By Erica Bray
The rain is a muse to Wendy Feller. While some might find it drab and dreary, the Seattle-based fashion designer has always found creative inspiration in it – from the cascading drumbeat of its sound as it falls from the sky and hits the earth to the lush green it produces across the Pacific Northwest, a place Feller has called home for 26 years. In early 2015, it inspired her latest fashion line: FELLER, an upscale line of patterned raincoats made of waxed cotton.
“I was looking for a raincoat and I couldn't find anything that I really liked,” Feller recalls. “Everybody in Seattle wears North Face and Patagonia, but I was looking for something that I could wear into the evening. I wanted to be able to look great, but not sporty.”
When Feller couldn’t find the hip raincoat she coveted, lightening struck: “I thought, ‘Hey, if I can't find anything, then maybe there's a need in the market.”
Armed with do-it-yourself drive and more than 30 years in the fashion industry, Feller seized the opportunity to create a line of raincoats that would be “hipper and cooler” than the sporty ones she consistently found in stores. She worked with a manufacturer that specializes in printed fabrics and waxed cotton, a rainproof fabric with a storied legacy, to produce her vision.
“[Waxed cotton] has historical roots in the seafarers and mariners from the 15th century, who initially used them for their sails and then ended up cutting up their sails and making them into rain gear for themselves,” she says “I just love having that kind of historical reference to a piece of clothing that you're wearing.”
A forward-thinking name
Feller bestowed upon her merchandise a slick name – her own. This isn’t uncommon in the fashion industry, where designers are always looking to make a name for themselves.
In fact, Feller’s first fashion line was Wendy Feller Knitwear, a successful women’s line in the 90’s sold in high-end retailers such as Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Sax Fifth Avenue. Feller, however, went with just her last name this time around because she says it’s short, “cleaner” and positions her to expand into men’s designs down the road.
“I wanted it to be a little bit more androgynous to appeal to both genders,” she explains of her strategy.
FELLER is even more fashion-forward is with its URL: www.feller.clothing.
Unable to secure the corresponding ‘dot-com’ (.com) for her business, Feller stumbled upon an unexpected solution – ‘dot-clothing’ – while doing online domain searches. This domain extension is one of hundreds of industry-specific options to come onto the market in recent years, alleviating the ‘dot-com’ stranglehold that so often frustrates new businesses coming online, while also allowing entrepreneurs to create bespoke domain names that add meaning to their brand.
“I thought, ‘Okay, well, it might be a little confusing for people in the beginning, but this seems to be the trend of future and it would be kind of cool to have ‘dot-clothing,’” she recalls. “I decided to go with ‘dot-clothing’ to be a trendsetter.”
A series of leaps
Wendy Feller is certainly a trendsetter in the fashion world. But it almost never came to pass.
Feller wanted to be an architect. After graduating with a degree in landscape architecture from University of Pennsylvania, she moved to New York City to launch her career with an established architecture firm. A few years into that job, she got accepted into Columbia University’s prestigious masters program – a move that would help to catapult her up the corporate ladder in the world of architecture. Things looked great, and Feller was poised for continued success in her industry.
Then a knitting machine changed everything.
“The summer before grad school, I bought a knitting machine,” Feller recalls. “All summer long, all I did was knit outside. I just knitted continuously.”
That machine ignited something in Feller, a type of creativity she wasn’t tapping in her architecture job. She fell in love with the patterns, the designing, the colors. She had always been a knitter, but the machine took that creativity to another level.
When it was time to start grad school, and Feller had to part from her knitting machine, something didn’t feel right. After ten days, she dropped out.
“I knew that I was not meant to be an architect,” Feller says of that fateful day. “I knew I was meant to be a clothing designer. It just kind of came together in that instant.”
With the support of her parents, Feller got to work on her first collection – 10 pieces of women’s clothing. She called her line “Wendy Feller Knitwear.” With no real fashion industry experience, but a lot of chutzpah, she walked into a high-end retailer Henri Bendel, where she persuaded a buyer to take a look at her products.
“It was the buyer's first day so she was all excited,” Feller says. “She bought 72 sweaters, and that was my first sale.”
From there, Wendy Feller Knitwear took off. Soon, her collections were being sold across New York City at other high-end retailers, plus 300 boutiques across the country. She hired a sales team to promote her line further. Feller was living the fashion dream. But the reality of her success was taking its toll.
“After seven years, I'd built up the business, and I was sort of at the peak of my business,” she says. “But I was burnt out, miserable, working 24-7, and I wasn’t really happy in New York.”
Feller had heard good things about Seattle and was ready for a lifestyle change. So in 1994, she closed her New York-based fashion business and headed West. It shocked friends and family, some of whom called her “crazy.” But, intuition had told her to chuck architecture for fashion, and that same intuition was telling her to trade New York for Seattle. So she listened.
Seattle proved a fertile environment for Feller to decompress, and ultimately spread her fashion wings into new enterprises. She launched a few other businesses over the years. Among them: Smittens, hand-holding mittens, and Zupers, a line of girl’s activewear.
This experience of launching multiple fashion businesses over the years is coming in handy with FELLER. She knows what it takes to be successful and standout, but also recognizes that the market has changed, in large part, due to the Internet.
Feller, however, doesn’t look to use her website as an e-commerce retail site – at least, not right now. She describes it as a “showcase” for wholesalers and buyers, from whom she’s looking to generate sales to get her raincoats into stores.
The hustle in securing meetings with high-end buyers is consuming most of her time in these first few months of business, but it’s already paying off.
After launching her line to the public in January of 2015, Feller’s secured placements starting in July in several high-end boutiques in the Pacific Northwest – such as Mercer, Clementine and Jack Jerome in Seattle, as well as Oxalis in Portland.
As Feller launches her brand in the Pacific Northwest, she definitely has her sights set on the rest of the world.
“I'm pretty much doing almost everything myself,” Feller says of her latest entrepreneurial venture, while giving a major hat tip to the support of her friends and colleagues in the fashion industry. “The response so far has been amazing.”
Learn more about this business and order items at www.feller.clothing.