Some of the most successful companies start out with it’s founder finding a flaw in the market through personal experience. In this case, it’s founder of the lovely Lovely, Lanie List. While dress shopping for her own gown, she found a big gap in the selections that were offered and for what audience they were offered to. Basically she made a curated boutique for the REAL modern bride. Also, her store in Tribeca is probably the most magical place we’ve been to. Insert heart-eyed emoji here.
Why the name “Lovely”?
It was actually a working name, and as I talked about the concept over and over with people, it just stuck. The word ‘Lovely’ is a little overused in the bridal world, so we’ve had some challenges with trademark and identification, but it’s also been really fun for my punny nature.Our name has made brilliant hashtags like #ourlovelies, and #lovelyloveslove. We are pretty #inlovewithlovely today. See, great hashtagability.
Where did this “want” of starting a bridal shop come from? Why was this the business you wanted to start?
I count ‘business’ as a hobby whenever anyone asks me my hobbies, so I guess you can say I was always an entrepreneur at heart. My years in the corporate world trained me to love the thrill of discovery, problem-solving, and success. So the start of Lovely didn’t come from a ‘want’. It started from my discovery of a gaping ‘white space’ in the bridal market (no pun intended) when I went shopping for my own wedding dress and was massively disappointed by the experience. I think people had been dissatisfied for years with the bridal shopping options, but once they bought a dress, the chapter was closed for them. Why change it if you don’t have to experience it again? I guarantee you I wasn’t the first one to notice the void, I was just the first to fill it. So I decided to open Lovely in 2009 as a haven for the fashionable, modern, and cool bride. Although my experience was over, I decided to pay it forward to the next generation of brides. You’re welcome. Haha.
What did you do before starting Lovely? What was the process for your switch into starting something on your own?
I’ve spent 15 years in fashion, first at Target (my first love), then 12 years at Iconix, a brand management company that owns and licenses its brands. I actually started Lovely while at Iconix. I had a great boss who was open to this little adventurous side of me so he gave me the green light to open a small boutique operation while being the Chief Merchant of Iconix. We both thought it was just a pet project at the time. Little did I know that it would blossom into a successful licensing operation of its own, but I had a great team helping me at Lovely so it was manageable.
Deciding to make the switch was easy for me, since I’m so enamored with the brand. Once I realized the growth potential that Lovely had, I threw myself into the business and never looked back. I’m glad I gave myself plenty of time to test the water of being a business owner because it made the leap feel like a much safer one. As a business owner, I’ve never worked harder, and have never been happier.
Why do you think that your business has been so successful?
I think it’s because I started it in a small, organic, authentic way with immense love for the brand, the designers, and the brides. I believe a successful brand has a heart and soul, and I’ve always operated Lovely like it’s my child and I need to nurture and give it whatever it needs. I don’t make decisions just based on a financial model. I see some businesses that scream ‘MBA program business plan’ and Lovely is not one of those. We experiment, we play, we evolve. We aren’t beholden to a board so we can feel free to be risk takers.
I think there is a lot of personal affinity for our brand, both from our brides and our staff. We have such fiercely loyal brand fans, which is why we started calling them #ourlovelies. It’s our little tribe and I think it only helps fuel our brand to recognize that the brides are our primary focus. I’m always so touched when someone raves about our brand to me. I’ve thrown everything I’ve got into the brand, and have worked hard to make it feel very personal and not corporate or cookie-cutter.
Also, I’m sure we filled the ‘white space’ at just the right time, so that is probably the biggest reason. We were the first to deliver rare and sought-after designers, in an aspirational environment, with a calm/cool/collected sales staff. We changed the rules of bridal. On the day we opened Lovely in April of 2010, a WWD editor called and told me, “No one has changed bridal in decades and you just did”. I’m surprised I remember that quote because at that point, I was crying at the credit card terminal because it wasn’t working and Daily Candy (R.I.P.) had just written about us, so we had hoards of people flooding into our ‘by appointment only’ shop and the phone was ringing so much we had to send them to voicemail.
What advice would you give women trying to create and launch a business on their own?
