Watch the full conversation between Rachel Antonoff and Staff Writer Brooke Frischer on The Fashionista Network.
How exactly does someone go from creating samples in their neighbor's basement to becoming one of the most beloved names in fashion? You can ask Rachel Antonoff.
That said, starting a brand wasn't originally in the cards for her. She began her career in fashion PR, ultimately leaving to pursue freelance writing. As for where fashion design came into the picture, "it all happened a little bit out of order," she told Fashionista's Brooke Frischer live on The Fashionista Network. (Watch it here!)
While living in an apartment with her best friend — and sharing a closet full of thrifted and vintage finds — Antonoff said the two would add design changes to their outfits. She doesn't credit a specific moment to sparking her design flame, only that one day she and her friend decided to produce three samples of dress ideas they had sketched out.
After an inspiring trip to Mood Fabrics, they had the samples produced in her neighbor's basement, and the beginning of what has since evolved into Rachel Antonoff, the brand, was born. Growing it into a recognized, established label had its obstacles, but she credits her personal and professional network for taking an early chance on her and paving the way for where she is today.
"When I started doing the design work, I had reached out to editors that I had worked with when I was [in fashion PR]," Antonoff said. "That was kind of the only reason I had any contacts, it was from that job. And I don't know that I would be anywhere without those people who had helped me early on. So in a very literal way, I do feel like [my early career experiences] set me on the course to be here."
Of course, not everyone is quick to embrace a new brand. After numerous rejections from cold emailing editors (if they bothered to reply at all), it was Jane Keltner de Valle, a former Teen Vogue editor, that gave Antonoff her first big break.
"We got three samples to her office, and I remember we looked at them literally in the lobby of [Teen Vogue's] floor – we didn't even go in," she said. "And she helped us — I feel like I make her uncomfortable every time I run into her, because I'm like, 'You don't understand. I would have no career if it wasn't for you.' She got us into our first store, she wrote about us. She legitimized us as a company and it was so cool."
Like most emerging designers, it took time for Antonoff to find her fashion footing. At first, the brand was trying to create clothes that catered to everybody, she shared; it wasn't until customers began gravitating towards the label's more whimsical and fun pieces — during the pandemic, in fact — when Antonoff decided to make a complete shift.
"It really turned things around for us when we finally leaned into what we actually wanted to do, which now in hindsight feels kind of obvious," she said. "Like, if we like it, then surely there's other people who like it. Because of that, though, we've slowly realized, 'Okay. People love a print from us. People love when we are just our really wacky selves.' And so we've taken off the roof of what we thought we could do, and it's just pushed further and further every year."
From its viral Ovaries-print sweaters, to landing placements in "Sex and the City," to its pop culture-infused social media visuals, Rachel Antonoff has made a name for itself by making fashion fun. Antonoff emphasized she wants to continue shaping a brand that is inclusive and makes people feel good — and not only human people. A proud dog lover, she hinted that the brand is expanding into the world of petwear in the near future.
After years of running a brand, her advice to today's aspiring designers is to "shut up and do it."
"I think some of the best advice I ever got was actually from my brother [music producer Jack Antonoff], and he said, 'Why don't you just shut up and do it?,'" she shared. "And I think that applies to a lot. Because, sometimes you could think about something forever. But it's not about doing the best possible version of something — it's about doing it at all."
"And I revisit that advice over and over again," she continued. "Like, let's not make this too complicated. I tend to kind of wait until I think something is perfect and ready, and then it never happens. So, 'shut up and do it' is my general advice."
This conversation was hosted on "The Fashionista Network" powered by interactive media platform Fireside, where viewers get the chance to participate and speak directly with industry figures. Learn more about "The Fashionista Network" here.
Homepage photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Electric Lady Studios