March 03, 2014

Sitting down with founder, Matthew Dunne

Last week we had the chance to chat with Oak73 founder and designer, Matthew Dunne, about what it’s really like to start your own clothing line, the importance of manufacturing in America, Clueless, and what’s next for the burgeoning brand.

By Meghann Boltz

So, tell us a little bit about your background in fashion; what made you want to start your own line?
After college, I started out working as a graphic designer and art director within the fashion industry.  After doing this for around four years at companies such as Ralph Lauren and Avon, I went back to school at Parsons where I earned a second degree in fashion design.  While in school, I interned in the design departments of Carolina Herrera, J. Mendel, The Row and Isaac Mizrahi.  I then worked for Michael Kors in the handbag and footwear department.  After Michael Kors, I worked for Chris Burch of Tory Burch as his personal illustrator.  I then dedicated most of my time with him to C. Wonder.  Being one of only three designers to launch the brand, this was an incredible opportunity for me to see how a business is built from inception to reality and learn the ins-and-outs of production.

I always knew I was going to start my own line (literally since the age of five) but I wasn’t sure when and what it would be.  I had thought I would do something within the high end, designer realm given my training, but after working for different designers at various price points, I realized I wanted to make product that was made for more than just an elite percentage of the population—clothes that were beautiful, but with comfort and function in mind.

Even with your extensive experience in the industry, starting your own fashion line is an enormous venture to undertake. What has been the most difficult aspect of starting your own line?
Production was definitely hard but after a rocky road, I found incredible partners.  As important as talent and drive can be, without manufactures you work well with and trust, success cannot happen.

Also, just getting the word out and letting people know about the brand.  In the end it’s really the most important thing in terms of the success or failure of a brand, and even with all the wonderful tools out there--Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, it’s still an incredible amount of work to get your name out there and have people be interested in what you are doing.  That being said, it’s also a lot of fun, and truly exciting to see people respond to the designs.

What can admirers of the brand do to help spread the word about Oak73?
Follow us on all the social media outlets, and continue to share our pages.  And simply just word of mouth—tell your friends!

I’m sure that the launch of the line and all the hard work leading up to it has been stressful and time-consuming to say the least.  How do you like to unwind at the end of the day?
Go to the gym, have dinner with friends, watch mindless television.

Ah, yes, mindless television—any favorite guilty pleasures?
Anything on Bravo.

Other guilty pleasures?
Coke Zero and tabloid blogs.

I wouldn’t consider Coke Zero a ‘guilty’ pleasure, but okay.  Back to fashion; where do you find inspiration for your designs?
The people in my life—my father, sister and my friends.

Who are your fashion icons?
Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Kruger, Cate Blanchett and Cher Horowitz (from Clueless).

Okay, well now I have to ask—favorite line from Clueless?
Probably Cher’s trademark “ As if!”

The clothes in that movie still totally hold up.  Unfortunately most of us don’t have the technologically advanced closet that Cher had.  For those of us who have to put together an outfit on our own, do you have any advice?
Don’t play it safe; mix prints and wear color! You’ll be surprised how doing so changes your mood and attracts positive attention.

How would you define your personal style?
Eclectic; a mix of preppy and edgy, usually including color and print—see, I take my own advice.  I rarely wear black.

Do you think Oak73 will branch out into menswear?  If so, what’s your vision for the men's line; will it have a different aesthetic than the women's?  
The women’s line is extremely feminine and romantic but playful.  Not to mention, everything is printed or has some novelty element.  The same will be true for men’s minus the femininity (obviously)—classic silhouettes in novelty, more masculine prints and materials with a similar playfulness.  All our products, regardless of gender, will always be designed with the intent of making the customer smile.

And can you tell us some of your personal favorites from the Spring 2014 line?
I am obsessed with the cheetah and floral printed leather satchels.  I love the super simple, classic shape executed in gorgeous prints.  The quality is also incredible and the price is reasonable for a structured leather bag made locally.

Locally made!  That perfectly segues into my next question; did you always know that Oak73 was going to manufacture solely in America?  Why was it so important to you that the brand be American made?  
No, this is not something I really thought about until I began dealing with manufacturing overseas.  Early on in my career, I worked for designers that did in fact produce locally.  However, these businesses all made super high end, custom pieces and could afford to do so.  It wasn’t until I began working for large corporations where I began to really take note of the Made in America movement.  After traveling to China seven time in one year strictly for work, I found myself questioning what to me seemed like a highly illogical process--one in which the expense of travel, shipping, taxes and other factors seemed to outweigh the cost saving advantages of overseas production.  The reality is, since the early 90’s most American companies have manufactured overseas as they rely on individuals who are paid unjustly low wages and thus make product for next to nothing.  This product then works its way up the sales chain where it is sold to the consumer for a highly inflated cost.  Furthermore, when we manufacture overseas, our economy does not reap any of the benefits of doing so locally such as proximity, innovation, and the formation of other business that support production.

However, several factors are changing this scenario and after spending nearly one year researching, I was able to prove that the cost savings of overseas manufacturing are waning and within the next ten years, doing so domestically will be equal in expense.  More importantly, I found a way in which to change a broken cycle—one that relies on endlessly searching for the next source of inhumane, cheap labor all while benefitting our local economy. 

What difficulties (if any) did you encounter? (in regards to keeping production local)
Manufacturing overseas would have been more difficult as you have high minimums, cultural barriers and proximity to deal with.  Of course, keeping the cost of production down was challenging but I was able to find partners who believed in my concept and negotiate fairly.

What can fans of Oak73 look forward to?
Lots more gorgeous, comfortable, clothes, pop-up shops, and worldwide domination!

I can’t wait!  Okay, I have to end with an extremely important question: go-to brunch drink: Mimosa or Bloody Mary?
Blood Mary—spicy.

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