TAC C6E1 Mallorie Dunn of SmartGlamour Interview Podcast Graphic

Hello and welcome to Talking about Clothes, with me, Holly Chayes, where I talk about clothes with people who wear them. This is the transcript for affordable, inclusive, customizable, ethical clothing – An interview with Mallorie Dunn of SmartGlamour

In this special episode of the podcast, I’m speaking with Mallorie Dunn, owner and designer of SmartGlamour. SmartGlamour is an affordable, inclusive, and customizable ethical clothing line for people of all shapes, sizes, heights, ages, identities, and styles.

I wanted to speak with Mallorie because her company is so focused on our relationship between our clothes and our bodies. So in this episode we talk about: fatphobia and ethics in the fashion space, we tackle why your clothes never seem to fit and how to find clothes that work for you. We discuss Mallorie’s intentionally chosen business practices and why she prioritizes customization in all of her clothing designs.

In this conversation we do talk a lot about bodies and sizing in this episode. So if that’s something that is sensitive to you, please, please continue with care or tune-in next time.

We originally recorded this conversation in April 2021, and I’m so excited to share it with you. You’ll find the rest of this season’s conversations and links to everything we mention at WhoWearsWho.com/podcast6 

So let’s dive in.

Jump to a section of the conversation: 

Introducing Mallorie Dunn owner and designer of SmartGlamour

Holly (01:41): Can you start with your name and where you’re located?

Mallorie (01:45): Yeah, my name is Mallorie Dunn and I am located in Brooklyn in New York City.

Holly (01:50): Awesome. What do you do?

Mallorie (01:52): I am a fashion designer. So that encompasses lots of things, but mainly I am the owner and designer of SmartGlamour, which is a customizable clothing line, ethically made for people of all shapes and sizes. But I am also a part-time professor and teacher and just general seamstress and artist.

How Mallorie Dunn got started in fashion before SmartGlamour

Holly (02:15): Awesome, awesome. How did you get started in fashion? What led you to fashion? How did you end up where you are now?

Mallorie (02:23): So basically I’ve been interested in, I would say, clothing my whole life. Sometimes I say fashion, but it’s, then when I explain it, I feel like that’s not really what it is. I was basically always interested in dressing up myself. Like ever since I was a kid there’s hardly a picture, like a kid picture or video of me just wearing normal clothes. I always had like dress up clothes over my clothes, like all that stuff.

Mallorie: And even so far as to like clothes are what I noticed about other people. So like my mom would be like, “oh, do do you remember so and so?”. And I’d be like, “who?” And she’s like, “well, they were wearing like a red sweater and these pants.” And I’m like, “oh yeah, I know who that is.” So just like for whatever reason I’ve always been that way.

(03:08): But I never thought about it like in any context other than just like my own fun self-expression and other people’s self-expression until I got to high school. And my high school had a fashion design program.

(03:25): Yeah, so I’m from Newburg, New York, which is like an hour and a half upstate from New York City, and I was lucky enough to go to a school that <laugh> because of the way our country fun schools, it was a title one school, which means that we got a decent amount of funding. And my school put that funding into various programs and academies.

Mallorie: And so I was in the Arts Academy and you know, which means I got to take like acting and dance and like fun stuff like that. But I realized we had a fashion design program and I was like, “whoa, that’s a thing you can like <laugh>, that’s a job I like,” you know, up until then I thought I was gonna be like a math teacher. And so I dove into that and then I realized you could go to college for that. And I was like, okay, well I’m definitely doing that. So I went to F.I.T for fashion design and then quickly realized <laugh> what the fashion industry actually is.

Holly (04:26): <laugh>

Mallorie (04:28): And was not super pleased by that. And so then I kind of went on a winding road of going again art education degree. Then graduating again from Pratt Institute for that and taking a year off. And then being like, what do I do? So then I ended up in corporate fashion, which just confirmed all of my fears. And so after a few years of that, I stopped doing that. Started doing freelance, and then from freelance came up with the idea from my company.

Holly (05:00): <affirmative> I always say that I don’t work in fashion, I work in every fashion adjacent field, ever. <laugh>, <laugh> but have never actually done fashion.

Mallorie Dunn’s experience in the fashion industry prior to founding SmartGlamour 

Holly (05:09): Can you talk a little bit about what your experience in the fashion industry? What was like and what ultimately led you to founding SmartGlamour?

Mallorie (05:19): I guess I’ll say that, you know, work going to school at F.I.T. and studying fashion design is such a polarizing even experience for me to look back at. Because on one hand I really loved the work I was doing. Like, you know, when you go to F.I.T. you really learn how to make clothes. Like it’s a very structured school. Where you get a lot of work assigned to you and you learn sewing, draping, pattern making, sketching, like all of it.

