Mallorie Dunn has been obsessed with clothing her entire life. She’s even particular about her choice of words when describing her given profession. Fashion, with a capital “F”, is stuffy and pretentious. It’s exclusive. Mallorie is not interested in any of that. Instead, Mallorie wants to focus on the role clothing plays in self-expression and self-confidence. She practices what she preaches, no matter what size her customers are. Everyone should feel welcomed and accepted in their own skin and SmartGlamour is changing the way customers of all sizes shop for clothing.
It was not always this way. Mallorie was on the fast track in the fashion industry. She graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City where she studied fashion design. She got a coveted job in the industry. She was quickly disenchanted. “I realized the fashion industry is not people being creative and making things, but rather a corporate industry that promotes exclusion and exploits people’s labor for profits.”
Mallorie explains the many problematic layers in the fashion business, particularly her first job out of college. “You have the culture of the company – how I was being treated was unethical. Then, we were talking to factories and agents that act as a go-between.” Everything was questionable and nearly everyone was unhappy.
Mallorie says, “Every Chinese New Year, everyone leaves to go find a better office that maybe has air conditioning or gives them longer breaks. And that’s not even talking about the actual factories. Did you know that you only have to break two labor laws to be a sweatshop? So more of them are sweatshops than the average consumer wants to admit.”
Leaving a Steady Paycheck to Live More Authentically
While working her way up the ladder in the corporate world, Mallorie found herself miserable and creatively stifled. She left the steady paycheck to find authenticity. Mallorie began freelancing. She says, “I did everything under the sun that I knew how to do. I taught people, did alterations, and made custom pieces. I worked as a private tailor for high-end clients – anything I could possibly do.” It was right at this time that Mallorie had a pivotal conversation with her partner. She explained how clothing has the power to absolutely transform people because up until this point, Mallorie was immersed in the negative underbelly of fashion.
Her husband pointed out how Mallorie seemed more excited and passionate in this new iteration than she had in years of corporate-track work. Mallorie’s main mission is “making sure that people feel good and included and supported.” It turns out that she had always felt this way but was never able to express it. She turned to her husband and asked, “Why does fashion have to be this way?” This little seed was planted. SmartGlamour was conceived out of this conversation. Mallorie would work to create a new vision for clothing that was inclusive, fun, and real.
There was only one problem, Mallorie needed capital. She didn’t have any contacts who could send her loads of money. She set up a humble IndieGoGo in 2013 and raised $4,000. The plan was to use that infusion of cash to start creating a small collection while Mallorie freelanced on the side. If the experiment was successful, she would do less freelance work and devote more time to SmartGlamour.
Mallorie needed a website but it was cost-prohibitive and she simply didn’t have the funding. She enlisted her father, who had “foundational website building skills” to figure it out. This later morphed into bartering with a clever graphic designer with a penchant for fashion design.
Made to Order
Mallorie produces everything. She has three massive sewing machines and she sketches out the designs and manufactures everything by hand. Mallorie does everything except for her part-time assistants who focus on some of her social media platforms. She says, “Design is me. Photography is me. Editing the website, customer service – that’s all me.”
Since everything is made to order, Mallorie has no inventory. This makes the business model both plausible and sustainable from an ecological perspective. She’s not making anything that hasn’t already been requested. There are no “random samples” floating around that end up in the garbage. In addition, 90 percent of Mallorie’s fabric is sourced from small businesses in New York City. Mallorie seeks out small fabric stores run by families in the garment district.
These garment shops have to move locations all the time because rents are too high. A lot of the fabric that they sell is deadstock or discounted stock they buy from warehouses that would be thrown out otherwise. Mallorie is getting better prices than if she sourced wholesalers, not to mention purchasing items that would otherwise be thrown out. Mallorie says, “They’re perfect quality. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them. I’m able to support other small businesses in my area and build relationships with these families. Everyone is so lovely.”
Mallorie is the first to admit that a made-to-order business is a hard sell in the business world. She says, “I looked into financing in the early days. I looked into business loans and in 2015, I went to Bank of America to procure a loan. The person that I talked to said, ‘You’ve brought in more facts and numbers and information than most big businesses bring in, and you’re doing a wonderful job, but I can’t give you a loan because you have no collateral.”
