From Rags to Raches

 

003It’s the usual story, girl has dream; girl works out of parents’ basement; genie appears to offer girl three wishes and a success story poofs out of her magic sewing machine… Wouldn’t that have been a unique business model! Rachel Nilsson, 32-year old mother of three boys, and the brains behind US kids’ clothing brand Rags to Raches ponders fantasy versus reality for a moment. “Hmm… if a genie really did grant me three wishes, I would wish I could see the future for my business so my decision-making wouldn’t be so scary sometimes,” she laughs. “I wish I could take a design directly from my head and make it exactly what I imagine without testing the product over and over.” And wish number three? “Give me four more of me.”

The ‘me’ in question defines herself by a number of things, her three boys and “awesome dude” of a husband are of course at the top of that list together with her other baby, her business, but aside from that, who is Rachel? “An adrenaline junkie. A fun finder. A lover of activities. A loyal friend,” she says, ascribing those traits to being wrapped up in a unique personal style that sits somewhere between the rough edge of grunge and the clean line of classics. “I was always pretty out there,” says the Utah-based designer. “I remember in grade school when Dr. Martens came out.  I had every pair, but my favourites were their white floral boots. Back then that type of shoe was unheard of. I wish I would have held onto those.”

005The same parents, whose basement Rachel hunkered down in at the start of her sartorial journey, are undoubtedly a point of inspirational reference for her. “Both of my parents are extremely creative,” she says. “I think I took a little from both of them. I have always thrived being creative with fashion and clothing.” Entirely self-taught, Rachel places a lot of value in her knack for trends and her eye for fashion, “It really is something that I believe people are born with. Luckily I was blessed with that talent.”

The desire to design was something innate in Rachel but, like many mums frustrated with the standard retail offering, she saw a gap in the market for her own brand of children’s clothing, particularly boys clothing. Noting the scarcity of toddler apparel that ticked both the style and comfort boxes, the designer devised the idea that would set her on the path to success. Rags to Raches is home to the original romper, an item that has garnered its maker incredible attention everywhere from the world’s fashion and business media icons to the televised depths of the Shark Tank. “I am a fan of practicality, comfort and fashion,” says Rachel. “I made the romper out of straight necessary and it turned out moms everywhere were in the same boat. It is such a fun piece. It is never ending with how creative we can be.”001The hero piece in her collection, Rachel declares her true love for the rompers she designs, “they are so fun, unique and simple all in one piece. My little guy literally wears them daily.” Before the romper was the Rags to Raches tee, which favours a close second in Rachel’s affections. “My kids are so long and skinny, they never looked good in normal tee shirts,” she explains. “They were all so boxy and way too short, so I designed a slimmer, longer shirt and they are our go-to every single day.”

Receiving three offers from the Sharks who recognised the lucrative appeal of Rachel’s vision, the designer admits “that is validation that is one in a million.” As if that wasn’t endorsement enough, both the British and American issues of Vogue came knocking, along with The Huffington Post which nominated Rags for the ‘Top 15 coolest kids brands in America’ and following Rachel’s Shark Tank encounter, Forbes magazine ran a feature on her. “I still need to pinch myself,” she confesses. “Literally a dream come true, that sounds so cliché but it is the truth. If someone would have told me I would be featured in those publications, I would have never ever believed it. Such an amazing honour.”

004From the fashion forces that be to the mums Rachel is marketing to, Rags has exploded across social media with over 16,000 Facebook fans and close to 140 thousand followers on Instagram. The hashtag #tagyourrags which has become synonymous with the brand has appeared over 29,000 times in people’s posts, something which takes the designer by surprise, “I have totally lost track,” she laughs. “It has taken off and I love it.”

As fantastic an experience as it continues to be for this fashion powerhouse, Rachel is not immune to the working mother struggle. “There have been a lot of challenges,” she admits. “Balancing family and business, fighting serious “Mom Guilt”, dealing with huge and potentially detrimental manufacturing issues, no sleep, I could go on. But the crazy thing is that it has all been so worth it.” That is the reason right there as to why and how this immensely talented designer has generated such immense global fanfare and it all comes down to her attitude. “I have been able to solve big giant problems, which has been hard but made me feel confident in what’s to come,” she says. “I feel unstoppable.”

The key she reveals to approaching that balance-dilemma is thinking about life within a framework of priorities. “Balance is tricky.  Really tricky,” says Rachel. “I have come to terms with the fact that I may never be able to “balance” really well but what I am good at is keeping my priorities in check.  If I can do that then balance usually comes automatically.  When you have a growing business things tend to come up ALL OF THE TIME.  If I can make sure to remember what is REALLY the most important, it creates more balance and happiness in my working life as well as my personal life.  So balance is good but I think priorities are better.”

Rachel Nilsson might be head of one of the top 15 fastest growing companies in Utah alone but the determined, hardworking girl who launched her dreams from her parents’ basement is at the core of what has taken Rags to riches. “Never step on soft heads to get to the top.” Quoting the advice her Dad gave her, Rachel cites this one little sentence as laying the foundation for her professional ethos. “Never take advantage of those “smaller” people just to get to the top. EVERYONE is important so treat them like that. Best advice ever.”

002That familial component is underlying in how the designer operates and her pride at being able to provide a great life for her family is clear, and is something which resonates deeply with me and I imagine many other working mums. So what advice would she deploy to fellow mumpreneurs?  “Start with ‘I can do it!’  No idea is a dumb idea.  It takes serious drive and hustle, but it isn’t impossible.  I love that,” she says. “There is so much room for everyone to succeed in this world.  Focus on yourself and help those around you. Don’t focus on the negative or the haters.  Keep your head down and work hard.”

That final sentiment is certainly what the designer will continue to practice over the coming months.  “We are so excited about what is to come,” she enthuses. “We are starting to custom print our fabric and that should take us to a whole new level.  We are also coming up with some really exciting ad-ons that derive from clear holes in the market. Can’t wait to get it all designed and in production.”

This Rags to Raches story is one to inspire and motivate and from the sounds of things to come it looks as though this is really only the beginning. “I think we have barely scratched the surface and I am excited about that,” says Rachel. “I know my consumer and I know what they want and need.  I am excited to provide them that.  Stay tuned… we are gonna take over the baby WORLD!  ha!”

 

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