Darrah Christel | CEO at LOHO | Changing the way you feel in tights.
I first met Darrah the way a lot of people meet these days: On Instagram. We randomly connected and started an immediate connection as entrepreneurs trying to shake up the fashion industry in the Seattle area. We got coffee one day and that was that. Now, more than a year later I’m proud to say this lady is one of my good friend’s and has inspired by on the daily to be bold, dig deep and never take “No” for an answer. So here we go: WHH and LOHO.
Poppyseed: Thanks for chatting with us today Darrah! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand LOHO?
Darrah Christel: I like to say I'm a copywriter by trade, designer by motive. I had this idea to make tights more comfortable, more beautiful, and more loving to our bodies, and I felt a strange calling to create them myself. I say strange because I'm not a designer. I have a lengthy history writing in fashion, but I would never call myself a designer. I will say, however, I'm a natural-born problem solver and innovator. My parents used to call me a walking infomercial. So wanting to fix something I dreaded was definitely in my nature.
PS: A lot of people have an “Ah-ah!” moment with how they first came up with their idea for a new product. Can you share what yours was?
DC: Haha, I get so embarrassed every time I tell this story. I was writing product copy for Zulily at the time, and this line of tights came across my desk. I pulled them out of the packaging, tried them on, and I was having a hard time coming up with anything nice to say about them. They dug in, created an extra set of rolls, looked like I just shoved my whole body into a sausage casing, they were just ew. And my co-worker said, "Try cutting the sides of the elastic, that will loosen them up a bit." So I went home, cut the sides, and it literally did nothing. That's when I thought, why don't I just cut the entire elastic waistband off? And my friend who was getting ready to go out with me said, "Darrah, that's crazy. Your tights are going to be falling down all night." I insisted they wouldn't because they had a shaper short in them, but sure enough, after a night of dancing, they were relentless. I stormed into the bathroom after two hours of pulling them up, and was going to rip them off, but as I was taking them off, I had a genius drunk idea. I was going to put my underwear on the outside of them to keep the crotch from falling down. And that's when it hit me. Why don't tights have a lace waistband like my underwear? And I, unlike most, actually followed through with this drunk idea, haha!
PS: You know what, I love it. It's such an honesty and real story, and the world needs more of those! So, how did you transition from working 9-5 to full time entrepreneurship?
DC: Gosh, I don't even want to say I'm fully transitioned. Things still come up in my business where I have to take on freelance copywriting work to pay for them. Like buying a house, starting a business has so many unforeseen costs. I'm sure you've experienced that as well. And LOHO doesn't have a whole lot of brand recognition yet, so until I can get women everywhere to know there's a more comfortable, beautiful option of hosiery out there, I'm gonna have to hustle on the side a little to pay my bills. There's no privileged life here, I came from a lower-middle class family, was the first to go to college, had to pay for that myself, and still have to work to pay for everything myself. But I'm grateful for that. I take pride in what I've been able to achieve on my own. But to answer your question about taking that initial step away from a corporate 9-5, it's 100% a mindset shift. You just decide, and you hustle to make the alternative a reality for yourself. A lot of people get stuck. Stuck in their mindset. Stuck in life. Stuck in bad habits. Bad relationships. And they don't realize we all have choices. Wealthy or poor. You have a choice to stay stuck, or not.
PS: Love that! Fact: LOHO is breaking new ground in the hosiery world. Tell us a little bit about the challenges you’ve faced from people in the industry.
DC: It's been fascinating coming in with literally zero design knowledge, and learning all I have. Finding manufacturers was probably the hardest part for me. I don’t know if you’ve seen The True Cost on Netflix, but they discovered only 3% of the clothes we wear are actually made in the U.S. And if you think about that, that means there are very few manufacturers left in the states. They’re all going out of business because the fact is, tights especially, are cheaper to make in China. And I hate to admit this, but I explored manufacturing in China because I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of money to start. But when I talked to them on Skype, none of them were willing to show me the conditions of their facilities, and that made me extremely uncomfortable. So I decided to look in the U.S., even if that meant fewer options and higher production costs.
