I found Frances de Lourdes T-shirts on Instagram, fell in love with their simplicity and style, thought a cashmere/silk blend sounded like heaven and decided go ahead and spend the $200 to try one. (In fact, I did a brief post on them in the Spring.) Beyond #worthit is all I have to say. I’m not even sure if I would classify them as T-shirts–in theory they are, but they are also the most pulled-together, luxurious feeling, slightly sheer so also sexy, tee I’ve ever encountered. Under every blazer and sweater I wear this fall will be a Frances de Lourdes tee base. Then I got to meet the designer Alejandra Echeverria who spent years in the industry working for the Gap and Elizabeth and James (the younger sister collection to Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s The Row). Alejandra’s eye is so finely attuned that the proportions are all just so, plus she has managed to make something so basic, so lust-worthy. Here she shares how Agnes b. influenced her, a sign she had made it (something to do with Lauren Hutton), and why being stubborn pays off.
Tell us a little about who you are and what you do: I’m married. I’ve been with my husband a very long time and we have a young daughter. I’m a New Yorker, but I would say I have a very international outlook. My mother’s Canadian, my father’s from Chile, though he moved around a lot his whole life. But they both worked in the arts and I’ve always been surrounded by a lot of artists and creatives. So it made sense that I sort of ended up working in the arts as well and in design. I run a business, and we make amazing T-shirts and hopefully I inspire people along the way a bit.
What made you decide to launch a line of T-shirts? I was looking to replace some old T-shirts, and I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I decided to make it. This was combined with me getting further into my 30s and wanting to feel a bit more put together, wanting something that was special and felt more luxurious. As I made them, I realized that it was something others wanted as well, so it seemed like a good idea to make it into a business.
What has been your career path and and how did it lead to where you are now? I knew I wanted to design clothes from a young age and I basically started working in the fashion industry as soon as I could. One of my first jobs was working at the Agnes b. store in Soho on Prince Street in the late 90s.
That was such a good store.
I loved it. And it’s funny, because I realize now what a big impact it had. It’s great to have worked in retail. The women who shopped there, the kind of store it was, and the kind of business that they had was very influential for me. I also studied fashion design at Parsons, and then I worked as a designer for over a decade at various companies, including several years at the Gap. I worked with denim quite a bit, and I think that influenced my personal style and my love of T-shirts, because they often go hand in hand. I became a jeans and T-shirt kind of woman.
Also Agnes b. and Gap make very classic styles. I still have pieces from Agnes b. that I wear. That sort of classicism had an influence on what I’m currently doing.
What makes a perfect T-shirt? It’s a combination of fabric and cut. Ultimately, I think it can change how you feel when you put it on, which I would say that’s true of any great clothes. It can give you confidence or comfort or make you feel cool. I think what makes a perfect tee can change at different stages in life. But one thing I think is versatility is always important.
What makes your T-shirts different from others? I hope when women wear our tees that they feel at ease and relaxed, but still refined and sensual and special.
The fabrics you use are really luxurious. We spend a lot of time searching for and tweaking our fabrics with our mills we work with in Italy. And it’s definitely what gives our tees a sense of luxury and sets them apart. I talk about sensuality a lot, and the way something makes you feel when you put it on and the way it feels when you touch it. That sort or sensation, essentially, is important and something that women really appreciate.
It’s true. When you touch something or put something on that feels really good, you’re like, “Ooooh.” It’s an emotional reaction. Definitely. And women have said that to me that it changes their mood when they put a T-shirt on, because it feels so nice.
Who is the Frances de Lourdes customer? Do you have somebody in mind? I often start off designing things that I want. In general, they’re not clothes that scream for attention, it’s more about creating something special for the person wearing it, and maybe those close to them. It’s a quiet kind of luxury, and I think this tends to attract women in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. I think she’s more self-assured, she dresses more for herself, she’s more willing to invest in these essential pieces. So I think that’s definitely part of it, and finding that our customer is a bit older than me, which I think is very exciting.
The other thing, I think our customer’s style is more urban. Whether or not she lives in a city now, I think she maybe did at some point in her life, and it definitely influenced the way she puts herself together. It makes sense, because I think New York and Parisian style have influenced a lot of the styles and the cuts.
What came easiest for you when you started this business? Designing. That’s my background. It makes sense that I would come up with pieces I wanted and that I felt were missing, that were the foundation to my wardrobe and getting dressed.
What was the hardest thing in the beginning? Or something that surprised you? One of the things that was difficult at the beginning was just starting and putting it out there. I wanted everything to be perfect before I showed it or launched it. Now, I see it more as a process. Of course I want it to be perfect when it reaches the customer, and we’re constantly making improvements as we get feedback or learn of ways to improve the quality or things we can change to be more sustainable. But I definitely see it more as a process.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: Self assurance and determination. I’m very determined slash stubborn sometimes. And I get super stubborn.
Me, too–so so stubborn.
But in a lot of ways when you’re starting a business that can be a great thing, because it helps you stay on your path and not take no for an answer. Believe in yourself.
Three words that describe Frances de Lourdes: Classic, easy, and sensual. Maybe refined, if we had a fourth word.
Three words that describe you: Honest, caring, committed, determined, confident.
Role models: Right now it’s women who are running successful businesses, because that’s what I’m trying to do. My mother’s always been a role model. She’s very hard working and determined as well.
Best career advice you’ve received or would share with others: Treat people well and recognize the things you’re not good at. One thing that I found is important is building a network of smart people whom I can reach out to for advice. I didn’t realize how important this would be, but it’s been very helpful when I do run into an issue, to have people to turn to and call and say, “Hey, have you dealt with this before? And what should I do?” I try to pay it forward whenever I can as well.
