I met Summer Rej a few years ago through mutual friends. We both graduated from Cornell University around the same time and have spend our whole career working in fashion in some capacity, so we quickly bonded over our shared creative passions. Rej has a proven entrepreneurial track record, she started designing and selling tees back in High School and and a few short years after graduating from college, while working at Vogue by day, she started a jewelry line called Three Blondes with two childhood friends back in 2008. Fast-forward to just a few months ago and Rej decided to take the bold step and leave the security of a job at a top glossy and start her own line of luxury hair accessories, most of which double as necklaces. Called Dauphines of New York, Rej and her hand-crafted designs can now be seen about town at various trunk shows — from Bergdorf Goodman to Henri Bendel — and at a variety of retailers both in the U.S. and internationally.
We spoke to Rej about branching out on her own, being "trained" at Vogue, and more…
The Fashion Spot: What gave you the courage to step away from the security of an office job and start your own line of accessories?
Summer Rej: Dauphines of New York developed while I was working for various stylists and also freelance writing. The knowledge attained by working in such creative environments and being around such artistic and forward-thinking individuals plus the impact of such exposure to fashion, music, art, photography, and new concepts was instrumental to the birth of Dauphines. Styling work was a fast-paced, round-the-clock commitment, which involved wearing so many hats and handling so many responsibilities that I learned an indescribable amount in a very brief period of time. Designs that had previously been just incomplete “ideas” suddenly started to fall into place, fueled by creative energy, and the collection suddenly started to make sense and feel cohesive. It seemed like perfect timing to launch and build the business.
tFS: Was there ever a time where you thought about calling it quits?
SR: Of course not, rather than thinking of giving up, if something doesn’t seem to be working, the thought process typically involves asking: what can be done differently, why isn’t this working, and what can be done to change that. Learning to understand the customer has been key. So many incredible retailers and top online sites have supported the collection so the thought of giving up has absolutely never been an option!
tFS: How has your background working at Vogue helped you with your line?
SR: Vogue truly is the product of the most dedicated, talented, intellectual, and elegant group of individuals in the industry. The individuals who work there are endless sources of knowledge about fashion, art, design, and culture. I was privileged to work under an incredible team of individuals and it was the most incomparable schooling any designer could wish for.
tFS: Without any PR or representation you have managed to get into a number of stores in a very short period of time. Any secrets?
SR: You have to be willing to put in the work, often agonizing hours, but the outcome of having someone believe in and appreciate your product is the ultimate reward. I have also had many opportunities to hold trunk shows where I have been able to directly interact with Dauphines’ customers, which I love because in addition to realizing what a chic and fashionable customer base Dauphines has, I have been able to observe how customers respond to the product and receive their feedback and opinions directly. Dauphines' pieces feature adjustable bands, which customers love since this prevents the accessory from becoming uncomfortable. It's a very fun market with endless possibility. In terms of stores, I initially reached out to a number of retailers I shop at and admire. When approaching international retailers and boutiques nationwide, I looked to stores I thought represented the Dauphines aesthetic, ones I had visited personally while traveling or read about. It was the ultimate compliment that the buyers — and customers — of these establishments believed in Dauphines. This also applies to blogs and editor reactions.
tFS: Given that you sell all over the world. Do your pieces sell particularly well in certain places over others?
SR: Yes, the Middle East is a huge market for Dauphines. I was unfamiliar with this market prior to developing the company, but they have such an eye for the luxury market. I now often scan blogs from the UAE for fashion tips, and it was actually a renowned blogger in Kuwait who first wrote about Dauphines. One of my first international accounts was in Kuwait, followed by Dubai. International sales have been great (Dauphines is now available in Amsterdam, Zurich, London), and daily I'm in touch with new retailers nationwide.
tFS: What are some of the biggest challenges in operating a fashion business on a small scale?
SR: You're wearing many hats and directly responsible for all areas of the business. Initially, I was every title of a business — PR, Marketing, Sales, Design, and Production — that has changed a bit. Also, knowing how and where to find your resources; luckily in New York you have access to incredible suppliers and the Garment District and figuring out timelines. However, when it is a small business, you also have full creative control. For example, the model in our first Lookbook is a good friend, a talented filmmaker from LA, Katharine O’Brien, who represents the Dauphines woman. I was also incredibly lucky to have an amazing support system of friends, many of whom founded and run their own successful respective businesses.
tFS: What are some day-to-day challenges you face?
SR: I inherently want to do everything myself, which is impossible. However, I now have a great team working for Dauphines. Their help is instrumental, and, in addition, the ideas and knowledge they contribute are outstanding.
tFS: How do you go about coming up with new designs?
SR: Inspiration can come from anywhere. Usually it starts with a single idea — a photograph, an icon, a friend, and builds from there. I start by compiling inspiration images. I like to say that fashion icons such as Kate Moss, Anita Pallenberg, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Bardot, Jerry Hall, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Bianca Jagger are the inspiration behind the Dauphines woman; whereas, modern, trendsetting women of today, the style icons of tomorrow, are the ones who wear the Dauphines collection. In an abridged description, once I have a general sense of where I want to go with design, I draw out the pieces, finding the best and most appropriate materials to execute the look, creating samples, then going into production.