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Project Gravitas: Dresses for Success

Lisa Sun's new brand offers she calls “the perfect dress.”

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Lisa Sun, a graduate of Yale University, spent 11 years at McKinsey & Co., working with luxury clients. When she received her first professional review at the age of 22, her supervisor told her that at times she came across as young and overly enthusiastic and lacked “gravitas.” That stung, and she spent the next decade trying to attain gravitas in both her demeanor and clothing.

Sun, 33, left the consulting world to start her own business, offering what she called “the perfect dress.” On Tuesday, she launched her own brand, appropriately named Project Gravitas, which is being sold exclusively on her Web site, projectgravitas.com.

The site features 10 black dresses, made of Italian fabric and sewn in New York City. Each dress comes with shapewear in it, so “it’s extra slimming control and no jiggling,” said Sun, founder and chief executive officer. The dresses, which retail from $195 to $295, are named after female icons, such as Indira (Gandhi), Amelia (Earhart) and Frida (Kahlo). They are made of Italian stretch cotton, lightweight wool, stretch jersey and ponte and are manufactured at Johnny’s Fashion Studio on West 38th Street in New York.

All the dresses are black and come in short sleeves, sleeveless and three-quarter-length sleeve models, as well as different necklines, such as V-necks and scoop necks. In the next few weeks, she will add cream, navy and heather gray, and in the fall, the color palette will expand to oxblood, camel gray and military green.

The shapewear, which is made in Taiwan, uses two fabrics, a silky noncompression blended fabric that conforms to any bust size and a shapewear skirt that has been specially formulated to provide smoothing and control, with moisture-wicking breathability, she said. The dresses are designed by Romy Schreiber, a 2011 graduate from Parsons The New School for Design. The creative director is Deborah Norman, who designed the Web site, in collaboration with Sun.

The dresses are available in sizes 0 to 14, and, within the month, sizes 16 to 22 will be added.

“I used to weigh 300 pounds,” said Sun, who is now a size 12. She explained that she always had difficulty finding dresses, so she wants to make it easier for plus-size women, too. In the fall, she will add “the perfect pencil skirt,” with shapewear built in. That idea came from a customer who requested it during a recent trunk show.

Asked if she intends to offer the line to department and specialty stores, Sun didn’t think so. “I love the direct-to-consumer space. It’s hard to get a retail markup and do our price structure,” she said. The Web site features free ground shipping and free returns. The brand is actively engaged in Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Its Web site has such features as 30 ways to wear the dress, style tips and top interview looks to get the job. Right now, Sun has six employees who all work out of her apartment at the Essex House. She plans to move into an office in the Garment Center in a month.

In the first year, Sun projects she’ll do between $1.5 million and $2 million in volume.

Each month, Project Gravitas will feature one successful woman who will wear one style of the dress for a month (she will be supplied with several of the same style) and will tweet pictures of herself in the dress. Ten percent of the sales from that particular dress will go to her favorite charity.

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