Olivia Rose Wright is the founder, CEO, and creative director of Rallier, a contemporary womenswear brand inspired by modern uniform dressing. She fills us in on her NYC-fashion line and how it's on a mission to help young girls in Kenya go to school.
Tell us about Rallier.
Rallier is a New York City-based contemporary womenswear label inspired by modern uniform dressing. The collection explores the tension between uniformity and individuality by mixing the heritage of archetypal dress codes with a modern spirit of ease. Designed and made in New York, Rallier redefines traditional uniform dressing for the individualist. For every Rallier piece sold, the company covers the cost of materials and labor for the production of school uniforms through a women's empowerment program in Kibera, Kenya, operated by Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). The uniforms are provided to local schoolgirls.
What was your inspiration?
Several years ago, I discovered that the cost of school uniforms was keeping girls around the world out of school. I was working in PR at Prada at the time, and I was blown away by the fact that a piece of clothing was a significant factor in girls' access to education. In coming up with Rallier, I was inspired by the possibility that one of our pieces could give a girl the tools she needed to go to school. My goal was to take a very important giving strategy and tie it to an elevated, design-driven product proposal. Consequently, the collection is built around a modern-day, unapologetically feminine take on uniform dressing.
Who benefits from your work?
Our founding non-profit partner is Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a leading provider of education for girls who live in the slums in Nairobi. SHOFCO operates two tuition-free schools for girls in Kibera and Mathare and also runs a women's empowerment program which provides business and entrepreneurship skills as well as living wages through the production of products such as school uniforms. I've been involved with SHOFCO for years: I sat on their leadership council before starting Rallier. I’ve seen firsthand how impactful their work is, and it's an honor to support them through Rallier. On a separate note, Rallier is made in New York City's Garment District, and I love that the company benefits a city that I am so rooted in.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who want to give back through their businesses?
Pick the right local partner. SHOFCO has a deep-rooted understanding of, and history with, the communities they serve in Kenya. Given my personal and professional background, it would be irresponsible for me to intervene without their expertise. Ask yourself if you could get hired in the United States to execute a given initiative. If the answer is no, don't try to execute it in another country on your own. Instead, vet and identify a local partner with a proven track record of success, and support their work. It is important to constantly question your own assumptions to ensure that your work doesn't result in unintended negative consequences for local communities.
Tell us about a special moment from one of your trips to Kenya.
During my visit to SHOFCO's Kibera School for Girls, I chatted with the girls about their school uniforms. When I asked one girl, "What do you think of when you think of your school uniform?" she responded, "I think of a perfect girl." When I asked, "Who is a perfect girl in your mind?" she replied, "She's the girl who goes to school."
What are three of your favorite things in Kenya?
There is so much variety in Kenya, it's hard to narrow down to just three. I'd say our safari with Saruni Mara in the Mara North Conservancy, our stay at Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens (and especially the prawns at the restaurant), and shopping made-to-measure pieces at Deepa Dosaja's shop.
Where have you traveled recently?
I just got back from my (very belated) honeymoon in Southeast Asia. We went to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos, and Yao Noi in Thailand.
Dresses inspired by modern uniform dressing.