NAVEN’s Alexis McClay On Fashion, Career and Life Balance [Women in Business]
Something really exciting is happening on CollegeCandy. We’re launching a new column about women in business. We want you, our fabulous readers, to have awesome female role models and learn about how they followed their dreams so you can follow yours too!
For our first interview I spoke to a very exciting woman–the co-founder of the brand NAVEN, Alexis McClay. For those of you who don’t know you need to Google NAVEN immediately, but short overview: NAVEN is a lifestyle brand that I personally want to wear 24/7 (and I sort of do). It’s designed for real women with real bodies and the cuts make everyone look awesome. They have loads of celebrity clientele, most notably Katy Perry. Alexis and Kym (co-founders and twin sisters) are beautiful, brilliant, and innovative.
Lucky me, I got to speak with Alexis on the phone and pick her brain about business, Zac Posen, family, and following your dreams!
Without further ado, my interview with Alexis McClay:
CC: Where did the brainchild for this idea come from?
My sister Kym and I started it together in 2007. She has the fashion background. She went to FIDM and graduated in fashion merchandising and she worked for a large Asian company in denim. They have about 100 department stores across Asia. So before we started Naven, she had 5 good solid years in the industry. My background is in marketing and business, so I worked for a few marketing companies, got some good experience, and then we always wanted to work together, so we kind of combined forces in 2007 and started Naven. The whole concept behind it is that we thought there was a void in the market for fun, bright evening wear that was affordable. I felt like there was not a lot out there in a good price range, so we wanted to create something girls could wear out. That’s how it started, with mainly cocktail dresses – something where you didn’t blend in but were able to stand out using nice fabrics, bright colors, and empowering women in a way. Over the years the collection grew into a full line and now we have 3 full lines: the designer collection, the young collection by Naven, and we just launched Naven casual. We’ve created a lifestyle brand so you don’t have to go anywhere else.
CC: I don’t understand why anyone would! Where did the name for Naven come from?
So, my family is Canadian and Irish (we actually have multiple passports), and they’re all from Naven in Ireland. We got inspiration from that. We spent a lot of time when we were younger travelling around Europe and other areas in Ireland where my family is from. I think that influenced us a lot, so I kind of got the inspiration from that.
CC: Has all that travelling in Europe and Canada influenced the overall feel of the line or do you pull from global fashion?
I mean, it totally has–and growing up in Vancouver, which is an outdoorsy kind of place where people aren’t concerned with fashion so much; they’re more concerned with comfort. We always had this love of fashion, but we didn’t know quite where to fit it, because there wasn’t a scene for it at all. We didn’t know where to look for it. So when we started visiting our family and spending summers in Europe, when we saw European fashion, we were automatically addicted. I think a lot of our influences from today come from being exposed to fashion as children. I think thats why we go for very feminine cuts and more sophisticated looks.
CC: You and your sister model the clothes, so when you’re designing the line, do you have your bodies in mind or another frame of reference?
The biggest challenge for a designer is creating a fit that looks great on regular women. Anybody can make a skinny runway model look great, but most women are curvy and do not look good in baggy clothes. We’re definitely not models, but we’re like normal girls, so we want to show that the clothes are for normal girls, and they’re made for real active everyday women! We definitely keep that in mind. We also like to do things that will make women with normal bodies look thinner with clothes that are very flattering. We like the highwaisted shorts and tying in the waist to make it look teeny. It makes you look thinner and accentuates the curves. Knowing construction and knowing how to create a good fit is very important.
CC: That’s so refreshing to hear! I know a lot of people who wear Naven who are obsessed with the cuts because they say, “Regardless if I’m having a great day with my body or am feeling bloated I can wear Naven and look great!” You said you majored in marketing. How did you guys market yourself and turn this business plan into something that would be successful?
There’s so much that goes into a marketing plan, but when we first started we wanted to have celebrities wear our clothes. Especially living in Hollywood, you kind of realize that having role models wear your clothes is really important. We also wanted to be seen wearing the line, as designers, and have our story be the base of the company, so the women buying our clothes could relate and say, “Oh, these girls are personable. I can reach them. They’re just like us, and they’re sisters and family working together.” I think a lot of people can relate to that. Then there became a demand from celebrities to wear our clothes. We didn’t really reach out to them, but they came to us, because they really just loved the look of the line. Our colors really pop on the red carpet, so our clothes started becoming very popular with celebrities.
Me: What was it like when you guys got your first call from a celebrity talking about how much they loved your line?
I think the first time it really kind of hit me that we were popular was when I was looking through one of the weekly magazines, and I saw Kristen Cavallari wearing our Bombshell. It was flattering, because she hadn’t come to our showroom to pull it. She just went out and bought the dress herself, loved it and was wearing it on the red carpet. As a designer that’s the biggest compliment ever. After that we started seeing people on the red carpet loved Naven and started pushing that.
CC: That’s amazing. I can only imagine the excitement! Do you guys feel you have a traditional way of doing PR?
It’s really just learning along the way. It works differently with each brand, but you just have to offer products that work for your demographic. Keeping that in mind is how we’ve been able to attract the A-list people.
CC: How do you stay grounded in the face of all this success and fame?
I think I stay grounded, because I work almost 24/7 with my twin sister. I mean, we’re family working together, and we work so hard that I never take anything for granted. A lot of misconceptions about the fashion industry is that it’s all glitz and glam, but that’s only about 10% of it. The other 90% is hard work. There’s just so much that goes into it. Knowing that one finished dress took me months of work keeps me grounded.
CC: Is there just a huge sigh of relief that the one garment you’ve been working on is finally completed?
Yeah, we always say that we work really hard all season long, and the payoff is the photo shoot, and it’s an amazing time! It’s the one time when you’re not working, and you get to wear the clothes and have fun in the clothes! It’s kind of like, “I created that!” It’s the wrap party! The other thing is that people think of designers sitting at a desk and drawing clothes all day, and that is not the case!
CC: How do you maintain a personal life? How would you recommend that our readers split work and play?
Right now the line between personal life and work is really blurred. But that’s part of the game. You go through phases in your business. I think keeping a balance and making sure to take time for just you is really important. I think because I work with my sister, it doesn’t feel like I’m at an office 24/7. We have fun together. We’re a really good team. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time on work, you have to assemble a great team, because that’s what’s going to make you successful. Making sure you have skilled people in your office and people you love working with will ensure it doesn’t always feel like work!
CC: Who are your role models and how have they inspired you?
I guess the person that inspires me a lot in my personal life is my father. He’s also a partner in our business, and he just takes on a lot in our personal life and still finds time for his family and supports everyone. As far as other designers, I adore Zac Posen’s designs. The way he uses color and fit and really makes a woman look like a woman is so inspiring to me. I kind of keep him in mind every time I’m making a new cocktail dress or doing a new design. When I’m blocked on ideas, I think about what would he do in this situation. His construction is absolutely impeccable.
CC: What advice would you give to our readers who also have ideas brewing? What are steps 1-5 for turning an idea into a tangible goal?
The first thing is to research. Spend at least 6 months researching your market, what exists and how you can do it better. Think about what doesn’t exist. And after you’ve really done your research, start planning things like the cost and how you’re going to make it tangible. Once you start going, you really have to persevere and remember that you might have to change, because every market is really dynamic. At the end of the day, believe in your initial vision, because the one thing you never want to change is that vision!
[lead image via NAVEN.com]