Almost There


Virtual Shops: {Re}brand @ Home

Almost There new collection photo shoot. Photo by Hannah Besirevic.

Finally Running Her Own Company

A year in the making, Celine Kabaker, a former buyer for several well known fashion companies finally founds her own line, Almost There, in mid-August. The brand appeals to a wide range of women, even during a pandemic.

When did you start planning your ecommerce store opening?

Celine: I’ve been working on Almost There for nearly a year. It was when one of my old colleagues came to me and said, “Let’s start our own line.” At the time, she had a full-time position at a big fashion brand as a designer. When we started to work together, I was trying to understand, ‘If I could create any brand – what would be important to me?’

Zine: Tying in with your buying background in the luxury dress segment of the fashion industry, what need did you identify in the industry to make you pursue this?

Celine: Knowing that fashion is so polluting to the industry, I wanted to create a brand that was the opposite, and that also focused on dresses. I felt dresses were a great category for a lot of retailers, but the pricing was becoming more and more out of touch with what people could afford, and the quality wasn’t there either. With that in mind, I wanted to create a brand with beautifully made dresses at affordable prices and the quality I felt customers would want.

Celine (right) and her friend Erika, wearing the CONDOLEEZA dress. Photo courtesy of Almost There.

Zine: Who did you expect your customers to be at the outset?

Celine: Initially, I designed the collection for all ages. I didn’t want it to be targeted at a specific age demographic but some of our dresses tend to be short, so it kind of depends on what type of woman you are! Different kinds of women at different ages have different needs in terms of what they want to cover or what they want to show off.

I also wanted to create something for women of all sizes – we have a contemporary line and we have the voluptuous sizing that we offer. Really, if I had to say, the Age Focus (when we decided on one, because we were told we needed to), is Gen Z and millennials. I’d say too that it’s been interesting because a lot of people of different ages ended up liking Almost There and that’s what I originally wanted it to be.

Zine: So, what you’re saying is that you were asked to focus on one demographic (Gen Z and millennial) but because you offered expanded sizing, your brand also spoke to a wider age range?

Celine: Yes, because the styles are very classic, there’s a little bit of a sophistication to them – it’s not super casual. It really is an update to something you already own in your wardrobe – whether it’s a puff sleeve with tortoise buttons and a square neck, or if it’s a V-neck with puff sleeves, or we have some knit styles that are pretty classic but they’re done in a modern way that might be off-the-shoulder, or we offer a shift body but we have it with a sweep in the back. Each piece has a novelty detail that gives it a whole new sense of identity.

Zine: You mentioned earlier that you were told to narrow down your audience. Who are your advisors, shareholders, and partners currently?

Celine: I don’t have any partners in my business. I am completely self-funded and the solo founder of Almost There. I have one employee, and many university interns. I like to identify what people are good at and help them develop that skill in ways that also help my business. This is a mutual benefit at a time when there are fewer opportunities for young people to gain work experience. I’m very fortunate because I can tap into my network from previous companies. They are experts in different areas of retail and ecommerce and are my consultants.

A business driver is always going to tell you to narrow down your demographic and audience, but I think there are other ways to narrow down a brand’s focus too. My business is also about breaking out of that [traditionally narrow] mode of focus to produce pieces for women of all body types and all ages. When I think about my grandmother, mom, and sisters, I realize that we can all wear the same clothes!

Zine: What has motivated you to keep going with your brand vision when the pandemic threw a curve ball at your launch?

Celine: My family has been very supportive. I’m currently working out of my grandmother’s home, so I’m very lucky to have this is available to me. I also have great friends. A lot of girlfriends have supported me by purchasing dresses, A lot of girlfriends have supported me by purchasing dresses, which is helpful to a new business when friends spread the word.

Self-care is also very important. I have the tendency to “burn the candle at both ends”. I have built my reputation by managing very high-volume businesses for successful brands, and I am someone who thrives in an environment where I feel challenged. Building my own brand has allowed me the luxury of stepping back (sometimes) to go get a massage or go for a hike. I love hiking – I can decompress and be one with nature. That’s how I stay a little more zen.

As we go into the holiday season, I think that people will crave putting on a new dress. When the pandemic hopefully decimates, and we go back to normal, the need for a dress is always going to be there. As a sustainable brand, I’m happy I didn’t mass produce this collection and find myself sitting on a lot of inventory [particularly during a time of reduced sales volume for many apparel retailers]. Also, having local production gives me the agility to react and make changes to what I’m creating.

The way that we architected the collection, we focused on the “wear to work” and “night out” categories. I really wanted to focus on versatile dresses as well – ones that had a classic and timeless aesthetic. It turned out to be a benefit because it wasn’t so trend-focused or tied to a specific season. I’m grateful for that because it allowed me to pivot and make changes as needed, whether in fabrication or color.

Zine: How do you want customers to engage with your assortment, and what about that experience do you think is unique to your brand?

Celine: The styles we offer are unique in that they’re made with sustainable and natural fabrics. We also plant a tree with every purchase through the nonprofit organization One Tree Planted; we offer seeded paper as a thank you card; our packaging is biodegradable and recyclable; even the neck labels are made from recycled polyester. We really go above and beyond in terms of our sustainability messaging. We are “Made in America” so we’re supporting a local garment industry as well.

Workshops and the zine are organized by Slow + Sustain through the volunteer efforts of our contributors. Funding comes from both the contributors and the public.

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