Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Dorothy Shuford has taken an unusual path to the legwear industry.
At 29, the former wrangler and ex-film executive is breaking into the business with Longstockings by Dosty, her new brand of layered looks. As the name suggests, the legwear is a takeoff of what Pippy Longstockings, a fictional children’s book character, modeled for the masses.
Creativity is something that Shuford has honed in a few nonapparel-oriented jobs. She spent four years in Los Angeles, including a two-year run at Disney, where she read scripts and helped authors rewrite their work for feature films.
With her new venture, she aims to round up retailers in the same way she herded cattle and horses, while working as a wrangler at R Lazy S, a dude ranch in Jackson, Wyo. But she knows there is more to learn.
Take carbons. Unaware that carbon paper is needed to write orders at trade shows, Shuford showed up empty-handed at this month’s Style Industrie.
“Everyone kept asking, ‘Where are your carbons?’ ‘Don’t you have carbons?’ she laughed. “I was like, ‘Huh?”‘
Shuford came up with the concept for Longstockings last year for a class assignment at Parsons School of Design. Well aware that children wore longstockings with suspenders for extra warmth in the winter, she tried to imagine what Pippy Longstockings would wear “if she was cruising around in the modern world.”
The new legwear is designed to be buttoned to tights. There are three styles — stockings, knee-highs and thigh-highs. Available in 14 colors, including teal blue, red, hot pink, moss green and chartreuse, the legwear can be mixed and matched.
“I wanted to make it a fun accessory and not just a necessity,” she said. “You can wear them for warmth’s sake or for etiquette’s sake.”
She liked the idea of working in fashion due in part to its immediate results.
“With fashion, you can do something relatively small and do things on your own terms,” she said. “It doesn’t require 1,000 people and all these minions running around.”
Working in Los Angeles, she helped Disney land “L’Affaire du Collier,” a movie that is expected to be released next year with Oscar-winner Hillary Swank in the lead role. Hollywood and all its glitzy premieres wore thin after a while.
“I was a photojournalist and U.S. history major and here I was telling these amazingly gifted writers what to change in their scripts. I thought, ‘What am I? Who am I?”‘ she said. “The premieres were so much fun when you’re just out of school. Everyone thought it was so cool so I thought ‘Oh, it must be and I’m not getting it.’ I stuck it out for four years and then I thought, ‘You know what? I am over it.”‘
But Shuford hasn’t abandoned her West Coast ties altogether. She said she is using some of old contact for product placement on such shows as “Friends.”
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a native of Hickory, N.C., a hub of hosiery manufacturers, Shuford is relying on her home state to produce Longstockings. The legwear is produced at hosiery mills in Hudson and Lenoir.
Working in legwear allowed her to break into the apparel industry without spending “gobs of money,” she said. Eventually, she would like to design sportswear.
Having opened an account with Barneys Tokyo and an exclusive distribution deal for the U.K. with Harvey Nichols, Shuford is now focusing on domestic specialty stores.
Bushra Gill, the designer and owner of Zora, a new boutique at 37 East First Street in New York, said she plans to offer Longstockings this fall. She is also considering offering the brand’s lightweight tights before that. Gill liked the look of the buttons on the tights and the brand’s color combinations especially the pink with burgundy.
“I love the product. I think it’s really innovative,” Gill said. “I love legwear. I’d talked to different Italian companies about trying to carry it.”
Tina Hart, owner of Luna, a boutique in Atlanta, said she is considering introducing Longstockings for fall. The item could be a natural for fall, since layered looks, color and boots are expected to be in demand.
“We’re very interested. We think it’s a unique idea. It’s something that is not in the marketplace,” Hart said. “We love all the different colors and details. We love the fact too that she’s Southern. This may get her a good start. She’s a young entrepreneur and that’s what we are too.”
With legwarmers and over-the-knee socks expected to be an important fall look, Shuford hopes her styles are an alternative to the bulkier Eighties-inspired looks.
“You can’t just bring back the same legwarmers. I wanted to keep it super thin so it doesn’t bind on the leg,” she said. “There are all kinds of colors or they can be monochromatic. Rather than dictate how people should wear them, we wanted to let people do what they want with them. It’s a little less serious.”
Some days are still challenging. Not long ago, Shuford spent the good part of four days developing customized electric pink Longstockings for a high-profile shoot for a British fashion magazine, only to be disappointed.
“You jump through all these hoops, and then no dice,” she said.