Danielle Ribner, fashion designer and founder of Loup, gives us a step by step look at how she developed her career and fashion line. An insightful look into starting your own business and the things to consider along the way.
Were you born in New York?
I was, but my family moved to Los Angeles when I was a baby so I grew up there. But I would come to New York at least once or twice a year for vacations and to visit my grandparents. I loved those trips. I couldn’t wait to drive over the bridge into New York.
So did you always want to come back here?
I was never obsessed with the idea of living in New York, but I think I always knew deep down that I would end up here. It wasn't a hard decision to move here; it felt very natural.
I grew up in West LA and went to school in Santa Monica. I was always near the beach. I went to a very small high school, so when I went to college I wanted to go to the biggest public university I could find. I wanted a completely different experience, so I went to the University of Washington. It was a good in-between stop because I knew I didn't want to come to New York yet.
What did you study?
Film and history. I kind of took as many classes as I could about different things. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so when I finished college I thought I should go to design school to see if fashion was for me and that's what brought me to New York. I came here to go to Parsons.
So fashion came to you later in life?
Kind of. I always loved fashion and I would always kind of make my own clothes. I didn't know how to sew, but I would just cut things apart and figure out how to put them back together. I loved fashion magazines but I was never like, "I want to be a fashion designer." I was never like, "I'm going to move to New York and have a clothing line." I’ve always loved art and design, and it seemed like fashion could be a good thing to learn and an industry where I could always get a job doing something that I liked.
I got an associate degree in fashion design at Parsons. It was a year and a half accelerated program and I basically learned everything about making clothes, illustration, design and making portfolios. It taught me everything.
Was that intimidating to get into?
It was so scary. I would take classes like pattern making and I didn't even know what pattern making was. You had to catch on quickly.
Did New York feel like the right place to be?
For sure. There were a lot of LA people I knew who were already in New York. I moved here with this community already in place. I’m also very independent, a little bit of a loner. I like doing my own thing and this city is perfect for that. You never feel like you're alone here. I love that.
When you graduated from Parsons, did you have any idea what you wanted to do?
Not really. I ended up getting a job at Jones Apparel, which is a big corporate design company. I worked in this division where we'd make monthly deliveries to department stores for brands like Anne Klein and Nine West. I was there for about a year and a half. It was like a crash course in fashion production—I was emailing with factories in China everyday and meeting with buyers and department stores and sitting in every meeting, so I saw how everything was done.
Were you designing your own stuff on the side?
Not really. I was just working a lot. I was pretty bored and I saw that all the people who held positions above me seemed kind of bored, too.
I was in my mid-20s and I knew that I had to do something I could get a little more excited about. I wasn't ready to just settle into moving up the corporate ladder at that point.
It’s easy to get stuck there. Did you have a concept of what the next step was?
I did. When I first started my line, it was really small and it was only tennis clothing. I was obsessed with the ‘60s and ‘70s and The Royal Tenenbaums.
There is something about tennis I always loved. I loved the idea that there are really strong women playing this intense sport and they're wearing these little frilly white dresses. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever.
I thought it would be good to focus on a really small market like tennis clothing, so I wouldn’t have to compete with big fashion companies. I found these great fabrics that felt like silk but you could work out in them. I would make these little dresses, skirts and tops that you could play tennis in but also wear them off the court.
What happened with the tennis clothing line?
It went pretty well. There were a lot of boutiques that liked what I did, but they weren't going to buy athletic clothing. They would say, "Oh, could you make this in a regular fabric?” Tennis is a really small market. You really only sell to country clubs or you have to compete against Nike at big sports stores.
I knew if I wanted to grow, I had to bite the bullet and evolve the line into some sort of women's wear line. That took about a year or two to really to figure out what the line was going to be.
So how did you actually get started?
I was working out of my apartment and I found other people I’d gone to school with who helped me find places in the Garment District that could make the clothing. One of the reasons I did tennis was that the trade shows were really small, so I knew I’d only be seeing people who had a genuine interest in what I was doing.