(05:51): So that I really appreciated. But at the same time, the environment of the school and the environment of the fashion design spaces were not what I wanted. They were very competitive. Almost like they were like warning you that they were competitive and, and I don’t know if it was just because they wanted their students to know what the industry would be.

(06:17): But it just gave this air of like pretension and like everyone was like in like cliques. Like it was just like just not my vibe at all <laugh>.

(06:26): And then fast forward once I actually ended up in corporate fashion, I mean that’s literally what it was like, you know, so I worked in juniors which is like clothing for like tweens. But it’s also a crossover customer cuz it’s for women in like middle America who wear trendy clothes as well. So we were kind of designing for two groups of people at the same time and we made really poorly made cheaply made things <laugh>. That got sold at like Kmart, Walmart, Wets Seal, Burlington, JCPenney, like that, that kind of stuff. And it was just, it was basically an, an office job. You know, I had a cubicle.

(07:12): It was super stressful, fast paced environment. Everyone was again just kind of like cliquey. And acting like these tank tops we were making was gonna, I don’t know, solve world hunger or something. Like everything was like “the most important”. I was just like, “this is bananas cuz we’re not even making things that we believe in.”

(07:38): There was a lot of copying, like direct, a hundred percent copying from other stores which you can do. There was a lot of like ripping off of art even. Like changing it just enough so we don’t get sued. There was a lot of accepting things from factories that were not good enough. But my design director would be like, “stand over there”. And like, push me to the other side of the room. Then she would like squint and be like, “that’s okay.”

(08:05): So it was a lot of that and I just, I just didn’t like it at all.

(08:11): And so when I left, I started just doing freelance. Because I didn’t want to go back to any other environment that would be similar to that. And so I used everything that I knew <laugh> from like, from my teaching degree to my F.I.T. degree and in between and I did anything you can imagine from like alterations to custom pieces to teaching kids how to sew, teaching adults how to do computer illustrations, like literally anything that I knew how to do, I did. I was a part-time tailor at like a high-end personal shopping thing. I was a seamstress at like a skateboard shop. Like I did everything.

The conversations Mallorie Dunn had that sparked SmartGlamour

Mallorie (08:55): And during that time I would just have a lot of conversations with my friends and my loved ones. I would just get really impassioned about how badly women and feminine people feel about their bodies and how often that was tied into clothes and their lack of access to clothes, their lack of clothes that fit them well.

(09:21): They’re looking at celebrities and advertisements and thinking like, “I don’t look like that so clearly was something wrong with me.”

Mallorie: And it would just really enrage me, but I wasn’t, I wasn’t enraged at the, at the women. I was enraged at like the world that this is what we’re doing, that we’re standing in a circle, like talking shit about ourselves. and so I don’t remember the exact moment, but I was basically like, what if I fix this <laugh> with a company where, where everyone can have whatever they want and it can be customizable and it will be for everyone. And then the imagery we create will reflect that so that when you look at it. You see someone who you can relate to instead of seeing someone that makes you feel bad about yourself.

How Mallorie Dunn decided on SmartGlamour’s size range 

Holly (10:07): I love that ethos when it comes to clothing and design. At the same time as someone with a related design background but not the same. That’s a very tall design order. Can you talk about your design process? And how you design across such a wide size range? Because you do have an extraordinary size range. And also incorporating custom alterations or custom garments entirely into that process.

Mallorie (10:41): Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So first of all to say that my size range is XXS to 15X but then I say and beyond because I make anything customizable. So, you know, there are actually no barriers. That’s just like, if you wanna pick a select size, here you go. And for reference, if people may not know what those sizes mean, you know, if a store decides to carry plus sizes they usually stop at about a 3X. If you’re lucky, they’ll go to maybe a five six and I go to a 15. and I sell those sizes. So, you know, to anyone who’s listening to this and is like, those people don’t need clothes, they do <laugh>.

Holly (11:23): We all do.

Mallorie (11:24): I mean, those people exist and they also wear clothes and they need them. As far as designing for that wide of a range, I really don’t think about size much at all when I’m designing. You know, I’ve done a lot of research and statistics. Statistics like gathering and looking at from all the years. So, so I’ve had my business for seven years now and the whole time I’ve been collecting people’s measurements.

Mallorie: Anytime I have a casting and, and a measure of perspective models. Anytime I am chatting with somebody. I’ll do like a virtual measurement Skype call to talk to somebody about measuring themselves. And I just keep compiling that. And one of the things that I feel like fashion industry professionals who don’t want to serve plus size folks love to say is that like “plus size folks are just too hard to dress that their bodies are like enigmas that like, we can’t understand <laugh> and so and so therefore it’s, it’s, it’s not worth it because it’s too hard and we have to bring in these like, specialty people who cost all this money.”

