Mckenzie Raley & Sarah Belz, Land of Women
Bonded by a shared desire to create "lingerie for the sport of womanhood," Mckenzie Raley and Sarah Belz are the design duo behind Land of Women. Partners first and friends second, they represent a company model that just may be the recipe for success. No confusion here, the pair means business. After founding Land of Women in 2013, Mckenzie and Sarah live, work and produce in New York and today Lisa Says Gah brings you to their airy studio in Long Island City for some tried-and-true advice involving a three-year business plan, daily rituals and ignoring emails after 7 pm. Enjoy!
LSG: Hey, Mckenzie and Sarah! We love the philosophy behind your brand. What inspired you to launch Land of Women?
MR: I’m Mckenzie Raley, I’m ½ of Land of Women. I’ve always been interested in being an entrepreneur, and I wanted to start something that I could grow with. I knew I wanted to work in fashion, and the garment district in New York is such an incredible resource that allows us to produce close to home. There was also a certain aesthetic missing from the lingerie market — something that was minimal, sporty, well-made and modern. I couldn’t relate to any brands that were out there.
SB: I’m Sarah Belz, the other half of Land of Women. We felt that there was a space in the market for high quality, functional pieces made here in New York City. It is becoming more and more important to people that they know where their products come from, and we love that we can produce right here in the garment district.
LSG: What's the story behind the company name?
MR: I wanted to choose a name that was vast and inspiring. Even saying ‘Land of Women’ immediately evokes this powerful Vanessa Beecroft style image of women standing together. I think it’s a name that can reach every woman.
LSG: Can you walk us through your path? What kind of stops were on the way to where you are now? What initially drew you to fashion?
MR: I’ve always been interested in various aspects of art, fashion design, photography, sets, mood boards. I've been tied to the industry in one way or another for many years. After college, I moved to New York with about $40 in my bank account and decided to pursue modeling. Luckily that worked out, and I was able to experiment with other careers simultaneously, like set design, styling, and fashion production, where I learned a lot. Watching brands develop and seeing the backend of how fashion shows were produced was so exciting.
SB: I loved fashion from a very young age. I didn’t go to fashion school but got a degree in marketing instead. I moved to New York straight after college, where I interned with several brands, then started down the fashion merchandising path with a big department store. Three years later, I moved to London with my now husband, where I began working in lingerie. We moved back to NYC about two years ago, and that’s when I met Mckenzie.
LSG: How did you two meet? Were you friends or partners first?
MR: It was kind of an arranged marriage. I happened to run into an old work friend, and she asked what I was up to, at that point I had just started developing Land of Women. She mentioned Sarah had just moved back from London after working with a lingerie line.
SB: We always joke about how we met. Starting a business with someone you don’t know may sound like a crazy idea, but it has worked out amazingly well for us! I honestly wasn’t planning to go down this entrepreneurial path, but once we met and discovered how well her designs and my business background clicked it seemed like a no-brainer.
LSG: Why underwear?
MR: It started with the basic need of creating my dream bra. I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was as straightforward and complicated as that. Once I designed the first bra (the classic), which took about a year to develop, I just decided I didn’t want to stop there. I also think intimates as a whole are powerful. It’s such a personal choice and can be so subtle. I’m not a flashy dresser; I keep it pretty basic so putting something beautiful on your body and then hiding it feels empowering.
LSG: Who do you keep in mind while designing? How would you describe the Land of Women women?
MR: I’m inspired by the women in my life that I admire, mostly my friends. They’re all so smart, hardworking and independent and have an original style. That’s the type of woman we design for. Although If I had to choose a celebrity, it would probably be a young Anjelica Huston. The Land of Women woman is a force. She’s hardworking, minimal and loyal to her favorite brands.
LSG: Can you describe the feelings you want a wearer to experience in your work?
SB: We want to give our woman the essential pieces that make her feel confident and beautiful.
MR: Exactly, we want to scrap the fussiness of fashion and just make simple, easy pieces that women want. I think the best outfits are the ones you just reach for and don’t think about too much, and we want our pieces to be the ones you reach for first.
LSG: What do you love about the process of designing a collection? What is the lifecycle of design?
MR: The initial design process is the most exciting to me. Finding mood board images, going to fabric mills, getting the swatches, putting the collection together. After the concept is developed, I’ll make a sketch and bring it to our sample maker. After the sample is back, it can take anywhere from one to six months before it’s ready to produce. Every role in garment production is equally important.
LSG: Materials obviously play a huge part in your line. Can you tell us about why you choose the ones you do?
MR: At first we only used power mesh. It has a lot of muscle and stretch to it perfect for daily wear. We wanted to create functional lingerie that you could wear every day, so the fabrics we choose have to be able to stand the test of time. We work with a mill in Italy that makes our “super soft” fabric. It’s made with ultra-fine yarn, so it feels amazing against your skin yet it’s also really durable. I love classic silhouettes made with performance-like fabrics.
