Every new business starts with a dream, but as consumers we generally only see the finished product.
This month’s “It’s My Business” will focus on that initial spark of inspiration felt by an entrepreneur.
Meet Old Lyme resident Rachel Fearnley whose chic, free-spirited clothing line Fria, along with partners Sarah Foley and Debra Boardman, will launch in Spring 2020.
All of you bring so much to the table. Can you share a bit about each of your professional backgrounds?
Fearnley: Early in her career, Debra (Boardman) was one of the head patternmakers for a women’s swimsuit manufacturer in New Haven, and she also had her own line of children’s dresses. Sarah (Foley)is a nurse in addition to an extensive background in sales, marketing, and comedy where she worked in business development for Comedy Central. (The entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family as her cousin is the Founder/CEO of Peloton.)
I was a co-founder of a winery in Connecticut and then channeled my passion for marketing and design into my current business, dreamscapes design group located in downtown Essex.
You describe Fria as free-flowing, freestyle women’s fashion. What inspired the line?
Fearnley: We were inspired by shoreline living. The three of us really wanted to create something that targeted women 35-60 who are young spirited and want to look and feel beautiful. Women who are traveling more, trying to spend more quality leisure time with fashion that can take you from the beach to lunch.
Tell me about the name Fria?
Fearnley: Fria is a Spanish word which describes a free spirited woman who loves the outdoors.
What were the first steps in creating Fria?
We started with patterns which Deb designed. We also talked to store owners that we love and getting an idea of what sells, and the price points that work.
So you do all the designing yourselves? Yes! Our first samples were made by Deb and later, we had further samples made by a seamstress. We wanted to do more in terms of detailing and sourcing fabrics.
Speaking of fabrics, how does the process of finding them work when you’re starting out? It’s really hard to find the right fabrics at the right price point that you can do on small lots because we are not mass producing. Our patterns are very simple, and we want quality fabrics. We found a few different fabric manufacturers that are family owned that get what we’re trying to do. They’re in the U.S. and Canada.
Where are you now in the process?
(Fearnly takes out sample dresses to show) These are early samples, and where we began. We’re starting with two dresses. It has to feel good on the body. They’re fitted, so you’re not lost in it, slightly covered, but on our caftan, the slit is really high. If you are wearing this, you don’t feel completely covered up. It’s so comfortable. These are the early dresses. Now we’re just getting into the final designs, the final little touches. The fabrics have started coming in which is super exciting.
Have you received any feedback so far about your designs?
We actually had a huge event with women of different body types to try on the dresses and share their thoughts. Everybody reacted to how soft certain fabrics were, and how light they were on the body. They felt like they were almost wearing nothing. We’ve gone through so many different fabric samples, and we’ve really narrowed it down to what we love.
With everything you all have done to refine the designs, adding details, selecting fabrics, how will you produce the line?
We have a manufacturer set up for our first production and the Spring 2020 launch.
What has been one of the best parts of starting a business at his stage of your lives?
The beauty of starting a business when you’re a little bit older is we have more knowledge, more confidence, and calm. If the three of us are having a blast doing it, and it’s being picked up by stores that we love...that’s the goal, that’s it!
How does it feel at this early stage of your business?
There’s something really fun about the early stages because you can still dream, and there are no limitations. That’s almost the most fun phase of a business. If someone was to tell you, it’s going to work out, it’s going to be fine, just enjoy the moment right now...I think people would enjoy the process a lot more.
What have been some of the challenges in starting Fria?
A huge challenge is the pricing models. How do you create something that you know is quality because that’s what we care about. The areas where people cut corners to make the numbers work were the areas we were not willing to compromise on. So, we ARE using that better fabric so that it flows because that’s what turns heads. A lot of times people start to see the numbers and compromise. We’d rather be small, and not compromise on the quality.
What advice would you give to someone dreaming of their own business?
I think the biggest thing people have is fear. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in everything. You have to have a passion and willing to learn.
What are some of your goals for Fria?
We want to do pop-ups. Pop-ups are a way of being at a store, tapping into their clientele, and being able to cross-promote. Another goal is giving back by donating part of our proceeds to the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as Debra is a cancer survivor. Lastly, having Fria in all the stores that we love, and in beautiful resorts. That would be exciting for us!
What do you love about being in the design business and launching a brand?
I love when I see women, and you know they feel good. You can see it even when people are trying things on. You can see the transformation. We want to see people wearing our clothing and looking like that...that inner glow.