As a law student, Stephanie Ray couldn’t find work-appropriate clothing that was comfortable, affordable, and stylish enough to carry her from day to night. So she started her own fashion line, Grayes, to fill the gap.
By Sarah Kelsey
Stephanie Ray, the founder of Grayes clothing, had an inkling she was onto a great business idea when she was a busy law school student applying for jobs and internships. Like many people who want to dress to impress, she went on a bit of a pre-interview shopping spree. Her clothing checklist was simple: the items she bought had to look good, make her feel good, and had to take her from day to night, and into the weekend.
“I always felt forced into awkward suits that didn’t give me the confidence that I was putting my best foot forward going into interviews or jobs. I always struggled to find professional attire that I loved and felt like myself in,” says Stephanie. “I wanted outfits that reflected me and my personal style, and that I could mix and match to wear outside of a professional context. I just couldn’t find anything that met my needs at an accessible price point.”
That gap between supply and demand became even more apparent when she spoke to her brother, an investment banker, about what he wore to work. He found shopping easy.
“He had so many options for suits that were modern and stylish, but still appropriate for an office or meeting. His clothes fit his personality and worked with other aspects of his life, too. His suits gave him that extra boost of self-confidence walking into the office every day,” she says. “There was nothing like that at an accessible price point for women.”
It became clear that someone had to take on the task of creating a line of professional attire for women that met their needs. Still in law school at the time, Stephanie says she never considered dropping out to pursue the idea. “It wasn’t until I started thinking about what I wanted to do after law school, that I realized I was much more passionate about the idea of starting a clothing line than about a career in law.”
She began researching what it would take to start a business focused on work wear for women. She read a lot, met with a lot of people and tried to figure out what tools she’d need to bring her idea to life. She spoke with friends and female colleagues who all excitedly shared ideas about what they wanted in professional attire, and she eventually convinced her brother to quit his day job to help her launch the line.
“I have an amazing team who taught me everything that they know about the industry,” Stephanie says. “In the beginning, I spent time learning since it was all totally new to me. It was an industry I knew nothing about and had no prior experience in, so I was really lucky to find a design team early on that could guide me through that process.”
“It wasn’t until I started thinking about what I wanted to do after law school, that I realized I was much more passionate about the idea of starting a clothing line than about a career in law.”
Just over a year after she graduated, in 2016, the first garments from Grayes made their debut at pop-up shops and customer events. The clothing line was everything Stephanie had envisioned — and more — and consumers raved about the quality of the garments and the need for a brand focused solely on women’s work wear. The instantly iconic blazer dress was a particular hit.
Today, the brand offers women on-trend items they can wear to the office as well as brunch, including their popular pencil pant, notch blazer and tunic dress. Even though all of the garments are made locally (with material sourced from international mills), everything is reasonably priced — nothing costs more than $400. What’s more, everything can be purchased online at the company’s recently launched website. “Knowing the Grayes customer is very busy, my goal was to create an easy shopping experience with features like free shipping and returns, and online experts on hand to offer tailoring and styling advice,” says Stephanie.
“Seeing my vision for Grayes come to life and customers wearing our clothing in their day-to-day lives motivates me to keep evolving Grayes — developing new products and growing the brand,” Stephanie notes. “I love when customers tell me how great the clothing makes them feel going to work everyday and that they can’t wait to see what we have planned next. That customer affirmation has been so encouraging.”
And what’s next is really a push to grow Grayes into the go-to destination for women looking for high-quality, modern work wear. Stephanie wants to continue to evolve the company’s offerings and to expand to the U.S. (in the near future). But she’s also learning to relish and celebrate the success she’s seen over the past few years.
“In the beginning I didn’t know what I was getting myself into! When you’re starting a business you are so excited and passionate about it. You really do everything and anything in your power to make it work,” she notes. “But nothing’s a straight path to success, there are always ups and downs along the way. So learning not to get discouraged, to persevere and to keep on pushing forward is key. It’s so important to find a business you love and will be just as excited about on those days when it feels like nothing is going your way. It’s an amazing feeling to bring an idea from conception to fruition.”
Could your work wardrobe use an upgrade? Shop the collection at grayes.com.