It’s a common complaint, especially in DC. Where can you find high-quality, affordable clothes for the office?
Of Mercer hopes to be a new solution for DC women in this predicament. The brand’s focus is on making designer-quality clothing – incorporating luxury Italian wool, speciality Japanese fabrics, and intricate tailoring – at up to half the cost of designer lines. The ultimate goal is to provide women with classic, interchangeable pieces that will last well beyond a season and its trends and simplify shopping for the office.
We spoke with Of Mercer’s co-founders Dorie Golkin and Emelyn Northway about launching their line in DC and how to let your personal style shine through in even the most conservative offices.
Q: DC was the first city where you launched your previously online only collection. What made DC your first choice?
Emelyn: DC is filled with stylish, professional women, so we thought this was a perfect place to do our first city launch. And we were right! We had a busy, but exciting week – first in Georgetown with Refinery29 for a launch party, then in Capitol Hill, and Downtown for shopping events and happy hours. We met many women, not unlike ourselves a few years ago, struggling to find workwear that suits their dress codes, budgets, and personal styles. We can’t wait to come back to DC in a few short months for more in-person events! (District Style note: You can sign up for Of Mercer DC event notifications here.)
Q: You had consulting and finance careers prior to launching Of Mercer. What convinced you to make the leap to the fashion industry?
Dorie: Both of us went to Wharton to pursue entrepreneurship, and after arriving at an orientation event in the same dress – our go-to stylish work outfit – the problem we needed to solve became obvious. Having worked in conservative office environments for years, we knew how hard it was to find office-appropriate, stylish, and high-quality workwear at a price we could afford. After holding focus groups and talking with professional women in a range of industries, we knew that we weren’t alone, and that we had identified a huge market need. Using the direct-to-consumer model of fellow Wharton companies such as Warby Parker and Harry’s, we are able to cut out the retail middleman, thus offering designer-quality at half the price.
Q: What’s your most memorable experience of fashion gone awry?
Emelyn: I have a photo of myself from my first day in investment banking (at my mother’s request). At the time, I felt like I looked the part – wearing a wide-legged pantsuit and boxy blazer. In hindsight, I looked like I was playing dress-up in my father’s suit. It wasn’t until years later – in part because of women such a Michelle Obama and Sheryl Sandberg who have shown that you can dress fashionably and still be taken seriously – that I understood I could wear feminine, flattering, chic clothes, even in a male-dominated industry. And that doing so made me even more confident.
Q: How did your collaboration with Aja, Of Mercer’s designer, begin?
Dorie: Prior to joining us, Aja had her own line of tailored contemporary womenswear, which was carried at stores such as Intermix and Barneys. We were introduced by mutual friends, and what started as a casual chat over a glass of wine about everything from industry trends to our favorite NYC restaurants, turned into a great partnership. She has the creative instinct, technical expertise, and extensive fashion industry experience that perfectly complement our skills and experience.
Q: As individuals who previously worked in stylistically conservative industries, what advice would you give women in DC who are looking to develop their style in a similar type of environment?
Dorie: Sticking to an office dress code does not mean that you can’t embrace your personal style. We think all outfits should start with a conservative silhouette and add edgy details based on your tastes and dress code. For example, our Thompson Dress, one of our best sellers, takes a classic, universally-flattering shape and livens it up with exposed zipper pockets (both fashionable and functional). If you’re comfortable with color, we recommend wearing it in conservative dress shapes. But if you’re more into black, then throw on a statement necklace to give your outfit a bit of a pop. No matter what you wear, make sure it is consistent with your personal style, because that is how you will be your most comfortable and confident in the office.