Though only 23 years old, an age when many of her contemporaries are probably still babysitting or finishing up college credits, Meredith Fisher can wax rhapsodic about the heady days of retail in 2006 when store buyers were more exuberant and consumers less savvy.
That’s because Meredith launched her first contemporary women’s clothing line, WAYF, when she was just 17 and interning for Jennifer Nicholson in LA. After her clothes got noticed–and purchased–by Rachel Zoe and an Olsen sister, she was on her way.
But rather than rest on her laurels and enjoy watching Nicole Richie and Mischa Barton strut around in her designs, Meredith went to school and majored in entrepreneurship.
After graduation, she shuttered WAYF and launched Charles Henry by Meredith Fisher, just in time for A/W 2010. The line is young and fashion-forward, but not trendy, with perfect party dresses, rompers, and sun dresses with sweet prints abound. Originally from Kentucky, Meredith admits that an LA sensibility has crept into her work.
The line is currently sold at Intermix, Madison, Louis Boston and Confederacy. Prices range from $200- $800.
So how did she do it, and how is she doing?
Fashionista: When did you start designing? You were so young when your first line launched.
Meredith Fisher: When I was about 12 years old I asked my mom to let me enroll in sewing classes. It kind of came out of the blue because she didn’t sew and we didn’t own a sewing machine. I started taking these sewing classes and I just fell in love with it. I had an older sister who was living in LA working in entertainment and so I spent the summer in LA with her interning for Jennifer Nicholson.
How did your clothes first get noticed?
I showed a dress to [LA boutique] Satine and the girls who worked there fell in love with it and so did the buyer; it was actually my prom dress. And so I started selling things there that I was making myself. They started kind of flying off the shelves and different celebrities and stylists were buying them and it was from there that I decided I would create a real collection and launch a real line.
Did you bring the prom dress in specifically to sell it to Satine?
I had worn some sort of variation into the store and they liked it and then I brought them that dress. It was a little silk halter dress and that became the first piece. And I did all sorts of variations of that halter dress.
Tell me how you managed to attract a celebrity following.
At Satine, Rachel Zoe was buying the collection for the girls she was dressing at the time, like Nicole Richie and Mischa Barton, and Mary Kate Olsen bought a couple pieces. Through Satine I was introduced to the Traina sisters. Samantha Traina had a store in San Francisco. So she was my first real customer after Satine. I named the line WAYF that summer between junior and senior year of high school when I officially launched.
Do you have any formal design training?
I haven’t had any formal design training. I went to USC; I graduated with a business degree and I concentrated on entrepreneurship. And I was working on WAYF throughout college. I took a year off during my senior year of college just to focus on school and to enjoy a little bit of the college experience. And then it was when I re-launched for Fall 2010 that I named the line Charles Henry.
How have you raised money for all these ventures and who have been your biggest supporters both emotionally and financially?
My grandfather, who the Charles Henry line is named after, was a clothing manufacturer in Tennessee. He was really my first supporter. When I got my first order he got so excited. My parents were nice and supportive enough to invest some money in me. And I was able to grow slowly and to keep putting the money back into the business and taking slow steps towards growth.
You launched your new line at a really bad time in the economy. What was the scariest thing about trying to get it off the ground?
It’s been so different compared to when I launched WAYF. And I’m still getting used to how different the market is, how different buyers are, how much more savvy the consumer is compared to five years ago. So it’s been an adjustment. I think you have to be really smart and really aggressive about how you market your product and the design element and the details. The consumer knows much more than they did before. You have to really be on top of that.
What are you finding to be the biggest challenges of marketing yourself and your pieces?
It’s such a competitive market and it’s over-saturated. It’s difficult to make yourself stand out and make sure your product is recognized the right way.
What do you think is special about your line?
I try to make the pieces always fashion-forward but also a little classic. I take a lot of pride in the fact that even some of the first pieces I designed for WAYF still look current–they don’t look dated. I love the runway, I study the runways, so I always try to bring a little bit of that feel to my market. I feel there’s a huge divide between contemporary and runway. So that’s something that’s really important to me. I try to incorporate those runway ideas into my collection.
Do you have partners or people who help you?
I do it pretty much by myself. When I first launched WAYF I was in high school in Kentucky, so I had a partner living in LA who helped me originally. But that was a disaster. I think I learned my lesson early on. I don’t want a partner!
Where are most of the pieces manufactured?
I manufacture everything in LA which has been really great. I can really keep on eye on the production and the quality. I think it makes a huge difference.
Any advice for designers just starting out?
It’s really important to know your market and test your market. What proved to be really important to me launching my line was my experience with Satine, where I was really in touch with their customer and I really knew what was selling and what my customer’s reaction was.
Do you find that studying business ended up being helpful?
Yes, I did. I was an entrepreneurship major. I actually had to write a business plan. It really helped me think things through. Because I was already in the midst of it, it really helped me solidify my vision for what I wanted my company to be. When you’re writing a business plan you really have to think about the future.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’d love to expand my distribution, expand outside the US. There’s a lot of stores I think we’re missing and that I’d love to be sold at. I’d also keep growing the collection, incorporating new fabrics. One day I’d love to do shoes, bags, the whole thing. But baby steps!