No matter if it’s a job interview, pitching event or information session, nothing quite screams uncomfortable like wearing “business professional” attire for juniors Jessica Kaplan and Zoe Antell.
While they were first-years in the Delta Sigma Pi (DSP) business fraternity, they were haunted by the cries of itchy fabric and empty wallets of every pantsuit-sporting woman. With the help of $2000 in grants from the Owen School of Management and $2300 from the Wond’ry, the duo launched “ready dress go” in hopes of bringing the comfort and fashion of business attire to young women across the country.
After pledging into DSP their freshman year, Kaplan and Antell were bombarded with networking events, information sessions and a variety of business functions that required them to dress professionally. They found a common bond in their distaste for the business attire they had to wear.
“We complained about the lack of options for young women who are going to their first interviews or jobs like ours,” Kaplan said. “On one of these conversations, on our walk back to Commons one day, Zoe turned and looked to me and said ‘why don’t we do something about this?'”
Before jumping into a business, Kaplan and Antell embarked on their customer discovery process to see if other women also experienced similar struggles. After interviewing more than 30 different women about their experience shopping for and wearing women’s business apparel, they said it was clear the issue wasn’t just a personal problem.
“I knew that is something I would want, and this is something Jess would want, and this is something two or three other people would want. But then it goes from that to—we’ve interviewed a number of people, and they all have these underlying problems, so there’s obviously a gap in the market,” Antell said. “It isn’t just an annoyance, this is something that actually has a problem that can be solved, and here we are to do it.”
Although the issue now presented itself clearly, the answer to the call for better attire remained cloudy. At first, Kaplan and Antell played around with the idea of a blog, where they would review and post their favorite pieces from different vendors. Their idea then evolved into the possibility of becoming a marketplace vendor, where they would buy their favorite pieces at wholesale and sell at retail online. This was easier said than done, they said.
“Turns out, it doesn’t really work when the clothes you’re looking for don’t exist,” Antell said. “That’s where this started. This isn’t there. If it were, people wouldn’t be having this problem. We had to find a way to create this out of nothing.”
A new set of challenges presented themselves in their decision to launch their own company. With limited experience in the fashion industry, they realized they needed to consult people who could meet the needs of their company in areas where they couldn’t themselves. Hiring an external freelance designer to make patterns and sample designs enabled them to begin their process of product testing faster than they would have been able to alone, they said.
According to Kaplan, understanding the limits of their own capabilities has played a critical role in overcoming the challenges of starting a business from scratch.
“I think we both have the skill of knowing when neither of our skill sets can meet the need of what we’re trying to achieve,” Kaplan said. “I’m really confident in our ability to reach out and ask questions when we don’t know what to do ourselves.”
After a year and a half of product testing from their Vanderbilt dorm rooms, Kaplan and Antell reached the home stretch of launching their first pieces. Their capsule collection, consisting of pants, a shirt and a blazer, are set to be released in Spring 2021.
“We’re really excited to get these clothes in the hands of women and seeing them feel confident In their first interview or job or attending a networking event,” Kaplan said.
Purchasing a “ready dress go” item does not only provide customers with new attire, but it gives them a community. Upon making a purchase, customers will receive a link to “Join the Boardroom.” Joining the Boardroom gives customers access to a monthly newsletter, exclusive promotions and a community of like-minded women entering the workplace. Kaplan and Antell plan to launch their “Join the Boardroom” campaign along with the capsule collection.
In preparation for the launch, Kaplan and Antell have already begun building a network of women ready to take on the business world in the fashionable and affordable attire of ready dress go.
“It’s so rewarding when we reach out to someone and they say ‘there is nothing I would love more than to be involved,’” Antell said. “This is so rewarding because they know what we’re about; they agree with us, and they want to be a part of it.”
In the future, Kaplan and Antell hope to expand the online community to an in-person community, where “Join the Boardroom” members will have access to exclusive speaker series and events on college campuses.
“We don’t just want to hand women clothes and wish them good luck. We want to be a part of this journey alongside women,” Kaplan said. “We’re really excited to open up this community and see how women can join together and share experiences.”