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4/29/15

33. profile: brass


in the year since they introduced their first collection, brass has become one of our favorite destinations for classic, beautifully designed dresses. owners jay hallstein and katie doyle have established a loyal following for their flattering and versatile pieces. we recently visited their workspace to get a sneak peek at their gorgeous spring/summer line and to learn more about the kickstarter campaign they are using to launch it. 

read on to find out what drives and inspires these talented entrepreneurs:

how did the two of you meet and what inspired you to start a business together?
jay and i have been friends for over 15 years. we met our freshman year at lincoln-sudbury high school. we decided to go into business together because we always loved the quality and style of designer clothing - the pieces you find in neiman marcus - but couldn't stomach the price tags. we couldn't rationalize spending the equivalent of half our rent on a designer dress. we also disliked the alternative of disposable fast fashion. we decided to put our experience to work for us. with jay's background in design and apparel sourcing and my experience in e-commerce, we launched brass.

how would you describe your partnership? are pieces of the business divvied up, or is it more collaborative?
we divvy up responsibilities based on our experience; jay primarily handles dress design and production while i handle the website and marketing side of things. however, we're still very collaborative. since we're a small startup, we rely on each other to talk through project concepts, brainstorm ideas...all that good stuff.


what criteria did you use when choosing the factories that you partner with?
jay was working with apparel factories in china when she found our main factory in 2013. having worked in the industry, she recognized the talent of the factory immediately. they are producing for some of the world's top designers, so the attention to detail and quality is extremely high. the people running the factory are experts and true craftspeople. our main criteria in working with a factory is that we must visit in person. we would never work with a manufacturer that we had not personally visited and vetted ourselves. initially, this can be time consuming and expensive but it allows us to establish a relationship, view the conditions, and get a sense of the level of pride they take in their work. we view all of our factories as partners and relationships are key to designing and producing quality garments.

how do you see brass evolving over time?
we see brass growing and expanding to different product categories. we plan on offering accessories such as scarves and we are starting to develop some tops. we'd also like to explore more in-person events and pop-ups because women respond really well to the product when they can see, feel, and try on.



how important has crowdsourcing and social media been to brass' success?
social media has been incredibly important to our success thus far. we've used social media to connect with bloggers and other influencers. they've helped us promote dresses and spread the word about our brand. we've also used social media to talk to customers. for example, when we decided to make the sweater dress, we asked customers if they'd prefer to see it in charcoal or camel. charcoal won unanimously, so that's the color we went with. as for crowdsourcing, we've been bootstrapping the business on our own thus far. we decided for our spring/summer line we'd use kickstarter, so we are launching a campaign on april 28th.


we'd love to hear more about your kickstarter. what can we expect?
you've probably noticed the rising trend in ecommerce: the directo-to-consumer business model. bonobos, harry's and warby parker prove the power of cutting out the middleman. brass is our attempt at cutting out the middlewoman. we'll be promoting our spring/summer 2015 line - five new styles that include:

-the t-shirt dress
-the a-line dress
-the tunic dress
-the column dress
-the band dress

if we're successful and reach our stretch goals, we'll also produce a fan favorite - the shirt dress - in chambray.

what is the one piece from your line that you are most excited to wear this spring?
katie - i'm most excited about the band dress. the material feels like silk, but doesn't wrinkle. the silhouette is so flattering and easy to wear. you'll be able to throw it on and look like you spent hours getting ready.



jay - i'm most excited about the column dress. the color, bone, is really beautiful and easily paired with a jean jacket and sneakers or chunky wedges and a blazer. it is knit with silk and cotton, so there is a really subtle shine. the material is just gorgeous.



what is the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
it's really easy to make stuff you like. it's really difficult to make stuff lots of people like and want to buy. and you have to keep that in mind when you are designing and developing a new product. keep your customer in mind and put yourself in her shoes whenever you design, write, or photograph anything for the brand.



what is the best piece of creative advice you have to give?
go with your gut. instinct is everything when it comes to creativity. in starting brass, we've gone through countless brand messages and concepts, not trusting our first idea because we think there could be something better. we'll second guess ourselves, consult outsiders and seek advice. often, we come back to our original concept. we've learned that when something feels right, it probably is. and conversely, if it doesn't feel right, it's probably not.


please note the images above reflect the styles and fabrics of the spring/summer line. some colors may vary. please check the kickstarter for more information.


