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Ex-Tessuto designer Randa Allen moves on with a spirited new contemporary line.
This story first appeared in the October 2, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
When buyers discover Randa Allen was the main designer for Tessuto, they immediately assume they’re about to eye a bunch of printed dresses.
Then they get a look at Allen’s year-old line, Notice.
“They say, ‘but it’s nothing like Tessuto,’’’ said the 36-year-old, Los Angeles-based designer, whose line is shown in room 2G54 at the Lisa Adams Showroom, suite 11W111B at the AmericasMart.
What they find instead is sophisticated sportswear with a sense of humor — clothes that reflect the spirited, offbeat designer. Her style has been compared to that of a young Trina Turk.
“Her stuff is fun, imaginative, girlie,” said Kate Logan, owner of Ooma, a San Francisco boutique who has carried Notice since June. “I don’t know if my customers know it by name yet, but they’re definitely drawn to the things I carry by Notice. Her line just keeps getting better and better.”
Among the styles set for delivery in November, January and February are ruffled shirts and skirts made from a floral stretch sateen with a contrasting turquoise and pink lining; jacquard-striped cotton skirts paired with a cotton eyelet camisole or duster; and retro-print cotton voile dresses, skirts and pants.
One of her favorite items in the spring delivery is the “Poodle Doodle” skirt — a low-hipped, cotton twill miniskirt decorated with an embroidered poodle and a leash swinging out of one pocket.
Such whimsical details have become a Notice trademark.
“She has a real zest, a real flair,” said Pam Cohen, owner of Flip Flop, a Manhattan Beach, Calif., boutique that has carried four collections. “She is developing a little bit of a following around here.”
Allen said her pieces aren’t designed to be worn together. The tops can be worn with jeans; the bottoms with T-shirts.
“That’s how real people wear clothes,” Allen said.
Notice’s customer is 25 to 45 years old — “someone who is fun and lighthearted,” Allen said.
The company ships 15 to 25 styles a month, with wholesale prices ranging from $39 for tops to $139 for silk dresses to $199 for coats. Notice is sold in nearly 200 high-end boutiques, including Precision in New York, Elements in Dallas and My Friend’s Place in Atlanta.
In its first year, Notice has done nearly $1 million in wholesale volume, Allen said.
Allen, raised in Fresno, Calif., got her degree from Fresno State University in fashion merchandising, with a minor in business. With her interest in fashion piqued, she decided to do a one-year program in fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, earning an Associate Arts and Sciences degree.
Allen worked as a designer for such companies as Kenar and Mevisto before joining Tessuto as a designer. She worked for the Los Angeles company for six years, watching the business grow from two sample makers to 10. Although she enjoyed the job, Allen was ready to go out on her own.
“I needed to do sportswear, and Tessuto needed a breath of fresh air,” she said. “Now I get to find my customer.”
Using the money she had saved with her husband to buy a house, Allen launched Notice in the summer of 2001. She said the name of the company describes what happens when people wear her clothes. “You really get noticed,” said Allen, who has embossed the word “me” in raised letters under “Notice” on the hang tags.
She started making samples and flew to New York Sept. 9 last year for appointments with sales representatives. When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, she watched in horror from the roof of her friend’s apartment.
Stranded in New York for an additional week, she called some friends who are merchandise managers and buyers at Anthropologie and got an appointment to show her line, hauling over her bag of samples. While waiting for a friend to pick her up, she asked to sit in on the company’s catalog meeting. As they discussed items they needed for the catalog, Allen doodled ideas on a napkin.
“Out of that, I got my first orders,” she said.
Allen had four days to make the pattern, sew the garments and ship it out for the photo shoot. Anthropologie’s first order was for $88,000 and they reordered three of the items. The private-label sales to Anthropologie provided Allen with the cash flow to keep Notice going, she said.
Notice debuted at AmericasMart in October last year, launching at the same time as in Los Angeles and Dallas. The line began shipping in January.
For the first six months, Allen was a one-woman operation, working out of her Beverly Hills apartment.
Now she has a little workspace with a pattern maker and two sewers. She has three representatives located in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta and does all of her own public relations. Her husband, Scott, handles her accounts payable and family and friends help out when needed.
Despite the growing popularity of Notice, Allen said she never realized how hard it would be to start her own business.
“I just keep plugging away,” she said. “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.”