Marie Oliver started in 2014 as a total career pivot for the brand’s founder and creative director, Sarah Doggett Evenson, who launched the line with her husband, far from NYC’s fashion scene…in North Carolina. Evenson fills us in.
What’s your background?
I’ve always loved fashion and had creative inclinations, but it wasn’t my first career. After a quick, successful career in finance, I decided “now or never” and gave in to a longtime desire to start a collection. I was energized by the challenge of something totally new and foreign. My business background has been crucial; I always knew we could hire and build a team to help execute our vision but couldn’t hire someone to run our business.
How has your line evolved since its launch?
Our debut collection was inspired by a vintage caftan, translated into seven pieces we still reference in our collections today. Early collections solely had silk charmeuse, which prints and color look vibrant on. While silk is still a focus, we’ve expanded to include knits, cottons, and jacquards and in Fall ’20 outerwear. We’ve stayed committed to our key design tenants — unexpected prints, effortless silhouettes, and the importance of color.
What have you learned about the fashion business?
It’s truly not for the faint of heart! While it may seem quite glamorous from the outside, there’s an immeasurable amount of hard work and grit required to succeed. Offering creative, unique collections is key, but everything brands do before and after each collection drops really determines their success.
What advice would you give yourself when you started?
I’d tell myself it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If it doesn’t feel right, it likely isn’t. Invest in your people; your team will always be your greatest asset.
What have you learned about yourself since starting Marie Oliver?
Where do I begin!? “Fully rested” is overrated, sleep deprived is a way of life, and I’m a kung fu master in multitasking. On a more serious level, l’ve found a deeper determination than ever before, which keeps me grounded and focused despite a never-ending to-do list and whirlwind of daily obstacles. Also, as our team has grown, I’ve learned the power of delegating.
What’s it like working with your husband, Peter?
It’s unbelievably rewarding, challenging, and complex, all at once! From the beginning, Peter and I very intentionally defined our respective responsibilities. When we overlap, it’s about collaboration, not answering to each other. We wholeheartedly respect each other and continually commit ourselves to giving each other the space we need to succeed. Balancing our work and personal lives is particularly challenging at this stage in the business. However, celebrating the highs and mourning the lows together, has only made us a more united team.
How do you create your signature prints?
Prints have always been at the heart of Marie Oliver and personally my favorite part of design. Each season, color and print are the first steps in our design process. Early collaborations and concepting meetings with our print designers often inspire and offer direction to the whole collection. Most of our print designers have been with Marie Oliver since our earliest seasons, and have grown to be an extension of our design team.
What inspired your latest collection?
Fall ’20 was inspired by the idea of finding the romance in autumn. We’ve mixed jewel tones and electric brights, weighted by earthy neutrals, to create a rich transseasonal palette relevant for the season, but also living long after the leaves fall. Our prints are graphic, expressive, and with an element of the unexpected. Also, we expanded outerwear this season with suede, wool, and vegan faux fur. We’re excited about the addition of “Made in Italy” knits to the collection; Italy is synonymous with quality and design.
You’re based in North Carolina. What’s the style scene like there?
Being in Greensboro, rather than a fashion hub, allows us to focus and define what success really means for us rather than being shackled by what others are doing in the industry. We have the space we need, figuratively and literally, to be creative and think outside the box about how to navigate and grow the business.
What are you looking forward to at Coterie?
I still get anxious and nervous each time we launch a new collection, partially anticipation and partially an irrational fear of “what if.” Despite weeks of prep, as our business has grown, I think my nerves have only worsened. But getting feedback on a new collection is so gratifying and motivating; a pat on the back for an amazing collection out the door, and a kick in the rear to motivate you for the next.
What’s your dream product category?
Shoes. Aside from a personal obsession, I’d love to dress the Marie Oliver woman from head to toe. Shoes require a great deal of engineering, and a superb manufacturing partner. It’s a totally different process than our core business, but hopefully one day!
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