The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Anne and Brian Lewis founded their company “Stately Wear”after an idea was sparked during a combination of two family trips.
A 2019 visit to a museum devoted to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair prompted Brian and Anne Lewis of Traverse City to launch an apparel brand based on the word “hippie.”
Sales of shirts and hats emblazoned with a variety of “hippie” graphics began selling — slowly. Then a phone call changed everything.
“One call literally has changed the trajectory of our company — when John Molner called,” said Brian Lewis. “He said, ‘We want to partner with you.’ That was right before Thanksgiving.”
“There are moments when an entrepreneur realizes they have something special,” said Anne Lewis. “That moment happened when John Molner, Katie Couric’s husband and co-founder of Katie Couric Media, called us, completely out of the blue.
“He wanted Katie Couric to partner with Stately Wear … because he fell in love with our French Hippie duffel bag. He told us he and his duffel were inseparable, and that he literally takes it everywhere. John then let us know that he wanted to feature the Hippie Brand as an official partner with Katie Couric Media.”
KatieCouric.com became Stately Wear’s first online affiliate. That was three weeks ago, and it is no longer the only Stately affiliate.
“We’re now on pace to have over 200 affiliates across the country before the end of the year,” said Brian Lewis. “On Dec. 3 they launched their brand store on Katie Couric Media with us. Our website (traffic) went from 100 people a day to 10,000 a day. Our sales have gone up 1,000 percent in three weeks.”
Stately Wear is all about branding. The concept originated from a combination of two family trips.
“We went to the Woodstock Museum in New York, and there is a powerful connection,” Brian Lewis said. “It’s very emotional when you go there. You feel that power that comes from that hippie vibe.”
Later, he said, “We were on vacation with one of our kids in Georgia. We really wanted to find a way to connect all of the — when you go from town to town to town — there’s always some version of what people are selling, shirts and things. We really love the hippie connection of respect for people and respect for planet. And we thought, if we can tie that in on a local, national and international basis, then people would be better off for it.”
The result is a collection of duffel bags and apparel products, each emblazoned with a graphic, the word ‘hippie,’ and either a place name a word that identifies a passion.
“It’s the emotional connection to a modern version of hippie,” Brian Lewis said. “And the passions: skiing, surfing, biking. Or the places: Colorado, California, the United States, France. That’s what the brand is. It’s all based around the connection that ‘hippie’ has for love and respect for people and planet. It’s a modern, iconic take on that hippie perspective of love for planet and love for people.”
Those family trips took place in 2019. Brian Lewis and his wife, children’s author Anne Margaret Lewis, assembled the business concept that same year.
“When we were first working on it, I reached out to the former CEO of Calvin Klein — who I did not know,” Brian Lewis said. “I sent him our designs and he sent me a note back right away and said, ‘This could be the next Life is Good.'”
“And then the pandemic started. It’s hard to launch a company during a pandemic.”
So the company simmered in the background as COVID-19 raged around the globe.
“We didn’t really launch (the company) until John Molner called us,” Brian Lewis said. “A friend of ours had sent him a bag last Christmas. And Katie’s husband called and said, ‘I use it every day. And wherever I take it, people love it, they comment on it, and they want to know where they can get theirs.'”
Molner has good things to say about Stately Wear’s saleability.
“I’m a huge fan of Stately Wear’s duffel bag and they are a wonderful addition to Katie’s Shop,” Molner said in an email. “It’s perfect for everything from commuting to fishing trips. They are iconic, eye-catching and high quality.”
Other people connect with the hippie vibe, too. Lewis and his wife were taking product shots on Old Mission Peninsula and a crowd of at least 30 people gathered to comment on the branding and and to ask where they could buy the bags and apparel.
“We were literally selling them out of the back of our car,” Brian Lewis said, “and we didn’t have that many so it didn’t take long for them to be gone.”
Manufactured on demand
Key to the Stately Wear business model is the fact that there is no warehouse full of product, which means there are no storage costs and no chance that excess product could end up unsold. Each item is produced only after it is ordered. The Lewises work with two factories, one in California and one in North Carolina.
The manufacturing facilities have been busy since the Katie Couric connection was made.
“When you order, that bag is made — one at a time. If it’s a bag, or a hoodie, or leggings, or a rash guard (a garment designed to protect against UV exposure), it is made one at a time,” said Brian Lewis. “There is absolutely no waste. Nothing ends up in a landfill — which is a problem in the apparel and accessories industry.”
Stately Wear is owned by the Lewises and a couple of investors involved in the apparel industry.
The company has no employees. Creative work is headed up by Anne Lewis and a freelancer.
This isn’t the first company Lewis and his wife have started in the area.
“Most people know me as the person who started Sleeping Bear Press,” Brian Lewis said.
He created the publishing company 19 years ago, about the same time he moved from Ann Arbor to Traverse City. He sold that company in 2003, but a principle he followed there now is at work in Stately Wear.
“Find a pattern and replicate it,” Brian Lewis said.
Sleeping Bear Press published a series of children’s books intended to help children learn the alphabet.
“The alphabet books sold millions of copies,” he said.
The formula there was to create an alphabet book centered on a topic. Titles now listed at the company’s website list, for example, “P is for Putt: A Golf Alphabet” and “T is for Tutu: A Ballet Alphabet.”
Stately Wear operates on the same principle. It uses the word “hippie” to tie the apparel brand together and offers variations labeled with place names or life passions.
“(John Molner) picked us No. 1 in the gift guide,” said Anne Lewis. “You can imagine my excitement. This shared our brand with millions via Katie Couric Media, giving me, who has always looked up to Katie Couric as a female inspiration, the continued drive to achieve high dreams and goals for Stately Wear.”
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.