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2012 December 18

The Haute Hippie Phenom!

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Trish Wescoat Pound Trish Wescoat Pound
Courtesy of Haute Hippie
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(NEW YORK) Fun fact, chéris. Haute Hippie, the gyp-set lifestyle brand that caters to the RoBo (that's rock bohémien, to you), has been doubling in size since its inception in 2008. We're talking a fifty percent growth rate in sales for every year of business! And if you think that's impressive (we definitely do!), wait until you see what's next. Founder and creative director Trish Wescoat Pound (formerly an exec at Michael Kors and Theory) and her CEO husband Jesse Cole give us the inside scoop on the brand's phenomenal growth and what's in store for 2013 and beyond! BY MARIA DENARDO 

What was your business strategy since day one?
Trish: In the first year? Surviving! We started the company in my apartment with just three people, including myself, which meant we were all taking on a lot of responsibility. I was doing the production runs, looking at the open orders, flying to India, doing the financials. I learned it all on my own and figured it out along the way. I did that for a number of years, but then when we grew, I was doing a disservice to the company by taking on so much and spreading myself too thin. That's what we're focusing on right now—transitioning. 

And you started without any financial backing?
Trish: Yes, I've completely self-financed this company the whole way—and I'm not from a wealthy family. But I've never focused on money. The whole idea of Haute Hippie was the democratization of luxury. I wanted to design product that would sit between the young designer and contemporary markets. I wanted a $65 tee and a $2,000 dress. I wanted to make well-made clothes that were functional and had a lot of inherent value in them, so everything was put back into the clothes.

How do celebrity endorsements and social media platforms factor in? Has that always been important to the brand?
 I don't personally have a Twitter account, and I'm not on Facebook. Professionally, it's been a part of my business plan for seven years when a lot of companies weren't doing it. In particular, the social media aspect interested me since I'd watch my daughter, Jillian, Facebook or tweet. I knew it was the wave of the future. It's only recently that we've implemented some of those things, since we didn't have the manpower to execute it.  

On the design front, are you looking to expand into more categories?
Trish: I've always done bags, belts, and costume jewelry, even though we only made it for ourselves sometimes, or for our stores. That is a white space, especially in bags and belts, and a huge opportunity for us going forward. There's also a white space in this lingerie-that's-not-lingerie moment. One day we'd like to do shoes when we find the right partner. But right now, I need to focus on building the right foundation and finding the right people. Then the rest will fall into place.

What's your greatest challenge these days?
: Myself. I love the clothes that we make, and I always want to do a better job. Plus, I'm a mom, a wife, and a person who runs a business. One of my greatest challenges is balance. No matter what I do, I don't think I do it well enough. I'm always striving to do more.

Do you think men who run companies have the same dilemma?
Trish: No. It's very different for women. It seems more acceptable if a man is working and has a family at home. The guilt seems to fall on the women. It's like, 'He's supporting his family, so it's okay.' But if a woman is doing the same thing, it's like, 'Oh, she's not at home enough.' 

Your website says that you want to maintain a "non-corporate" environment. What does that mean to you?
Trish: In my mind, we're still a small company. As it grows, I constantly ask myself, 'How do you maintain a certain culture that's collaborative, inspiring, and inspired?' That's part of the reason we listen to rock and country music in the office and have dogs sleeping at our feet. At the same time, we also need to make sure we have things in place to protect the company, like rules, regulations, and employee handbooks that are all part of being a business. It's easy when there are five of you, but when there are 50-plus employees, it's a different story.

Jesse, when did you join the company?
Jesse: Officially, I've been the CEO since August, but I've been with Trish for three and a half years so I've been in and around the company for a while. I'm a Wall Street guy by trade. I sold my financial business, Merlin, where I was a partner, to allow me the opportunity to come here. Wall Street is a little more one-dimensional. It's the ivory tower. People are more uniform, and there are stronger, stricter guidelines. It's more colorful in this world. Not that the colors are brighter on this side, but there are more personalities, let's say. You have to learn to smile at the right people. I work harder doing this than doing anything I've ever done in my life.

What's the first change you implemented as CEO?
The first thing I did when I came on board was clean house and make changes with staffing. Then I made sure we started operating on a macro level, so I brought in a new COO/CFO, Harvey Schutzbank. There are so many directions this company can go, but we're going to prevent that from being our biggest downfall by staying in our lane. We're going to stabilize this ship and get the right people to sail it. That's number one going into 2013.

How important are your wholesale accounts?
Jesse: Over 80 percent of our revenue comes from our wholesale accounts. We have over 300 specialty stores in over 40 countries, so we have a strong international presence.

Which stores are your bread and butter?
Jesse: Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks, Bloomingdale's, Harrods, and Net-A-Porter. The majors are very important to our business and have been extremely supportive of the brand. Their business makes up around 60 percent of our total business.

You also have three stores of your own.
Opening up retail stores was second on my list of priorities. When you're only working with wholesale buyers, they're working with a budget and they can't buy Trish's whole collection, which is vast. They may just say, 'Oh, sequins are in' and just buy everything with sequins but then they're missing the styling, the high-low mix. That's part of the essence of the brand, so we wanted to be able to showcase Trish's range. We opened a store on Prince Street in January, on Madison Ave. in February, and East Hampton in April. Shortly after, we opened a pop-up in Southampton.

Why did you choose Southampton as your first pop-up location?
 I wanted to see the reaction of the summer community since there's a lot of resort feel to Trish's clothes. Southampton was a logical choice due to the price points and the sophistication of the brand. And, the wealthiest people in the industry are in Southampton from Michael Kors to Calvin Klein to the biggest bankers who may one day finance us. Sag Harbor wasn't really an option since it still has a lot of tourists, and it's more of a boating community. Montauk has a great vibe—a lot of hipsters. But they're still the guys with the hats. You know, Flamingo Kid is still going to Montauk. Our customer is the woman who is 25 to 45, going to a black tie or a beach party. 

What does your retail map look like for 2013?
Jesse: My first goal is to get our retail business sorted out in New York by making sure our systems speak to each other, and that we are well-staffed. Then, we'd like to add two to three stores in 2013. NYC can support another store, and Miami would be a great place for us. If we decide to add a third next year, we're looking at Greenwich or Long Island. In 2014, we'll start to push our way west, like Dallas, Nashville, and one day, L.A.

What's on the docket beyond more shopping outposts?
Jesse: Haute Hippie Home. In addition to furniture, we're going to offer embellished blankets, antlers, candelabras, frames, bedding, great mirrors, and cowhide rugs. 

Are you enlisting design help for this offshoot?
Jesse: We have a furniture maker in Brooklyn who is helping to design our benches, couches, and chairs, which will retail from $1,295 to $2,095.
Trish: And we have our first fashion show planned for New York Fashion Week in February! I don't think about it yet; otherwise, it would consume me. I'm just focusing on designing right now and making sure the Haute Hippie woman has everything she needs in her wardrobe. 
Jesse: 2012 was really our transitional year. 2013 is our foundation year. We're in the big leagues now! 

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