So in the month of May, I met up with the incredible designer, Haley Solar, in her Hollywood Hills home. This post has taken me forever to perfect as our meeting was just so much fun and we chatted about clothes, music and the artistry of fashion for oh… about 2 ½ hours. Attempting to capture the magical day as best as I can with the following interview.
First off, let me introduce Haley Solar:
Raised in: Southern California (actually right near me in Orange County)
Line: Junim, started in 2011
Background: Brooks College // Anthropologie
Dog: Maggie named after Margaret Thatcher
What was high school like for you? Were you always interested in fashion and how would you describe your style?
In 1999, nobody was interested in DIYs. This was the time of Britney Spears, Old Navy tech vests and high rise denim. There was such little interest in fashion and all my friends thought it was bizarre that I was cutting my waistbands off jeans and sewing around the top. They would be like “that’s weird… unless you wear it first and nobody laughs at you, then I’ll wear it.”
I was always changing my style and dressing up. It would drive people crazy and they’d ask me “What are you? Are you punk, are you goth?” I figured there are so many different sides of ourselves, so why not express it everyday? If I’m depressed this week, I’m going to wear all black. I’m stoked this week so I’ll dress like a little girl. It worked in my favor because I was able to be friends with so many different kinds of people and groups and mesh really well with them.
Anyways, I went to the director of the theatre department and said I want to make the costumes. Prior to this, the department was renting everything and it was lame to be wasting so much money when there were students willing to learn and do the work. I told the director I’ve been sewing since I was 7 and it all kind of stemmed from there.
Sewing since you were 7? That’s pretty impressive! Who taught you how to sew?
My mom taught me and she used to make us matching outfits when I was little.
My parents got divorced when I was 7, so my mom became a working mom leaving me in afterschool care. I didn’t like staying there though so I would sneak away and go back home to sew. My sister would come home and freak out, like “why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be in daycare?” It was the 90s… Haha
I spent a lot of time home alone and loved to sew and I felt it connected me to my mom. I’d call her at work and ask, “How do you thread the bobbin? What happens when it makes the funky loops, like the loops on the top are bigger than the ones on the bottom?” My poor mom.
When you’re designing new pieces do you sketch beforehand or what is that process like for you?
I’ve never been a sketcher, my whole life – even in design school. Fabric is so organic that and you can’t show the flow of it. You can sketch a house and you know what a joint is going to do and how its going to lay on the foundation. You can’t do that with fabric, each one flows differently. If you move a silk charmeuse a quarter of an inch then it’s going to drape differently.
I work like I need a skirt, a top a pant and write that on a piece of paper and then I’ll draw a silhouette – a mini skirt, maxi dress and then I find my fabric. It’s best to go in without an idea of what kind of fabric I’m looking for because I’ll either end up disappointed or miss out on an awesome opportunity with a gorgeous fabric because my mind was set on something else.
What was it like starting your line? Did you ever have a moment that you wanted to give up?
Well I started Junim in August of 2011, I did my first season and went “OH MY GOD, the costs are insane.” In my head I was like “I’m gonna sell 3000 of these dresses, easy.” But what happens if you only sell 30? How are you going to make up for those? But at the same time, you don’t want to miss out on those 30 sales, because that’s 30 people that want to wear something that you made!
There was a fleeting moment of “oh I could get that job back”. But it really is not an option. I don’t know what else I would do. I would rather starve than not have my clothing line. That sounds crazy, but you have no idea how your lifestyle changes when you have something like that.
Is there a specific woman you have in mind that you are designing for? How would you describe Junim’s aesthetic?
Not really, I like to think that Junim is a blank canvas and it can be styled in a zillion ways. A dress can be so feminine and luxe with pearls and heels or super rock ‘n’ roll with a jet black statement necklace and boots.
It works for all different body shapes and is not a body con line at all. I would say I design for me, where it’s very sexy and boho but not cheap. I want to design luxury clothing that your shape can fill out in whatever way and it can drape over the body.
Women make my clothing come alive – on the hanger it looks very one dimensional because its oversized. And then you put it on someone and you can see them twirling around in a sexy silky thing and feeling like a million bucks. Junim is for all ages and all women, which is great because my mom and my sister both wear my clothes.
Were you in a showroom or how were you getting your line out there?