I think my first sale was from a trade show in California; someone bought three pieces and I was so excited. It was like the best day of my life. From there the business grew. I remember I printed 100 lookbooks and sent them to 100 stores and then called them all to follow up. By the end of the season I had my stuff in about five stores.
It was very slow going; it was just me reaching out to a million people, anyone I knew who'd maybe want to wear the clothes or know someone who had a store. When you're young and starting out, people kind of feel bad for you so they're like, "Okay we'll try it. We'll take three outfits and see how it does."
If it means they'll take the clothes, then it’s all good!
Exactly. I didn't care. I was like, “Whatever you want, I'll do it.”
So how did you get to the point where you're at now? The business is going great, and your clothes are carried in Anthropologie.
Looking back, I don't know the moment when I felt like I actually had a real business. I've had the business maybe seven years. I think once I evolved past tennis wear, it was a turning point. A couple of cool, small boutiques that I loved started buying the clothes. I started catering to them and then more cool boutiques started buying from me and that's how it evolved.
I also started working with a sales showroom, which was really helpful. They're the ones who hooked me up with Anthropologie and Shopbop.com. They’re basically like my salespeople and they have really nice showrooms in LA and New York. Every time I make a new collection, they take it and they basically sell it for me.
It must be helpful not having to worry about that side of things.
Right. The first person I was going to hire had to be a salesperson, because they have the relationships with the buyers. I don't have the time anymore to call a hundred stores every season. I think the first hurdle was getting past that point.
When I found a showroom that I liked, I started getting into bigger stores. I was getting feedback like, "Oh we've met with all these stores and they really like it and they're going to order stuff." I was like, "Are you joking?" "Are you just being nice?"
I read on your website that everything is made in New York?
Yes! In the beginning it was just for convenience; I wasn't making a lot of things, so I couldn’t really go to China to make 20 shirts. But now it’s different. There was a day when I realized, "Oh, if I took all of my production out of New York, people would be losing their jobs." People's companies would be affected by that. It feels good to make that commitment to companies locally. It's also easier because I can go and see everything. If there's something wrong, I can take the subway in ten minutes and go see it.
How would you describe your brand?
I like to think of my clothes as fun exciting basics. I like to make things that people will want to wear a million times. They’re not trend based; they are clothes you can wear everyday. The modern women doesn’t really have weekend outfits and work outfits anymore.
Totally. I pretty much wear the same thing all the time.
I want to give people things that can be nice enough for a meeting or nice enough to go to cocktails later in the day.
I feel like that's so important in New York, because once you leave the house for the day you won't come back until midnight and you have to look like a half-decent human being the whole time.
What are you working on now?
I've been expanding categories in the line. I started making bags, which has been really fun. I've also been focusing a lot more on denim and bottoms. I’m definitely going to expand on things like that and just kind of keep growing organically. That's the way I've been able to last so long—I've never really pushed anything too huge. I've expanded as needed. I don't want to get a big investment and change everything and open 10 stores.
Your office is in the Lower East Side, but where do you live?
I live in Fort Greene in Brooklyn. I love it. It's so beautiful.
What are some of your favorite places to go in your neighborhood?
Roman's, Walter Foods and Bar Bolinas are three places I go for dinner all the time. I also love this coffee shop called Fort Grace. I get coffee there a lot and sit on the bench outside.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
I was actually thinking about this the other day. I think I would say, go slow. It's okay to just listen to what feels right to you and not to rush things. You don’t create a clothing line and then suddenly make a million dollars. If you’re really doing what you want to do, stick with it and go at your own pace. Listen to what you feel is right.
What does New York mean to you?
That's such a nice question. I mean, I never really thought about that. I think it goes back to what I was talking about before… New York feels really safe and welcoming to me. Even when I'm by myself, I feel very much like I'm at home and that I'm welcome here. I like that there are so many different kinds of people here. We can work together and live in this place and everyone has their own thing that makes them feel that way about the city.
Go shopping: Louponline.com