Everyone is between sizes

(12:34): The fact of the matter is that percentage wise straight size people are between sizes the same amount that plus size people are. Because bodies aren’t made from size charts, size charts were created to mass manufacture clothing, bodies are just bodies. So therefore I basically just design clothing and then just offer them to anyone. And the customizations help all size people get them to fit correctly. Straight and plus alike.

(13:08): What I do take into consideration when I’m designing is accessibility and price and like wear and wash and comfort. So, you know, SmartGlamour is not a luxury brand. I’m not making, you know, a hundred percent silk blouse. I’m not making, you know, intricate coats with like all these linings and like zipper pockets and, you know, I’m not doing any of that.

(13:34): The point is that I want people to have access to clothing that is made fairly and ethically and that fits them and that will last and that they love and they feel comfortable in. So I’m considering the fabric quality, the price of the fabric, the ease of me personally physically making the garment you know, those kind of things. That’s, that’s more what I’m focused on.

A brief detour into clothing grading & why it’s so hard to find clothes that fit

Holly (14:00): Do you and if this is like an internal secret, feel free to say <laugh>, do you grade everything yourself?

Mallorie (14:07): Yes.

Holly (14:08): Yeah. What’s that – Cause another part is that – “normal designers” think that plus size is such a specialty thing because it’s not part of what they have accumulated in their skillset. And that’s the only reason they think it’s difficult or different or odd. It’s just, it’s because you don’t know it that you think it’s hard. <laugh>, like that’s what everything is. Ultimately, if you don’t know what something is, you think it’s probably hard. Until you get into unconscious bias and a lot of actually women’s work and historically traditional women’s work and all of that anyway. Tangent. 

Mallorie (14:49):<affirmative>. No, no, that’s, yeah, that’s super important to me because it’s like the fact of the matter is that like society at large is fatphobic and the fashion industry specifically is incredibly fatphobic. I always actually say this a lot in like SmartGlamour stories because people get rightfully frustrated that they are left out when they’re the majority. And they just don’t understand why. And I’m like, well, the fact of the matter is that we live in a society that hates fat peoples. And the fashion industry is like kind of like the quintessential of that. Because we’ve like put a certain kind of body type on a pedestal. So if the, if you are not that, it’s

Holly (15:26): Like fashion, health and medicine <laugh>.

Mallorie (15:29): Yes. Yes. Uhhuh, <affirmative>

Holly (15:30): are the trifecta of hate.

Mallorie (15:32): Yes, a hundred percent. And so, like, if you don’t see someone as being worthy as a customer you are not gonna research them. You’re not gonna look into them, you’re not gonna care about their wants and their needs the same way that you do when you’re looking into straight size people as customers. And so you’re going to fail them <laugh>.

Holly (15:51): Yeah. Was that part of your F.I.T. education or was that something you learned as you went or specifically sought?

Mallorie (15:58): Absolutely, had nothing to do with anything I learned in F.I.T. I actually got criticized multiple times and got bad grades in illustration because I drew my croquis, my fashion figures too curvy. And let me say right now that they were not plus size croquis. They were just right slightly too curvy for what my teacher expected them to look like. You know? 

Mallorie: Because that proportion is so tiny and tall and I was like drawing more like tall, average people <laugh>. And they were like, “no, no, no, no, we don’t do that here. We draw, we draw stick figures.” So yeah, I mean, I don’t think I ever saw a plus sized dress form at F.I.T. not saying they don’t exist somewhere, but they weren’t in any of the rooms I was in. You actually don’t even learn sizing. I mean, maybe they do now, but I don’t know. Yeah, you don’t learn sizing, you don’t learn grading, you don’t learn any of that.

What grading clothes means in fashion and pattern design

Holly (16:55): How did you learn it then? Where did you go to find it? Because it’s a very, so, so grading is, if you don’t know it’s how you get from like the one size of a pattern to another size. Like if you go from like a 15 to a 16 or a 14 to a 16 or whatever, it’s that, how do you scale up or scale down what you’ve originally designed and created to get different sizes. Basically. 

And it’s a very, there’s a lot of technical bits and pieces to it because bodies are weird and we all have various body proportions and differences. A very classic far too simplified version is like you grade the bust and the waist and the hips, but then you get into arm holes and sleeves and arm holes don’t change at the same rate that bust sizing does. And the bust to waist proportions and ratios change, and then you get into necklines and hems and lengths. 