4/24/15

32. weekend to-do's


li:

  1. support indie cinema. the only drawback of the independent film festival of boston is having to choose between so many intriguing options. two films that i'm especially excited about this year: the tribe, set in a ukrainian boarding school, it's narrative is told purely through sign language and gtfo, a documentary examining the the treatment of women in an increasingly hostile video game culture.
  2. read up on the battle of versailleswritten by pulitzer prize-winning fashion critic robin givhan, this book explores the historical and cultural significance of the 1973 face-off between french and american designers.
  3. get fancy. this weekend marks my one-year wedding anniversary. to celebrate, we're splurging on an extra-posh dinner date. time to break out the fabulous diane von furstenberg dress i snagged off of the real real.
liz:

  1. pre-concert cocktails. there are loads of great shows this weekend in boston so to prep for all the fine music, i am going to stop in to viale in central square. i've been there for brunch and if their breakfast cocktails are any indication of the rest of their drink offerings, i am in serious trouble. so delicious!
  2. music night #1: the 36th annual boston rock 'n' roll rumble is happening now. tonight is the last night of the semi-finals and i'll be going to cheer on one of my favorite bands in the competition, eternals. they're working on an album right now and i can't wait to get my hands on it.
  3. music night #2: ben folds at the sinclair. to me, there is nothing better than seeing a big name musician playing a smaller sized venue. ben folds' latest album, recorded over a two week period of time, is a collaboration with ymusic. known for bringing classical and pop music together, these folks have worked with artists such as jose gonzalez, my brightest diamond, and the dirty projectors. i'm looking forward to seeing the creative nature of this album performed live on one of my favorite stages in boston.



4/21/15

31. pet-nats




we are so happy to welcome back our food and wine contributor, kimberly scott. this month, kimberly introduces us to some of her favorite sparkling wines for spring:


spring is springing and along with it i wanted to add a little spring to your glass with a profile of some pet-nats. this stands for petillant naturel, a french term meaning naturally sparkling wine.

pet-nats are sparkling wines without intervention. the bubbles are created in the bottle by the natural fermentation process of yeasts feeding on the sugars in the wine (both of which occur naturally in the grapes, hence 'naturel').

this is where pet-nats differ from their far more famous cousins, the wines of champagne. champagnes are made with a process known as methode traditionelle. they undergo two fermentations: a quick way to describe it is first they make the wine (1st fermentation), and then they open up the bottles and put in the magic dosage, a solution of extra sugar and wine. the yeasts eat the sugar, get excited, and make a ton of bubbles inside the bottle (2nd fermentation).

as a result of just having that single fermentation, pet-nats have a texture that is different from methode traditionelle wines. definitely sparkling, lively, and a lot of fun, they have a pleasantly softer edge.

here are three pet-nat gems i've found that i think you'll enjoy:

denny bini levante 90 malvasia dell'emilia frizzante - emilia romagna, italy - malvasia

light and golden, it embodies the gentle sparkling texture of pet-nats. apricots, orange oil, and lean pears, with a background of mulling spices. drink it on its own or enjoy with your favorite chevre; hail formaggio kitchen for one of Tricia Smith's perfect gems from ruggles hill creamery. a truly charming wine, with an understated elegance to be reflected on if you're in the mood. it's too bad there isn't much of it made, but perhaps that's part of it's secret.

