When Briana Wilson left Texas in January 2014 for New York City, she was set on starting a career as a model. But after she noticed that young entrepreneurs all over the city had found ways to make money creatively, Wilson decided to start her own clothing line. Just eight months after her move, she launched MATTE, a brand with must-have basics, inspired by her love for clothing with minimal design, femininity and comfort.
When the brand launched in August 2014, it focused on snug bodysuits and now sells bathing suits and cozy cropped short sets. In its short time of existing, MATTE's also been worn by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Karreuche and Draya. According to Wilson, the brand now averages about 100 orders a week. Instagram boutique fashion isn't a novelty as many small business designers have used to it to push similar womenswear products. In MATTE's case, Wilson has maximized the social media platform's reach through consistent marketing, rich images and a diverse showcase of the female body for the brand all as a one-woman entrepreneur.
As she processed orders from her booming online store, Wilson talked to The FADER over the phone from Los Angeles, her new home as of March 2015, about how she planned a photo shoot from the hospital with a broken leg, why she never gave up, and the importance of having women of color of all body types representing her brand.
What was your first MATTE Brand design?
When I first started, I worked with girls that could just sew clothes. So it wasn't as technical as it is now. I was just meeting girls that could sew like, "Hey, can we make this?" The first thing I ever designed was this caged, mesh skirt that was high-waist and went to the knees and it had a zipper down the back. That was the first thing that I bought the fabric for and bought the zipper for. I completely designed it from the ground up.
How were you able to find people to sew the designs?
Back then, when I was working with designers I wasn't making the most money. I was giving them like 60 percent. It was all really young girls who lived in New York and some of them already had brands and others just knew how to sew. We would just come up with something and then come up with the price. Plus, we weren't really making quantities, we would just make like one then do a pre-order. At that time, I was pretty much marketing more than anything else. I would come up with a design then they would do the sewing and fabric shopping and then I would shoot it and market it and put it on the site.
You do all of your manufacturing. What’s the process of picking out and purchasing fabric?
It's changed. At first I would go to fabric stores in LA and get dead stock fabrics that they’d [fabric store owners] find and it was all completely different and not lined good. But now the store I go to in LA is like five floors of so much fabric. I learned a lot about fabric there because I didn't go to school for this or anything. They have like every kind of fabric, like you can go in wearing a shirt and ask if they have this kind of fabric and they're like, "Yup, let me take you to this section." It was really good for me to learn about like french terry and rayon and spandex and all the different kinds.
How long do you usually spend on a design before you send it to be made?
It depends and this year has been interesting because I haven't been designing that many new things. I've been going through a production phase, because the woman who used to make my clothes doesn't anymore. So, I've been working with new people and had to recreate all of my old patterns with them. I haven't done a lot of new styles because I have to make sure I'm completely stocked in the things that everyone wants. But, I have so many drawings on my iPad of things I'm super ready to put out.
Now that I am working with this production company, I'll be able to focus more on just designing and marketing. They want me to have 50 designs ready for fall by the end of this week. I have a bomber jacket and a trench coat that I sold—pretty much everything I made was very simple and basic because it was only me that was doing it. Every single thing that was used in every single piece, I had to source and find, so I was very limited. But with the new team, it's endless, I can do anything. I can just draw what I want and they're gonna find it and make it.
What's your creative process like when you start designing new looks for MATTE?
I always look for vintage things. Like when I shop in vintage stores and I see something there and I'm like, "Oh, I kinda like this," or "If I change this, this would be so bomb." Or I look up old fashion shows on Vogue. But when it comes down to what's going to come out, I try to break it up into mini collections.
Most importantly with MATTE, I want it to be stuff that I want to wear all the time. The whole time I've had it, I've been very picky about what's on the site. People are sometimes like "Bring this back out" or "We really want this," but I'm just like "I really just didn't like this, so I don't want to sell it." So now that I've been forced to come out with these 50 designs really quick, I broke it down into basics, outerwear, pants, athletic wear, and focusing on what I would want in each of those areas then go from there.
The women that do model for MATTE, don't always adhere to the typical body types of models and are often women of color. Why's it important for you to have that type of representation?
It’s time for black women to be appreciated. If they look bomb, they are. Whenever I am planning a shoot or I’m thinking of marketing something or I get input from other people, they may think that a certain look is, "more professional." But, I think that black women look really good and it’s time for people to start realizing that. Also, my customer base is black women and I connect well with them. For the swimwear shoot, we drove three hours to go to this location and it there were three black models, one Hispanic model and one Indian model and it was so bomb. One was really skinny and some were really thick but to me it’s not about that. The women look great and that’s what matters. I don’t use agency models so a lot of the times they’re from Instagram.
Photographers will say, “These are Instagram girls. You can’t expect for them to look like models.” In a way, I understand what they're saying but at the same time I really think that it looks more realistic and it’s beautiful. That’s what I like about MATTE it makes women feel sexy and feel good no matter their size. I like to show real women in the clothes so that real women will buy it.
MATTE isn't in any retail stores or shops yet. Why have you decided to keep it exclusive to e-commerce?
I’ve been learning as I’ve been growing and I’ve had people reach out about carrying MATTE in their stores. I’ve always had questions about it but I’ve also been weary about it. Whenever someone reaches out, I just wish I could go and see their store before I just let them have MATTE so I can check it out. I had goals earlier this year of getting into Nordstrom or Macy’s but I was talking to someone recently who was saying that you can sell over $300,000 at a department store but get no real money for it because they have so many terms. If the clothes don’t sell out in six weeks then it’s like a consignment.
If it doesn’t sell, you have to pay for that. I’ve been playing it cool but of course, if Nordstrom reached out and they wanted to carry I would think about it. I don't know, I think want to hold out and have flagship stores in popular cities. I don’t think I want it to be as many stores as Zara or American Apparel and I don’t know if, Nordstrom's or Barney’s is the right way either. So I’m playing it by ear to see what’s best. What's crazy is that E-Commerce is the biggest thing in the world right now and everyone wants to go to do it and go directly to consumers that way, so I'm doing that.
What are some of challenges that you face in running a one-woman brand? How do you overcome them?
I face challenges every single day. Me and my assistant just parted ways. It’s just about continuing and thinking about solutions to your problems. I’ve always been an advocate for positive thinking. It takes you a really really long way. Thinking bigger than your problems is the only way to be progressive. I touched on how I had to let go of my previous production company and I had to start with a new one. I lost so much money but it was a time when I was having to start over but MATTE had already become so popular. I had all of these people waiting on pieces. That was a time that I could’ve stopped because I lost my relationship with the person making my clothes and it was like, "I need money and someone to make these clothes." I had to keep going and come up with ideas and I’m happy to say that I overcame that.
They had higher minimums and costs more money and I’m like, “I have to pay all of this money. What am I going to do?” But I take it day by day and just keep going. I set my goals and I push and I’m like, “I might not have the money right now but I will.”
You're motivated because you know MATTE Brand can only get better.
Yes. I refuse to believe that anything that happens to me is a negative thing. Even when I broke my leg early before moving to LA, I could’ve stopped too. I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to me. I’m like, “This is so negative. I don’t know why this happened to me.”
Then, I moved across the country from New York to LA and it ended up being one of the best things that happened to me. When something happens, it might seem like the worst thing but I understand learning lessons and pushing past them. That’s more valuable than anything you could lose.