I was working with a couple different showrooms and it was really bad timing for the line – this is in 2011/2012. My line wasn’t big enough to make it worth it for them and vice versa. I started out of desperation just going on the road myself and visiting stores. I looked at the sales I was bringing and it was 10 to 20 times more than what a showroom was doing for me.
This was actually really beneficial, because I had a good relationship with the boutiques I was supplying. As a baby company you want to know how is it fitting, how is it selling – are the straps too long? I could go to the boutiques and get all the necessary feedback and fix anything based on the customers needs. Which body is selling and do I need to do it in another color?
So about once a week I’m on the road to Texas, Washington, Oregon – you name it.
How do you think that growing up in California has influenced your style and designs?
Although I wouldn’t necessarily say that Junim is boho chic, sort of just left of it – because I don’t want to be a trendy line/of the moment kind of thing. There is something very boho about it that is representative of California ease and being effortlessly sexy. California has sort of always been in vogue and is a desired place and style. I think that there is something about the line that is representative of the West Coast and that is desirable in a lot of places.
In terms of the whole bohemian thing, I’ve kind of always considered myself a bohemian person so I really love that there’s this whole new market for boho. The funny thing is – the girls in my high school that would’ve been wearing old navy tech vests and high waisted jeans are now layering Vanessa Mooney and wearing flowy stuff. This whole culture has a nod to the late 60s and in my mind I wish I lived there aesthetically wise, maybe not politically though…
Also, the colors I use are inspired by the California skyline! The really soft color was inspired by a sunrise and being in the Indio Valley. LA has some of the best sunrises and sunsets and I wanted to capture that. The soft color of the sunrise was a bit too harsh on pale skin though, so buyers wanted a second color – the fiery color. Then I wanted a twilight color with purple and dusk which is the color of the setting sun.
So you’re like capturing LA on a piece of clothing?
Prior to Junim, you were working at Anthropologie?
Yeah, I was the store manager in Beverly Hills for Anthropologie and it was such an awesome experience. The company is so appreciative of its employees and each store has its own personality because they do all the merchandising and displays individually. There is no set plan and its made from the employees, which is really cool because all these different women from all age ranges are collaborating in a creative space. They really set the bar high for merchandising and mixing home with apparel.
How do you think Anthropologie differs from other companies or how did they set the bar for merchandising?
I think they changed the retail game, instead of shopping being about buying the product; they’re about selling the lifestyle. They really tapped into the way that women think – it’s not like “Oh I like that dress on the rack, I’m going to wear it. It’s like that dress is going to change my life.” That’s how we think about fashion – and it really does change your life! If you walk into a job interview looking amazing, you will get that job because you feel like a million bucks! And when you walk into Anthropologie, you’re like I need that candle, I need that dish, I need that fork – because my mother in law is going to come over and she’s going to understand that I am cultured because that fork is from Argentina. Know what I mean?
Every woman wants to feel that she is an educated, world traveller, intelligent about purchases and she knows how to decorate and throw a dinner party and she’s eclectic. We want all of those sides of our mind to be represented which is why we put our books out on display!
* Then her adorable English boyfriend walked in and made us coffee with almond milk *
Do you remember the first thing that you made?
I don’t remember the very first thing, there were multiple projects always being abandoned. Like my sisters jean jacket – I’m going to tear this apart and give it new sleeves.
Oh but I did make a pencil skirt with polka dots and a little vent in the back that was very 1950s inspired! I was turning 12 and my grandma had me take the train up to Union Station and we went the lunch at the Beverly Wilshire. She said she had a surprise for me for my birthday and then she took me to Barbara Streisand’s Costume Designer’s house. She said she wanted me to wear the skirt I made because I want to show her how proud I am of you!
She had her studio in her craftsman house and pictures of Barbara were everywhere with racks and racks of costumes. I don’t think I said anything for 2 hours, a theatre geek and a costume designer – I almost had a heart attack! She sat there and was discussing my skirt with the vent and the zipper for like 30 minutes and my mind was blown. I felt really validated after that.
What is one of the things you’ve struggled with the most in running a business?
When I first started selling my clothing, I would just feel guilty for days because of price. I started with jewelry in the line and small handbags and I had such a disconnect in my head about trading goods and services – I would be like “Oh my God, somebody just paid me for that. I made that with my hands. Did I charge too much? Did I charge too little? What if they need to pay their electric bill?” I had no problem selling Anthropologie’s clothes all day, but I didn’t consider my art valuable. My boyfriend came and said “Haley, you should never apologize for the fact that you are creating art that is wearable for the universe for people and if they don’t want to buy it, they won’t buy it. But if they do, its because they like it and it is a value. You never have to make an excuse for the value of the product you are producing.”
