Who hasn’t dreamed of going into business with their best friend?
Lifelong friends Georgia Kicklighter and Victoria Ying did just that. The two California natives went their separate ways after high school, but ultimately found a way to combine their disparate backgrounds in art, animation, and business: Lace and Lore, the geek fashion company that’s been turning heads since it launched its first collection this spring.
The two fans have turned Lace and Lore into a Her Universe for the otaku set, with cute designs inspired by Japanese pop culture and fandom—and they have big plans to branch out into other areas of geek culture. While they do have some part-time help to assist with inventory and convention appearances, the store is mainly run by its two founders.
“[Ying] always had this idea of being able to express what visually impacted her and her art has always spoken really well to people…” Kicklighter told the Daily Dot. “I’ve always wanted to have my own business, but I always felt like I’m a creative person who doesn’t have, say, a lot of creative talent. But I’m very into the arts, TV, film, [and] we both have a big passion for animation, anime, comic books, that kind of thing.”
Ying came up with the idea of combining their different strengths to start a company. Neither had a background in the fashion industry, but that didn’t stand in the way of them pursuing this dream. Ying told the Daily Dot she’s always been interested in fashion. Since they went to an all-girl Catholic school, they had to wear uniforms and couldn’t use fashion as a form of expression until college. That’s where Ying became very interested in using it as a way to express herself.
Geeky women will be able to find a range of unique designs they can use to express themselves through Lace and Lore’s apparel and accessories. The company focuses solely on fangirl fashion, which was a very important component for both founders. Kicklighter describes them both as feminists. At her all-girl high school she had been encouraged to be outspoken and express opinions. Later, when people in college and then the workplace told her girls weren’t supposed to like certain things, she felt like she had slipped into a Twilight Zone episode.
“We really wanted to support other women who had passion for things that maybe weren’t ‘feminine,’ and one thing that I think we both feel strongly about is just because I like Star Trek and Star Wars and comic books and anime and what have you, doesn’t mean I can’t be a girl. Doesn’t mean I can’t be feminine. Doesn’t mean I can’t be pretty…” Kicklighter said. “It’s not an either or. And if somebody doesn’t like it, well, they can go away.”
The duo believes this trait sets them apart from their competitors. “We’ve always really wanted to emphasize the feminine aspects of nerd, geek culture because we were seeing stuff that just didn’t embrace the fact that we were women and that we like girly things and we like pretty colors,” Ying said. “It’s like, we can have both, and that’s kind of what we wanted to do with our company.”
Those colors are clearly seen in Lace and Lore’s 2015 spring collection, where prices range from $5 for a hair clip to $69 for a dress. Their custom design line features a mix of light colors like purple, pink, and blue on dresses, skirts, leggings, and bags. Ramen, 8-bit hearts, d20 dice, color markers, trading cards, and game console buttons feature on these styles. Their recently released summer collection also includes bright colors with ice cream, doughnut, and strawberry shortcake designs.
In addition to their custom lines, Lace and Lore also launched its first licensed collection this spring. When Kicklighter attended Anime Expo last year, she began talking to anime distributors about the company and how they wanted to work with major distributors to create these lines. The U.S. manga distributor Viz in particular was very excited about the possibilities. The result is an officially licensed six-piece Naruto collection featuring dresses and leggings displaying chibi characters from the series as well as Akatsuki and leaf kunai designs.
“Just because I like Star Trek and Star Wars and comic books and anime doesn’t mean I can’t be a girl.”
Kicklighter said that licensing is one of their biggest challenges and also one of the most important things to Lace and Lore.
“There are a lot of companies out there who have ‘inspired by’ [items] and the reason they say that is that they don’t work with licensing. Because Victoria is an artist and we have such respect for the properties, we realized we don’t want to take other people’s work and slap it on some stuff and kind of put it out there,” she explained. “Working closely with licensors is definitely a process. We started talking to Viz a year ago before we had everything ready to launch basically this summer.”
