Creating a lingerie brand was the last thing on her mind when Kate Ruggiero pulled up stakes in Brooklyn in 2007 and plunked herself down amid the hippies, surfers and artsy entrepreneur culture of Oahu’s remote North Shore.
But indie fashion brands sometimes take on a life of their own, far beyond what their creators ever envisioned.
That’s what has happened to Gypsy, the colorful Hawaiian label that was born when Kate sat down at her sewing machine one day to stitch herself a pair of DIY beach-appropriate undies.
Four years and eight eye-popping collections later, Gypsy‘s seamless undies and soft bra styles are sold in nearly 50 boutiques around the world. And the one-woman label is preparing for a major expansion that will bring its feel-good free-spirit vibe to more women than ever before.
Gypsy recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance its growth plan, which includes a new swimwear line, a greater variety of sizes and styles and attendance at major industry trade shows to attract more retail buyers.
But be forewarned: a wider audience for Gypsy, and its inspiring backstory, could make more women decide to chuck their day job and head for parts unknown in pursuit of bolder dreams, like Kate did.
“Gypsy has become more than a product,” she says in the video accompanying her Indiegogo fundraising campaign. “Gypsy evokes a carefree spirit and inspires every woman to be an individual who is true to herself and the land she inhabits. I have been overwhelmed by the women who have reached out to me to tell me they were inspired by my story to follow their hearts and pursue their dreams.”
Intrigued, Lingerie Talk asked Kate to tell us more about Gypsy‘s journey so far, and what’s ahead.
Lingerie Talk: It’s been a few years since we talked. How has Gypsy changed or evolved since you first started selling your colorful undies to friends?
Kate: Gypsy began as a passion project and never with the intention of being a business. It grew solely out of my taste and style and creating something that I wanted to wear. That being said, I adore lingerie and have collected it for years and can never seem to have enough.
But after moving to Hawaii and finding myself in a tropical climate, wearing less, I found it difficult to find the bottoms I was searching for. Bottoms that I could wear around the house without being too risqué or too frumpy — sexy but comfortable and in a range of unique prints.
I wanted people to wonder “Where did you find that?” and for each piece to really feel one-of-a-kind. I have kept with that aesthetic throughout the past 4 years but our range of prints has greatly evolved as we have become more experienced and educated on fabric quality and evolving designs and materials.
LT: You’ve been in business for four years now. Why did you wait this long before seeking capital to expand your brand?
A: When I began Gypsy it was a niche of its own. People loved the one-of-a-kind prints and the fact that you could not find it elsewhere. I began by sewing pairs at my kitchen table and the brand has organically grown from there.
Over the past two years several competing larger brands have caught on to Gypsy and started creating pieces that are similar. Several of our customers ask us if you can wear Gypsy to the beach and for this reason we want to give our customers something fresh and unique again. We are not able to do this on our own without a finanical injection to get us set up with a new manufacturer and swim designs.
LT: When do you expect to debut your swim line … and what will it be called?
A: We hope to debut the swim line in 2015 but this is entirely dependant on the success of our campaign.
LT: Gypsy is very far removed from all the major fashion industry hubs. How did you develop such a big network of international stockists?
A: Our stockists have grown organically just like the brand. Shops have found us, customers have asked for us and we have grown solely by word of mouth. We have not had the funds to attend trade shows, which is part of our current campaign, as we hope to attend a trade show in which we can showcase our brand and designs to a larger audience and connect with larger-scale retailers.
LT: Is there a particular style, print or collection that has been noticeably more popular than typical Gypsy pieces?
A: I try to select the prints based on my personal style but I almost always can tell that one print that my customers will be drawn to and, without fail, it almost always happens that way. Recently our Esperanza bra (above) sold out within the first month — customers loved the sexy, effortless fit and modern, sophisticated leopard print.
LT: Gypsy is known for its printed undies with beach-friendly tropicals, ikats, florals and similar prints. But last year you did an ‘urban’ collection with styles named for New York landmarks and celebs. Are you going to try to mix urban and beach influences in future collections?
A: What I love so much about Gypsy is how it changes as my style changes. I lived in New York for 7 years and am drawn to urban, sophisticated style so I wanted to introduce the modern aspect of my style as well. I don’t want the brand to simply be defined by cutesy prints and want to keep it classic, effortless and unique.
LT: Gypsy is named after the Stevie Nicks song. Can you tell us about your affinity for Stevie, and how her personality and/or style is reflected in your brand?
A: All I can say is if you put on Stevie Nicks’ ‘Gypsy’ it saves any bad day for me. I think she has become so popular, moreso than ever over the past few years, not simply because of her style and free spirit but the fact that she is entirely herself, comfortable in her skin and insanely talented. “To the gypsy that remains, faces freedom with a little fear, I have no fear I have only love” — that is what our brand is named after. Her music and Chrissy McVie’s voice, have always been a source of strength, happiness and inspiration for me.
LT: You’ve had a very fruitful partnership with your photographer Daeja Fallas since the beginning. How important has that been in creating the Gypsy brand?
A: Daeja is one of my dearest friends and she saw the first pairs I created and encouraged me to do a photoshoot at my house and from there it has blossomed into a business.
When we started working together we discovered we share a very similar aesthetic. It’s been such an amazing experience and opportunity to balance my love of photography, style and design together through our shoots and lookbooks.
LT: In your Indiegogo pitch you write: “The campaign is not just about me, it’s about the journey you have all been on with me.” What can you tell us about the community around Gypsy?
A: Gypsy is extremely personal to me. As many small business owners can relate to, I have poured my entire heart into the business. But I have been lucky to have friends and family who have done the same.
Friends and family who have braved a cold east coast beach in winter to get the perfect photograph, stayed up late helping me cut and pin on hangtags, and sacrificed their weekends to help me sort through stacks of fabric swatches. My mom who helped me lug my 10-pound bags of Spandex fabric through the streets of New York and my dad who drove all the way to Philadelphia just to get me giant sparklers for our shoot.
I am so grateful for all of the love and support I have received. Gypsy is something I feel I’ve created with my entire support system and it has blossomed through the support and love I have received.
NOTE: Gypsy’s Indiegogo campaign offers some unique rewards to donors, including the giant dreamcatcher in the image above, a vintage astrology book and an original giclée print of Stevie Nicks. Images below are from Gypsy’s AW 2014-15 collection, Til Dawn. All photos ©Daeja Fallas.