Vanessa Riley

Vanessa Riley shares her secrets to a successful clothing line!





Unbelievably, I am in my tenth year of designing and owning a retail store! I swore I would would faze out the retail side, but it seems I now have a new 2500 square ft. store on the busiest street in Houston, at the Galleria. The store has out grown itself within the past year and we are looking to expand again.


This year we will top two million dollars in sales within Houston. Making 100% of the inventory is harder than I would have imagined, especially now that I design jewlery and bags as well. The trick is to never get sucked into any one else's plans for you, and to stay consistent.

I never design 'fad' items, or 'fashion colors'. I know my client is primarily a sophisticated 25 - 45 year old woman, who is either a social butterfly or is bringing home the bacon for the family. It's hard to presume I know who my client is and what she wants, so I listen to my clients comments and follow her life's story line.

We have had 25% of our clientele since day one, and we're attempting to befriend clientele, or connect with them on a more personal basis.

I also pay attention to the social calendar, both locally and internationally, in order to make available collections at the dates needed. For example, 'polo in July' equates to light weight separates or hot sexy dresses for the social parties in September.

Plans for another store in Las Vegas (same climate and client as Houston) have begun, and I am presently in the throws of mortgaging a giant warehouse space on 7 acres (fingers crossed). I'll use the warehouse for storage, cutting & sewing, and alterations, which will carry us forward into 'in house manufacturing'. So far I have not borrowed money for my business, so I've remained debt free, which is the only way I think I could have remained sane! I really hate the stress of owing money.

When I was an illegal, struggling, US resident without a degree, life was impossible. I had no money to buy food, let alone fabric. I also didn't know anyone because I was in a foreign country! Maybe that is what kept me focused.

I have had to compromise my design flare/creativity/originality/talent somewhat in order to pay bills. I can really only be creatively true to myself within a fashion show, or self-induced creative project. But now things are less panicked and more fluid. I'm calmer, organized, and I have great staff too! That is another key, don't wait too long to fire the wannabees! Organizing staff, clients, and general small business details is still way harder than designing a collection! Designing and illustrating, or creating stuff is just plain easy and I think any artist would tell you that.

With additional space, I will be able to resume a couture business (more creatively satisfying) which has suffered, because I haven't been available to my clients. I strive to have a somewhat normal life, but it's hard with all the bulls*** of the fashion industry. Stress + More Stress = Madness. With the store bringing in a regular income, I feel less of a slave to my career, and I'm able to take more time for myself. I finally have a working car, electricity, new shoes and a little luxury now and again! I really do not work as hard as I did before the show, which knocked my confidence a little. I try not to compare myself to other clothing designers or stores. I do what I do and woman love it, and that is all I need to worry about! Project Runway was a terrifyingly-fun experience for me, but far from the reality of running a fashion business where ' deliveries, ordering, pricing and dying buttons' take priority over creative originality -- a sad reality, but so true.

Sometimes people still recognize me from the show, which always surprises me. Oh, and I'm still single, beautiful, but overweight, I'm mildly paranoid, and I'm a bit of an outspoken rebel! (Some things never change...)

Love to you all and maybe you will visit the shop one day!

Sh**, did I go on about myself or what?!

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