Fearless Friday: Elizabeth Williams
When you meet Liz, her warm smile will undoubtedly be the first thing you notice. She puts everyone at ease. There is a twinkle in her eye that never dulls and, in fact, gets brighter when she talks about her husband or her kids...and now her newest baby, Coat Check.
Having lived in Chicago followed by a short stint to New York only to find herself back in Chicago once more...Liz is the perfect addition to the emerging fashion scene in Chicago. A breath of fresh air, really. Her priorities, amongst timeless outerwear, are impressive given that she is more concerned with ethical practices right here in Chicago and sustainability rather than growing an empire overnight. And I like that about her. Slow and steady wins the race. I have zero doubts that Liz will win over the hearts of many freezing Chicagoans this winter with her beautiful collection. Chicago is only the beginning, really...expect to hear a lot more about Liz but first, find out what makes her tick. It's a fun interview!
Tell us a little about Coat Check and the mission of your brand. How did you come up with the idea and how hard was it to get started?
I had been thinking about creating an outerwear brand for some time. I wanted to create a brand that was classic, timeless, and denoted quality and care. I started by making a coat for myself. While wearing my coat out to a holiday party, the coat check attendant commented that she loved my coat and she had been looking for something just like it. She slipped a note into the pocket of my coat that read, “interested buyer.” I knew I had to name the line, Coat Check.
One of the biggest challenges initially was finding factories. I was determined to have the coats ethically made right here in the USA. Eventually after much research, I was able to track down multiple small factories right here in Chicago. Finding fabric has been another difficulty. I’m currently sourcing all my wool from Italy but I’d love to find American Made Wool. It’s hard since I’m dealing in small qualities, but I’m hoping that will change as my business grows and the Made in The USA movement picks up speed.
1. What was the moment you knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur let alone in the fashion industry?
When I was a kid, my mom took me to visit a swimwear designer, Karla Colletto in their studio space. My mom was a real estate agent and she had been leasing Ms. Colletto the space. My mom asked Ms. Colletto if I could visit her at work since I had expressed an interest in becoming a fashion designer. She was so kind and showed me all around. I knew then, it was what I wanted to do.
2. What one Coat Check moment are you the most proud of and why?
I’m still thrilled by a recent purchase made by a customer just the other week. She had been following me on social media and came to visit me at a trunk show. She said she loved all the coats and wanted to come in person to try them all on on. She ended up purchasing three coats that day and is ordering another two more online. Having a customer confirm what I have been doing is the greatest compliment.
3. How would you describe a typical day? What's your morning to evening routine?
Every day is different, but I usually start the day by attacking emails and getting everything done on the computer first. After that, I’m in analogue mode, working with my hands. Some days, I am sewing samples, others I am patterning, sketching, or sourcing fabric. Occasionally I am able to hop out of the office to check on the local factory or follow up with a local boutique.
4. How do you describe your personal aesthetic?
Classic and comfortable. Most days I’m in yoga pants and a sweater. The great thing about a nice coat is that you can throw it on whatever you are wearing and instantly look dressed up!
5. What individuals, tastemakers, celebrities, entrepreneurs, public figures inspire you?
I’m really inspired by fashion designer’s from the early 20th Century such as Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel, Madam Gres...all of the greats! I don’t pay too much attention to current celebrities but I love Kerry Washington on Scandal. She wears the most amazing coats!
6. If you weren't in the fashion industry...and could be anything else...what would it be?
I'd be a graphic designer. I love branding. I wish I could take take credit for my own logo but I employed a local graphic designer, Nan Gonzalez to do my label. I loved working with her to create the graphic aesthetic of the brand. She did an amazing job and I envy her talent.
7. It's creative time...what's on your Spotify? What inspires you?
It’s so dorky but I don’t really listen to music while I’m working! I actually listen to a a lot of NPR, podcasts, and audiobooks. I LOVE Conscious Chatter by Kestral Jenkins of AWEAR world. It’s a podcast all about sustainable and ethical fashion. It is so inspiring. I also listen to Malcolm Gladwell books and books on Lean Start-up methodologies.
8. Favorite restaurant on a Friday night + why?
I love the outdoor space at RM Champagne Bistro. Every time I go there I feel like I’m in Europe. It’s a lovely space. I also have a monthly girls dinner with 6 of my girl friends. We go to different restaurants every month. It’s always a highlight for me to get the girls feedback on a new design.
9. Wine or classic cocktail?
All of the above! But I try to reserve the cocktails for the weekends! ;)
10. Favorite weekend getaway destination?
We love going up to Green Lake in Wisconsin. It’s a 3 hour drive which is perfect with two young kids. It’s a cute town and great for all seasons. My husband grew up going to a family home there. I would have never discovered it otherwise.
11. 5 must-have apps that you need in your life to function?
Definitely Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Apart from those... maps and the weather!
I’m also constantly checking emails via my phone. In all honesty - I’m working on disconnecting my phone from my hand. It’s been a struggle and a distraction.
12. Bonus question - What's next for Coat Check?
Fall 2017!!! I’m working on it now! And it is very colorful! I’m excited that I have been able to track down some new and exciting fabrics. I intend to continue to update some of my current silhouettes and offer a broader range of styles and colors next season. Including a trench coat!
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