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It's been one year since Meagan Delaney opened her Ludlow Street boutique, The Rising States (named for an 1850's neighborhood bar run by the leader of a notorious East River pirate gang). And, after 365+ days as a store owner, her favorite memory isn't the opening party (although bottled martinis were involved), or the day an older, caftan-wearing gentleman pulled up in a Benz to purchase a metallic hat he saw in the window because "it matches the mural on my bus that I drive to Mexico every year." No, it's "those moments when a girl is trying on a Samantha Pleet dress and Samantha walks in and the customer geeks out like I would," Delaney tells us.
This scenario plays out a lot, thanks to the clubhouse feel the former PR pro has cultivated at TRS. "I wanted to carry designers I liked personally and then turn around and sell the clothes to girls who would also be friends with them," she says. In addition to looks by local labels (Loeffler Randall, Bedford Street Laundry, Babe)—whose designers often pop in—Delaney stocks pieces by international up-and-comers like Etienne Deroeux and Gat Rimon. And while her buys are eclectic, they have, as she puts it, "good clean lines and good cuts"—an unfussy aesthetic Delaney partially attributes to her Alaska upbringing.
Read on as she walks us through her first year as a small business owner, The Rising States's foray into art installations, and her favorite fall pieces.
Congratulations on your one-year store anniversary! How did you get started? Have you always been into fashion?
I moved to New York about 12 years ago. I've always been into fashion. I did fashion PR, I did brand management, but I've always gravitated towards retail.
I liked PR, but not the schmoozy part of it—I was really into working with the designers themselves. The PR world was too much for me, so I went back to working in retail, and I'd take industry jobs here and there. I like the hands-on aspect, I like interacting with the customers.
You're from Alaska. Has growing up there influenced your style?
Fashion was few and far between. We'd get magazines like three months late, and I'd collage my walls. I don't know if growing up there influenced my style, but it probably did have some impact on my outlook on fashion in general. That it's not terribly serious. I think it should be fun, and I think clothes should be wearable. It's not about the label and it's not about fashion with a capital 'F.' My approach is more laid-back.
How did you decide you were ready to open your own store?
I left my retail job two years ago and didn't know what I was going to do. I ended up taking some business classes at NYU for the summer and I wrote this whole business plan. I decided I was going to start an ecommerce site with these designers—sort of in the same vein as The Rising States—where they were all young and emerging, and I'd have a story for each one.
I wasn't excited about it. I was really dragging my feet, and I couldn't figure out why. I ended up taking a trip to Europe with my fiancé, Todd, that fall. We traveled for two months, which was enough time to get my head straight. He and I were sitting on this bridge in Berlin, and I was telling him, 'I don't know if I can get excited about selling these brands if I don't know the customers.' Economically, it's a better idea not to go brick and mortar after 2008. But Todd was like, 'Just open a store.' And I saw the light. In retrospect it's very obvious that's the way I wanted to go. Then it all came together and it was easy from there.
How did you find this space?
We found it in July and I opened in September. I knew I wanted to be in this neighborhood, and I probably looked at about a dozen spaces. It's right between all these amazing stores, we get great foot traffic. All that being said, I had to buy all of my inventory in February without knowing how big the store would be or where it would be. There was no way to visualize how the clothes would look in the space.
And you live in this neighborhood, too!
I love this neighborhood. When I started telling people I was opening a store, when I was doing my buying, people would say, 'Oh, on Bedford? Where in Williamsburg?' Everyone just naturally assumed that it would be Brooklyn, but I never thought about any neighborhood but this one.
How did you buy that first batch of inventory?
I had some money saved up, enough to start—I was able to buy the inventory, put a deposit on the space, and hire a lawyer. But I didn't have nearly enough clothing. When I opened, it would be one hanger, then twelve inches, then another hanger. And I had this weird lighting in the back that looked like studio lighting. So people would walk in and they'd be like, "Are you guys filming something? Is this a show?"
So, buying the stock wasn't a problem because there wasn't much of it! I ran out really quickly. Luckily, a lot of the designers produce locally and I was able to re-up.
What were your non-negotiables? Which designers did you know you wanted to carry?
I definitely wanted Samantha Pleet. I've been a mega-fan for so long. Also, Etienne Deroeux. He's like 26 and he makes everything in France—even the fabrics—and he's straight and beautiful. At the moment I'm the only one in the U.S. carrying him but it's not going to be that way for long— he's been getting a lot of press, and rightfully so.
