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Colorado Springs fashion design business makes the cut for Phoenix show

July 17, 2014

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July 17--It takes moxie for fledgling fashion designers to apply for a national runway show four days after the deadline. But the founders of a Colorado Springs business apparently had the talent and persistence to pull it off.

Blackberry Maverick is one of 14 emerging design companies chosen from 300 applicants to stride into national focus at Phoenix Fashion Week in October, making it the first Colorado design company to strut the runway since the event began in 2005.

"Getting picked was such a whirlwind, and I think we were a little under prepared about what we were getting into it," said Lexi Raney, who co-founded the company with Leslie Robertson.

The Colorado Springs duo will debut their second collection, "Spring Sweets," on the Phoenix runway, connect with buyers at the trunk show and compete for $10,000 of services and goods to help launch their brand. Last year's winner, Dolcessa Swimwear, was featured in the Sports Illustrated 2014 Swimsuit Edition shortly after its win.

Even if they don't win, Raney and Robertson hope the opportunity will not only garner more attention for their collection -- a melding of classic styles from the '50s with the edginess of the '80s -- but will also lift Colorado's status in the fashion world outside of its stereotype of "cowboys and Chacos," Robertson said.

Before they were offered the opportunity to hit the runway in Phoenix, Raney and Robertson persisted through many literal and figurative hang-ups, like when all 70 boutiques they contacted about selling their first collection, launched in April, shut them down.

"When you first start out you get hung up on a million times," Robertson, 27, said. "They basically said, 'You're new and we don't care.'"

Launching in Colorado Springs was particularly difficult because there isn't a large fashion community in the area, Robertson said. Without the advantage of many established designers to learn from, Blackberry Maverick had to strike out alone.

"The amount of people in the whole fashion scene in Colorado Springs is like seven," Robertson said. "But there is a city scene here and we want to push that forward."

That spirit of perseverance and pioneering is reflected in the company's name. "Blackberry" represents the founders' childhood activity of tramping through thorns to the ultimate reward of the juicy fruit -- a metaphor for the often painful cost of success. "Maverick" is for who they and their customers are: fearless, edgy women who don't take "no" for an answer.

"Being a maverick for us is being different and knowing that people are going to reject us, but we're still going to get up and carve that path," Raney, 30, said.

Raney and Robertson met through a mutual friend years ago and bonded over their love of fashion. The pairing was serendipitous, Robertson said. Raney had technical design knowledge from her studies at Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco. And Robertson brought natural business savvy and local contacts from founding the Colorado College Annual Fashion Show while a student there.

But the pair learned even more since operations began in May 2013. Running a designer line isn't just about sketching and sewing. It's contracting with manufacturers, sourcing fabrics and marketing a brand as well.

"There are a million young designers that want to make clothes, but it's about 15 percent designing and 85 percent business," Robertson said.

Although neither had any prior business experience, they've learned how to manage along the way. By simplifying design, they've lowered their prices from about $400 per dress to less than $200. They've switched manufacturers and pattern cutters, though their clothing is still entirely sourced and produced in the U.S. They haven't sold any of their designs yet, but they've learned to try again and again when talking to potential retailers.

"We had these grand ideas of things," Raney said. "We learned to scale down, to edit.'

All of these lessons have come while they each hold down waitressing and bartending jobs to pay the bills and recoup some of the $35,ooo they've spent launching their company. Robertson, estimated she works about 85 hours a week and barely sleeps. But she enjoys the work, she said.

"My parents always taught me if you work hard you can do anything," Robertson said. "So I will make it work."


(c)2014 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

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Source: Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)

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