Frank & Eileen Goes From Pandemic Struggle to Pledging $10 Million to Cultivate Women Entrepreneurs

For Audrey McLoghlin, the founder of Frank & Eileen, running a business hasn’t always gone well.

In her first foray into the fashion world, the industrial engineer turned owner of four multibrand clothing stores had to declare bankruptcy as the Great Recession of 2008 pummeled her retail revenues.

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Soon, however, she was back at it with a new idea for a women’s clothing company that would be founded after discovering a book of Italian menswear fabrics.

“I was jealous these fabrics weren’t being used for women. So, I set out to reinvent the button-up shirt for women using these gorgeous fabrics,” McLoghlin said, sitting in her mammoth downtown Los Angeles showroom that has a tearoom in the front and button-up shirts hanging like art from the high ceiling.

The indefatigable entrepreneur named her new apparel company after her Irish grandparents, Frank and Eileen, who married in 1947. They remained in Ireland all their lives while McLoghlin’s parents moved to the U.S. in the 1970s.

“I spent six months developing our first silhouette called the Barry [with an hour-glass shape],” said the clothing creator, noting it was named after her father. “I just built it on my body. For the first five years, it was 99 percent of our business with different textile innovations.”

The Barry, the Mary dress and the Eileen shirt. Photo courtesy: Frank & Eileen.
The Barry, the Mary dress and the Eileen shirt. Photo courtesy: Frank & Eileen.

After five years, she launched a second style called the Eileen, which has a softer silhouette throughout but still uses the same fabric sourced from the Albini Group, an Italian textile mill run by five generations of the same family. Button-up blouses are sewn in Los Angeles and treated with a special solution to create a lived-in crinkle effect. The Barry, in 100 percent cotton, retails for $238.

Seven years later, she added knitwear sewn from 100 percent Los Angeles-made made fabric. Today, Frank & Eileen is carried in only one department store — Nordstrom — and by a bevy of specialty stores.

Audrey McLoghlin in Frank & Eileen knitwear. Photo courtesy: Frank & Eileen.
Audrey McLoghlin in Frank & Eileen knitwear. Photo courtesy: Frank & Eileen.

Business was going well until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In early 2020, Frank & Eileen saw 130,000 outstanding orders, or $11 million worth of revenue, disappear in 10 days. “That was our entire wholesale business,” the apparel-maker remembered. “That was a pivotal year of figuring out what we were going to do to make it through the year.”

Using her critical thinking skills learned studying engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, McLoghlin set up a battle plan. She decided the company needed to do faster product development and build out a bigger product team to be ready when life returned to normal.

Like many clothing manufacturers, Frank & Eileen quickly expanded its e-commerce presence, which pushed the company to design pants and other items to go along with the shirts sold on the website.

With all that extra downtime, McLoghlin also decided Frank & Eileen would apply for B Corp certification, which requires a company to document high standards of verified performance, accountability, as well as transparency in employee benefits, supply-chain practices, input materials and charitable giving.

That year, Frank & Eileen received B Corp certification, with the second-highest impact score for a globally recognized U.S. fashion brand, right behind Patagonia.

That is one of the reasons Frank & Eileen last year received the Moss Adams Fashion Innovator Award, an annual honor given by accounting firm Moss Adams to a California-based apparel company that exemplifies creativity and innovation.

Frank & Eileen is also known for its generous philanthropic efforts. The venture has pledged $10 million over 10 years to educate women entrepreneurs of the future. The Los Angeles company established fellowships and programs at three top-ranked graduate schools, including Stanford Graduate School of Business and MIT Sloan School of Management.

Last year, another program with Babson College, outside of Boston, saw McLoghlin cut the ribbon on the newly renamed Frank & Eileen Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, which focuses on elevating women entrepreneurial leaders. The clothing company also has a scholarship program with Babson, funding a female MBA candidate through a two-year program. That first scholar, Dominique Miles, graduates this May and a second student will begin her MBA scholarship this fall.

“I feel like entrepreneurship is the most powerful driver of change for women, changing their lives, the lives of future generations and of families,” McLoghlin explained. “So, we started doing research about how we could best use our money to help this cause.”

The Wicklow, the Italian chino by Frank & Eileen. Photo courtesy: Frank & Eileen.
The Wicklow, the Italian chino by Frank & Eileen. Photo courtesy: Frank & Eileen.

Being an astute entrepreneur has helped McLoghlin retain ownership of her company that now has some 40 employees. The CEO jokingly refers to herself as the only member in her own 100 Club.

Two partners are credited with helping her finance and launch her company when she had little money. One partner was Merchant Factors and the other was her Italian textile mill. “I have endless memories of pacing hotel rooms all over the world, begging Merchant Factors for a loan, telling them, ‘I am going to ship this customer soon and please advance me money,’” she recalled. “They are very aware of how the business works and who’s got good credit and who doesn’t.”

Then the Albini Group, which initially said, “Mama Mia” when McLoghlin said she couldn’t immediately pay for her fabrics, extended longer terms to cover her invoices.

The young entrepreneur was also adamant about who would carry her shirts. Ron Herman, the venerable Los Angeles clothing store known for cutting edge designs and new labels, was the first to take a chance on Frank & Eileen. “Ron had no interest in knowing me, but he was the godfather of Los Angeles specialty stores. I twisted his arm,” McLoghlin recalled.

Ron Herman remembers it a different way. He said he needed no arm twisting. “It was Audrey herself who attracted me to the company. Selling that [Barry] shirt was easy,” he said. “The shirt itself was unique, the fabric was amazing and so was the finishing idea. Everyone tried to make a shirt that looked like it had been worn, but she had a finishing process that women took to instantly.”

Her clothing label was carried at Ron Herman’s L.A. boutique until it closed late last year. But Frank & Eileen it is still sold in all 30 Ron Herman stores in Japan. Frank & Eileen even has its own two stores there, set up with the Sazaby League Ltd., which bought the U.S. Ron Herman stores in 2019 and set up the Ron Herman retail chain in Japan.

Today, Frank & Eileen, which doesn’t reveal revenues, continues to grow. The clothing company’s biggest specialty store in the world is Andrews, a womenswear retailer based in Toronto. Its largest U.S. specialty store is Red Balloon in Newport Beach, Calif., McLoghlin said.

And one of its oldest specialty store customers is Tupelo Honey in the Miami area. Ira Blum, who owns two stores with his wife, Gail, said from the beginning he was taken with the Barry’s hour-glass silhouette. “Obviously, we didn’t have anything like it. It was a bit different but pretty simple,” he said.

He continues to carry Frank & Eileen styles. “From its inception,” he said, “it has been well received.”

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