Next up in our Friends of Envynde series is my good friend Whitney Bracey, designer of Mahogany Blues Swimwear. Whitney and I go back to the sewing lab days, back to the “broke as a joke. can barely afford fabric” college student days. I wanted to catch up with Whitney to see where life has taken her and I’m not too surprised to see that’s it’s been quite a journey.
Behind the Designer:
So Whitney, do you prefer large Groups or one on one interactions?
I don’t mind large groups but I’m definitely an introvert because I like to keep to myself most of the time. I’m the type of person that can go to a party or some event where I know absolutely no one and have a great time.
What is your vision of a perfect society?
That’s a good question… I’ve never thought about it. Let’s see… It would be where people got along; or at least are able to be cordial. There’s a lot of people acting crazy all the time!
Hamburger, Bacon cheese burger, or veggie burger?
Ooooh bacon cheese burger.
What would be the title of your biography?
“The sound track of my life.” Because a lot of the things that I do are inspired by music. I love music; all kinds of music. So I think that it influences a lot of my thinking and my actions
What celebrity would you most like to style?
Lianne La Havas? I’m not familiar. Educate me!
She’s a singer and song writer out of London. In the US they classify her as a “folk artist” but it’s not folk music at all. I guess they don’t really have a genre she fits in. She has a very soulful voice, very sultry. The title of her CD is “Is Your Love Big Enough”. This is her first Summer tour in the United States and most of her shows are sold out.
Behind the Designs:
Mahogany Blues Swimwear. (said with a smirk and a giggle)
You’re laughing so I take it there’s a good story behind that name?
Well it started a few years ago. I wanted to open a neo soul lounge in Denton because anything like that – poetry, spoken word, anything with a neo soul vibe – you have to go to Dallas for. So in doing my research for that, Mahogany Blues happened to be one of the names I came up with. But when I really started digging in an doing the research I starting thinking “This might not be my thing”. But I came up with a lot of good names and thought – these could be used for something later on.
What’s the history?
The process started in January of this year. The past 5 years I’ve been doing custom swimsuits. So I was already known for swimwear. But last year I decided I was ready to revamp my business model and where I wanted to go. So I made a collection, and if you’re going to have a collection you have to give it a name. So I came back to Mahogany Blues.
In a few sentences describe your customer. Describe what draws them to your line.
Girl… the Mohogany Blues woman is someone who wants to stand out. My motto is “Be fashionable and chic but remain modest.” So she loves being in style and trendy but she doesn’t let it all hang out.
What inspires your designs?
My alter ego.
Your “alter ego…?” Ha! Please, go on.
My alter ego and music of course. Also my relationship with the Lord. I go to sleep an dream about swim suits some times. I say my alter ego because in the past you wouldn’t catch me in a swim suit. I would go to the pool in a tank top and shorts and call it a day. Then I started designing swim suits and a part of me was like “I could actually see myself wearing this!”
At what age did you know you wanted to become a fashion designer?
That started when I was a kid. I started sewing when I was 7 on a machine. Before that I was hand stitching Barbie doll clothes. I would cut up socks, my t-shirts, everything; all the time.
Ha! Whitney! I bet you worried your mother sick!
I did! But it got to the point where she couldn’t even get mad any more. She just figured “Guess I gotta teach her how to sew!”
How has your passion for design changed since school?
I’m still in design school but my passion has evolved. When I first started out I didn’t know my niche. I dabbled in wardrobe styling, make-up, dresses… Through trial and error I figured out I don’t really like wardrobe styling. I don’t like making dresses, because everybody makes dresses. So I started helping Ivory Narvel with Reign Suits and I just kept going.
What does being an independent designer mean to you?
It means I’m not boxed in by everyone else’s standards. I have the freedom to design what I want.
What are your goals? Where do you hope to see your line in 5 years?
In the next year I’m making the step from sole proprietor to an LLC. In the next 5 years I would like to increase the size of my collection and work on getting my line into stores.
So then you are hoping to cross from Indie designer to the mass market?
Yes. By next summer I will be mass producing.
What road blocks or obstacles do you face as an indie fashion designer?
Gaining capital. Finding startup money has been really difficult. A lot of what I’ve done came out of my own pocket. You have to have a fair amount of money starting out. I’ve been doing things little by little over the course of the last year just to get started. I have considered Kickstarter and I will probably be launching a campaign around September.
Did you have support from friend and family when you began this journey? What were your parents’ reactions when you said you wanted to go to design school?
My parents have supported everything I’ve ever done; no matter how crazy. Anything I was passionate about they supported.
On to my favorite question – What will be the defining moment for you? When will you know “I’ve made it”
I have never really thought about that but I did have a recent experience… I encountered my first hater!
Oh is that right?! I guess you are doing something right! Tell me about it.
Well I was at a fashion show recently and there was another designer there that I had been following for a while. So I went to introduce myself, because I’m the type of person that if you’re a designer and you’re local I’m going to support you. You know? So I approached him and he just looked at me and said “Heeeey” and gave me the limp hand shake. And all I could say is “Alright… well you have a good night!” And for the rest of the night they gave me and my line dirty looks. My interns even thought there was something up and I had never met this guy.
Well congratulations on your first HATER! So that was one moment but have you considered what will be the “defining moment”? Will it be – when I’m in this magazine or when this celebrity is wearing my swimsuit or a level of success?
I’m trying to get into Elements Mag, this magazine based out of New York. But if I could get into a magazine like Jones, or Essence that would be a really big deal. It’s not about a dollar amount, it’s about having something to show for it. For me if people can see my struggle and see I’m trying to go somewhere and I succeed – then I’ve made it.
What advice would you give to college freshman Whitney, knowing what you know now?
Don’t believe everything your professors tell you. If they say you can’t do something, try to prove them wrong. Because you’ll never know what you are capable of unless you try. You will be encouraged to play it safe, but being a designer is not about playing it safe, it’s about pushing your limit.
What are some tips you can share that have worked well for you?
For a new designer – Know you’re fabrication, know your trims, and know your different stitch techniques. They all have to work together. For all designers – a lot of people don’t realize all you can do with your home sewing machine. That sucker can do a lot of the same things a coverstitch machine can do.
And for my clothing labels – I used a spool of printed ribbon. A lot of people think you have to have woven labels printed but a spool of ribbon with your company stamped on it will go a long way.
Also, just ask around. I was blessed enough to be already working with a company called “Height Godess”. They’ve been around for a bout 10 years. In working with her she taught me shared some of her connections. She taught me the questions I should ask and what to look for when speaking with manufacturers.
Truth time – What would you say is the worst thing about being an indie designer?
One of the hardest things for me is to see my other designer friends advancing while I’m still struggling. They may be able to do things because they have the capital and I don’t. It can be a little discouraging.
What would you say is the best thing about being an indie designer?
Being able to give my clients that one on one attention; being able to relive them of the stress of shopping they’ve experienced. Most of my clients have had horrible experiences when it comes to swimsuit shopping. Being able to relieve them of the headache means a lot to me.
So what’s next for Mahogany Blues?
I’m already working on 2014. I have everything sketched out I’m just working on my samples.
I’ll be in Jazzi World in Little Elm on August 17th for their launch party.
The next big thing is Fashion Week San Diego in October. I’ll be presenting my 2014 collection. The winner gets an internship deal and the winner gets a mentorship for a year to help you get your line off the ground.
Be sure to keep up with Mahogany Blues Swimwear. For more information visit www.whitneybracey.com. Check back soon to learn more about what Dallas Fashion has to offer.