Natalie Ratabesi has a great head for business—a rarity for most in the creative realm. She is the founder and designer of Tre by Natalie Ratabesi, a luxury fashion label based in Los Angeles that has accrued a steady following among fashion editors and other style setters.
Bucking the industry belief that prescribes how emerging brands should focus on one category to succeed, Ratabesi is a taking a diversified approach. Her line offers both casual and formalwear at luxury price points, where most of her pieces hit close to the $1,000 range. She is going after a consumer who wants to trust one brand to outfit them for all occasions. She is going through channels that give her the greatest visibility. She is creating pieces through Internet search terms.
Ratabesi is growing her business steadily, and not jumping in with all guns blazing. She is seemingly a new kind of fashion designer—one who understands the change in consumer spending, one that creates for the market instead of dictating it.
Here, Ratabesi elaborates on how she plans on being successful in the fashion industry.
Barry Samaha: How did your past experiences in the fashion industry prepare you for this venture?
Natalie Ratabesi: I have worked with top luxury houses, billion-dollar contemporary brands and some of the biggest names in fashion, including Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren, and Yeezy. I’ve learned how to build a luxury fashion house and how to run a startup. This mix of experiences has taught me to observe everything that is constantly changing in fashion. Things have changed greatly since I started in this industry, but the reality is that some things have remained the same. At this point in my career, I am now able to treasure these various experiences.
When you are young, you don’t fully realize the enormity of your experiences. Now I realize how great it has been and I am very aware of how it has changed. You need to find the right balance. I have learned the importance of thinking with the left and right part of my brain; the balance of creating and selling with emotion. Customers are highly educated today and have so much information in the palm of their hands. There is not as much loyalty to brands anymore, so you really have to create an emotional connection and speak to your customer. I keep my finger on the pulse by continuing to work with different brands while having my own line.
Samaha: How would you describe Tre by Natalie Ratabesi?
Ratabesi: Tre is a designer label with a high-low concept that has denim on one end and a luxury design house on the other. It includes dresses with quality and craftsmanship, rivaling those of the world’s best military-inflected tailoring, statement denim and a growing knitwear category spun from the best cashmere in the world. The brand is based out of my design studio in Los Angeles and the collections are manufactured and produced in Italy and LA.
Samaha: What do you bring to the fashion industry that didn’t exist before? Why should consumers consider your brand at all?
Ratabesi: I am welcoming people into my world and it feels authentic. It is when you try to be someone else that you fail. One of the most important things I learned from my mentor, Ralph Lauren, is that whatever you create has to be your dream.
Samaha: What is your brand most known for? What are your best sellers thus far?
Ratabesi: High and low; gowns and denim. The industry told me to pick a lane and I refused to listen. The risks have paid off and Tre currently has strong bestsellers in both the gown and denim categories. Today’s customers are highly educated and they are gravitating towards items that they love. They are not necessarily always searching the brand name but they are googling denim, gowns and other general terms. Quality is paramount.
Samaha: It appears that you primarily are following a traditional wholesale model. Why is that?
Ratabesi: For a new brand that is self-funded, the exposure of a wholesale network is key. Wholesale has been a great way for people to get to know the brand online with partners like Net-a-Porter. It has also given customers the ability to interact with the brand IRL and have that physical experience through Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Wholesale is a great marketing tool for a new brand and has allowed me to work with the stores to review customer feedback and responses. You cannot fail the customer.
Samaha: Do you ever plan on doing a direct-to-consumer framework? If so, when and why?
Ratabesi: Tre is coming up on its two-year anniversary with Resort 2020, and I have plans to launch a direct-to-consumer channel soon. Partnering with the right investors and partners is critical so I have chosen to take my time in this process. I have learned a lot along the way and now feel confident that I can do it right.
Samaha: How are you looking to attract consumers to the brand?
Ratabesi: This is a never-ending journey where I strive to challenge myself every day. It’s all about forgetting what you think you know and pretending that every day is the first day you are starting. Shopping is now about buying ten things online and returning eight of them. My job is to identify how to make the purchase stick and have my pieces become the two things the customer keeps. For me, this is about making an emotional connection. You have to create special pieces that consumers will love. I started with the aspiration and now I am able to make certain elements more accessible.
Samaha: How are you looking to grow the company in the next five years?
Ratabesi: I have several areas of opportunity that I will look into while growing the company. First of all, developing an e-commerce platform will give me the ability to manage the brand’s own promotional power and to drive incentives and customer acquisition. Secondly, I will look at Tre’s positioning to become more competitive in the luxury designer market, which requires the art of presenting the brand’s luxury worth at key calendar points in the industry schedule. Fashion week presentations are an opportunity for Tre to communicate the totality of the brand in an arena where buyers, accounts, editors, bloggers, and stylists are all on equal footing. The third opportunity is expanding the brand’s manufacturing network, where I will explore opportunities in Eastern Europe for quality tailoring and outerwear. This will allow for margin and pricing opportunities that will help build Tre’s pricing architecture without losing the luxury component. The fourth area of opportunity is a focus on the core products and re-orders. It will be important for Tre to carry stock on key items to chase business mid-season and allow accounts to purchase proven core items in line with demand. And lastly, I’m planning targeted extensions of the Tre brand, such as expanding into accessories and menswear.
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