Founder Profile: Rachel Wexler, C09, W09
MEET RACHEL WEXLER, FORGING A NEW PATH IN FASHION AND RETAIL
“When I finally started a company from scratch it was even more rewarding than I could have envisioned.”
Rachel Wexler (C09, W09) is the Co-Founder of Black Iris, an elevated womenswear collection that reimagines iconic, classic silhouettes and prints to create the next generation of timeless dressing.
The company was co-founded in 2019 by four women — Aly Gradone, Candice Miller, Chloe Rosenberg, and Rachel Wexler. They had met socially, had become close friends and shared a mutual love of fashion and a desire to create something.
Aly, Candice, Chloe and Rachel realized that they all faced the same problem. They didn’t have wardrobe options that could take them from the start of their days — through work events, carpools, school events — all the way until the “very last glass of wine out at dinner” at a reasonable price point. They decided to create a high-quality line of clothing that could transition easily through a woman’s multi-faceted life and fill that hole in her wardrobe.
Each founder brought a unique background and perspective to the business and together, they seemed perfectly aligned to cover all aspects of the business. Aly had been a fit model and had worked as a stylist, Candice had been a buyer and started an online lifestyle platform, Chloe had developed prints for various designers and Rachel had spent close to a decade in the finance industry. She had been an investor at Allen & Company and prior to that, an equity research analyst at J.P. Morgan, covering publicly-traded retail companies.
As they formed the new company, they divided up the roles. Aly became the Chief Merchandising Officer, Candice the Chief Marketing Officer, and Chloe the Creative Director. Rachel is the Chief Operating Officer for Black Iris, running strategy, overall business operations, and finance.
Because the four women brought such different experiences and perspectives to the company, it made the process of defining roles and contributions quite seamless. “We each have a tremendous amount of respect for the way our co-founders manage their respective areas, and while we all have opinions to contribute, we are confident that responsibility ultimately defers to the person who is best positioned to make decisions in that particular role. We believe in each other and our abilities to steer the company both as individuals and as a team.”
Tell us about your company
Black Iris is an elevated womenswear collection that reimagines iconic, classic silhouettes and prints to create the next generation of timeless dressing. The brand conveys a nostalgia for a time of better quality and fewer things, with pieces that are intended to be collected, worn over and over again, and passed down to the next generation.
What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
My partners and I shared a desire to create high quality, special, and versatile pieces that transition easily throughout a woman’s multi-faceted life. We were each inspired by garments and accessories in our closets that we had treasured for years, worn over and over again, and hoped to hand down to the next generation. Our pieces are predominantly made in New York City and we are laser-focused on quality. You can think of Black Iris as anti-fast fashion.
What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?
Prior to starting Black Iris, I worked in finance. I started in equity research with a focus on the retail industry, and then moved over to the buy-side, investing in large cap stocks. I loved poring through retailers’ 10Ks, building financial models, and publishing investment reports, but always imagined what it would be like to be on the other side in an operating role. When I finally started a company from scratch it was even more rewarding than I could have envisioned.
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
I am a firm believer in an omni-channel approach to retail, so it was a major win when we garnered reverse inquiry from major retailers upon our launch. I am also proud of the way that our team quickly pivoted during COVID to make products that truly served our customers and community during a challenging time. We went from manufacturing silk dresses to making face masks nearly overnight, and expanded from there to stay relevant during an unprecedented time. We donated both face masks and dollars to help essential workers, and felt great about making a difference when it was needed most.
What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?
One of my biggest learnings is the importance of building the right team. While your company is small, each individual person can deeply impact the trajectory of the business in a way that
What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
We have lived through truly unprecedented times during these past several years, which can be challenging in an industry where future collections are planned one year in advance. The environment has made strategic planning difficult, but we have learned to embrace the unpredictability!