By: Caroline Vazzana
In search of your new go-to bag for fall? Then look no further. We sat down with designer duo and the ladies behind the chic & affordable accessories brand Neely & Chloe. Sisters, Neely and Chloe Burch, nieces of Tory Burch, founded their namesake brand back in 2015. With the young working girl in mind, the one who is always on the go, jetting from work to the coolest restaurant opening - they set out to create an accessories line that not only looks super luxe but is also super affordable. Yes, it is possible, with every single item on their site retailing for under $300. Featuring an array of classic, sturdy silhouettes in various colors ways, prints, materials, and textures, there is really something for everyone. And the best part, all bags can be customized as well, so you really are getting your own unique little treasure. But all of this aside, I’m sure you’re wondering, how did these ladies begin their empire? Below, we spoke with the sisters behind the brand to learn what really goes into starting your own company and how to Make it in Manhattan.
Growing up, did you both always have an interest in working in fashion?
Neely: I always fancied myself a little bit of a tomboy growing up, but I think what our parents did got the better of me. They both spent a great deal of their careers in women’s retail, so we grew up learning all about design. For me, initially that translated to a love of art- I was an Art History major and then spent a year in the art world after school. Eventually, I made my way over to fashion, drawn in by the allure of engaging with customers and the chance to get involved in the creative side of the business (I was never much of an artist myself!).
Chloe: Yes. My love of back packs, fondly known as “packpacks,” started young. We recently found my 4th grade year book where I answered the quintessential “What do you want to be when you grow up” question with…. A Handbag Designer. So it looks like things came pretty full circle for me!
When did you begin “Neely & Chloe” and what was the inspiration behind it?
We started work on the concept behind Neely & Chloe in the fall of 2015. We spent about a year designing, brand building and fundraising and then launched September of 2016. We had spent a great deal of time interacting with the consumer- Neely as a retailer and Chloe as a merchant at J.Crew (and both as shoppers!)- and we started to feel like there was a need for something that felt chic, sophisticated and special but without a four figure price tag.
Your bags are chic, on trend, well made and affordable! Was that something you hoped to achieve when launching the brand? A bag for every girl?
Definitely. We wanted to create a clean, timeless product that made the customer feel special. Then we layered personalization on top of that so that every girl could leave with a bag that felt more about her than it was about us. What has been really exciting is to see women of all ages engage with the product. We’ve really been able to hone in on a multigenerational customer base and it’s so fun for us to get to see how all our different customers styles our products.
Where do you turn to for inspiration when designing a new collection?
It is really a little bit of everything. It usually involves a little bit of digging through our mom’s closest or old photos. For Neely, a lot of it comes from traveling - she’s got a bit of a wanderlust bug- or interior design. I look to vintage ideas and concepts. We are also completely shameless about approaching someone if they’re carrying something that catches our eye- whether it’s on the street in New York or at a dinner party! So watch out if you’re on the streets in NYC and toting a particularly chic bag.
What did you wear to your first interview?
Neely: I have this pair of Navy culottes that are probably up there with my most worn pieces in my closet. I think I wore that with a white sweater, pretty much my go to uniform. My favorite thing about them is that you can dress them up or down- I probably walked there in sneakers and then switched out to heels right as we walked up.
Chloe: I also went with my uniform- Jeans, striped tee and flats. And of course we both carried proto samples of our upcoming line.
We have a lot of young people out there applying for their first jobs, what qualities do you look for when hiring someone to join your team?
While there are a few constants for any job- drive, determination, initiative- because we are such a small business there are a few traits that are really valuable in our environment. Each member of the N&C team needs to be dedicated, very flexible and ready to roll up their sleeves. While we all have specific roles and responsibilities, there are a lot of situations that are all hands on deck. Whether is a day of picking and packing at our warehouse, or taking a few bags on your vacation to pop into potential new stores- we all do it all! So we’re always keeping an eye out for team players. If this sounds like you, call us 😉
If you could go back and tell yourself something before starting your company, what would it be?
Enjoy every stage of the process! It’s really easy to constantly be looking forward to what’s next- but we’re trying to remember to enjoy all of the quirks of each growth phase of the business.
Each season you put out a new collection, could you tell us a bit what that process is like from start to finish? How far in advance you start working on it etc.?
Almost a full year! And the lead time really increased when we started wholesaling our product. We work to keep the timeline as tight as possible so we can have as much up to date feedback as possible by the time the product hits the shelf, but the industry works on a pretty archaic timeline.
We start out the production process by a team meeting where everyone brings tears from magazines and inspiration to the table- it’s most exciting when we similarities between what everyone has pulled. Then we design 4-5 new silhouettes we are considering introducing. That usually gets whittled down to 3 after the first few rounds of samples that we will release with our core styles. Finally we produce a “full color run” of the whole season and give final approval of all the colors and styles and then we head into production!
What would you say is the secret to achieving a good work-life balance?
This one is particularly tricky for us because we work and live together (and are sisters). So going home at night or away for family vacation doesn’t quite do the trick. For us, it’s allowing ourselves to make a schedule that works for us. For instance, Neely likes to work at night at home, so sometimes that means doing some personal to-do’s during the work day. I love to run in the morning, which means my work day usually starts a little later, but we give ourselves that because when the phone rings in the middle of the night or on a Sunday afternoon, we answer it.
Who have been your biggest mentors in the industry, and what is the best advice they have ever given you?
Our parents! We’re so lucky to have such a supportive family but particularly lucky that they both spent time in this business. We have learned a ton from our Dad- he ran a women’s and children’s clothing business for 35 years (and that’s where he met our Mom!). So much of our style inspiration comes from our Mom. We get very regular advice from them- whether we like it or not!
However, the best single piece of advice we’ve gotten since the start was to 'stay focused'. It may sound very simple, but when you launch a business like this you are constantly getting feedback from consumers and always seeing other things in the world that peak your interest. I have to keep an eye on Neely because sometimes things will go a little like this: One day she sees a beautiful old movie and all of a sudden she thinks she wants to start designing dresses or earrings or… chandeliers! If you’re not careful, the mind can wander. Staying true to your mission and concept gets harder every day, but identifying a customer and a product they need and remaining true to that has really allowed us to carve out a niche for N&C.
As a busy woman on the go, what are three things you never leave home without?
Neely: I’d like the answer to be my dog, but that’s not always possible. So, my notebook, lipgloss, and my flat clutch (either for storage in my bag or my purse)
Chloe: A hairbrush, my tote bag (it is the best! it fits everything), and my headphones!
Favorite places in NYC to…
Eat: Momoya or Katsuei (or really any good sushi!!)
Drink: Our little local spot by the office is Weather Up but for a fun night uptown we like The Whitby Hotel.
Shop: Vintage stores like Vintage Twin or smaller boutiques like Otte around the city.
What advice would you give to young women hoping to one-day follow in your footsteps? Where do they even begin?
Neely: My advice would be to find a business partner. I worked on my own for about two years before I convinced Chloe to hop on board. Even though what we’re doing now is on a much larger scale and more public, I never feel stress the way I used to. Having someone to shoulder all the ups and downs with makes all the difference.
Chloe: Give yourself the credit that you can do it! I think if you’ve got an idea and you’ve gotten to the point where you’re considering going for it, you’re already much further along than the majority of people. Own that and realize that you’re probably far more equipped than you’re giving yourself credit for.
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