podere il saliceto "bi fri" - emiligia romagna, italy - sauvignon blanc, trebbiano

honeycrisp apples macerated in lemon, cold slate, and sea salt. mouth-watering with a refreshingly sharp edge, it would make easy friends with sushi or fried oysters. gianpaolo isabella, along with his brother, tends to this tiny estate nestled in the village of campogalliano. gianpaolo is not only a great winemaker, he is a muy thai champion, further illustrating the many walks in life from which people can arrive at wine.

oyster river winegrowers, morphos - warren maine - seyval blanc and cayuga
the fact that this wine does not include actual lemons is baffling. this is the adult version of all-natural sparkling lemonade, but infinitely more complex with a happy chorus of white blossoms in the background. alive, perfectly balanced and refreshing, the only thing that's missing is that it doesn't come with a pair of sunglasses and a beach. pair with a good friend, a ray of sunshine, or maybe just a sandwich. i'd be interested to see what happens as this wine evolves with a little time in the cellar. it's wonderful to see a maine wine producer working on climate-appropriate wine: cool temperatures can lend themselves to sparkling wine. these folks are charming wine makers who not only farm with their horse, but run a horse-driven delivery service in the winter to supplement their income.

if you'd like to grab a bottle of any of these, please call on the good people at the wine bottega. but i warn you, once you start you can't stop. it's a wonderland of wine with a staff of friendly helpful people who can geek out with experts or usher a novice to delicious new finds.

here's hoping you find a little bit of sunshine in your glass, even if there isn't quite any on your shoulders. it's coming, even if it seems to be taking its sweet time of it this year in boston.

-kimberly


4/17/15

30. weekend to-do's



li:

  1. stock up on spring gardening gear. it's finally warm enough to spend time on my deck and i can't wait to fill it with plants. luckily, liz and i will be heading to forge baking company for the boston general store pop-up. i have it on good authority that they will have all the plants and beautiful gardening supplies i need to get started.
  2. observe a work of art in motion. multimedia artist miwa matreyek will be at the ica to perform both friday and saturday evenings. matreyek combines video installation, animation and shadow performance for a stunning, one of a kind experience.
  3. celebrate record store day. i am excited to support my local independent record stores and take advantage of some of the exclusive vinyl selections being released specifically for the occasion. a heart-shaped, acoustic father john misty single? lydia loveless covering prince? a j dilla track that's been out of print for over a decade? - all of these things, yes please.

liz:

  1. clean up my act. now that it is nice enough to open the windows, i plan on getting a major spring cleaning in. going to pick up supplies at the boston general store pop-up at forge bakery on saturday. they've also teamed up with luna moss who will be bringing some beautiful bouquets as well. i might be buying an arrangement for each and every one of my newly cleaned rooms!
  2. get up and get out. i'm pup sitting for two rather cute dachshunds this weekend so a little hike is definitely in order. there are some excellent trails in the fellsway reservation that are calling my name.
  3. eat at earl's. my guy and i have been meaning to take his family out for dinner and now that the weather is cooperating, we're going to take full advantage of the patio at earl's kitchen in assembly row. there's something for everyone on the menu and the oven roasted moroccan salmon is calling my name.

4/14/15

29. profile: boston general store


we've been big fans of boston general store for some time now. we love their philosophy of stocking well-made items that can be cared for to last for generations. by building strong relationships with talented artisans, they are able to offer products that are not only useful, but tell a great story.

we had the pleasure of meeting owner april gabriel for coffee and a tour of her beautiful and historic workspace. greeting us were april, olive (her adorable labradoodle) and walls of the impeccably curated goods that we've come to expect from boston general store's website and pop-ups. we discussed the inspiration that lead april to opening the store and even got a peak at some of her favorite items for spring:



your home/studio is over 250 years old. we'd love to hear more about its history.
i moved from texas around 5 years ago and lived in this tiny condo in south boston. if i wanted to start my own business from home, i really had to get out of the city so i could get some space. dedham was completely off the radar and we just happened across it one day driving. i was trained as an architect so architectural history is really important to me. what's more historic than a 250 year old home? i mean, the british built my home. crazy to think about. half the house was originally a tin shop and 40 or so years after the tin shop was built, they picked up and moved an old tavern from across the street and joined it with the shop. so now you can see two distinct building types in my home, not to mention seven fireplaces and the tavern's original cooking fireplace. back in the day, they always built ceilings really low in order to keep heat in (among other things) but since they were both commercial buildings, they are much taller than normal. we started to do some work in the basement and found a secret passage area behind a fireplace. we are unearthing all kinds of items throughout history, such as cans, jars, etc. it's definitely fitting for a general store to take home in this house.