To date, what do you think has been your biggest success? Getting picked up by MatchesFashion for our first season of wholesale was really exciting. Natalie Kingham, the buying director, just immediately got what I was doing and believed in it, so that was a really nice validation.
Also, another thing, which, I don’t know if I would say it’s our biggest success, but a big highlight and something that has meant a lot to me personally was I received a handwritten letter from Lauren Hutton, telling me how much she likes our tees.
Very cool. I would be excited.
She’s always been a big inspiration to me, so that was a really good day. If it all falls apart tomorrow, at least I’ve got this, right?
What has been your biggest dud, or something that went wrong and what did you learn from it? We’re still a really young company, so I don’t think I’ve had it yet. I’ve certainly had things that didn’t go well or were disappointing and didn’t go how I wanted, but just being able to identify the problem quickly and fix it, or call attention to it and keep things moving. I try to give myself a moment to be upset about it, sort it out, but then really you have to keep going forward.
What motivates you? I’ve always been very driven and self motivated. Certainly with the big picture, I’m very driven. On a daily basis, though, I’m a bit of a procrastinator. So I like to set deadlines and goals even if it’s just for myself.
How hard would you say you work, and how do you keep focused? It’s nonstop. Your own business is a 24/7 job. But I love what I do, so that helps. And it doesn’t always feel like work; it kind of depends what’s going on. In terms of focusing, I have a young daughter, and so wanting to spend time with her certainly helps me to stay focused during the workday and get home. I’ve also become better at recognizing things that really need to get done and things that don’t.
I have a good support system and a husband who’s very involved in raising our daughter. He’s very supportive of my business, and we have family nearby, so it’s nice when I can’t be available to have that support system to be able to focus on other things.
What’s next? We’re still very young, so continuing to tell our story and reach more ladies. We’re looking to do pop ups and trunk shows in different cities to meet new customers. Over time, I think we’ll slowly expand into other items as it makes sense and where we feel we can offer something fresh. But, continuing to focus on tees and pieces that work back to that lifestyle.
Life goals: In general enjoying life and loving what I spend my time doing and raising a happy, well-adjusted human. I also never want to stop learning. When I think about people, especially as they get older, I think the ones who stay curious are the most interesting and seem to be live a fuller life.
Daily goals: A good work/life balance, which is not so easy. If I get to exercise or see friends as well, it’s a good day. And getting a good night’s sleep, I love sleep.
Daily rituals: Caffeine and moisturizer. Coffee and tea, I sort of switch seasonally between the two. And I’m really into beauty and wellness products. Mostly I like the ritual, so it’s a constantly adjusting ritual. Right now my two favorite things are the Dr. Barbara Sturm Skin Food Capsules and Lesse face oil. They’re both amazing.
Favorite motivational/inspirational read: I have a young daughter, so it’s hard to get a lot of reading done. Mostly I read the news and the New Yorker, those kinds of things. It’s not very inspirational at the moment, but I guess motivational, to fight for the things we believe in.
Favorite sites or people that you follow: I can spend hours on 1stdibs. I follow a lot of creative women: Nana Ya Asare Boadu, her handle is lalanana7. She’s a performance artist and I think she’s wonderful. Laila Gohar of @lailacooks is another one that I really like and this Russian artist, Alice Hualice. I think Tracee Ellis Ross is probably one of my favorite people to follow.
I follow a lot of interior designers and galleries, because I like to know what’s going on. Doing Well is another favorite that I always recommend; it’s self care in bite sized recommendations so it feels achievable.
How do you unplug? Spending time with my daughter and husband, friends, or exercise, a good glass of wine.
Hidden talents/hobbies: I wouldn’t call it a talent, but certainly a hobby is rearranging and redecorating our apartment.
Favorite charity: Nowadays, definitely it feels really important to support so many of them. I think Planned Parenthood and ACLU and Everytown are some of the big ones. There’s a smaller organization called South Bronx United our family has been supporting for years. They’re amazing. They’re a small organization and they attract kids through their soccer program, and then offer tutoring, mentoring and scholarships. And another one, it’s not a charity, but I think the New York Garment Manufacturing Industry, I’m very passionate about supporting this, because it’s something that we use. As a native New Yorker and someone who works in the industry, it’s very dear to me. And as a designer, it’s wonderful to interact with the people making our clothes. It might cost a bit more to make things in New York, but it’s better and a more sustainable way to live.
Do you collect anything? T-shirts. I used to collect vintage T-shirts, which I still have a lot of. And now that I’m designing them I keep them as reference. I try to edit often, but T -shirts in particular are hard for me to part with.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: I try not to regret any splurges, but I think usually my vacations with the family.
Favorite small indulgence: Fresh cut flowers, peonies are my favorite, and a glass of wine at the end of the day.
An album currently on repeat: The Moana soundtrack. It’s really good, but I’ve definitely heard too much of it. I’m constantly singing it now, and it’s not by choice.
Scent that brings back memories: I think probably the strongest association I have is with eucalyptus. When I was young and my family was living in Bogota, Columbia, our apartment was surrounded by eucalyptus trees. When it would rain, which was often, the whole place would smell of eucalyptus, which is wonderful.
Favorite hour of the day: I absolutely love New York when the sun is setting, especially I would say between May and October. It’s magical, and everything slows down and you can feel the evening starting to buzz. But I don’t really get to enjoy it that much right now, because it coincides with my daughter’s bedtime. But anytime I get to snuggle with her, hear about her day or what she’s thinking, is the best.
Follow Frances de Lourdes: Instagram.