It’s a lot to consider and it’s a lot of trial and error and you can go very wrong very quickly. <laugh>. So how did you, if this wasn’t part of your formal design training, where did you learn it?

There is no universal clothing sizing 

Mallorie (18:17): So first I wanna say that there is no universal grading scale. So there’s no, like, you learn how to do that and then you do it. Everyone does it somewhat differently. Also, every company has their own fit and their own size chart, so they’re grading according to that.

(18:34): So I never even really thought about grading until I started working in corporate fashion. And the, the, what might be surprising to non-fashion people is that in the corporate fashion world, most people that work in design only know how to do one part of it. So like, there is a technical designer who does the grading and the pattern making and looking at fits. (Sometimes they don’t even do the pattern making. Sometimes somebody else does it in another factory or another office.) Then there is the, the designers who like our idea people and do sketches.

(19:10): Then there’s just the designer that works on art and graphics. Then there’s, you know, an assistant who kind of goes around and helps. Then there’s production who talks about like, how do we actually get all these things made? So there’s a lot of different people and they’re all doing different things, and a lot of them don’t know anything about other people’s jobs.

(19:27): And specifically a lot of designers who are idea sketch people don’t know how to make clothes. You know, maybe at one point, depending on what school they went to, they took a sewing class or maybe they took one draping or class or whatever. But then they were like, this is not for me. I don’t like physically making things. And then they, then they stopped and they focused on art and they focused on concept.

(19:48): So when I got to my corporate office and they found out that I knew how to draw and concept design and make clothes and this and that and the other thing, you know, it was like, oh wow, okay, well we can throw you work that <laugh> isn’t actually your work

Holly (20:05): In any way. And that’s one of the bonuses of an F.I.T. Education is that they are a very technical, you will get out of F.I.T. with a whole suite of skills in a very concrete manner.

Mallorie (20:19): Yes. So they would throw me sometimes the technical designers’ work to just even just double check it, like to like go over a spec. And a spec is like a basically like an Excel spreadsheet with lots of information and measurements and a sketch and whatnot.

(20:36): And so I kind of like learned on the job of like, oh, this is what this looks like. And, and I got the basics of like, oh, there’s a tolerance that things are allowed to be off by. And that tolerance changes depending on if you’re talking about the bust or you’re talking about the distance between an edge and where a button’s placed. You know, like depending on what it is on a garment, you’re allowed to get a certain amount wrong because humans make things and humans make human errors.

(21:05): And I’m also just happened to be, as I mentioned earlier, I thought I would be a math teacher. I am, I am, I have a proponent for math. I’m good at math, I’m good at proportions, I’m good at looking at measurements and thinking about things in that way. And so I think I just kind of took that on the job experience and then also took my propensity for a math and added it in with my endless curiosity of bodies and measurements and numbers. I just apply all of it all the time. <laugh>, And I make my own patterns. So <laugh>.

Holly (21:42): That’s awesome. Grading is one of those things that I think so often gets left out of the design conversation in a really detrimental way. And there’s like this distinction between the art part of design and then all of the other stuff. And I think we focus far too much on the art part of it and much less on the “Okay, but how do we make this concept a reality?” And that’s often where things <laugh> fall apart.

Mallorie (22:18): <laugh>. Yeah, for sure.

Mallorie Dunn’s decision to extend the SmartGlamour sizing chart

Holly (22:20): <laugh>. Yeah. And did you start out with a extremely large size range or did you build that up as SmartGlamour has grown as a business?

Mallorie (22:33): So kind of both of that’s true. Right? So from day one, everything was customizable and I, there was never gonna be a time where somebody wanted something and I said, oh, I don’t make your size. Like that was not gonna happen.

Mallorie: The first, my, like, like when I launched the site back in 2014, the size chart was XS to 3X, and very quickly, I think maybe like two collections in, I was like, this is not enough. And so I made XXS to 6X. and then over time I found that I was making a lot of customized pieces for people who, if I had just extended the chart, they’d be a 7X, an 8X, a 10X. And I was like, this is silly, I just need to write this down so that I can like lessen my emails of saying, “yes, of course I will make this for you.”

(23:26): Oh, actually, if I just extended this chart, you’d be an eight or whatever. So then I think maybe a year or two in, I just extended the charts to 15. But it still, you know, it still happens. The other day I got a, I had an email from somebody who was looking all over the world to just find a pair of leggings that fit. And if I were to extend my chart, they would be an 18X. And so, I mean, yeah, so like short answer, I always made clothes for everybody, but long answer I, I constantly am like updating things, you know, I’m adding, I have a bicep chart on my website so people can check things like that to see like, “oh, do I need this customized or not?”