I really wanted to carry Bedford Street Laundry. She's not anywhere else either. It's elevated sportswear, and the designer is just so rad.
In general, I wanted to carry designers I liked personally and then turn around and sell the clothes to girls who would also be friends with them. I wanted a community feel.
Do you remember your opening day? What was going through your mind?
I remember the opening party, which was the night before. Todd works at this bar, Booker and Dax, and he poured 50 Manhattans and 50 martinis into these little innocent-looking nine-ounce bottles. People got wasted. Two of my designers passed out on the bench outside at like 6pm.
I was nervous, so I didn't really drink. I was wearing a dress by Wren, who's one of my favorite designers. I had never met her in person at that point, and she showed up. I was like, "Oh my god!" It was such a cool moment.
When everyone left I sat on the floor and drank three Manhattans. So the next day—opening day—was really rough. But everyone remembers that party!
What role does Todd play in the shop?
He built all of the wooden structures in the store. I made little business cards for him that say 'TRS Groundskeeper,' which he doesn't use. But it's been a godsend—I can't imagine having to pay a carpenter for all this stuff.
Even having, like, two shelves put up is crazy expensive.
Exactly. But if I were single, all those carpenters are pretty hot…
You recently added art installations to the store!
I started putting art up, and I'm going to rotate it. Right now we have pieces by this amazing photographer, Lili Peper, who lives right around the corner. She's 20 years old and she shoots in film.
How has the store evolved since you opened a year ago?
It's a lot more fluid. Now I know my customers, and I have a lot more inventory. I started out carrying 12 brands and now I have 46.
What are your price points?
My lowest-priced line ranges from $85 to $145, and the more expensive lines are $250 to $800. The leather jackets are $1,000.
Which pieces are you excited about right now?
I'm really amped about this new line, Voz. This designer, Jasmine Aarons, works with a collective of female artisans in southern Chile. She taught them weaving techniques and she started working with them years before she even launched the line—setting up daycare for their kids, the whole thing.
The women who do the weaving use symbols that are exclusive to their tribes. It would be offensive if, say, Urban Outfitters did those symbols in neon pink. Each piece is signed by the woman who wove it. One of the guys in their community is a silversmith, so he does all of the silver hardware.
Who is The Rising States girl?
They're more thoughtful than most shoppers. The girls who shop here don't come in with a bunch of shopping bags from other places. They stop by when they know I've gotten a delivery from a designer they're particularly excited about. I'd prefer selling a $100 piece to a girl who I know is going to wear it all the time to selling a $1,000 piece to someone who's going to leave it in the closet with the tags still on.
They care about the story behind each piece and each designer. Or else they're really nice and they humor me while I wax poetic about raw silk.
Have you had a best seller?
Laer's leather jackets do really well. I had no idea I was going to be slinging leather like this. They make everything in L.A. and they launched the line right as I opened the store.
What's your typical day like?
At the moment, I've been having showroom appointments before opening the shop. Sometimes the smaller local designers will come to me, which is nice. I open the shop around 12:30 or 1pm and I check emails, organize the new inventory, and remerchandise the store—even if it doesn't need to be remerchandised.
I tried to set a rule for myself about only changing the mannequins once a week. I stare at them all day, so I'm always like, 'She could look better.' Girls will come by and say 'Oh you must have sold out of the top I saw on the mannequin earlier.' And I'm like, 'Nope, it's right here! I just took it off.'
A lot of my friends also live and work in the neighborhood, so they'll stop by, which is nice.
The Rising States seems like a designer clubhouse.
My favorite times are when a customer and a designer are in here. Those moments when a girl is trying on a Samantha Pleet dress and Samantha walks in and the customer geeks out like I would. It's like meeting a celebrity. I love that.
So your original idea was to start an ecommerce site…is The Rising States going digital anytime soon?
For sure. That's in the works. Ecommerce, more events, maybe a bigger space…I've got a lot of ideas.
Time for the lightning round!
8am or 8pm?
Beer or wine?
Whiskey or tequila?
Beach or mountains?
Cats or dogs?
Favorite vacation destination?
My grandma's house upstate
Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?
Favorite happy hour spot?
Here at the store
Rap or country?
Mad Men or Game of Thrones?
Game of Thrones
Coffee or tea, and how do you take it?
Coffee, with Splenda
Introvert or Extrovert?