do you have a favorite or most inspirational place?
there is a place close to great barrington, ma (more specifically, egremont, ma) where i spent summers with my nanna as a child. down the street from her house is a river where we used to walk, have picnics and talk for hours. i would make her wade to an island in the middle of the river and we would just lay there and watch the water flow by and the trees whisper in the wind. there was an old condemned bridge that they blocked off so there was absolutely no traffic; just her, me and nature. they've since fixed the bridge, but that place was always a location for big dreams and some serious thinking. whenever i go back i still get that feeling...there is really nothing like it.

what inspired you to start your own business?
you can probably guess from the last question, but it was my nanna. her and her husband opened a laundromat in great barrington back in the day and they worked their butts off to make a life for themselves. they lived simply but were able to build their dream home and send their daughter to college (not to mention sending their two grandchildren to college). she understood the value of a hard-earned dollar, which meant she was selective in what she bought. in my whole life, i never saw her buy anything for her home and that's because she bought products when she was young that lasted a lifetime. she never bought into the next new thing or fancy gadget. she bought what was tried and true and took care of those items.

most memories of my summers revolved around being out in nature and in the kitchen. i can still remember the bowls she used to mix delicious molasses cookies, and to this day they are still used in my mom's house and i imagine they will be used in my house too. i strive to find products that my nanna would have loved and used. no gimmicks or fluff...just really well-made products that have an essential function.




what criteria do you use when curating the products you carry?
i have a series of questions i ask myself when looking for new products:

-how is this product made? is it made with care and responsibly? do the makers really put their heart into it?
-is this product functional/useful? is it well-designed (including packaging)?
-does this product have value? is it priced correctly? (this is a hard question because everyone puts a different value on different items.)
-do i like working with the vendor? are they responsive and reachable? part of what i love about my job is that i get to meet really talented people chasing after their dreams. being able to talk with them is essential for what i do. it let's me convey their hard work and dedication to the customers, so people can feel like they are supporting and becoming part of something really important.
-i have to test the products. do i love using it?
-would nanna love using this product?

those are the main things i look for. it's never an exact science and always trial and error.



do you have the opportunity to visit some of the artisans behind the products you stock? is having a collaborative relationship with them important?
it is 100% essential and one of my favorite parts of the business. whenever i get a chance, i visit with my artisans and i try to post photos and interviews i have with them for customers to read. we are their connection to what customers think of their product and what they are looking for. if we can all work together, then they can produce a product that is really welcomed by the public. design is always a work in progress and every artisan i know is always tweaking their craft, so getting feedback is really helpful.

what is your dream collaboration?
i've thought about this a lot since we are working towards a brick and mortar as we speak. there is a company out in portland, oregon called beam & anchor. they own a warehouse that has a retail shop on the ground floor and artisan workshops above. the store allows for the artisans to have a working area and a display area close by. plus, walking into the space you just feel the creative juices flowing. i love it there! i want to create something similar here and add a coffee shop - because coffee makes everything better :)




what is the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
i spent 5 years in a design school, so it's hard to pick just one piece of advice - i was bombarded with them, lol. i would say don't expect your first attempt to be perfect. just get something out there and work on it and adjust it. all the most creative people don't just pop out perfect work their first try. they are always working and molding to get it where they want it. boston general store started with around 10 products, and most of those i don't sell anymore. it's always a work in progress, but it's the process that you gotta love.

what is the best piece of creative advice you have to give?
i will give you two...the above advice that was given to me, and don't let negativity get you down. it is essential to not wear your heart on your sleeve. not everyone is going to be a fan, but as long as you're doing what you love and you're doing the best you can...then really, what else can you do?


while boston general store is currently scouting the perfect location for a brick and mortar shop, there will be plenty of opportunities to meet april and view the products in person this spring. their successful series of pop-ups with forge baking company continues over the next two weekends and they will have a weekly residency at the sowa open market starting may 3rd. you can also head to their website to purchase the items photographed for this story (and much more!).







