Kristen and Alexandra O'Neill just couldn't find anything to wear.
The sisters had a simple concept in mind when they looked to start their own contemporary sportswear collection. Kristen, 23, a recent graduate of Harvard University, and Alexandra, 21, an art history student at New York University, just wanted classic, easy-to-wear clothing that could easily take them from college to the real world. They launched a line called Porter Grey.
The brand is named after the O'Neills' great-grandmother, Catherine Porter Grey, who lived next door when they were growing up. Alexandra is the designer of Porter Grey, and Kristen handles the business end. Alexandra said she has always loved to sew and learned the craft from her grandmother when she was only 10 years old.
"She taught me how to sew on this old sewing machine and I've always loved it," she said, adding that between classes she finds time to design the collection from her Greenwich Village apartment, which she shares with her two dogs, Winston and Amelia.
The line launched for fall 2006. It was a small collection of dresses, blouses, skirts and pants. The first season, Alexandra was mostly designing items to order for friends and family members. After Kate Ciepluch, a buyer for Shopbop.com, saw a friend wearing a Porter Grey top, she immediately wanted to see the complete collection. She ended up picking up a full range of product for the site, making Shopbop Porter Grey's first official account.
"I fell in love with the simplicity of the silhouettes mixed with the vintage-feeling prints," Ciepluch said. "I was also attracted to the one-shoulder style as this style has been retailing well for us the past few seasons. [I also loved] the color palette of cream and yellow, two colors that work well online."
Ciepluch said she loved the added details on the pieces, such as the glass buttons on a coat.
For spring, the collection has grown. There are silk vintage-inspired printed dresses with delicate shell buttons, a silk blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a rayon and Lycra spandex jersey Henley dress and high-waisted, wide-leg linen pants. The colors for the spring collection are soft blush, blue, cream and yellow. Kristen said she is targeting high-end specialty stores to carry the collection as she would prefer to keep distribution on a manageable level. All of Porter Grey's manufacturing is done in New York's Garment District, so the O'Neills can keep a close eye on the production."We are really just getting started and working out of our apartments, so there is only so much we can handle at this point," she said. "I also love having our factory here in New York so we can be in on the process."
The Porter Grey collection wholesales from $100 to $425. Kristen declined to give first-year sales expectations, but industry sources estimate they will most likely bring in about $1 million in wholesale volume.
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