Using alpha vs numerical clothing sizes

Holly (24:09): Is there a reason you went with alpha sizing instead of a numerical or a different type of sizing schema?

Mallorie (24:18): So originally, no. Originally I think it’s just the first thing that came to me. Actually in my very first original chart I even said had like the, you know, this size is similar to a this and gave it a number. I quickly took that off because people don’t look at size charts and they don’t know their measurements. And so they’ll go, oh, well I’m usually a 14, or they think they’re usually 14 or whatever. And they would just guess and order. Then once I would email them back and say, well, what are your measurements? Even though the measurements were there, it was like by also having the numeric size there, people just didn’t even check and they just guessed. 

Your measurements are not a judgment of you

Mallorie: So by removing the equivalent of like, this, this is a, this and really stressing like, please measure yourself, here’s videos on how to do it. You know, on every product page it says, please remember that your measurements are, just tell me how much fabric and thread I need. They don’t mean anything else. So like, you know, let, let’s just get there so that you have things that fit you and then we don’t have to talk about it again if you don’t wanna talk about it again.

Holly (25:29): That’s really interesting. And it, it reminds me of doing costume design and getting actors and actresses, measurements and heights and weights and all of that jazz from their agents or from whoever their liaison was to give us all of that detail and us automatically sizing everything up. Like everyone, like you just, you make them shorter and you make them larger. Like, and you shop for that and you of course include what they originally gave you.

Holly: Cuz every now and then you’ll get an actor or an actress who gives you their real sizing and you’re like, “this is odd.” And, and just how much we put on those numbers and how we assume that a 14 is a 14 is a 14 is a 14, which is not at all true because there are, as you said earlier, there is no standard clothing sizing that is a myth and it has nothing to do with you.

Mallorie (26:31): <laugh>. A hundred percent. It’s so funny cuz sometimes people would be like, “man, if I could change anything about the fashion industry, I would make it so that every single 14 fits exactly the same.” And I’m like, that’s, it’s just not gonna happen for so many reasons. And the first is that there are a billion clothing stores and they make their clothing all over the world by human beings using different charts and different fit models.

The nuance of clothing fitting 

Mallorie (26:57): So even if, even if two charts have the same like range of measurements within their sizes, their clothes are not gonna fit the same on you because they fit them on a fit model who doesn’t have your body. And like if you find that there’s a brand that kind of just like sits on you the way you want it to, that that’s probably because your proportions are close to the proportions of that brand’s fit model.

Holly (27:22): Yeah. And, and what I tell clients and people is to like, do whatever you can to make that brand work for you. If it’s like, feasible in anyway. And there are tips and tricks to style things to make them your style, even if your aesthetic and the brand’s aesthetic are totally different or if it’s a financial barrier, but that’s the easiest way. And it’s not easy. Like easiest in the sense is on a scale of hard to harder. To get clothes that fit, is to find a brand that uses a similar fit model. Because even if a 14 was a 14 was a 14 in like the standard hips, waist bust, what about your knee to ankle length? What about your hip to waist ratio? What about that rise and what about that curve? And all of that information.

(28:22): What about your like wrist size? Or your bicep size? Like these proportions, or your thigh. That’s a huge thing in jeans is finding things that’ll fit your thigh that also fit the rest of your leg. Is, we talk about sizing and clothing in such a narrow capacity in general conversations that we start to internalize “this piece of clothing doesn’t fit me. It should be easy. Therefore I am wrong.” Which is. If you stop the mental chatter at “this piece of clothing doesn’t fit me” full stop. Maybe a more accurate version of what’s happening in reality. Like don’t read into brand corporate choices as they relate to your body.

The more you know about your clothes, the easier it is to find clothes you love to wear

Mallorie (29:12): Right. Right. And I think so much of that has to do with, I mean, with a lot of things, but, but it you know, back even just like 50 years ago, way more clothing was made here, that is worn here and now only like 3% of clothes that are worn here are made, is made here. And what that’s done in addition to lots of other things.

Mallorie: But what that’s done is really removed people’s awareness of exactly how things get made. And in my opinion, the more information you have about how something gets made and how it actually works, the easier it is for you to be a consumer of that thing and get exactly what you want. You know, like I’ve, I’ve like showed in my Instagram stories for my brand, literally charts that like fit models that like brands fill out for fit models.

(30:05): I’m like, there is no fit model that’s like just bust-waist-hip. I mean, it’s literally as, as small measurements of like, you know, from like your shoulder slope, like how, how much your shoulder goes down from your, from your neck to your, to the edge of your shoulder where your arm is, like, things like that.

Mallorie: And they’re looking for people with measurements in those, those kind of not-so-little things you never thought get measured. And they look for people within like a quarter of an inch.

