BY CONSTANCE C.R. WHITE
With his jump from finance to fashion complete, designer Zachary Prell is poised to turn a corner in his eponymous firm, a company that was birthed, not at a design college, but at an Ivy League business school.
Get the IPads and smart phones up because for the first time, Prell will do a major presentation at the CFDA Skylight venue. He’s previously taken the low-key approach in his showroom.
“Spring 2017 is a very important season for us for a number of reasons,” Prell said recently. “We hired a new vice president of design, Colin McNair. Colin was at John Varvatos for the last 10 years.” Spring will mark the first time folks will have the chance to see McNair’s work for the collection. “It’s exciting for us and we’re thrilled for the opportunity,” said Prell.
While insiders record the moment, consumers can be at the ready with their credit cards as Prell launches a 24-hour flash sale with the mother of all flash sellers – Gilt Groupe.
A bid to get on top of the see now, buy now explosion, the sale will feature a 27-piece capsule collection from the spring line exclusively. Kick-off dovetails with the show’s start at 7 pm on July 13th.
“We want to be able to give our consumer what he wants, when he wants it,’’ said Prell. “From a consumer point of view, this is a really compelling moment in time. For example, it’s warm out, I want to be wearing a light linen tee or be in a swimsuit heading to the beach. That’s been challenging from a wholesale delivery timing point of view.”
When Prell began 11 years ago, what he knew about fashion could fit on a pinhead. Not that he owned a pin even. He just knew he needed a better casual shirt. But he was an expert at finance, and he was a shopper. Thank goodness for shoppers.
Switching from Wall Street to Seventh Avenue is not unheard of – James Purcell made a similar move in the Nineties – but it’s still uncommon. Prell made his disadvantage into a valuable strength. He gets into the shopper’s head.
“I started the brand as a consumer,” he said. “I saw the opportunity to re-imagine the shirt and it took a number of years to develop it and do the product development cycle. That is the type of innovation that we’ve carried through as we develop the brand.” His focus, said Prell, is “always looking for a better fit and great fabrics.“ Colin joining will add a freshness and a new perspective.
Having McNair on board will free Prell to zero in on growth, including financing, though he said he will remain involved with design. Another thing he learned whilst in the venture capital world is the importance of “building the right team.” Last year, he brought in former Hugo Boss executive, Chuck Lucia, as president. The company now has 15 employees and did $5 million in sales last year, according to Prell. He expects to expand this in the next year or two.
By how much? He will only say, “Significantly.” Among the factors that could drive growth are putting a lens back on to e-commerce.
Sales grew steadily but slowly in the first few years, singularly online, and the Zachary Prell C-suite and warehouse were, well, his apartment. Brick and mortar now fuels sales and Prell said he’d like to open his first signature store in 2017 in New York. “More and more, it’s important to visually articulate the brand,” he said. Keeping some members of the creative team intact helps with continuity. He likes stylist Mitchell Belk’s aesthetic, and so has worked happily with him on the last two presentations.
“Candidly, we had a lot of rejection at the beginning stages,“ he said. Wholesale took off after Nordstrom broke the logjam, introducing the collection in one of its Dallas store. “They asked me to come down and give a product knowledge seminar. As an outsider then, I had no idea what that meant,” said Prell, laughing. “They said, ‘Zachary just tell your story.’”
“I was fulfilling orders out of my apartment, handling customer support questions, handwritten thank you notes,” he recalled. “All of the things we needed to do to create an environment for a unique customer experience. I will never forget and I will always appreciate that Nordstrom stepped up and believed in me and our vision and became our very first wholesale partner.”
The finance guy has been surprised by just how insatiable a fashion business can be, often gobbling up cash even as it expands. Moreover, he said, “I didn’t have an appreciation for the fast pace of fashion.” After liquidating his 401k, then taking out student loans, bringing in an angel investor, “That wasn’t enough,” said Prell. He partnered with TAL, a manufacturing company based in China, and raised $15 million in funding, which has surely paved the way for the current expansion.
His business now on a propitious footing, Prell’s making a change in his private life, too. He’s lived on the Lower East Side for eight years and this summer, will move to Nolita. “I’ll be able to walk to work,” said Prell, “which I’ve always wanted to do.” Sunday runs to the office ahead, no doubt?