Chic Spotlight: Doncaster’s J. Lee Tyer
Cincy Chic: J. Lee, please introduce yourself and explain how your clothing business is unique in comparison to the women’s clothing stores in Cincinnati.
J. Lee Tyer: Well, first of all my name is J. Lee Tyer and I am a wardrobe consultant. More specifically, I help women enhance their personal image by educating them on what particular cuts, colors, and patterns work best for a woman’s body architecture, lifestyle requirements, and personal styling preferences. Often this includes advising someone AGAINST buying certain items – regardless of how popular the item or current the trend may be. I also counsel women on proper fit. Fit is the key factor to whether an outfit flatters a woman or not, and yet it is often the most overlooked when considering a clothing purchase. I also provide personalized service that meets my clients short and long-term wardrobing needs, building a trust-based relationship with her over time which unfortunately is not typically found in most retail stores today.
The name of my company is Doncaster Fashionistas (www.DoncasterFashionistas.com). The origins of my business name are rooted in the exclusive clothing line that I am associated with, Doncaster (www.doncaster.com), which was founded in 1931. And I consider any woman who focuses on the importance of projecting the right image, regardless of her age, style persona or lifestyle, to be a fashionista – the title is not reserved for only the divas! The primary difference for a woman who works with me versus shopping at retail storefronts is the shopping experience itself. We have a private studio setting for shopping by appointment only. My clients and I work together as a team to build an efficient, functional wardrobe over time for her. Regardless of the quantity of items purchased at any given time, we approach each season with a master plan in mind – rather than just simply selecting attractive outfits in isolation. For example, I create an ever-evolving “look book” for each client, which contains images and details of her purchases from season to season, year to year. This serves as our reference in future seasons as we further develop her entire wardrobe “capsule” to include various pieces that can be intermixed and matched into numerous outfit options with a wide range of distinct looks depending on the combination. We can also draft out a plan to implement these selections over the course of an entire season – in that we will make selections for the entire season but also construct a plan to space out the order placements throughout the season for budgeting purposes. This means that a busy woman can master plan her entire season’s purchases often within the span of one hour with items that are specifically meant to be interchanged into various outfit combinations, as well as tie back to previous season’s purchases hanging in her closet for even more dressing options – rather than having to make multiple trips to malls, etc. throughout the season and hope you can coordinate all of the individual purchases together as a working wardrobe!
I refer to this master planning approach as “smart shopping” since selections are logically planned out with intention, as opposed to “spontaneous shopping” which involves simply seeing an outfit that speaks to you and buying it without regard to your entire wardrobe as a whole. Spontaneous purchases are really fun and even necessary at times – you just do not want to build your entire wardrobe in this fashion or you will constantly feel like you have nothing to wear or will just simply grow bored with your wardrobe due to the limitations of clothing combinations. Establishing your wardrobe from a capsule-based approach instead will yield a larger number of potential outfits with the same number of clothing items as those purchased as isolated outfits without regard to the wardrobe as a whole. Often spontaneous purchases will turn into an orphan in need of matching pieces to make them work. I work with my clients to recapture these beloved orphans so that we can merge them into the rest of their wardrobe with coordinating clothing selections when possible. We all know that the most expensive clothing item in your closet isn’t the one that had the highest price tag, but the one that is hanging in your closet with its price tag still on!
Cincy Chic: What would you say is the biggest advantage to purchasing Doncaster’s brand over other brands or retailers?
Tyer: As you are probably aware, designer shopping in Cincinnati is rather limited – especially when you compare us to say Chicago, or even Columbus or Indianapolis in some instances. So, even having access to designer clothing here is a challenge in itself. Additionally, many ready-wear designers stylize their clothing with limited offerings for women of differing body architectures which make it tough for many women to find clothing in a style, color, or pattern that she likes AND has the right cut to flatter her body. In contrast, Doncaster designs their line with the various body sizes and figures of women in mind, creating a range of options so that there is something for every woman – from a size 2 to a 24, including petites. We have styles for the women’s different style persona (classic, modern, romantic, sporty/natural, etc.) as well as for different life functions (casual, business, social functions and formals). Last, but definitely not least, the line also has cuts/styles for women of differing body architectures – from the more linear, athletic builds to the curvier, more feminine silhouettes. For instance, many women who have been unable to find pants or jeans that fit are elated to finally find a cut/style that works for them in the Doncaster line – I am one myself! I require petite because of my waist-to-rise proportion even though I have long legs with a 34″ inseam. Additionally, I am challenged with a pear shaped figure with a much smaller waist relative to my hips. Before discovering Doncaster, I had given up on most pants/slacks and completely given up on jeans! Now I am able to enjoy wearing both in a cut/fit that is not only comfortable but flattering to my figure as well.
