Katie Demo and Jay Adams have been close friends since high school. When they went off to different colleges and pursued careers in marketing for online fashion retail and apparel manufacturing sourcing, respectively, they continued to keep in touch.
As they moved up in their careers, they each navigated a tricky style problem of their own: Finding quality, stylish and professional clothing for the workplace that fit their budgets and their busy schedules. Unable to find what they needed and wanted in the market, in 2014 they created their own solution by launching Brass.
Demo and Adams launched Brass with five minimalist dress styles for different occasions. Today, Brass offers various styles of pants, blouses, and dresses as foundational pieces every woman needs in her closet. Local ladies can visit Brass in person at the pop-up shop in the Seaport District; anyone can browse online.
Demo sat down for a chat with Exhale and shared an insider’s look at the world of fashion e-commerce, bootstrapping your own business, and what a world of a difference a streamlined style makes for any woman navigating a busy life.
Exhale: How did your previous experience in e-commerce help inform starting your own online fashion brand?
Katie Demo:At the online shoes company I worked for, I had a million dollar marketing budget. When we started Brass we had a zero dollar budget, so it was something we had to pick up and do very quickly.
When it comes to building an e-commerce company, a lot of it is building a brand that people respond to, understand and connect with. I really enjoyed exploring our story and getting to know the customers. That has been an experience that has influenced my entire career and my approach to marketing and brand building.
One of the things I love about Brass is that we’re so connected to the customer. We wanted to create a brand for women like us who were in need of high quality, business casual clothing that allowed them to feel elevated and level up in the workforce at a reasonable price.
What were your challenges and advantages in building Brass into a brand?
We started the business just the two of us, working nights and weekends. We were doing everything. We didn’t have any funding seed rounds. We bootstrapped the business.
We were answering customer service questions, having phone calls go directly to our cell phones, dropping off packages, doing trunk shows. We were doing anything and everything to get the brand going. We were on Instagram and Facebook and we had a lot of touch points for connection. But, it was in person too. We would do a lot of meet-ups in Boston.
One of our competitive advantages is we have excellent manufacturing partners. Jay’s background was in apparel sourcing and manufacturing so we had our factories before we even had the business.
We work with two factories in China. While Jay was abroad finding factories for the small sourcing company she was working for at the time, she came across a factory who does work for brands like Theory and Diane Von Furstenberg. She tells me, you’re not going to believe this factory. It’s so clean, they have creative craftsmen. It’s so opposite of what Americans think of typical Chinese factories.
So, Jay goes there a few times a year and sees the excess fabric left by brands like Calvin Klein, and we get inspired by it to make classic, staple pieces using this really nice fabric that other big brands are using. Finding the right manufacturer is one of the hardest things for a small brand and that connection has allowed us to grow so significantly over the last couple of years.
What type of role do you think fashion plays in a modern woman's life? Should we care about it?
When we came up with this idea five years ago, fast fashion was so prevalent and still is. There seems to be polarization in the fashion industry: You could either get cheap, bad quality clothing that did not make you feel good, or you could save and save for something like Vince or Theory, but then you’re spending $500. Then you’re questioning, am I going to be able to pay rent? Pay my student loans? You know, serious financial questions. We were like, we can’t be paying these prices for clothes. Meanwhile, as career-driven young women who were focused on leveling up in the workforce, we wanted a wardrobe that allowed us flexibility and gave us the confidence to feel good at work.
When we first started engaging with customers, they would say, “Yeah, the price point is great but the change that the clothes have made to my life and the way I feel is so meaningful.” One woman would say to me, “People have no idea what it’s like to be a young mom, trying to get back to work after maternity leave, getting the baby ready for daycare and not having anything to wear, not feeling good about it, and then having to run out the door. Versus, having a wardrobe of clothes you love that makes you feel in control of your day and time.”
In your own style journey, have you finally created the perfect, pared down wardrobe?
I don’t think my wardrobe is perfect, but it’s definitely pared down. I’ve been working on it consistently since before we started Brass five years ago. It’s still an ongoing process. I now understand what I love about a garment. I’m really into textured fabrics, I’m really into neutral colors. I’m willing to invest money in a great jacket. I’m not a trend driven person. I think my style is simple and classic, but hopefully pretty elevated.
Any exciting and upcoming plans for the brand on the horizon?
We will be launching a blazer this spring. It’s going to be a classic, black blazer that you can throw on with jeans or nice trousers. It will be a versatile, go-to blazer.
Our Seaport pop-up location will be closing on January 4. We loved having a physical location; it amplified our customer connections. But, we’re not sure if our next pop-up will be in Boston. When you sort out our sales by city, New York is our biggest market (Boston is number two) so we most likely will be going there next.