Mary Alice Haney knows her way around the world of celebrities.
As the West Coast fashion editor for Marie Claire, GQ and Allure, she styled the likes of Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Alba for the red carpet and magazine covers and became fast friends with Reese Witherspoon. She noticed a void for what she described as “sexy clothing for all women.” Following the launch of her label called Haney in 2013, she’s sent frocks to a fashion shoot for Nicki Minaj, molded the bulging baby bump on Chrissy Teigen, fielded a request from Scarlett Johansson and dressed Andra Day on the cover of Essence.
“That gave me a unique and different position to start a fashion company,” said the designer before launching into her talk titled “Influencers: The Power of Celebrity in Social Media.” “The celebrities help broaden my base. We do not pay for influencers. We do not pay for celebrities. They are impactful. It’s really important we have a wide range of celebrities.”
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Haney also quickly grasped the priority of a fashion company — a good fit. Thus, she wears every single piece she designs to ensure it fits right. If the celebrities don’t feel good in her clothing, she explained, “they may wear it once as a favor and that’s it.”
Other lessons she learned included downplaying the customization in her business model because “that was great but it was not scalable.” Plus, her digital strategy evolved from lacking one to maximizing exposure on Instagram and Facebook. “Twitter does nothing for us,” she said.
She made sure to differentiate celebrities such as Taylor Swift and influencers including bloggers Chriselle Lim and Chiara Ferragni. For proof, she recalled “the Taylor moment,” the week that Swift donned three separate dresses from Haney. “It did not help us sell clothing,” Haney said, before adding: “We tripled our wholesale accounts. The wholesale business is not dead. It’s a piece of what you need to build your brand.”
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On the other hand, Lim’s The Chriselle Factor and Ferragni’s The Blonde Salad show a direct impact on sales because luxury clients turn to them for leads on pieces to buy and how to style them. “I was shocked by how much they do move product — even more than Taylor Swift.”
Capitalizing on the appeal of bloggers, Haney collaborated with Marlien Rentmeester, her friend who runs Le Catch. Heading toward the lower end from her line that sells dresses for $1,200, she designed a $350 minidress in three fabrics, including denim, which she incorporated into her line for the first time. She made only 70 pieces of the style, but it sold out in 10 minutes. “We had a huge, huge wait list afterward,” she said. Producing a second run helped her keep the customers, but she had to restock quickly. “They will wait a week,” she said. “Any more than that and you’re losing them.”
The experience emboldened Haney to explore launching a new line called Mary Alice Haney. She also decided to shift her made-in-USA production to China. Starting with her collection for this holiday season, she manufactures 60 percent of her line in China and the rest in Los Angeles. “It brought our prices down dramatically,” she said. The downside is she can’t sit next to a sewer and correct a wrong technique. “We’ve been a bit delayed with our wholesalers,” she added. Still, she noted, “we think we can go further if we bring our prices down a little bit.”