LSG: Tell us about your studio space and neighborhood!
MR: We just got our studio space. We chose to move to Long Island City because it’s only 15 minutes from the garment district and it’s accessible from both of our homes. I love it here. It’s clean and doesn’t feel too serious.
SB: We are in a space surrounded by other creatives, so that’s inspiring. Proximity to the garment district is crucial since we are constantly picking up materials and checking in with the factory.
LSG: How does your environment / community influence your collections?
MR: New York is an amazing city to live in, but you have to have functional pieces in your wardrobe. When I first moved here, I remember after one week the soles of my shoes started getting holes in them just from walking so much. You’re always moving here so making pieces that can take that kind of constant friction is crucial. Lingerie is known to be this delicate thing, but it can still look delicate and be made of strong materials. Using the fabrics that won’t give out on you when you’re running down 6th Avenue because the F train was delayed is always a good thing.
LSG: Tell us about your team. Is it just you two? How do you approach collaborative work?
SB: It is just the two of us, but we complement each other very well. I think it’s important to be able to balance between big picture thinking and managing the small details. Having a startup can be challenging at times, having to wear so many hats, but we keep each other calm.
MR: Totally, it’s so important to have clearly defined roles in partnerships. We only just got an intern after two years in business, she’s wonderful. Great to have an extra set of hands.
LSG: Where do you source inspiration and how do you organize it?
MR: I pull from 90’s Elle, Vogue and Harpers. Lately, I’ve been into old photos of Ama pearl divers and Jock Sturges photography.
LSG: What themes are influencing your work right now?
MR: We were just talking about this, and we just shot our lookbook for fall and finally got to see our woman in clothes! We’re slowly piecing our woman together now having established our intimates shapes. This season was a nod to Joan Didion. We added more styles to round out what you’d bring if you’re moving upstate or out west for a while. The feeling of having only what you need in a few variations. A simple bodysuit, a relaxed silk pant, simple floor length dress... easy pieces. We also added our first intimates color, a dark forest green. It looks amazing on any skin tone; I’m so happy with how it turned out. It’s a smart color to have in your intimates drawer.
LSG: Starting a business and working with a friend is scary, a lot of people talk about it but never do it. What do you think holds people back?
MR: I think many people pick someone to team up with who already has a lot of their same interests so boundaries can get blurry. It’s also a big decision to make, starting a business. You have to be so calculated in your initial steps. I suggest getting a mentor.
SB: Leaving the corporate world is a scary thing. I would say that one of the biggest risks is the financial one. It’s a big investment to pay for materials and production when you first start out.
LSG: Describe the first year of going independent. What was your mantra to get through hurdles?
MR: The first year was easy! The feedback was amazing. The second year is when it gets a little trickier. You have more volume, more shipments, more stores. You have to keep up with the momentum. My mantra is - a glass of wine.
SB: We did have a great first year. The most important thing is to stay organized and make lots of lists!
LSG: As business owners, what advice would you share with someone interested in starting a company?
Make a 3 year business plan. This is short enough to be realistic but long enough to get your goals laid out.
Don’t quit your day job; you’ll need more money than you think.
If you’re not good at something, outsource from an expert and learn from them.
Don’t send any emails after 7 pm. It can wait till the morning.
Being busy is great, but it shouldn’t be glamorized. Don’t forget to enjoy other things besides your business. Hobbies are important in maintaining sanity.
SB: I would say that it’s so important to stay positive. Not everything goes smoothly or how you planned, but when you do have success, it’s the absolute best feeling. It’s a learning process.
LSG: What are a few things you love that have nothing to do with fashion?
MR: Traveling with my (soon to be) wife, painting, my dog Wolfie, slow mornings.
SB: My English Bulldog, cooking Sunday dinner, weekend trips to Massachusetts, and of course, my husband.
LSG: Tell us a little bit about your routines. Five things for a stress-free day?
MR: I usually wake up around 7:30, make coffee, take all my vitamins and walk the dog. My partner and I always have breakfast together; it’s a nice little ritual since dinner at home isn’t always so regular. Then I’ll watch an episode of Seinfeld while I respond to emails. Then I’ll head to the studio.
My five things for a stressfree day are:
Being with my family at the end of the day
Phoneless dog walks
SB: I start every morning walking my dog in Central Park. I have my little crew of dog park friends, and it’s the one hour of the day when I can disconnect. Once I get home, I make a smoothie, catch up on emails and make a to-do list before heading to the studio. Our studio is great we always have scented candles, dark chocolate, and a 90s playlist. That’s all I need!