La Verne, California
La Verne, CA
Industry: Lifestyle & Enviro
Products: Americana Apparel
The mother and daughter team began making vintage fashion out of a passion for that style of clothing. "Twelve years ago I was teaching part-time at vocational college for fashion design. My daughter was in college and things fell together in our kitchen. I was creating a project for our students to follow and she was sewing retro market clothing to sell on eBay," says co-founder Teresa Becker. "By 2008 we got our first rental space and one full-time employee."
The Becker’s moved Heart of Haute into a warehouse and added a couple more employees to meet the growing demand for their vintage clothing. Now serving over 400 shops in the U.S. and Internationally, Heart of Haute still has some of Teresa’s former students that they brought on board from the very beginning. "It wasn’t really intended to be that way, but we needed part-time help and I knew which students were doing well," says Becker. "We currently have an intern from CalPoly too, but our full-time manager and sample cutter were former students of mine."
Social media plays a big role in the success of Heart of Haute, as well as fueling Amanda’s understanding of social cultures. This became necessary as the market for 40’s, 50’s and 60’s style garments began to decline locally. "It was a challenge for us in this type of market, but there wasn’t much competition at first," says Becker. "Part of what we sell is Americana. People are buying classic clothing updated to be not costumey. Most of what we’ve been doing is through online sales and as a result of that, competitors see it and copy it. Some of our customers will go to China to have similar dresses made for less money, so we try to keep costs low. It’s a challenge for us."
To stay ahead of the competition, the Becker’s constantly create new designs. "Were the original designers of the product. Every season we come up with something new. Our freshness is what separates us, and is why we have to always be one step ahead of the competition," says Becker. "We know it’s going to be copied. Our vendors like us better, however, because we’re reliable and we have very loyal customers who appreciate the quality, and that we can deliver on time."
At the same time, however, Becker says the competition is also cutting back from this niche and believes the market is shrinking. "I do think that the marketplace from trade shows and competitions, which were much bigger in comparison, have had to cut way back or have gone out of business," says Becker. "Our challenge is finding new customers who have the ability to spend $100 for a garment like this. We need to rediscover about who our customer is again."
For the company’s U.S. and global customers, the materials are carefully chosen and sourced from key vendors. "I have been designing since 1978. My strength is finding a print that is eye-catching for particular seasons," says Becker. "Fabric people come to our office with samples and there are fabric shows in downtown Los Angeles. I pretty much stay with the same vendors because these companies have fabric designers on staff. I purchase their latest collections and decide on what we’re going to offer. There are a few prints that we have designed ourselves because fabric companies are not exclusive, so we want to have some of our own."
Because of its social media outreach, Heart of Haute has customers all over the world, including Australia and Canada which, according to Becker, happen to be some of their biggest customers. "We started online and now have about 400 shops around the world," says Becker. "This is mostly because of our social media posts." Heart of Haute thrives by posting great, quality images of their products and of their models on its Facebook and Instagram pages, allowing them to reach more customers from all over the world.
Needs: There are concerns about price point, due to cheaper reproductions in other countries. "We need to find more ways to be efficient to keep our costs low," says Becker. "We started our brand in our price point so our customers are used to that. A lot of competitors are manufacturing in China. I’m not thinking that is something we plan on doing. We did really well with this current season, which shows we’re still doing it right."
Challenges: "I believe there needs to be an evolution of our customer base. Peak interest was with younger women and now the market has shifted. The peak of the bell curve was 2012 and has very slowly been receding. Our former customers are now putting money into their home and children. Our customers are also more conservative, as a result of being older now," says Becker.
Opportunities: Heart to Haute hopes to expand and improve their online retail experience as the online shopping market also continues to expand. "We have seen a lot of boutiques that had to close their doors. So many of the competitors are doing a lot more direct retail. It’s an area of opportunity where we need to build up. Consumers are always online and 20 percent of our sales are online, while 80 percent of our wholesale business is online. So there’s room to grow there," says Becker.