In your “About Me” it says you grew up loving art, fashion and music… What are you favorite artists or musicians?
I have A LOT of favorites, but my favorite band has always been the Pixies. I’m a huge Frank Black fan. Second favorite would be the Brian Jonestown Massacre that we’re listening to right now… and you need to get every record. My girlfriend made me a mixtape in high school and I kept listening to this song “The Ballad of Jim Jones” and I couldn’t figure out what this band was. How do I not know this band? It’s familiar but its also unfamiliar and it sounds like its 60s but it could be new, I just don’t get it at all. But I was obsessed and I remember being very embarrassed to ask her who it was because I was like, I should know this. One day I was like, “we need to have a conversation. I need to know who sings this song” and she’s said, “I am so happy you asked that!” And we went to the record store and I actually picked up the record that we’re listening to now.
Had you ever considered going into business with a friend?
I’ve tried working with friends and it is a terrible idea. There’s a weird exchange – a friend wants to do everything for you and you don’t want to ask them for that. It creates this weird conflict where they don’t feel like they’re doing enough and you feeling like you can’t ask any more because you don’t want to put them out. It’s very difficult, so I don’t think I’d work with a friend again. I’d love to work with my family though because its different, I could tell my sister, “I need you to press this right now, come on.” But with a friend I’d be like “it’s okay, I’ve got it. Take a break, you look tired.”
I started the line with a friend, a girl I worked with at Anthropologie who was the visual manager and I was the store manager. So we were partners already and we had a great rapport. And when we started she was gong to do merchandising and sales and I was going to do design and production – which would still be ideal. I wish I still had that partnership because there is so much that needs to be done. She was getting promoted at work and physically wasn’t able to give the amount of time I needed her to. It got to the point where the train was leaving the station and she wasn’t on it and it was heartbreaking.
Tell me about the dyeing process! You dye all of your fabric yourself?
Yes! And I call it landscaping, I don’t like the word tie-dyeing, haha. I don’t use any ties, but it’s twisted and pulled and different ways. I usually work with a yard at a time. Sometimes I’m dyeing for almost 12 hours, so I’ll put on bad TV and be working in the living room. I ALWAYS have dye under my fingernails and walk around with purple hands. It’s bad.
It’s a physically exhausting process, especially when I’m working on a large order. A couple weeks ago my brother and sister in law came over and I was so thankful because we needed extra hands. We literally had fabric that spanned from here all the way down the street, people were taking pictures and everything. I think we dyed over 300 yards that day.
I only use this sink and my washing machine for all the fabric, I’ve tried to find a production place to do it but nobody has been able to duplicate the process I go through. Besides, I really do love having the personal connection to each piece I create.
What are the most difficult parts of designing and owning your business?
Production is the hardest, there are so many moving parts and its so time consuming. And then finding time to be creative when you’re doing all that other stuff; I wear 12 different hats a day – from shipping, producing, designing and selling. It gets very chaotic and sometimes it’s hard to stop and be like now it’s time for me to be creative.
Weekends I design because nobody is here and I can’t do it with other people in the room because its too distracting and you start to feel insecure with people over your shoulder.
On the flipside, what are some of the most rewarding things?
The most rewarding is seeing pictures of people in my clothing or running into somebody on the street that is wearing my clothes. Walking into a store and having a customer tell me “I love your dress, I wear it all the time!”
I have this one customer who has been a customer right from the beginning and she does not shop. She saves up all her money for when she sees me and is like what can I buy, what do I need? And having someone who is not only like I want to buy something cute to wear but that loves what I do and so gets it. It just puts me over the moon. It’s the best thing in the world. And to see how a store styled it! Just the finished product is amazing.
Do you find your collections change with your mood?
I’d actually have to say no. In order to design I have to be in a certain mood. I’m not going to be having a depressed day and design something because when you’re feeling bummed out that day you want to sit on the couch and hang out with your dog. The last thing you want to do is be creative. If I’m not in a happy place, I can’t be creative. It’s almost like counter intuitive, so if I’m in that place I need to be around my friends or my family, or take a walk. There’s a mood I need to be in; inspired, excited, full of coffee and ready to go until it’s done.
More on Junim