I have soooo much advice. First off, go with your gut. You will try to get advice from trusted business people, but their advice is often based on their own experiences. So they may scare you away from your idea because they decided to stay in the corporate world, or force you into it because misery loves company. Know your audience, listen to the advice, then do what you want to do. Which means you have to be willing to lose it all. If you take that stance, you’ll bring your ‘A’ game and work at your fullest potential. And lastly (although I can seriously go on forever) is allow yourself trial-and-error time. I don’t even like to call them ‘mistakes’. Accepting that I will make a lot of mistakes gives me the freedom to quickly move on to bigger and better ideas. I always say entrepreneurs do things the first way, and then the right way. No shame in a do-over.
We loved having you at The Great Jane. Your comments were so thoughtful and helpful to the conversation. What are your views on mentoring and how important is that to you?
Thank you! It was amazing to be part of such stimulating dialogue.
I’ve always loved mentorship theoretically, but I don’t feel like I’ve done nearly enough of it and would love to do so much more, both the giving and receiving end. That is why I am so enamored by what you are doing at heymama. I always picture mentorship as a business luncheon with a scary big shot, and you get nervous and pepper the mentor with questions that make you sound smart for 30 minutes. You all are making it easy for us mamas to connect and give & get advice in a more chill, communal way.
Also, being at The Great Jane has redefined mentorship for me! The retreat was a perfect blend of learning, stimulation, educating others, and just experiencing wellness and happiness. TGJ gave me the mojo to put this new style of mentoring into practice! I’m hosting our first Lovely sales staff retreat next week in East Hampton and of course I’ll talk about strategy, but also have a yogi come for morning sessions and do some other wine-related bonding. I hope you all realize how powerful your retreat was! I know in five years we are all going to talk about ‘that first little retreat in Ojai’ because we’ll be changing the world!
Where do you find all of the amazing designers that you sell in your stores? I’m especially a big fan of the head accessories made with crystals by @heartofgolddesigns. What’s the secret to finding unique pieces?
Well, we plucked our first designers off of Etsy! Six years ago, anyone independent with a touch of creative genius put their wares on Etsy so it was a great place to identify talent. Today, it’s Instagram. It’s been amazing how many international designers we can find because of Instagram. And it allows to us to really understand the brand when they post both their dresses and their lifestyle inspirations. Instagram is like a dating site for retail buyers! Discovering new designers and buying beautiful new dresses for our brides is by far my favorite part of the job.
Do you incorporate anything you buy for the boutique into your closet? What’s your favorite piece you own that you sold at one of your stores?
All the time! I can never part with a sample from some of our favorite designers so I’ll sometimes refurbish a sample to use pieces of it for a top, skirt or make it into a dress for my daughter. But mostly it goes the other way around. I have a too large collection of vintage white dresses that often make their way into inspiration for our new exclusive brand Louvienne. It’s launching this September and it’s beyond.
What makes Lovely different from other bridal boutiques?
For starters, our gown collection is by far the coolest. A lot of our designers are setting the bar for new trends and ideas that haven’t even hit the bridal market yet. Do yourself a favor and look up Rue De Seine, Sarah Seven, Anna Campbell, Katie May. These guys are bringing it. All of our designers are curated to bring something special and needed to the market and we are often told by brides that our assortment is very unique in comparison to others.
Then, we really make the shopping experience fun. Ladies feel relaxed when they come into our shops because our décor style has a bit of a wink to it. We aren’t stuffy or hoity in any way. The dresses are drop-dead gorgeous, but when the setting is more mellow and homey, it’s the first step to relieving the stress that can come along with bridal gown shopping.
I’ve also had brides tell us our shop is ‘just like our social’ and we work really hard on our marketing to be an immersive experience. We have taken cues from RTW brands who give the customer much more than just the product they sell. It’s a lifestyle marketing approach.
You’ve grown so much from your first store in the West Village to seven across the country. What made this expansion possible? How did you choose your locations to branch out?
Franchising! I seriously can’t say enough good things about how well this has worked for our business. I used to be afraid to say ‘franchising’, because it sounds like a dirty word. You think of McDonald’s or Crunch Fitness. But, franchising can be really cool when you distill it to it’s essence: corporate marketing and management support for a locally run business. I help women get into business, and give them the support of business guidance, product knowledge, fresh store designs, and 24/7 top notch marketing. Even just the sisterhood of having each other’s back is amazing. My franchisees call each other to talk shop all of the time. What’s not to like? Maybe just the word franchising. I’m calling it ‘The Collective’ now so it sounds sexier than franchising. But heck, bridal had a corny connotation for a long time and now that is cool, so maybe I can bring sexy back into franchising! I’ve always been drawn to a black sheep.
