Ever since he started his eponymous line of American-made button-downs and sportswear for men in D.C. in 2011, Read Wall has been tempted to decamp to New York, where a fashion label like his could benefit from access to both quality materials and a larger client base.
“I’ve gotten close to moving,” Wall says. “But I stay in D.C. because the fashion scene here is not quite as saturated. There’s more of a frontier feel to it.”
Wall is among multiple style entrepreneurs, from designers to website gurus, who are working D.C.’s fledgling fashion landscape to their advantage: Because there is less competition, it’s easier for such companies to make a name for themselves, and because of the comparatively limited number of outlets to choose from, D.C. residents serve as a sort of captive audience hungry for homegrown style.
Take Uyen Tang and Haya Tetroashvili, who are launching online indie clothing and accessories retailer StyleCable later this month. Tang says their “Etsy meets Kickstarter”model lets rising design talents accept pre-orders for new collections, thus limiting their financial risks.
“When we first started StyleCable, people were like, ‘Why aren’t you going to New York or L.A. or Miami?’ ” Tang says. “But it’s harder to differentiate ourselves in those markets. D.C. is more cost-effective. There’s less competition and a more supportive community in fashion and the startup scene.”
Anthom, another D.C.-based e-boutique, also sells eclectic, lesser-known brands. Founded in April by Carla Cabrera, Ashley Turchin and Marshall Johnson, the company partners with emerging designers to create exclusive capsule collections (shopanthom.com). Think geometric leather purses by Chiyome ($345) and Ten & Co.’s loafers made from recycled Moroccan rugs ($150-$180).
“It’s great to contribute to D.C.’s blossoming creative community,” says Cabrera, who’s garnered a dedicated following via her local style blog, The President Wears Prada. “Hopefully, one day people won’t feel like they have to leave D.C. to work in fashion.”
Resources like the DC Fashion Foundation also bolster the local style scene. The nonprofit provides mentoring and business training for wannabe Prabal Gurungs and, next year, will partner with Macy’s for a design incubator program (dcfashionfoundation.org).
“I think fashion startups see D.C. as a trial run before moving to New York or overseas,” says Bailey Sessoms, director of Friends of the D.C.F.F. “But if you’ve got a following here, I say you should do both.”
Women’s custom-dress company Numari dips into multiple markets to produce its products. Founded in D.C. in July by Arti Anand and Komal Kushal Raj, the brand collaborates with designers in New York, Los Angeles and beyond to create bespoke women’s clothing, mainly work-ready frocks in solid and color-block styles ($280-$350). You can customize their hues, hemlines and many other features.
“D.C. is a market of professional women who appreciate fashion and have a distinct point of view,” Anand says. “I think they’re very excited about the custom concept.”
That more and more fashion-focused companies are opting to stick around D.C. is a promising sign. While it’s unlikely we’ll ever be Paris or Milan, their existence suggests there’s an undeniable costume change in our midst.