”
YOU HAD A SUCCESSFUL CAREER AS A DESIGNER AT ANN TAYLOR BEFORE YOU BROKE OFF AND STARTED YOUR COMPANY. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO DO YOUR OWN THING?
I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding and we had tried on countless dresses and it was so difficult to find anything that was flattering for all the different members of the bridal party. I quickly realized that there was an absence of figure flattering, well-constructed bridesmaid dresses in the market. I had been working as a designer at Ann Taylor for several years and I had also noticed that many bridesmaids were looking to shop in stores such as Ann Taylor and department stores in search of bridesmaid dresses and that is when it clicked to create a collection of bridesmaid dresses that was re-wearable as well as flattering for all different body types.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO GET YOUR COMPANY OFF THE GROUND? WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST HURDLES?
Making the decision to leave a secure and great job at Ann Taylor and start my own company was a huge decision. There were many uncertainties and unknowns but my family encouraged me to take a chance and really supported me with my decision. I recall my very first order and the sigh of relief that came with it-orders started coming in at a pretty quick pace and it was so exciting to see my collection being so well received. With no prior experience of running a business the biggest hurdle was learning to deal with and handle the day to day operations of running a business. I am a designer and there are so many aspects of a business that I did not have the expertise in and I was not readily prepared for. Each day I was faced with a new challenge and a new learning experience. To this day, as my company evolves and grows I continue to face new challenges and continue to learn from them.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
I owe a big part of it to my family for their support and sound advice-they have always encouraged me and pushed me to keep going and to not give up. Part of running a company is having to make many decisions and I’ve learned that I need to deal with one issue at a time and there may not be a right or wrong answer to a problem but I do my best to tackle each issue and trust my gut instinct with each decision I make.
AS FAR AS NEW DESIGNERS GO, WHEN YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS TOOK OFF FAIRLY QUICKLY. WHY DO YOU THINK BRIDES RESPONDED SO READILY TO YOUR BRIDESMAIDS DRESSES?
Eleven years ago when I began this business, I recognized that there was an absence of understated, yet uniquely stylish, quality bridesmaid dresses that could actually be re-worn again. I combined my visionary and creative expression with my corporate background experience from Ann Taylor to create a fresh, modern approach for dressing today’s bridesmaids.
WHAT’S THE DESIGN PHILOSOPHY BEHIND YOUR LINE?
With each collection, I strive to design dresses with the person wearing it in mind-my focus is not only creating a beautiful design but also keeping in mind comfort and versatility so that they can enjoy the special occasion. There is nothing worse than fretting over whether you can dance easily or feeling self-conscious in your dress.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? ANY PINCH ME MOMENTS?
I would have to say that my biggest highlight so far is when I partnered up with Nordstrom in 2012-it was the beginning of entering a new level of opportunities. Even still today when i see my dresses at Nordstrom or BHLDN I am in still in the “pinch me” moment. It’s so gratifying and rewarding to see my creations that start out as a vision on the racks of these stores.
YOU STARTED A BRIDAL COLLECTION A FEW YEARS BACK. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO EXPAND YOUR OFFERINGS?
My bridal collection actually came about as a request from brides looking for a simple, understated gown for their wedding. When I started out my company 11 year ago I had only designed bridesmaid dresses but we received numerous requests from brides to re-create our bridesmaid styles in shades of whites to wear as their wedding gown. We started off with custom special orders and after the growing demand of requests we decided to debut an “Alternative Bridal Collection” in 2006. Just as there was an absence of re-wearable bridesmaids dresses there was also an absence of understated, classic bridal gowns in the market. Our bridal collection has and continues to evolve over the years but we still maintain the clean simple lines that the Jenny Yoo bride is looking for.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT DESIGNING BRIDAL GOWNS, AS OPPOSED TO BRIDESMAIDS DRESSES?
When it comes to designing each year’s Collection, I try to pull different inspirations in terms of trends/fabrics/colors and the big question, “What is the bride or bridesmaid today looking for?” When designing bridesmaid dresses, one of my main focuses is about creating a style that is going to be universally flattering on all different body types. I try and create offerings where various necklines or skirt silhouettes are available to accommodate for different body types and allow for each bridesmaid to look and feel good in their dress. When designing bridal, I try to imagine where she is wearing the dress and what look she envisions for her wedding day. Knowing that there are many types of brides out there with different tastes, I strive to design a gown that is not only beautiful, but versatile enough infuse their own unique sense of style and personality.
WHAT TRENDS ARE YOU SEEING IN THE WEDDING INDUSTRY THIS YEAR?
I find that the “rules” of wedding are gone and that brides really are focused on what their vision is for their wedding to reflect their personality however some trends that we are seeing:
-mixing and matching with not only styles but also colors/fabrics/lengths
-neutrals continue to be strong-champagne, blush, grey & blues
-long flowy gowns
-details with lace and appliques
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR BRIDES WHEN CHOOSING “THE DRESS”?
When I see a bride come out in a gown, I can tell how comfortable she feels in the dress by the way she carries herself. My biggest piece of advice when choosing “the dress” is make sure you are comfortable both in terms of the style and fit of the gown.