Asking the Right Questions
Mallorie wants people of all sizes – large and small, young and old alike – to feel “supported and loved and important.” She can to execute this vision by simply making clothing for everyone, and adding optional customizations in case folks are between sizes in some way.
In Fall 2020, after pivoting to masks due to the pandemic, she found a new way to create capsule collections by crowdsourcing directly from her social media followers. The designs are created by directly asking customers what they would like to see. Mallorie says, “I ask a lot of questions. Do people want clothes? What kind? What do they want to see?’ And when people would answer me, I would curate my feed with more imagery and feedback and designs and this was truly a collaboration with my audience.”
Mallorie collected all of the data and information while always being mindful of exactly what people wanted to see. These mini capsule collections were so well-received because people felt invested in the entire process. Mallorie says, “Keeping people engaged and part of the creative process meant that on the very first day I released a collection, it did 300 percent better than anything released in the previous seven years. It was so impactful.”
SmartGlamour has all the bases covered. A shopper who steers clear of fitted dresses might feel more comfortable in an A-line dress that gives them more room to move around. Conversely, another customer might choose to shop by looking at a model with a similar body type. On the website, customers can choose to shop by style, model, or even fabric. This is all intentional. Mallorie wants customers to have ownership of the process and if something isn’t available, they can always ask Mallorie to create something uniquely their own. There is no limit to what Mallorie can do.
Mallorie wanted relatable, unshopped people to model her merchandise. She was not interested in an airbrushed experience that would continue to perpetuate unrealistic expectations. Instead, Mallorie put out a call for various models to curate what she calls “accurate representation.” The response was staggering. In exchange for modeling and taking pictures, the models keep their custom-fit clothing so everyone wins. There’s even an area of the site that allows customers to virtually try outfits on. It’s like Warby Parker meets the Apple store.
SmartGlamour reached a new stratosphere of growth when Mallorie became an internet sensation. It happened with two events that occurred simultaneously in the Spring of 2021. Mallorie was interviewed in The Huffington Post and the article went viral because it resonated with so many women. The author was writing about how Lena Dunham was collaborating with a luxury plus-size company but was not being authentic. Lena “said a bunch of really fatphobic stuff” while simultaneously promoting the goods. Mallorie was furious that “Lena was profiting from plus-size people but saying really crappy things about them.” It was as inauthentic as they come. The Huffington Post writer highlighted Mallorie’s brand “as a positive example of how not to do that.”
Traffic to SmartGlamour skyrocketed, and a month later, it happened all over again. Mallorie tells the story perfectly: “Exactly a month after that article, a random person I’ve never interacted with before on TikTok was – unbeknownst to me – doing a series where they rate inclusive companies. A week before they rated me, they rated another brand with a perfect score and said they will never give a better review. That was before they found SmartGlamour and were just blown away. The TikToker used a green screen to show followers the different sizes and models and it went viral overnight. In two days, Mallorie got more sales than she usually does in a month.” She was so inundated with orders, she had to stop accepting new ones until she could catch up. Mallorie is incredible, but she’s still a one-woman show.
Smart Glamour is currently generating approximately $10-12,000 MRR. Mallorie is so humble, she can’t believe in her success. She says “It’s really bananas.” When Mallorie stopped accepting orders during the TikTok extravaganza, she turned her website off – a first in over seven years of business. She never stopped communicating with her customers, and she used social media to keep everyone abreast. When Mallorie caught up with orders and turned the site back on, people scrambled to buy whatever they could, even though she had not even released a new collection. “People were shopping immediately.” Mallorie currently has 100 orders in her queue.
Mallorie is tenacious and constantly learning and growing. While discussing her success, she says, “It just came from a magical combination of slightly adjusting what I was already doing. Technically, I was always listening to people and happy to make them what they wanted. But the extra interaction of asking questions and directly showing people examples of exactly what they’ve asked for with sketches in real-time? And then I would ask them – here are our options. What do you think? Do you want this or this?” This collaborative exercise was the equivalent of Mallorie saying to her customers – “I see you, I hear you, I validate you.” We should all strive to be more like Mallorie. Her success is not an accident.
Want to share your bootstrapping story with the world? Enter your details in this Typeform and we’ll be in touch.