Since launching Rhode Resort in 2014, co-founders Purna Khatau and Phoebe Vickers have gradually won over all the top retailers — not to mention Instagram — with their colorful, breezy, vacation-ready cotton dresses and kaftans. Beloved by fashion insiders and anyone else with the means to travel in an aesthetically pleasing way, the brand is a star in the buzzy resortwear category — no doubt buoyed by millennials' growing preferences for experience and travel, all of which must be documented on social media, of course.
But Khatau and Vickers have bigger goals. In March, the label announced a rebrand, dropping the word "Resort" from its name to better reflect its evolution "from a resortwear label to a year-round ready-to-wear collection, appropriate for any destination," per a press release.
"We see it as evolving into a full lifestyle brand," Vickers tells me in a long-awaited interview. She and Khatau are tough to pin down together these days between trips to India, where the line is produced (and where Khatau is from), and the company's growth process; they're currently hiring for several new positions at their Los Angeles office.
Vickers and Khatau met in New York at Bed Bath & Beyond ahead of their freshman year at Hamilton College, where they would be roommates. "The joke of the whole thing is, while we didn't plan on starting a clothing line at the time, that we when we walked into the [dorm] room our parents both saw the closet and were like, 'oh god, this is going be a problem,' because they're so small," says Vickers. "So maybe that was a hint towards the future in a way."
Khatau only stayed at Hamilton a year — "I left because I couldn't deal with living with snow until May," she says (This would not be her or Vickers' only big weather-based decision.) — and moved to London to finish school, going on to Milan to get a master's in fashion design. But she and Vickers always stayed in touch and would regularly plan vacations to see each other.
It was on one of these trips — to Doa in 2013 — that they started lamenting the lack of fun vacation apparel options on the market. At the time, Khatau was working as a buyer at Harvey Nichols in Dubai and Vickers as a photographer in New York. "We didn’t enjoy packing for the trip because what we were looking for just didn't exist," says Vickers. They decided then and there that they would start a vacation wear brand. "We didn’t really think twice about it; we went head down and went for it," says Vickers.
They quickly set up a small office in India. "It was just an easy thing for us to do, specifically because I'm from there, so we had a network of people we could work with," explains Khatau. "Also, we initially started using a lot of cotton and also using a lot of hand embroidery which India specializes in."
"The quality was also really above a lot of other stuff we'd seen," added Vickers of the decision to produce in India. The first collection was done in under a year, and they managed to serendipitously get a spot at the Coterie tradeshow with only a couple days notice. Shopbop picked up the line on the spot and has been one of the brand's biggest retail partners ever since. Today, the line can also be found at Matchesfashion.com, Net-a-Porter, Bergdorf Goodman, FiveStory, Intermix, Moda Operandi, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lane Crawford and Neiman Marcus, in addition to its own website.
The line has grown since then as well: The brand has expanded from doing only two collections per year — spring and summer — to five, and from cotton dresses to a variety of fabrications and separates. Soon, it will introduce knitwear and a holiday collection of party dresses separate from its resort range. Though, the Ella Dress — a short, long-sleeve frock with a tasseled belt (pictured above) — remains its most popular silhouette. "It seems to be somewhat of a phenomenon; people have started collecting them in a way," says Vickers. The co-founders also transitioned from their respective home bases of New York and Bombay to a headquarters in LA, pretty much based on weather, according to Vickers. "I think also LA lends to the vibe of the clothes," adds Khatau.
They admit social media has factored into the brand's success, but they've never engaged in paid influencer marketing. "We've been extremely lucky on the influencer/celebrity side," says Vickers. "They're just fans of the brand so we've gotten a lot of visibility that way." On Instagram, the hashtag #ontherhode has over 1,500 posts.
The fact that people like something fun to wear on vacation, and like to document their vacations, has also helped things along. "I think when people are shopping for vacation, it's the time you're able to buy these super-bright, colorful, just happy clothes and I think that fundamentally has helped our business, but also, the clothes travel well. It's easy to feel put together without putting a lot of effort into it which I think a lot of women appreciate," says Vickers.
"One girl hiked Machu Picchu — and not even the short hike, the full one — in an Ella dress with a bow in her hair," she adds. "It's like, yes, that is it."
It's that kind of energy that Vickers and Khatau are building a brand around, and they envision one day making more than just clothing. Handbags are set to launch next year, and home could be on the horizon. Says Vickers: "We've always started it as a lifestyle brand; we wanted to create our own world."