Byline: Holly Haber

For Finley Moll and Heather McNeill, the key to success is to focus on one item — the shirt.
The pair have created a $1 million business by designing and producing stylish shirts in high quality cotton fabrics that can be worn year-round.
They started five years ago with a sportswear line named Finley. The first couple of years were tough, but then came the revelation: Style an entire line of shirts, with a handful of coordinating bottoms.
“Before Christmas in 1997, we sat down over a couple of longnecks and really looked at what parts of the business were checking,” recalled Moll, who is the design half of the team. “Then we started to build a collection as a support to the shirt.”
“We focused on Dallas and what sells here 12 months of the year,” said McNeill, picking up the story.
“Shirts always fly out the door, and of course, our retailers love that,” added McNeill, who handles the business end of things.
Finley’s top sellers have been sexy styles fitted to the body with darts, pintucks and ruching. Pima cotton sheeting is the basis of the line, but Moll also works with other cotton fabrics such as sateen and oxford as well as lightweight tropical wool for fall. Details like French cuffs and tie-fronts have earned the line a loyal following from such Dallas stores as Turtletique, Tootsies, Lester Melnick and Lilly Dodson.
“I see so many customers wearing Finley shirts, I don’t know how they got dressed before,” marveled Gianna Clement, contemporary buyer at Lilly Dodson.
Finley ships about nine shirt styles a month in white, black and a few seasonal colors. Half of those are bestsellers that are carried forward and half are new styles.
The firm’s current bestseller is the “Bonnie,” a blouse fitted with front darts and a three-quarter sleeve with French cuffs. Other hot styles are a waist-length blouse with a bottom tie, dubbed “Anna,” and the “Elvis,” a cropped, ruched top with a collar that stands up to frame the back of the neck.
Each season, Moll creates a couple of her own prints, and for spring she’s working on an oversized green and white fern print that she’ll splash across long skirts and shirts.
“My husband did the artwork,” Moll said. “He’s a painter, and I’ve always resisted working with him because you know that you’re going to get into a big fight every time you change something. But it was okay. He has a mathematical mind so he can figure out the repeat.”
Prints have sold well for Finley, particularly a fuchsia and orange hibiscus print from last year. For spring she’s also developing embroidered wheatgrass and baseball-stitch motifs. A watermelon silky cotton voile and cotton dobby also will be shown for spring.
“I like to stick with simple fabrics that have a lot of integrity,” Moll said.
While shirts are the core of Finley, Moll likes to do a couple of dresses for spring, as well as shorts and a few skirts and pants. High-waisted cropped pants with an inverted pleat on the outseam at the ankle that works with all the shirts are a longstanding item.
Wholesale prices are $59 to $69 for shirts, $55 to $69 for bottoms and $75 to $119 for dresses.
“Our business is close to 80 percent shirts,” McNeill noted. “We have 10 stores that have bought the collection for all five years, but with new stores, we start with a few basic shirts because a lot of the newer stores are nervous about the price. We start them off slow and small and watch them grow.”
That was the case with Bob Bowden, owner of Bowden’s in Paris, Tex., who wasn’t sure if he could sell a $160 shirt. But his customers loved it and Bowden came back for more.
“Finley’s shirts have a great fit and look, and the quality is excellent,” he noted.
Moll and McNeill scrutinize all the work done by their Dallas and Fort Worth contractors to ensure it meets their standards.
“I tell them, ‘Our product is selling for $160; it has to be perfect,”‘ McNeill noted.
The two entrepreneurs maintain offices on Canton Street. in Deep Ellum, where two seamstresses sew samples and sew guides. All goods are shipped from the location as well. Until recently, McNeill handled all packing and shipping, but success has enabled the pair to hire more staff.
“We stand behind everything we ship,” McNeill pointed out. “I want the stores to be confident that they can take a risk. If it doesn’t sell, they can send it back and I can put them into something different. We cut to order, so we always have a waiting list [for reorders], anyway.”
Moll reflected that doing a shirt line has prevented the company from being branded as a certain type of resource.
“We aren’t junior or missy,” she said. “We’ve managed to avoid being trapped by those labels. I have hot styles for a trendy store and basic styles for a conservative or bridge store. I can sell to a friend, my niece or my mother. It gives you a lot of freedom.”
Her designs acknowledge trends without being overwhelmed by them, like a denim skirt with an artistic arrangement of silver studs.
“I try to give it my own spin, and being isolated here in Dallas I can do that,” Moll reasoned. “If I were in the hubbub, I’d be much more susceptible to jumping on the bandwagon.”

Trend Check
As told by Finley Moll and Heather McNeill:
Oversized green and white fern prints, splashed across shirts and long skirts.
Embroidered wheatgrass and baseball-stitch motifs.
Watermelon silky cotton voile and cotton dobby.

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