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Written Apparel looks to rewrite the pencil skirt


Photo courtesy of Written Apparel.

When you think about fashion cities, places like New York, Paris and Milan probably spring to mind.

Cedar Rapids? Not so much. But a fashion startup, Written Apparel is looking to unfold into a worldwide brand with the help of the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

How Written works

“Fashion has always been very important to me,” said Written Apparel founder Emily Carlson. “It let me express myself and differentiate myself from others. It gave me confidence. At a young age, it let me tell my story without speaking a word.”

Carlson studied merchandising and design at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids before going on to a position in retail management. While working in retail, Carlson decided she wanted to start her own fashion label.

Written Apparel launched this year with a single product, statement pencil skirts. The silhouette skirt, which tapers at the knee, is a staple of women’s wardrobes. Pencil skirts have been around for decades, but Carlson wants to make them more exciting with luxury fabrics and new designs.

Fashioning a startup accelerator experience

Startup accelerators are almost synonymous with tech startups, which made Carlson initially hesitant to apply to be part of the Iowa Startup Accelerator. Friends and mentors pushed her to approach the accelerator anyway.

“I met with the organizers and posed the question, ‘Would it be worth our time to even apply?’” Carlson said. “We were looking at the accelerator because it gives access to tons of valuable mentorship. Regardless of if we’re a tech or fashion company, that’s valuable in terms of rounding out your business experience.”

The accelerator has been able to provide Carlson with the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

“Yes, we’re a fashion brand, but that’s really 10 percent of our business as a whole. The rest are fundamentals any business needs to know, and the accelerator provides that.”

Carlson feels that after 90 days, the Iowa Startup Accelerator will have given her the tools she needs to make Written Apparel into a global fashion brand.

Finding a foothold

Fashion is a competitive field, and many of Written’s successes have come from Carlson and her team knocking on doors at boutiques and showrooms and discussions with stylists.

“It’s a very expensive industry to get into, and not a lot of people are willing to help you along the path,” Carlson said. “But I like that challenge, and it makes our successes that much more rewarding.”

In October, Carlson was one of 18 designers invited to participate in Midwest Fashion Week in Chicago.

Farther down the runway

The plan is for Written Apparel to be driven primarily by online sales, with clothing in boutiques serving more for marketing, rather than as a sales channel. Carlson said the industry is moving toward online sales, and it makes things easier when a brand doesn’t have to directly compete for rack space with Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein.

Once Written is more established, Carlson plans to expand to blouses, dresses and other items of clothing.

“Our immediate goal is to continue to gain sales traction,” Carlson said. “Within the next six months I would like Written to be in more boutiques around the country, then we’ll start working with celebrity and social media influencers to raise awareness of the brand.”

Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.

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