Naruto is just the beginning of Lace and Lore’s licensed collections. According to Kicklighter, one of their fall collections will feature Japanese pop culture mascot D?mo-kun, and they are currently in discussions with a few other companies about future lines as well. With their fall lines, the company is also hoping to shift from using sublimation to more tailored cotton blends to up the ante of their products.
From the start, Lace and Lore has offered sizes up to 3XL and displayed a diverse range of models on their website. Kicklighter said the diversity of their models was very important to them and that as a plus-size woman she wanted sizing be a cornerstone of the business. From the beginning she didn’t want to include styles like bodycon dresses. She’s had people approach her at cons and thank her because they love geek fashion but have difficulty finding sizes bigger than XL.
“[W]hen we went to Emerald City Comicon,” Ying said, “Georgia was not with us for the first day or two and it was me and another straight-sized friend and these plus-sized women, they walked by.
“Then the next day when Georgia came, they came by and said, ‘I love your stuff. I wanted to buy it, but when I looked at your brand and looked at the two of you, I just assumed that you guys didn’t carry plus.’ So the automatic assumption is just that whatever’s cute does not come in plus size.
“And people always ask. For us, it’s a very natural thing but they’re always like, ‘Hey, do you carry plus?’ and then, ‘How much more is it?’ They always assume it’s going to be more as well. Like those are two assumptions that people always have. For me and for Georgia it’s important for us to be as inclusive as possible.”
Lace and Lore is an online-based store, but they make sure to travel to conventions and interact with customers in person to receive feedback. When Kicklighter attended Anime Expo last year, she took some of their favorite prints and asked people at the convention what they thought of the styles, designs, and price points. They used that data to guide them in making sure there was a market for the company and that what they were hoping to do people would be interested in.
When they returned to the expo this year, they had people who had participated in that survey come up to their booth and tell them they’d been waiting for their collections to be released. Kicklighter tells us they’ve been to about five shows so far this year, including their San Diego Comic-Con debut, and hope to go to between 12 and 15 shows next year.
“I really believe in the conventions because we’re taking the product to the people who love it and we get a lot of feedback.” She added that she hopes to encourage feedback so that fans of their products will be able to make suggestions for their lineup and tell them what kinds of products and designs they would like to see on offer.
“It’s important for us to be as inclusive as possible.”
With their eyes on what fans want and future licensed collections in the works, moving forward, Lace and Lore wants to continue focusing on diversity, body positivity, and maintaining high quality for all sizes and products. They hope to stand out from their competition by offering products that will be like a secret handshake between geeks.
“We want to create stuff that you feel good to wear, that you feel pretty to wear, but also that is your deal, your thing,” Kicklighter said.
So if you go to the movies and you’re wearing our Naruto kunai dress, no matter who sees you they’re going to be like ‘wow that’s really cute. What a cute dress.’ And then if somebody there loves Naruto too, they see it and they’re like ‘oh my gosh, that’s a Naruto dress. I love that!
We don’t want to have like a giant T-shirt with Batman on it [or] ‘I love Batman’ or something goofy. We want to be able to say that what we’re offering is stylish and attractive and you can wear outside of the convention. You can wear it to work. You can wear it on a date. You can wear it grocery shopping if you want and still feel good about doing that and still speak to what you love and make those connections with other people who love the same stuff.
With the growth in the geek fashion industry we’ve witnessed over the last five years, it’s encouraging to see small companies focused in the area start out with such goals. Established companies in geek fashion have only recently been making headway in areas like plus sizing, so to see a new company begin with sizes beyond XL is encouraging.
Lace and Lore will ultimately have the challenge of remaining competitive against larger and more well-known brands. But it’s clear their emphasis on catering to fangirl diversity gives them an edge in the niche fashion arena—hopefully one more businesses will continue in the future.
Photo via Lace and Lore