An athletic blonde in harem pants is waiting for us at the café. When she stands up, her mouth spreads into a generous smile as she pushes her pixie-cut hair to the side. "It's so good to see you!" she says, sipping an iced tea and banishing any possibility of pretense. This is Mary Carney, designer and founder of Zaelie--a brand that stands for zeal--and it's a quality she has in spades. Not to mention a refreshing altruism, passion, and deep-rooted belief that all women deserve to feel good in the clothes they wear. Oh, and a backstage pass to alter J. Lo's clothes as part of her dayjob in Brooklyn, NY. We sat down with the Minnesota-grown designer, entrepreneur, tailor, and yogi to find out more about her growing brand and vision for the future.
S&TF: What exactly does Zaelie mean?
It stands for zeal, which represents energy and passion--Zaelie is my feminine version of that. I really wanted [the name] to tie in to what yoga's all about for me: feeling good. In my latest runway show I offered sizes all the way up to 2X, but the idea is that we're eventually going to have all the way from extra small to 3X. Our customer is someone who wants be fashionable but comfortable and athletic at the same time. I feel like so many yoga brands don't actually deliver on that holistic message--they're more concerned with just how it looks. We're kind of the anti-lululemon.
S&TF: When did you start your company?
The launch date was this June but I really started going forward in January when I designed for this dance company that happens to do contemporary pole dancing! Working for them was what really got the fire under my ass because their show was going to be that February. They're all female and really want to bring the strength and curiosity back to pole dancing, giving it a new edge.
S&TF: What has it been like relocating to New York?
It's been great. Honestly, my yoga studio there has been my most amazing community. It's called Sacred Brooklyn, and a part of me feels like I moved to New York just to find this yoga studio. It's where I met my best friends. In February I did their 30 Day Challenge and afterwards I cut off all my hair and finally started my brand...I started manifesting all these things. That yoga studio has been so much more than just a yoga studio, and that's how I feel the clothing should be too.
S&TF: That's amazing. It sounds like everything really started coming together in terms of your personal experience with yoga and what you promote with your brand.
Yeah, I had this Empower Campaign when I first started Zaelie, and the idea was to eventually have an ongoing nonprofit part of my brand that goes to women's sexual assault awareness, mental health awareness, and eating disorder awareness. I started yoga at CorePower about three years ago during some tough family stuff, and yoga has totally brought me into a better place, so it's important for me to help other people find that.
S&TF: All of your pieces are so beautiful and so detailed. Do you make everything yourself?
Everything I'm wearing right now I made! I started out making everything by hand, and then when I had to do everything for the dance company I began working with a factory. And now I'm in the process of finding an actual fabric vendor that I can use on an on-going basis. A part of me wants to pull back and do more handmade items and custom pieces...but I would also love if I could just offer five basic things that I manufacture all the time and then do special custom things in addition.
S&TF: You said you freelance full-time in addition to designing Zaelie. What's that like?
Yes! I tailor on set for photo shoots and advertisements as part of my job at 7th Bone Tailoring Agency. I actually just got to work for J.Lo which felt so awesome. Did you watch the Fashion Rocks thing? I actually sewed part of her outfit.
S&TF: Shut up!
I work on set for photo shoots and we also have private clients like Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. We basically make the clothes look right on camera. So when you go to a store and think, "why doesn't this fit like it did in the ad?" it's because it didn't fit like that to begin with! I've gotten really good at carrying heavy things...I have to carry around my suitcase with all my sewing stuff in it and my sewing machine.
S&TF: With such a growing brand, what do you envision is next for Zaelie?
A friend of mine and I are looking to create a Birchbox but for Active Wear. We're calling it The Movement House and it's going to be everything from zen to movement to holistic-based, and we'll send people a different box each month. We're including everything from incense to hair ties to jewelry to books, and I want to feature all small local artists and designers. I feel like it's the next trend in shopping.