Alishia Frey, in management for more than ten years, once transformed a struggling art showroom on the verge of collapse into a hugely successful gallery with more than a million dollars in sales. And she did it all in one year.
Grace Wang’s expertise in client service management and internet fundraising earned over $1 million for nonprofit and charity organizations.
What happens when both women come together with their impressive credentials and creative vision? Unsung Designers is born. Unsung operates under the philosophy is that "people buy who they are." So, resumes aside, exactly who are co-owners Alishia Frey and Grace Wang?
How did the two of you first meet?
AF: We were both working for a fundraising consultancy in Washington, DC. I was in charge of development and sales.
GW: I was in charge of client relations.
So how did you get into fashion?
AF: Although my background is in gallery management and sales, my passion lies with fashion design. To me, promoting a fine artist and a fashion designer are very similar. Our goal is to promote lesser-known designers and sell their designs so that they will achieve critical mass – much like a gallery.
GW: Honestly, my background is in public relations and communication. But fashion design is an art I have the utmost respect and admiration for. People with the creativity and skill to construct something beautiful as well as useful are just incredible. I believe my professional experience will bring a lot to Unsung. After all, I want to promote these wonderful designers and give everyone out there the same access to the exceptional talent I get to see every day.
What made you decide to start a business together?
AF: From time to time, Grace and I would both take trips to NYC independent of one another. We would go to the designer markets in Nolita, and shop the boutiques in SoHo, and when we returned to DC we would be stopped on the street by people asking us where we got our shirt or cuff or earrings. We joked that one day we should start a boutique in DC bringing these designers’ creations to this seriously lacking market. In January 2005, we both quit our jobs and began working on the business plan full-time.
GW: When we worked in fundraising, we put in insane hours at the office. During particularly long and stressful days, we threw around the idea of opening our own boutique. Alishia and I both have an intensely strong work ethic. What brought Unsung from a daydream to reality was the fact that, along with our mutual passion for clothes, we recognized this in each other.
How did you come up with the idea of Unsung Designers?
AF: It was always our intention to work only with designers that were generally unknown to the public. We saw their appeal and knew that others would love their creations, too.
GW: We both love to shop independently owned boutiques and designers markets for those really unique finds that add flourish to or completely change an outfit. We love independent designers because they create what they believe in. It’s an amazing connection when you find a designer that clicks with your style perfectly. It’s like love at first sight.
How do you find and select your designers?
AF: Research, word-of-mouth, other designers, friends. We are speaking to new designers daily.
GW: Many of the designers we work with are ones we’ve bought clothes from. It’s a tremendous feeling to say “Hey, I love your work and I want other people to know how great you are.” I want to spread the wealth.
What makes Unsung stand out from other fashion e-tailers?
AF: We have created a very professional website that offers not only great clothing and accessories to indie fashionistas, but also other unique content – like this blog, for instance. We also plan to create a private forum on our website exclusively for our designers to share ideas with one another about production, sources for materials, etcetera. We also plan to have a design contest in the future where our customers will vote for the best design, with a cash prize going to a designer. So be on the lookout for that!
GW: We’re really focused on having an indie website that’s nurturing to designers. We’re all about promotion, and not just in the conventional ways. We want to strike the right balance between those two things.
How would you describe your own personal style?
AF: I am Unsung’s perfect customer, really. I love unique things that cannot be found at department stores. I like finding pieces and weaving them into my wardrobe – mixing and matching what I have and re-inventing the wheel. I am not a slave to what everyone is wearing. While I may partake in the trends, I generally like to do my own thing.
GW: I am also Unsung’s customer, even though Alishia and I dress pretty differently. I like comfort, which more often than not contradicts with style. But trust me, you can have both! What I find comfortable is what stays in place -- I don’t want to have to pull, fluff and adjust every two minutes. I like clothes that are fluid and flattering, things that are made of super soft cotton jersey. Or shoes I can run for the train in. Or something I could just as easily wear at the beach. Or a soft, slouchy bag that all my stuff fits into.
What's your favorite recent find?
AF: You know, for years I never wore earrings. Actually, since I was 10. I don’t know why. But now I cannot get enough! I really like Tickled Pink’s Ming Briolette dangles and You Lucky Girl’s Phillis dangles. Check ‘em out.
GW: A buttery soft opalescent leather bag by November 18 (which we will carry in the fall) is so luxurious it makes me want to weep. Also, a pair of flat, ankle-wrap espadrilles from Sacco -- they go with literally everything. I’ve almost worn out my pair of two months!