Mallorie: Like they won’t just hire anybody to be a fit model and then you have to like keep your body exactly the same. I mean it’s definitely, it’s a whole thing. So it’s like if you don’t know that that designers are especially big companies, designers are going into that specific of a detail with measurements and then you’re like, “why isn’t this made to fit me?” I’m like,” cuz it was made to fit somebody else.”

Running a sustainable and ethical clothing manufacturing operation 

Holly (30:55): <laugh>. Yeah. You, you said that you run what basically amounts to an ethical and sustainable clothing manufacturing operation as well as a design operation and a, a brand operation and a social media and a marketing agency and all of that jazz and all of those things that go into a small business. Can you talk a little bit about how you navigate running a sustainable and ethical manufacturing business ultimately? Cuz there are inherent tensions in that.

Mallorie (31:31): So the first thing is that I make everything myself. So I don’t work with any factories of any kind at all. Everything is literally made with my hands in the room that I’m sitting in right now. 

Mallorie: The second thing when we’re talking about sustainability, all of my items that people buy are made to order. So I’m not guessing and making a bunch of stock that then maybe doesn’t get sold, that then now I have to figure out what to do with it, that I created waste to make it all of that. So that gets removed from the mat. Then when I’m making things you know, inevitably there’s pieces, there’s tiny pieces of fabric that get cut in weird ways that now I can’t, I can’t use that for something else cuz it’s too small or it’s like a weird shape.

(32:21): All of that fabric I save and I color coordinate and like stock in my room and people can order what I call SmartGlamour surprise items, which are just 20 bucks. And you pick either a clothing item or a bralette and you tell me your size and you tell me you SmartGlamour size and you tell me your preference to like bright, light, or dark.

Mallorie: And then I go through all my little stock fabrics and I send you something. So it helps me reduce what I’m throwing out cuz I don’t throw anything of value out. And it’s like a, it’s like a fun little treat to like add on to an order of something else or to even like have the be you know, be like the first thing you try from me cuz it’s cheaper or to like gift to somebody. something like that.

(33:06): And then when I think about like the word ethical when it pertains to fashion you know, there is really, and even sustainable, there really is no like set definition for those words specifically within fashion.

Not letting ethical be just a buzzword 

Mallorie (33:19): But to me, ethical fashion has to tie directly back to the actual definition of ethical, which is like moral goodness that does not harm people or the planet. And so that’s something that I take very far into how I do everything with my business. It has to do with how I cast my models, how I treat my models, how I behave on social media, how I protect my models on social media, how I, you know, reduce my waste, how I shop small, how I try to use dead stock fabric when I can, how I use available trim. Like it’s just, it has to be a, like a all-encompassing circular concept in my mind. Otherwise it just seems like a buzzword.

Holly (34:07): I really like that. I like the idea, I love the idea of like a surprise garment that you can just order and, and that I, I don’t think I’ve heard, I’ve heard variations on that concept for kind of reducing production waste, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard that particular version of it. Can you talk a little more about how you came to enacting that definition of ethical and how you decided that that’s how you wanted to run your company?

Mallorie (34:39): I think that a lot of the ways that I run SmartGlamour are just way, are just, you know, beliefs and morals that I’ve always had and maybe as a child and a teenager and even a young adult didn’t really know the words for them or how they impacted the world or that there was other people also doing these things. You know I’ve always been that kind of person that’s like a helper and a problem solver and like a very inclusively minded, I grew up in a very diverse area. So like all of those things, I just, just grew up with them inside me. I don’t really know <laugh>, you know how that happened.

Continually doing better 

(35:24): But then, because I’m a curious person, as I mentioned before I’m always learning. I’m always following and more people on the internet who, you know, have very different perspectives from me.

(35:37): I’m always adapting my own language, my own thought processes. I’m always going back and saying, “Hey, I used to do this like this. Now I think that this is a better way to do it and I’m gonna do that.” I believe in transparency all those things. And then also when I talk about like my treatment of my models and my protection of my models, which is a very big facet of SmartGlamour.

Mallorie: I think that also has a lot to do with, back in my like college-ish age days, I did some modeling and I did not appreciate <laugh> the way I was treated or other models were treated. They get treated like talking clothes hangers basically. Or, or even non-talking clothes hangers. Not like fully rounded real people which of course they are. And I don’t think you have to remove models humanity in order to sell your goods.

Highlighting humanity in fashion spaces 

Mallorie (36:37): I actually think it works better if you highlight their humanity and remind people, like these are real people with views and thoughts and personalities and various gender expressions. And, and like, “that’s okay because so are you shopper on the other side of the screen.”

