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Entrepreneurial spirit drives Ellie lead designer

Springfield Entrepreneurship Examiner Christine Parizo, left, interviews Ellie's lead designer Mari Tibbetts in Santa Monica, Calif.
Springfield Entrepreneurship Examiner Christine Parizo, left, interviews Ellie's lead designer Mari Tibbetts in Santa Monica, Calif.
Christine Parizo

Most fashion designers are given 18 to 24 months to design collections, but when Mari Tibbetts signed on as lead designer of activewear label Ellie in December 2012, she was told she’d have to launch a line in February 2013. Leveraging her existing activewear design background, Tibbetts rose to the challenge, and the first Ellie collection, Love, Ellie, launched on time with 16 pieces, she said in an exclusive interview with the Springfield Entrepreneurship Examiner.

Since then, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company has introduced 11 more monthly collections and sold out of several pieces within hours of the collections’ releases. Behind each piece is the incredibly sweet, welcoming Tibbetts, a designer with an entrepreneurial spirit who just released her own piece, the convertible vest, which is being sold on the Ellie website.

Tibbetts enjoys designing for a monthly collection, despite the initial “whoa!” feeling that hit her when she had to launch a collection in approximately two months. Designing seasonally means working a year and a half to two years ahead of the collection’s release, but with a monthly collection, she can design four to six months ahead. “We can be very close to the trend, hear what customers are wanting, and react right away,” she said. “If we need to, we can squeeze in one to two pieces.” She can also incorporate new colors faster, she added.

The convertible vest idea was born when Tibbetts combined a couple of hours of free time, a mannequin, and draping fabric. “I love draping – it’s where my inspiration comes from,” she said. Tibbetts was trying to create something she had never seen before, cutting different shapes and hoping it would turn into something. Realizing that all her favorite shapes were made out of rectangles, Tibbetts created the vest and quickly came up with at least five ways to wear it. Originally, Ellie was going to produce it as part of the line, but she wanted the vest to be chunky and cozy, like a sweater. Once the prototype was complete, she fell in love with it.

Now available on the Ellie website, the convertible vest is a very cozy piece that works well for pre- or post-workout or as a piece to wear traveling since it can also double as a blanket on chilly flights. Tibbetts also has collections planned out through September, posted on the wall in the office she shares with three other people, including her assistant designer and her patternmaker. (Next door is customer support, four people; down the hall is fulfillment, a room full of employees speedily packing orders to ship to customers.)

And working for a small company allows that to happen. “Small is good,” Tibbetts said.