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Boston Designer Spotlight: Brass

Jay Hallstein, Katie Doyle, Brass clothing
Jay Hallstein and Katie Doyle, founders of Brass (Jay is wearing the Sheath, Katie is wearing the T-Shirt dress)
Brass clothing
The Brass Band dress
Jay Hallstein, Katie Doyle
Katie and Jay at work in the Brass studios
Brass clothing
The Knit Column dress, the A-Line dress, the Shirt dress in chambray, the Band dress & the Sheath
I was recently asked how local designers differ from those based in fashion hot-spots, like New York and L.A. "Easy", I answered. "Local designers get it. They really understand what their customer needs in her day-to-day life, because they are their customer". Case in point: Brass, a Boston-based company started by locals Katie Doyle and Jay Hallstein. Both women worked locally, in fashion e-commerce and apparel manufacturing, respectively, and had a need for beautiful, basic pieces they could wear to the office (and also out for a drink afterwards). They admired designer dresses, but their pocketbooks disagreed. Fast fashion wasn't a real alternative. Sound like anyone you know? 

When Hallstein returned from a business trip to a Chinese clothing factory that she admired, she mentioned her experiences to Doyle. That's when they hatched the idea to design chic, sophisticated, timeless pieces that could be produced by some of the same manufacturers as the big name designers, but at a reasonable price. I recently spoke to Katie Doyle about the brand, their ethos, and how their customers guide them.

Why did you decide to start Brass?
We were a more than a little dismayed to learn that some of the designer dresses we loved cost around thirty dollars to manufacture, but were selling for four and five hundred dollars. It was a little horrifying. We knew there was a markup, of course, but that seemed... extreme. The idea kept bugging us until we decided to just go for it. We launched in September 2014 with five styles. Over the course of the winter, we added three more. Now we have another seven styles coming in after our Kickstarter. 

Who is your designer?
Jay. But, I mean, Jay is our designer, but we primarily decide which dresses we are going to manufacture based on our customer surveys and feedback. In the beginning of the production season, we send out a survey to our customers asking what styles they like, what colors they like, what they want to see... they really guide us. The information they provide is extremely valuable. Our two most popular dresses in the survey (the band dress and the a-line) ended up being our two best sellers. 

You are all e-commerce. How did you find your first customers? 
Social media has been very important for us. Instagram is a great way to meet influential people in Boston. Jay wrote this incredible blog post called, "The Myth of the Maxxinista", and it kind of went viral. That really helped us build our email distribution list. We also had a "refer-a-friend" campaign - the more friends you told, the bigger reward you received. In addition, local Boston press, like BostInno, have been very good to us (Ed. note: Love BostInno! Another local gig who's doing it right!). We also recently completed a Kickstarter campaign, which was also a wonderful way to propel us forward. 

Tell me about your factories.
We have two factories. Our first is a cut-and-sew and our second factory specializes in knits. They really are amazing partners to us. They are wonderful at working to solve detail and design challenges - for example, we were having some issues with the pockets in one of our dresses - the pockets were too sheer. We worked with with the factory to come up with a solution that still kept the dresses at the right price point. (Ed. note: I really, really appreciate when designers actually pay attention to these type of details. They matter!) Our factories allow us to be detail-oriented and make sure our dresses are beautiful and well constructed. 

Your designs are basic, but really timeless!
I'm glad to hear you say that! All of our pieces are in neutral colors. We are really creating dresses that are meant to be in your closet for awhile. We are not into fast fashion. We are not into buying a dress, wearing it for three months, and then tossing it. We want to provide women with really high-quality, really classic silhouettes that they can wear over and over. 

Your pieces are great for the office. Do you focus on professional women?
We sell to a lot of professional women; we also have a lot of young moms, and a few of our dresses, like the shirt dress, happen to be good for breast-feeding. It is more about the person who is beyond the shopping spree. It's not about the volume to them, it is about the quality and versatility of the pieces. They're ready to commit to a high-quality closet. 

Ready to commit? You can see all of the Brass dresses here (all $100 or less) and learn more about Brass on their website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages. 

Read more about local Boston designers here and here

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Brass dresses
Designs in the Brass studio
Katie Doyle Brass
Katie at her desk in the Brass studio
Boston female entrepreneurs
Jay Hallstein and Katie Doyle

Keep up with TBF! Bloglovin' | Follow by Email Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest Snapchat: Bos_Fashionista


  1. The difference between the manufacturing cost and retail price for designer items is astounding! Love this alternative, local way of providing customers with what they truly want.

    1. Agreed, Ode2Vogue! The difference is shocking - it is really great to see two local entrepreneurs who understand the market, and who prove there is a way to create a sustainable business without the gigantic markups.

  2. I love learning about new designers, especially those with transparency and keeping the costs low. I currently reside in Boston so it's extra fun seeing a local company. Off to scour their site now, I'm sure I will be add many of their pieces to my wishlist!

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