Modern femininity is embodied in the designs of clothing line Helena Quinn, which combines effortlessly chic silhouettes with classically romantic patterns. The woman behind the LA-based collection of silky dresses, breezy rompers and flowy kimonos is designer Andrea Racey, whose sense of style has acquired an impressive following of celebs and bloggers alike. We recently chatted with Andrea to learn how she turned her passion for design into a successful business.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 7-10 YEARS AGO BEFORE HELENA QUINN?
AR: I started Helena Quinn at a relatively young age, so 7-10 years prior to launching HQ I was in college! But during my senior year, I was offered an internship in Los Angeles with a Costume Designer at NBC. She was the designer on Friends and 90210, so it was an amazing opportunity. I got a peek into that world, and knew that I wanted to head in that direction after college. Luckily enough, I was offered a job with the designer after that internship!
So I took the leap and moved to LA. I stayed in costume design for a while, and it gave me a window into all aspects of the industry. I would frequently have to go to a lot of the major garment manufacturer’s in downtown LA, and realized I really wanted to learn more about that process and world. I’m a factory girl at heart. I love being in the factory and a part of production process. There’s just an energy in that environment that is unexplainably inspiring to me. So I got a job with a small start-up clothing company and learned the in’s and outs of manufacturing in downtown Los Angeles. It was an insane opportunity to really understand how to build a company from the ground up. And after a few years there, I decided I was ready to start HQ!
IS HELENA QUINN YOUR DREAM JOB?
AR: 97% of the time yes, it is my dream job. That seems like a funny answer, I know. Most of the time, I am in awe that I get to do what I do. The fact that I have the opportunity to bring the creative visions in my head to life, and that people actually buy them….is still insane to me. It’s also a very incredible thing to be able create pieces that make women feel beautiful and confident. My major hesitation before going to design school, was that there are aspects of fashion that can be very alienating, and that is something I would never want to contribute too. When I hear from women that HQ has made them feel confident, or comfortable in their skin, I feel extremely proud and lucky.
But to say that it is all roses and butterflies would be a lie. It is hard. And challenges pop-up all the time that you never could’ve foreseen. Things that knock you off your feet and force you to pivot and find a creative way to bounce back. And it really demands that you confront any personal shit you may be dealing with, because you have to separate yourself from the emotion of it. So there are definitely days when I think, what the hell did I get myself into, hah! But even on those days, I can usually take a deep breath, go back to the drawing board, and bring myself back to the fact that I am insanely grateful to have the opportunity to pursue this.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF HELENA QUINN?
AR: I think I’ve had a lot of “ah ha” moments with Helena Quinn! Especially with this industry in particular, I think you are constantly honing and refining your brand. What works one season may not work the next. But I think its being in touch with what your brand is at its core, and then trying to find a way to make that relevant each season and as time passes. So I like to think of Helena Quinn as an evolution in “ah ha” moments.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS CONCEPT AND DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN IT PRIOR?
AR: Helena Quinn was originally my senior thesis in college. The name comes from both of my Grandmother’s, who each raised 8 kids and worked outside the home. They both possessed a sort of quiet strength and grace, which is a balance I very much admired (mainly because I’m not so quiet myself.) I wanted the line to embody that inherent feminine strength that each of them had. And so the concept was to create a line of clothing around that duality, as homage to them, and all women like them.
HOW DID YOU FUND YOUR START UP?
AR: I got an initial loan from my parents to get the company up and running. From there, I was able to create the sample products, generate some buzz, and acquire some solid orders. After that, I was able to secure a second round of funding and help take the company to the next level.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS?
AR: After the first tradeshow I went to, I didn’t receive one order. I was terrified. I cried and had a pity party, but then realized I had to really hustle and reach out to stores myself to try and get the product in with some accounts. People are hesitant with new brands, so I really had to sell it myself. I was able to pull it off, and I learned exactly what I needed to do better at future sales shows.
Another time was when I lost an account that I thought was a sure thing. The nature of this business is that you never know exactly what will happen from season to season. I was really devastated when that happened, but it taught me that you can never put too many eggs in one basket. You have to really diversify where your revenue and orders are coming from, so that you’re never too reliant on an individual source for your company’s internal stability. I made a lot of adjustments as a result of that moment, and it was probably one of the biggest teaching experiences of my career so far.
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
AR: I would say to really examine the dream, and then try to determine the market that the dream corresponds best to. From there, find something that’s missing within that market, and figure out how to connect your dream with that void. The reality about creating your dream job (to me) is that unless you generate revenue, it’s still a hobby. It becomes a job when it becomes profitable. And dreams are usually the most profitable/successful, when they correspond to something that is missing or needed in the marketplace. So my advice would be to try to find a way to make your dream also fill a void, and from there you are almost home free!