After the last few months, it can be hard to imagine a wardrobe filled with anything but soft, plushy things right now. But the case has been made for dressing up even when you have nowhere to go, so as we reacquaint ourselves with the other, non-sweat categories of apparel, the new L.A.-based brand Almost There, founded by Celine Kabaker, wants to become a destination for dresses that are well-made, thoughtful and truly inclusive. "I have been interested in fashion since I was two years old. I've always known that I wanted to be in this industry," Kabaker, who is also the brand's CEO, tells me, over Zoom. "I started working, in high school, in retail. I went to college in Paris, where I studied business and communications. After I graduated, I started working for BCBG Max Azria Group as a senior executive assistant to their EVP of merchandising and buying, and really became immersed in the industry." That first job out of college set her up on a career in merchandising and buying, later at companies like Juicy Couture, Forever21 and Victoria's Secret.
"As a merchant or merchandiser/buyer, you have different responsibilities. Each organization has their own definition of what it means, to be honest," she explains. "Buyers, traditionally, are responsible for managing inventory and making sure that they're buying correctly so that they're hitting certain sell-through targets, certain unit velocities and certain margin goals. In merchandising, you're also creating a line from scratch. You're working with your design teams so that you're creating a product line that is both beautiful and commercial but also affordable and has great top-line profit margins." The sets of skills you gain from merchandising and buying, Kabaker argues, are really valuable when you're starting your own business, particularly when it comes to understanding the financials of a growing fashion company: "You're really expected to be the main business driver for these brands. That knowledge, and being able to lead a team, be collaborative and work with cross-functional partners —whether that's in marketing or design or visual merchandising — allows you to understand how to move the needle."
Almost There plans on releasing new products in "drops," based on learnings from what's selling and on what fabrics are available seasonally. (Already, the brand has two clear best-sellers: the Coco and the Betty.) As for what's next, Kabaker is working on influencer outreach and finding ambassadors that can "evangelize" the brand, as well as securing funding for the company (it's primarily self-funded with "a little bit of friends and family money along the way" and this point, she says) and identifying opportunities for servicing the size 14+ community both in the U.S. and abroad — so that we can all feel good about getting dressed.