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How to Make a Fashion Line
From mary-kateandashley magazine
August/September 2001
Pages 128-130

It takes more than scissors and fabric--but if you've got a while to make style, you, too, can create your own fashion line. Here's how.

In January, the mary-kateandashley brand fashion line made its debut at nearly 2,700 Wal-Mart stores across America. The idea was to bring really cute, trend-setting fashion to girls all over the country at a price that wouldn’t break the budget of the average after-school babysitter.

While everyone involved hoped for success, no one imagined the incredible response. The line exceeded all expectations, selling out immediately in every category. Now Mary-Kate and Ashley are expanding their line, with everything from sportswear to bedding and even stationary, cosmetics and hair products.

Mary-Kate and Ashley design the line with the help of their Dualstar Central Design Studio Executive Designer Judy Swartz, who has styled them for the past several years on their movies, videos, television series and more. We recently caught up with Judy minutes before she boarded a plane to travel to Paris, France and Milan, Italy, to do research for an upcoming season of the fashion line. Judy told us exactly how the fashion line moves from idea to reality.

Step 1: Start with an Idea

The idea for the mary-kateandashley brand fashion line first came to me about five years ago, when I started styling Mary-Kate and Ashley. I couldn’t find any clothes that I thought were hip and trendy enough for Mary-Kate and Ashley in their sizes. So I started buying clothes at stores for adults—trendy boutiques—and I had seamstresses alter the fashions to fit the girls.

Then we started to notice that many of the girls who came to the taping of Mary-Kate and Ashley’s former series “Two of a Kind” showed up dressed just like Mary-Kate and Ashley. We knew girls out there looked up to Mary-Kate and Ashley and admired their fashion taste. It was obvious there was a huge demand for really hip, adorable fashions for younger girls, and I knew from trying to style Mary-Kate and Ashley there just wasn’t much in the stores.

Mary-Kate and Ashley and the senior management of their company, Dualstar Entertainment Group, finally decided it was time to get started on a fashion line. A year and a half ago we started developing the line, and the first thing we did was find a national chain of stores to partner with. We wanted affordable, styling clothes, with easy access for Mary-Kate and Ashley’s fans and others. Wal-Mart was the best place for us. The people who manage Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Dualstar Entertainment Group and I met several times with Wal-Mart executives in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Wal-Mart is head-quartered. Not only was Wal-Mart very receptive to the line, it’s also the most successful retailer in the world.

Step 2: Get Inspired

When it comes to designing the actual collections, the first thing that happens is we look for inspiration. The places I like to go are London, Paris, Milan, Saint-Tropez and Rome. I find Europe very inspiring. Everything from the fashion in the shops, to the architecture, to the fashion people wear in the streets. I’m kind of like Mary-Kate and Ashley’s eyes because they’re not able to travel as much due to the shooting schedule for their show, their time in school, and all their time with friends and family. But they do travel to Europe with me from time to time.

On this trip, I’m looking for inspiration for the Summer 2002 collection. There will be lines for tween girls ages 6 to 14, and even toddlers. And it’s not just the same fashion in different sizes. Each line is a completely different collection.

So far, I’ve been inspired by halters, white eyelet fabric and Americana, like stars and stripes. Until I get back to the States and sit down with Mary-Kate and Ashley to go over what I saw in Europe, everything’s just in the idea stage. Nine out of 10 times the girls and I are on the same page as far as the inspiration goes. But until we really sit down, it’s hard to say what the final choices will be. It would be a safe bet there will be lot of whites and pale colors.

Step 3: Get With the Girls

Once I return from overseas, the first thing I’ll do is meet with Mary-Kate and Ashley. I see Mary-Kate and Ashley about two to three times a week, sometimes more. We get together and go through all the ideas of what we want to do. Do we want to do pants this year? Skirts? We try to build a collection according to what influences I likes in Europe and what Mary-Kate and Ashley have in mind. I might bring in some fabrics that inspired me, too.

Working with Mary-Kate and Ashley is great. I designed fashions for motion pictures and television for 16 years before working with Mary-Kate and Ashley, and when I met them I knew this was where I wanted to be. I’ve never met such incredible girls who are so professional and fun to work with. I knew it was a relationship that would grow and that we could grow together and do great things in fashion.

To work with them isn’t like working. It’s fun! They’re loving, they have a great sense of style, and they have great input and a terrific work ethic. They’ll say "Let’s do this" and "Let’s do that," and they’re right on the money. They have really great fashion intuition.

Step 4: Start Sketching

After we’ve got some great ideas, Mary-Kate and Ashley and I start putting them down on paper, with a sketch artist. We have between 12 and 16 pieces in the main collection. Multiply that by spring, summer, fall and holiday and you start to see the picture of how busy we get.

Our line covers everything from head to toe. We have hair accessories, sportswear, jewelry, footwear, handbags, eyewear, sleepwear and hats. We’re also doing watches, bedding, stationery, daywear (intimates) and bodywear. I’d say last year, the girls and I designed 44 lines. Wal-Mart has given us a wonderful opportunity with our fabulous fashion line and we are all having a blast with it.

Step 5: Meet With Wal-Mart

Once we’ve created the collection, I take the sketches to Wal-Mart. There, I go over the sketches with Wal-Mart executives, the manufacturers who make the clothes for us and the buyers. With our input, they choose what shapes and styles are best. We usually sketch from five to seven more items than we need, so we have to narrow it down.

Step 5: Make the Clothes

It takes somewhere between six and nine months for the designs to go from sketches to actual fashions in stores. The fashions are manufactured all over the world—in Mexico, China and Central America. Dualstar management and I will be visiting plants in the Orient later this year.

We feel it is really important to make the line affordable because kids are growing all the time. People don’t want to pay a lot of money for clothes they’re going to quickly outgrow. Also, keeping the prices low means girls can change their fashions with the seasons rather than having to hang onto things for a long time or wear a lot of hand-me-downs.

Step 7: Start Shopping!

Right now we’re designing the mary-kateandashley store, a boutique within Wal-Mart. It’ll be a store within a store, where we have only mary-kateandashley brand fashion and entertainment products. We will have dedicated sales associates who will be uniformed and trained by us to help customers pull outfits together, and our own cash registers and fitting rooms. This will be opening sometime this fall in a few select Wal-Mart stores.

This year, we’ll probably increase the number of collections we design to about 50. We’re expanding into watches, sunglasses, daywear (intimates) and bodywear. We’re even getting into domestics. Bedding launches this fall, and following soon will be bathroom accessories.

I see the line growing bigger and bigger. I see the mary-kateandashley brand becoming even more of a lifestyle for girls. It’s already been so successful. Wal-Mart has never seen anything like it. And we’ve never seen anything explode like this either. They’re breaking records.