But seriously franchising is a great model for bridal, not only because you can grow quicker, but because brides need a lot of TLC and having a local store owner on-site gives the bride the kind of personal service that only a vested partner can give. You don’t punch the clock when you own the shop! Also, owners can bring in the local flavor that I would never know about since I live hundreds of miles away from the shops. It’s a retailers dream to have the kind of local intel we have in each and every purchase decision we make in our stores. The model totally works, as evidenced by the 12 shops we will have open at the end of this year!
What else do you have in mind for Lovely and its growth?
Definitely more new shops on the horizon for 2017 and conversations have been started for Lovely beyond. Our brides have such a positive experience with us, why not give them that special treatment for their next big milestones, like home, baby, apparel. We are so lucky that we are a fountain-of-youth. Our customers will always be in their 20’s and 30’s (on average) so it just makes sense to follow them through on their life journey. If more everyday businesses gave the visceral experience that Lovely gives, I think we’d create loyal fans for life. Let’s just do everything in life with a mood board okay?
I love how you post brides in your gowns on your website and Instagram. How big of a role is social media in your business? Do you connect with clients and other businesses that way?
It’s everything. We actually just reached 100K followers last week on Instagram!
We started a blog for Lovely about 6 months before our doors actually opened and I knew then that this Lovely experience would need to be bigger than our four walls. We don’t just want our bride to find her dress at Lovely, we want her to become one of #ourlovelies. This ‘club’ we’ve created primarily plays out on our social media, our website, and in our online magazine, The Loveliest (which replaced our blog). We have many brides tell us they want to find their dress at Lovely before they even shop here, which tells me we have succeeded in expressing who we are as a brand on social.
We also use social to make new friends in the industry, and connect with lots of compatible business owners because we have retained the editorial aspect on social that we created six years ago on our blog. We’ll freely post photos of flower trends we love or cool items for bachelorette parties and this is all editorial – not paid. As a matter of fact, we just posted a rose quartz printed bean bag game that we found on denydesigns.com and loved it so much that we bought one for our office.
What’s your favorite part about running your own business? And the most challenging?
Favorite part hands-down is being able to put any of my hair-brained ideas into work. After spending years in the corporate world and being told some of my ideas won’t work, it’s refreshing to just be able to go for it. Not that they always work, but doesn’t it always feel better to learn for yourself? The most challenging is how personal it all feels. Your business is your baby, and as a mom, you can understand the depth of feeling that goes along with that. Some days I feel like I’m experiencing PPD all over again.
The juggle between work and family is something constantly on our minds. How do you do it?
You just do it. I don’t allow myself a lot of headspace for guilt. I remind myself that we have it better than so many unfortunate families around the world, and I don’t allow myself to feel bad when I have an exceptionally busy week and feed the kids chicken nuggets for a third lunch in a row. I’m feeding them.
I also don’t try to do it all. Over the past three years, my friendships and my fitness routine have been sacrificed temporarily to throw myself into my business and start my family. And that is okay because although friends and my health are priorities to me, they will take the front seat at a later time when the other parts become less engulfing.
What’s your favorite family time activity? You have any little family rituals you do to stay connected?
My kids are still so young (3.5 and 2) so even the daily basics are an activity. Story time has become really interesting with my 3.5 year old, especially when it’s his turn to tell a story and he tries to parrot back the story I just told him and claim full ownership. That is our biggest ritual, just listening to, and watching our kid’s creativity blossom and sitting back and enjoying the ride.
What’s been the best career advice you have received.
I think it goes beyond just career advice but my sister-in-law has told me ‘You can always change it’, on so many decisions I’ve been afraid to make. The house you bought is too expensive? You can sell it. The business you thought was genius is not? Close it down and move on. It’s so refreshing when you think about it. You don’t have to try to make everything work out…you can just evolve. A quote that has stuck with me for a long time is, ‘It’s never too late to be whoever you want to be, start whenever you want, there is no time limit’. I’ll probably start a new business when I’m sixty. It’s just in my DNA now to be okay with change and not fear risk.