When I first started calling around, nobody wanted to call me back. And I couldn’t find email addresses to save my life. Trust me, I would have rather emailed than called. I’m a millennial. I hate calling people. But I finally got a hold of a hosiery mill that was willing to work with me. I tried to get them to sign an NDA because my patent was still pending, but they ignored all attempts to get them to sign. I let it go, just to keep things moving forward, because they were the only hosiery mill willing to work with me at the time. Six months into iterating and developing (we were literally changing the process in which tights were made, and how the waistband was affixed), they send me an email saying they were going to have to send back my samples and couldn’t work with me anymore. It literally came out of the blue. And when I asked why, they told me they were working with someone else making too similar a product. I reminded them I had a patent pending on the design, and they assured me it wasn’t that similar. But come to find out, they sold my design and the process we had just been working on for six months to someone else. I couldn’t have been more pissed off, frustrated, and discouraged—but I put my feelings aside, and went through the motions of sending a cease and desist. And trust me, I don’t like taking legal action. As a new business owner, legal fees will bleed you dry. And there’s no guarantee anything will be done about it. People knock off designs all the time, and somehow get away with it. And when all that happened, I thought, you know, this must be a sign from God that I’m not supposed to make these tights.
But when you’re in doubt, that’s where your tribe really shines. I remember telling my mom I didn’t want to have to go back to cold calling hosiery mills, because nobody wanted to work with me. And she insisted on calling on my behalf. I let her do it, because I figured she wouldn’t have much luck. But literally an hour after I gave her a few numbers, she had the owner of CC Hosiery on the phone.
George and Serge, the owners of CC Hosiery, helped me make this first production a reality, and I'm forever grateful for them taking a big risk on me as a small, no-name brand. I knocked on every hosiery mill's door in North Carolina, and nobody else would take that same risk. But because of how much business they’re losing to overseas suppliers, they couldn’t afford to give me lower order minimums. They held me to their big retailer’s order minimums, which is why I had to take pre-orders to help fund the first production. It's a huge expense to produce just one style in the size range we're offering, so I really do appreciate everyone's patience with the fashion styles coming later.
PS: That's insane! I think the intentional hustle is where it's all about. What advice do you have for those seeking to change the industry they are in?
DC: The best advice I can give is to be resilient. It will be an uphill battle no matter what industry you're in. People will try to use big words and make you feel like you don't know what you're talking about. You will be told no. You will be told your idea is impossible. You will face many challenges, both financial and emotional. But if you're a resilient person, and have weathered storms before, knowing this one will not kill you, I can almost guarantee you will be successful.
PS: Amen! I absolutely LOVE how body positive LOHO’s core is. Elaborate a bit on how you feel about women embracing their curves.
DC: I realized the reason I didn't like traditional tights was because the way they made me feel about my body. I paid more attention to the area where the waistband dug in. And I thought, something must be wrong with me. But nothing was wrong with me. I needed to shift my perspective from me being the problem, to the hosiery industry being the problem. The hosiery industry wasn't thinking about me. And they most definitely weren't thinking like me. The entire hosiery industry is still focused on slimming and shaping. But here's the thing. When you find a pair of tights that aren't designed to suck you in, and instead meet your body where it's at, something crazy happens: you start to love your curves. Why? Because you feel comfortable having them! And that's the problem. The entire clothing industry didn't care for a long time how you felt in your clothes, so it created a lot of deep-rooted insecurities in women. But now that athleisurewear is trending and women are living in leggings, you notice women are literally running the world? I don't think that's a coincidence. Comfort is confidence, 100%. Men have known that this whole time.
PS: Watch Her Hustle is all about empowering women through community and inspiring stories like yours. What woman in your life has empowered you the most?
DC: This might be cliche, but the woman who's empowered me the most is probably my mom. But the reason why is probably more unorthodox. She's challenged me in ways most parents probably don't challenge their kids, and because of that, I have an incredibly resilient personality, which has served me well. Anytime I hurt myself when I was little, whether I fell off my bike, or scraped my knee, she'd say, "You'll live." I learned how to swim by her throwing me in the pool. And those two examples kinda sum up her parenting style. Jump in, and see how it goes. And it's that kind of parenting that taught me I will live, and I'm capable of more than I think. It's funny, my mom is my biggest fan, is actually incredibly loving and affectionate, and helps immensely with LOHO. Her tough-love parenting could have been a result of an earlier substance abuse problem, but she's clean and sober now. And I have to say, I'm incredibly proud of her taking charge of her life (in her 50's no less) to reinvent herself as a woman, mother, and partner.
PS: Finally, what is your favorite part about owning your own business?
DC: Hands down, being my own boss. Which is why you won't see me with a board of investors, trying to raise capital. I'm enjoying this moment right now.
PS: And you should! Thanks so much for chatting, babe. I can't wait to get my pair of LOHO tights and rock these innovative, Made In America beauties. Want your own pair of tights that are shattering the standards? Grab a pair here, and be sure to follow LOHO on Instagram, Twitter, FB and Pinterest.
Have a great weekend, babes. Until next time. XO Rebekah #WatchHerHustleWithPoppyseed