Mallorie: And then also when it comes to protecting them, which is such a big thing for me you know, especially in the past few years diversity inclusion is like the new hip thing for companies to do. Cuz otherwise they feel like they’re gonna get yelled at, which they will.

Mallorie: But if you’re coming at it from a place of, if I don’t do this, we’re gonna get yelled at. You’re gonna hurt people and specifically you’re probably gonna hurt your models because you’re gonna be casting “diversely” for your own image, but you’re not gonna be making sure your space is safe, like your physical space that you bring people into photo shoots, et cetera.

(37:39): And then you’re also not gonna be thinking about, I need to make this online community safe. You know? I don’t let negative comments sit on my social media ever, ever, ever. They, you’ll never see one because I jump on them and I remove them. You know, especially when you think about the fact that I’m a straight size woman, I’m a white woman, I’m a cis-woman, I’m a straight woman – as in sexuality. Most of my models are not all of those things. And so if I’m profiting off of borrowing their likenesses, I will not stand for them being in harm’s way because that’s, it’s, it’s, yeah.

Holly (38:19): Yeah.

Mallorie (38:20): It’s, it’s not correct <laugh>.

Reflecting on changes in social media over the years 

Holly (38:21): And I appreciate that you brought it up and that you treat your spaces that way because I also wanna ask how you’ve seen social media change in the seven years that you’ve been in business and in SmartGlamour and how, just what that’s looked like and, and if if you wanna talk about that, that’d be great.

Mallorie (38:43): <laugh>. oh my, I mean it’s, oh my, it’s changed so much. When you think about like, Instagram basically became a thing like not that long before I started my company. So, you know, when I first was posting about SmartGlamour, it was all still like, the filters were like bananas on Instagram and you could like barely see through them. Like that was the day when I was starting that. And also, you know, I think that people, people, there’s so much imagery around them all the time that sometimes people forget, like how quickly in retrospective things have shifted.

Mallorie: You know, when I started and I started doing this like inclusive imagery, accurate representation as I like to call it people weren’t doing that. Like this was pre Target being like, oh, I’m gonna have four models and one’s gonna be plus and one’s gonna be Black.

(39:31): So like, this is pre even their baby steps into this stuff. This is like back when – I mean plus size options are still terrible – but back then they were so much worse. It was like, you get Lane Bryant and that’s it. This was like the start of plus size bloggers, which just changed so much. Social media is how that all happened because it gave platforms to people that institutions would not give platforms to. I mean, SmartGlamour would not exist without social media I don’t think. It’s, it’s really changed over, over the years. And I think mostly for the better, but of course there’s, you know, lots of downfalls to social media as well.

Social media and negativity 

Holly (40:17): Yeah. I, have you seen a rise in negative comments or have they mostly gone away or has it stayed mostly the same in your opinion?

Mallorie (40:29): Hmm. So I think it kind of goes in waves and quite honestly there’s a part of the fact that most people who come upon SmartGlamour’s Instagram know that I’m the one running it. And I think that even though I do, I do a lot of work to kind of like remove my image from it because we don’t need more images of, of straight sized white ladies.

Mallorie: So, but you know, I do like interviews, I do things, there’s a picture of me on the, about, about the designer on my page, whatever, people know that it’s me. And I get a lot less hate thrown at me. I think because of the, the privileged experience that I live in. What I will say is that sometimes if one of my posts ends up outside of my space in someone else’s space, and god forbid there’s fat people living their life that those kind of posts get a lot of hatred.

(41:31): And I will try my best to go into the comments and and defend that. But then again, you know, like if, if it’s not, if the post is not under my control, I can’t delete the comments, I can only like stick up for people and and whatnot. So, so again, I think it really has to do with the person who’s creating the space, even if the space is online, because I make it very clear that I don’t put up with that crap and, and that tied into my privileged existence I think is why I get less of it than than other people.

Holly (42:08): Yeah. I think it’s also really interesting that you have curated such a, I wanna say insular, but I don’t think that’s the right word, but like a, a very clearly communicated culture within your online space, because I think that that’s something we forget we can do. And I think right, maybe that was much more common 7 or 10 or 15 years ago on, on the internet when just the audience was much smaller and you could, maybe it’s that there was more community overlap, but basically like, it feels like now everyone’s spaces are very separate in a way that I’m not sure was true when I first got on social media many, many years ago. And I’m not very active anymore cuz I’m like, I have, my brain is too full of too many other things. <laugh>.

Creating clearly communicated culture in community spaces

Mallorie (43:03): That’s fair. If I didn’t have, if I didn’t have social media for SmartGlamour right, I would not be using it in the same way that I do personally at all. You know, it’s interesting because the, the online spaces SmartGlamour spaces are very mirror images of the in-person SmartGlamour spaces.

