Wanda Grace Designer Laurie Underwood Branches Out To Face The Challenges Of A Crowded Market
Meet Laurie Underwood, the founder and designer of Wanda Grace. Launched in 2008, the line, which Laurie describes as perfect for the style-driven woman that “loves to socialize and have fun” features eye-catching flirty, colorful pieces that can go from day to night. MadameNoire caught up with Laurie to chat about what it’s like being an independent designer in a crowded market, business challenges, advice for aspiring designers, and her future plans for Wanda Grace.
MadameNoire (MN): Having your own independent line can be difficult. What kind of challenges have you experienced since launching in 2008 ?
Laurie Underwood (LU): The biggest challenge is that it’s a crowded market. I started off designing body-con party dresses. Everybody was doing it. I had to figure out how to be different. I stopped doing what other independent designers were doing. I created [something based on] my own inspiration and put it out there. I’ve been successful in creating my niche. My idea is to redress women.
MN: What makes Wanda Grace so unique?
LU: Every piece is designed to make a statement. My clients know if they want to stand out, they can call me. When I am designing a collection, each piece has to have something significant about it. I try to make sure each piece can start a conversation, has a story to tell. For instance, the Claire crop top is an African print and has a wide collar. Nothing about it is basic.
MN: What kind of business obstacles have you experienced?
LU: The biggest problem I’ve had since I’ve started as a designer is production and the quality of my pieces. My collection now is about five steps above what I’ve produced in the past. I’m proud of that growth as a designer because that took a minute. A lot of designers struggle with this. In the beginning, when orders were coming in, I was sewing those orders myself. I was killing myself. One day I said, “This can’t happen anymore!” I had to invest in myself and the quality of my brand, so I found a production company that could produce my baby.
MN: It’s hard to separate yourself in an already saturated fashion market. What other strategies have you used to successfully position Wanda Grace and its unique offering?
LU: As an independent designer, I no longer try to dish out collections that are 50 pieces. I focus on designing smaller, curated collections where there are only a limited amount of pieces available.
Part of my research for this launch was to see what was missing [in the market]. I watched a lot of video blogs and thought I could infuse that with myself as a designer. Now, I have a YouTube channel; I just started “Style Conversations with Laurie”. People don’t expect me to put out content like this… I’m trying to be transparent. I think people like that and the idea of my “DIYs.” I am trying to become more [of a] renaissance woman but not too much where I lose myself in the process.
MN: How do you manage running Wanda Grace alongside having a full-time career?
LU: I work in corporate marketing from 9-to -5. At night, I come home to my second job which is Wanda Grace. I have about 30 hours a week to work on Wanda Grace. Having the corporate job is not the end of the world. It is a salary that I can depend on. I love marketing, even though it’s not style or fashion. However, I do have an exit plan. If you plan on going for your passion full-time you should have an exit plan. I try to balance that with being a mommy and having family time on the weekends.
MN: What’s your biggest piece of advice to aspiring designers?
LU: Focus on production. Where’s your inventory? Where’s your quality? This is especially important if this is your passion and you plan on being in this business for the long-haul. Quality is what really matters as a designer running a business. People can see your pieces online, but if they buy it and it’s not where it should be, that’s a problem.
MN: What books have been especially useful to you as an entrepreneur?
LU: Miracles Happen: The Life and Timeless Principles of the Founder of Mary Kay, Inc by Mary Kay Ash. I use those principles for Wanda Grace. It’s my go-to book. I also like Russell Simmons’ Do You: 12 Laws To Access The Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success.
MN: What are your future plans for Wanda Grace?
LU: I want to continue to focus on smaller, curated collections. I definitely see accessories, too. I see Wanda Grace becoming a lifestyle brand for women who want that standout style. Style is more than just clothes. It’s about how you live your life. It’s a way of living. I want to put that into my brand and invite other people to grow their style as well. Finally, I see me expanding my Style Conversations With Laurie.