Former Prada publicist Olivia Fay discovered her mission in life after viewing “Girl Rising,” a 2013 documentary about the obstacles young women trying to attend school face in some parts of the world. The reasons are many and varied, from a lack of transportation and dearth of qualified teachers to being unable to afford school uniforms. The latter may not sound like much, but it’s a prerequisite for attending school in some countries.
“After seeing the film, I felt I just couldn’t go back to my job,” Fay said. “As a girl living in New York, and as a fashion publicist, I thought, What can I do about this? How could I use my fashion background to intervene on this issue.”
Fay didn’t want to create a fashion brand with the mission as an afterthought. “That felt disjointed,” she said. “I wanted to create something where the design of the product would speak as strongly as the social mission. I wanted to do ready-to-wear and wanted it to link up to the uniforms.”
Fay quit her job at Prada in 2013 and applied to business school. She graduated from New York University in 2015 with a diploma and a dream, but no formal fashion design training.
She took a grassroots approach. “My grandmother had a dress store when I was growing up,” Fay said. “She was the creative director and worked with a tailor. I’m the creative director of Rallier [the name of her brand, which means to bring together and inspire]. I work with a pattern maker and technical designer, who works full time for another company.”
The collection, which consists entirely of dresses, is priced from $295 to $495, and features several styles in different fabrics. A gray-and-white pinstripe is available in five silhouettes: a traditional short-sleeve dress with gathers at the waist; an off-the-shoulder number; an A-line with a white collar; a trapeze, and a sleeveless faux wrap. Other fabrics include a textural white on gray windowpane plaid, light blue shirting material and dark blue fabric with a slight sheen.
“We have strong margins and are able to source high quality fabric and make the dresses in New York,” Fay said, adding that donations are made as each dress is sold as opposed to overall profitability. “Most new companies take some time before they are profitable. Because our social mission is core to the brand, we wanted the donations to begin as soon as we started selling.”
For her first uniform delivery, Fay is focusing on Kibera, Kenya. “All our uniforms are sourced through a local women’s empowerment program,” she said. “Funds go toward fabric and training and paying the women who make the uniforms. I went to Kenya in January to meet the women.”
Shining Hope for Communities, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Kibera, is distributing the uniforms. “They opened a school for girls in Kibera,” Fay said of Shining Hope.
Rallier produced 450 dresses in its first season. “If they sell out, we’ll be able to outfit the whole girls’ school in one season,” Fay said. “Right now they’re giving out one uniform, but the girls will run around and get dirty.
“I realize that not everybody is going to quit their job and start a charity,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be a another product that you buy because you feel guilty.”