4/10/15

28. weekend to-do's




li:

  1. break out my colored pencils. i recently purchased secret garden, the beautiful and intricately drawn coloring book by johanna basford. coloring has been shown to boost creativity and reduce stress - i should never have stopped after grammar school. now, to see if i can still stay in the lines...
  2. revisit an old favorite. the recently opened kitchen at club passim gives us yet another reason to catch a show at this legendary harvard square venue.
  3. update my playlists. we'll be on the road quite a bit this weekend and great driving tunes are a must. i plan on putting our april playlist on heavy rotation as well as waxahatchee's new album ivy tripp - beyond that, suggestions would be most appreciated!

liz:

  1. get my podcast on. after blasting through serial and invisibilia, i have been on the hunt for a new podcast to fill my morning and evening commute. since i have seem to have a penchant for crime, drama + mystery, it seems fitting to start criminal. each episode is only 18 mins so it makes it easy to devour multiple episodes in one sitting- which i plan on doing.
  2. explore coachella virtually. the good people of refinery29 have put together a playlist featuring their favorite artists at this year's festival. i'm going to throw this playlist on, roll the window down and pretend spring has actually come to boston.
  3. get caffeinated. i am excited to be out and about this weekend on location for a few photo shoots, but that means coffee is going to be a definite necessity. i am loving the pour over coffee at clover food lab and can't wait to grab one at the on the go.

4/7/15

27. april playlist


we're honored to have this month's playlist curated by the talented and wonderful kristen drymala. kristen is a classically trained cellist who plays with the bands quarterly and gem club. she is also an educator and maintains a private studio with students of all ages. we are so excited about this playlist, but will leave it to kristen to tell you more:

"i've been playing the cello for over 20 years - it is my voice. its natural darkness has nurtured my penchant for the somber and dramatic. many of the featured artists reflect this quality, whether vocally or instrumentally. of course, this playlist also has it's share of lightness, and although the cello is not present, it's tonal influence is a pervasive and unifying force."

-kristen





4/3/15

26. weekend to-do's



li:

  1. take a tasting tour of cambridge. this article has me excited to visit some of the amazing gourmet food purveyors right in my backyard.
  2. virtually explore the isabella stewart gardener museum. in 1990, thirteen works of art were famously stolen from their collection. they've teamed up with the google art project to take us inside the museum to view the missing pieces and learn more about how they were acquired. 
  3. celebrate the warming temperatures by switching my daily coffee to a far more refreshing iced version. i love my hario cold brew coffee pot - simply steep your favorite ground coffee in cold water overnight, wake up to the smoothest cold brew you've ever had!
  4. enjoy some performance art and craft beers at calamity #9. aeronaut brewery will be hosting saturday's variety extravaganza of dance, music, comedy and more.

liz:

  1. write a few love letters. april is national card and letter writing month so i am going to start april off right by celebrating the art of letter writing + send a few of my favorite people a note. one of my favorite places to get cards is from the hipster housewife. check her out!
  2. grab crepes with my partner in crime. we the ladies of catalogue are having a little planning meeting this weekend and what better way to work on creative endeavors than over a delicious jam + cheese filled crepe.
  3. get my salad on. as my contribution to easter sunday dinner, i am whipping up a tuscan kale salad with shaved parmesan cheese. it's very simple to make but packs a lot of flavor and is always a hit at family gatherings.