Inspiration for Olivia Fay’s womenswear collection Rallier, came from close to home. Her grandmother supported her children’s education by operating a dress shop in San Francisco in the 1950s. Similarly, Fay was drawn to an education mission component to her business. After watching the film Girl Rising, Fay learned one of the obstacles girls face in order to attend school is lack of a uniform. Rallier has committed itself to sourcing fabric and covering the cost of production to create school uniforms for girls in Kenya utilizing all local resources. Fay’s first collection is a range of dresses–silhouettes and fabrics will remind everyone of the classic school uniform, but reinterpreted for a modern woman. The collection launches today in New York and is available online only.
What inspired you to begin your fashion career in public relations? What is it like being on the other side now?
The intersection between creativity and commerce drew me to public relations early on in my career. I was a fine arts and art history major in college, but have always been intrigued by consumer behavior and sales. To me, sales results are reflective of what people value, which can be so interesting to observe over time. Public relations allowed me to be in equal proximity to both the design and sales processes. As a publicist, I would be communicating inspiration notes and fabric details to the press while also working with our sales team to analyze how various placements affected results on any given day. I loved having a foot in both worlds. Launching Rallier has been both a creative and quantitative endeavor. However, Rallier has given me a much fuller view of the fashion business as a whole. My day-to-day is rarely the same and involves a much more varied set of tasks and goals. Within the same hour, I can go from selecting fabric colorways to running financial models. Being on the other side has been a continuous lesson in how creativity and business intersect and coexist – but this time on a much larger scale!
What is the meaning behind the brand name?
Rallier comes from the verb “rally,” which means to bring or come together for a common purpose. This definition is highly aligned with the core values of the brand. Also, I liked that “Rallier” was ambiguous enough that we could create our own visual culture and meaning around the word.
Do you travel to Kenya often?
I actually took my first trip to Kenya this past January and I’ll definitely be back. The entire experience from the culture, to the people, to the landscapes, to the food made for an unforgettable trip.
What is so special for you about this country?
My link to Kenya is Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), which is our founding non-profit partner and an organization that I’ve been involved with since before starting Rallier. SHOFCO operates two tuition free schools for girls in Kibera and Mathare–Kenya’s largest urban slums. Taking part in this movement has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Being in Kenya for the first time with their team was nothing short of life-changing.
Who is the woman you are designing for?
The Rallier woman takes a step back to observe the bigger picture in all aspects of her life, including style. She’s a bit wiser beyond her years – she wants to see change in the world and is compelled to find ways to contribute. She questions the status quo and listens to herself above all others. She knows something about who she is and knows how much that matters.
I admire designers who have been able to break out of the conventional mold and help redefine our perception of classic wardrobe pieces, which you’ve done beautifully in your first collection. Does this reflect some of the “grit and grace” defined in your design aesthetic?
Definitely. My generation has broken out of conventional molds in so many ways and I wanted to offer pieces that reflect this cultural shift.
Why did you decide to manufacture domestically?
Manufacturing in Manhattan allows me to have a very close relationship with our production partners, which to me, is crucial. I’m able to see how production is progressing in person several times a week, which improves quality control and ensures our design is being effectively translated into the physical product. Manufacturing in New York has undeniable business benefits but is also beneficial on a personal level. Developing friendships with the people that actually make our clothes adds so much more meaning to the final product. My team and I are really fulfilled by these relationships and think of our production partners as co-creators. On another note, I started interning in the garment district when I was 18 years old and it feels right to support a city that has given me so much for so many years.
Preparing for the launch of your first collection must be exciting. What has been your favorite part of the process?
I would have to say that my favorite part of the process so far has been conceptualizing a fabric that speaks equally about both our design aesthetic and our social mission. To create something, anything, is something that everyone should experience. To have a small idea turn into something that you can see and eventually touch is just such a cool feeling.
You collaborated with a Japanese fabric mill to develop your own signature fabric for the collection. Can you walk us through how that came about?
Coming up with the initial concept for Rallier, it was important to me that our social mission be ingrained in the culture of the brand. I wanted to create a signature fabric that was visually linked to school uniforms. Our first inspiration boards were covered with school uniforms in traditional gingham prints. We wanted to use a technique called needlepunching to develop a three-dimensional interpretation of these gingham prints with wool. We even traveled to Korea to visit needlepunching factories. As the idea continued to develop, I realized that this should be a signature brand element that is used from season-to-season and that cotton would provide more versatility. A lot of research led us to a mill in Japan that was using a similarly three-dimensional, textured effect on cotton prints. We worked with them over several months to use this technique on our own designs.
Do you ever see the brand expanding to a brick and mortar location?
Definitely. I’d love to have a physical touch point so that customers can experience and connect with the brand in person.
What is your favorite piece to wear from the collection?
We have an off-the-shoulder dress that we did in both our signature check print and menswear fabric. I love that we took what most people consider a cute party dress and made it modern and strong.
As a new designer, what has been your biggest challenge?
Publicly presenting something that you care about is never easy. Toward the beginning of the brand’s development I did a lot of second guessing and questioning. But, Rallier has taught me that creativity requires trust in yourself. It was definitely a learning process to get to that place, but it’s a lesson that I will take with me beyond this business.