Like a lot of college students and recent grads, Rachel Pally babysat part-time to earn some extra cash—but instead of spending her hard-earned dough on socializing and shopping, she put it towards launching an eponymous line of Los Angeles-made, laid-back threads.
That was in 2002 and today Pally is proud to proclaim she’s never once taken out a bank loan to fund her ever-expanding empire.
“I started out with $300 and for my birthday after I graduated from college my mom bought me two rolls of fabric,” shared the California-born-and-raised designer, admitting that back then she didn’t have any overheads because she was living at home and her parents pitched in to help her burgeoning business by packing boxes and sewing labels.
But even when her line gained enough traction to get off the ground in earnest, Pally didn’t pursue financing—which isn’t that surprising, really, given that her can-do spirit was enough to spark interest in her fluid, drapey designs in the first place.
Inspired by her time spent working in the costume shop at UC Berkley as part of her cultural geography and dance studies, she started making flowy clothes for herself and her friends using an old sewing machine. Shortly thereafter an LA shopping trip during her senior year led to a business proposal when a boutique owner admired her outfit and offered to sell her samples on the spot. The rest, as they say, is history.
“When I moved home after college I decided to make a business out of it and I peddled my first collection around town to different brick-and-mortar boutiques,” she said, describing that initial assortment as “all black and all white” and noting that her brand today is “barely a distant cousin of what it was once was.” She laughed, “There was an element of handmade in 2002 that is not relevant now.”
Rachel Pally in 2015 comprises contemporary womenswear, plus-size, swim, maternity, bridal and baby, and while some silhouettes from her debut collection have survived every season since (a skirt, a wide-leg pant and a tie-front dress), she tries to keep things simple, clean and timeless. Styles span easy, breezy skirts and dresses to comfy pants and playsuits, and prices average between $100 and $300.
“The one thing that’s remained the same is that we use a beautiful modal jersey,” she said, noting that the super-soft stretchy fabric enabled her to sell certain pieces to maternity stores before she ever started to market them that way. Off-beat prints and a flattering fit are two other standout signatures, the latter helping to set her bridesmaids dresses apart in a category flooded with notoriously unforgiving silhouettes. “All women of all sizes, shapes and personalities in one bridal party can find something in my line that feels uniform without matching,” she said, noting, “We’re a very inclusive type of brand.”
Targeting women aged 14 to 90, five full collections land in stores throughout the year (select styles are available up to size 22) and the designer said her inspirations are as all-encompassing as her clientele. “As you see films, read books, look at magazines, go for a walk and see a group of young girls on the street—you’re always absorbing inspiration. We channel it as it comes. Each collection is a little bit of this, a little bit of that, as opposed to just one theme,” she noted.
While her days of schlepping samples from store to store are long behind her (the label is now carried everywhere from Neiman Marcus and Fred Segal to Shopbop and Amazon, to name a few), Pally has no intention of outsourcing production. Her clothes are American-made, right down to the California-knit fabric. (She does, however, source some swim and sweater fabrics from overseas.)
“I know I could do it in China and it would be cheaper but that compromise is my quality and that compromise is my politics,” she said, adding, “I’m from LA and I live in LA and to me there really isn’t any question. This is my local economy; this is what supports me and I should support it.”