Mallorie: Down to the fact where like when I have a, a public casting and people come to be a model I hand out a big sheet that says, “this is what SmartGlamour is about, here are the things that we are not about. Here are the things that we don’t stand for. If I see any of this happening, you know, it will be corrected. It’s not allowed here. If that’s not for you, then this space is not for you.” You know, and I’ve had to have conversations with people over the years.

(43:57): You know, I and I try to always do it in a call in way, you know, I will always take people aside or send them a DM or whatever the case may be to say like, “Hey, you know, I think that you are a lovely human being. You did abc, you said abc, whatever the case is that can be perceived as transphobic or homophobic or fatphobic or ableist, whatever. And I just want to bring that to your attention and see what your response to that is.”

Mallorie: And you know, the majority of the time people are like, “oh my God, I had no idea.” They know they’ve now established some kind of relationship with me so they understand where I’m coming from and they move to correct. And I go, “great. We’re done here.” Occasionally people push back and go, “well, no, I don’t think that or whatever, and I’m gonna keep behaving that way.” And I say, “okay, well this space is then no longer for you because it needs to be a safe space for every kind of person, otherwise this doesn’t work.”

Holly (44:57): Have you always had that? Like when you sat down to create SmartGlamour where you like, this is our mission statement, values, manifesto, whatever you wanna call it. Did you start that way or has it again, grown as you’ve grown?

Mallorie (45:13): I mean, those definitely were always the intentions from the start. I think over the years I’ve learned how to better articulate those intentions. You know, like I, that, that piece of paper that I just brought up, you know, I brought that into the castings maybe halfway through the past seven years. So like before it used to be kind of like in an email or, you know, I just, you know, over the years you figure out the best like organizational ways to go about things and to make things as clear as possible. And also I’m a human being that’s learning of course.

Mallorie: So like I learn new things and I have to adapt to the things that I’m learning. So, so yeah, I think that the intentions were always there, but over the years I’ve found better and/or new ways to go about them.

Where Mallorie Dunn sees SmartGlamour going

Holly (46:05): Where do you wanna see SmartGlamour go from here?

Mallorie (46:08): That kind of, my answer to that question changes a lot. <laugh> And especially, especially now that like a pandemic happened and I had to change and I had to change so many things. I try not to be. I’m trying to be less specific with, with what I want the future to happen because I’m trying not to give myself expectations that like may not ever come true.

(46:35): You know, in 2015 I had a three month long pop-up shop in the East Village and there’s a lot of things about that experience that if I did it again, I wouldn’t do the same. But the thing that I liked the most about it was having a physical communal safe space that was much more than a store. We had, we had this space for three months and I had 16 events in those three months.

(47:01): And those events went, ran the gamut from, you know, like a, a fun little shopping experience with a blogger to a panel discuss discussion about like sex positivity to a standup comedy night with like, all female and non-binary comics like you know, things like that. And, and I also have started doing these virtual classes on both the like inclusive business philosophy side and the literally learning how to hand sew or learning how to illustrate side.

(47:39): So I think like in my dreams, I would love to have some other, some new physical space where yes, of course it would be a store and a studio, but it could also be a place for classes and could also be a place for events. Because I think we need more of those kinds of spaces, not less. But that’s, it’s not a thing that I’m saying, you know, oh, by this date on this time, I’m gonna have a, a physical location.

(48:05): That’s just not realistic.

Holly (48:06): Yeah, yeah. very firm, but loosely held dream. It sounds like <laugh>

Mallorie (48:13): <laugh>. Yes. Yes. Something like that.

Where to find Mallorie Dunn and SmartGlamour

Holly (48:15): Awesome. Awesome. What’s, and we’re coming to the end of our conversation. So what’s the best place for people to find you and interact?

Mallorie (48:24): So the website itself is SmartGlamour.com. Also if you just google SmartGlamour, you’ll find all types of things from articles to social media feeds to the website itself.

(48:36): On Instagram, we are a @Smart_Glamour. If you see the account without the underscore, that is also technically mine. But that was, that was the SmartGlamour account until the end of 2018 and then I started a new one because the algorithm is a mess. And that was a very good decision. I’m happy I made that decision, but that’s why you might see two of them. And everywhere else, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, were just SmartGlamour.

Holly (49:01): Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for having this conversation. It was wonderful getting to chat.

Mallorie (49:06): Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Holly (49:11): And thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. You’ll find the rest of this season’s conversations and links to everything we mention at WhoWearsWho.com/podcast6 

I’ll talk to you soon.