Shopping: Of Mercer Pops Up in Georgetown

by Sterling Lucas

The chic businesswear line will be in Washington through May 31.

Dorie Smith and Emelyn Northway met at a networking event in their first week of classes at Wharton. They were wearing the same dress! Dorie and Emelyn quickly bonded over the struggle of finding a work appropriate outfit that also makes you feel good about yourself. Of Mercer, the duo’s work-friendly shopping line was born that night. Beginning as an e-commerce enterprise, Of Mercer quickly expanded and opened a flagship store in New York City. The store isn’t just a retail location but an event space for programming designed to facilitate connections among business women.

The classic clothing line will not break the bank. Smith and Northway are committed to producing premium quality clothing at an accessible price point. The young workplace brand has traveled to a beautiful pop-up location in the heart of M Street. The showroom is reminiscent of Smith and Northway’s New York location with wall-to-wall exposed brick. There is a lounge area for guests to enjoy each other’s company while they snack on quiche and sip Prosecco. We caught up with co-founder Dorie Smith to get her tips on perfecting your daily office look.

What made you choose Georgetown for Of Mercer’s pop-up location?

We are a very data-centric company so we were looking at all the major metropolitan areas where we have done sales. D.C. made a lot of sense to us because it is really beautiful this time of year and it’s probably our best market after New York City so it made sense to test the waters. Georgetown felt like the hub of shopping. A lot of our customers are recent graduates and interviewing or starting their first jobs so being close to George Washington University and Georgetown University is great for us.

You have a series of networking events scheduled throughout the month-long pop-up. Is it important to you to facilitate a collaborative environment?

When we opened our New York store, we stepped back and thought about what we can do as a brand that is unique and how we can show our customer we understand her needs and what is going on in her life. So we started building programming in New York around building a community of women that empower each other. One of the important things is that it’s cross industry so that people cross-pollinate and discuss the issues they are facing in their jobs or life and help each other solve them. We have a really strong community of entrepreneurs we work with, so we are supporting other entrepreneurs and building a relationship with our customer that is much deeper than just “hey, buy our clothes.”

What are some of the most common mistakes women make when dressing for work and how does Of Mercer combat them?

We love embracing trends in our styles but I think you need to take a subtle approach to introducing high fashion trends into your daily workplace. We use a lot of exposed metal, zippers and buttons and that’s a nice way to show hard metal. But we would never advise having metallic tassels on your shoulders in the office. That is one thing we see, people going a little bit too far with trends. There are basic rules we see broken all the time, either the necklines are too low or hemlines too short. We work with HR departments and the biggest complaint is that women are embracing the athleisure trend too much in the workplace. Leggings still aren’t appropriate in many offices so we introduced the Essex pants that feel like leggings but have the makings of pants. They look the part but you feel more comfortable in them.

Is classic the way to go in the workplace?

Classic is the way to go for two reasons. For one, you never look bad you always look put together and you always look polished. Also, classic pieces are a better investment. Let’s say you could wear an off-the-shoulder shirt to work. In two years you won’t want to but if you get a great Italian wool sheath dress you will wear that for the next ten years. I think it’s smarter to shop that way. You never want people while you’re working and trying to advance your career to question you based off of what you’re wearing.

How did you choose your designer Aja Singer?

We met Aja through friends and it was when Emelyn and I were talking to anyone that could help us through this crazy world of fashion and manufacturing. So we had friends in common with Aja and went out for a glass of wine and chatted with her about her background. She talked us through the basics of designing clothes and production. To be honest, we were asking her all of these questions so that we could go hire a designer not thinking for a second it would be her. Then she stepped back and realized she wanted to be in the direct-to-consumer world and we brought her on board for a project and both sides were like “this is awesome.” She was on board full time before we launched the company. Everything we have is designed by her and she is probably the best decision we ever made.

How important is the balance between quality and price to your brand?

We are direct to consumer we don’t sell through retail stores. Emelyn and I met at Wharton and we were a couple years behind the Warby Parker guys and the direct to consumer movement was so big. We were like “how can we do that and help empower women in dressing for success.” Our mission the whole time has been to make the dresses we used to buy on sale that would retail for $350 for $165.

Your products are made in New York City. Was that a goal of yours when you began?

It evolved. When we first started Emelyn and I had no background in fashion and the first test line we did abroad, the quality wasn’t up to our standard. We expected our brand to be designer quality but at a reasonable price. So once we were making production to sell we moved all production to the Garment District in New York. We are getting pricing that works for us, we love our factories and we love keeping the jobs in New York and building up the eco-system of manufacturing.

What’s next for the Of Mercer collection?

Right now we are trying to build out the collection. All the silhouettes and fabrics are not seasonal so what we try to do is build it out so that the collection can grow as opposed to rotating. There are a lot of areas that we are still developing. We just put out our first two pairs of pants so we are going to continue to build on separates. We are also developing a maternity line right now to make sure we are catering to our woman in all moments of her life.

Is there a permanent storefront in the works for D.C.?

We are still researching and this pop-up is part of that research. We are doing a lot of data collecting. We are going to look at different neighborhoods and come up with some partners that will help us when we are ready for it. It’s important to have flagships in our best urban markets because a lot of women still want to try things on.

How was female collaboration essential to building your business?

We wouldn’t be where we are without the help of hundreds of women along the way. Also men, but I think it’s really important for us women to stick together and pay it forward. We have tried to pay it forward as much as we can by allowing other brands to pop into our spaces. We get further faster when we work together.

Of Mercer will be in Georgetown through May 31.

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