Olivia Wright wants to bring social responsibility to contemporary fashion.
It’s easier said than done, with companies like Toms allowing consumers to make philanthropic purchases at an inexpensive price point. But Wright’s mission has always been two-fold, and she spoke about the her brand Rallier's journey on the 24th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast. This is the first edition of the Spotlight Series that profiles emerging designers in a slightly shorter format.
It all began while watching a movie.
The 2013 documentary Girl Rising tells the story of young women across the world and their fight to overcome cultural barriers in pursuit of equal opportunity. Wright was struck by a statistic from the movie: giving school uniforms to students who did not previously own one reduces school absenteeism by 64%.
“I [couldn’t] believe an article of clothing was having that impact,” Wright said.
That knowledge stuck with Wright through business school, as she became more interested in the intersection of fashion and philanthropy. More specifically, she realized that clothing companies and fashion lines were only focused on social responsibility at a certain price point. Namely, on the cheap.
“When you look at philanthropic giving in fashion, it’s really happening with relatively lower-priced accessories,” she said. "What I would say is that if you’re expecting a $65 pair of Toms shoes to make a donation consistently, why wouldn’t we expect a contemporary price point to make a similar donation? Why is social responsibility in fashion considered sort of a lower-end product?”
Answering that question became the foundation on which Wright created Rallier. Unlike many fashion lines that only focus on social responsibility after creating a brand and beginning to generate revenue, Rallier would invert this model. Wright hoped to build a brand that could source uniforms to girls around the world, who are going to school in communities where gender inequality is the norm.
But instead of just starting with these philanthropic goals, Wright used the mission of her fashion line to inform the Rallier itself.
“It lives throughout the whole brand,” Wright said. “The whole collection is inspired by modern uniform dressing."
Using the same prints from traditional school uniforms, Wright created a collection of modern dresses that not only work as their own outfits, but occupy a space and price point where philanthropic fashion has never gone before. She said her business school background served her well during the days before launching Rallier, when the only tangible proof the whole thing might work was the idea in her head.
Wright said that she managed a successful launch through person-to-person interaction, taking advantage of her company’s relatively small size to meet with as many consumers as possible.
“There’s nothing more effective than being there in person,” she said. “Our trunk shows were by far our highest sales days. There’s something about meeting the founder and hearing the story. Your customer is then leaving and saying ‘I went to this event and had this experience.’ It’s not finding this on a website.”
Wright has aggressively pursued low-cost retail options, which include hosting private events and participating in revenue sharing arrangements with other brands and retailers. She acknowledges this one advantage of launching Rallier in NYC, giving the proximity to an initial base of customers.
But the potential for the brand to make a difference continues to be the driving force at Rallier. =
“Here’s this issue I found out about that horrifies me,” she said. “But what am I going to do about it?”