With all that said, I would say though that the most important distinction with Doncaster’s clothing line is that it is specifically designed to be custom tailored. Whereas off-the-rack clothing can quickly become cost prohibitive or even structurally impossible to alter the piece to achieve the right fit, Doncaster’s line is constructed in a way that enables tailors to very easily and affordably alter the clothing for a perfect fit!
Cincy Chic: You mention that Doncaster is a “designer” brand meant for custom tailoring. Does this mean that it is pricey?
Tyer: Well, cost is relative – what is perceived as expensive or inexpensive by one person will be different for the next. I understand though that you are asking to define where Doncaster falls on the price point scale. For those who are more familiar with the designer labels in major department stores, our line which ranges from shorts or jeans & tank tops, to business suits, to formal wear – would be comparably priced with Dana Buchman’s or Ellen Tracy’s lines. Doncaster is often compared quality wise with couture brands at a higher price point because of their use of the finest fabrics as well as unique detailing often found only in couture designs. For example, the line’s more exclusive pieces are made from luxurious fabrics sourced from the same manufacturers’ that Chanel and Armani use. The advantage for Doncaster is that we do not maintain prime retail storefronts on prime real estate with high rents and large inventory stock rooms, which add substantially to overhead that is absorbed in clothing base line pricing. Doncaster also does not rely on expensive, national marketing campaigns in order to sell the clothing line – so these overhead savings gets passed along to the consumer with a lower price point for a comparable piece. For example, each season we typically have a special linton tweed jacket (or several) which is sourced from the same manufacturer that Chanel uses for their linton tweed jackets. If you were to compare the two brands of jackets, they are n early identical except for a slight variation in the fabrics (often just in the color combinations); however, Chanel’s version will run at least twice if not three times that of Doncaster’s!
Cincy Chic: If Doncaster doesn’t have retail storefronts with off-the-rack inventory, how do women obtain the clothing?
Tyer: Doncaster embraced a completely different business model than most traditional retailers of their day when they started the clothing line back in 1931 – opting for a business model that has evolved over the years and currently includes consultant trunk shows, catalogue sales as well as e-commerce purchases via the internet. The clothing is sold exclusively through trained wardrobe consultants like me who utilize a sample line to present the clothes to our clients. Each season (4 times per year) we receive a sample line which consists of at least one example of every item in that season’s line (typically 300-400 items including accessories) which ranges from size 2-24, including some petites. A client will not necessarily try on the exact piece of clothing that interests them in their exact size before ordering it; however there will be a sample in the same style/cut which they can try on strictly for sizing purposes. Then they simply hold up a sample of the item in the color/pattern they want to evaluate whether the color, texture, pattern, etc. is right for them or not. We refer to this process as “paper dolling”. For example, let’s say that you are interested in a particular pair of pants which are available in white, navy, beige and black. You may have to try on a pair of blue pants to confirm the correct size, and then hold up the desired white pair of pants (sampled in a different size) against the front of your body to evaluate the color selection. The same could be true for a jacket. Two jackets of the same or similar cuts can appear completely different once you change the fabric construction but will be identical for determining the correct size one should order in a particular cut. Once a selection is made, an order is placed and the clothing is typically shipped and received within the week. Similar to retail stores, occasionally – more frequently near the end of the season – items may become back ordered or even sold out due to popularity. So, the adage “the early bird gets the worm” is still alive and well!
Cincy Chic: What if you order the wrong size or a client changes her mind about a garment once she receives it because she wasn’t able to try on the exact item that she was getting?
Tyer: First of all, all items are 100 percent refundable within 30 days of their ship date, provided that they are returned in the same state as they were received – with tags still on, and without any alterations or physical damage.
When placing our client’s orders, we have the option to have the items either shipped to us or to her directly. I encourage my clients to have the clothes shipped to me and for us to meet together once again at the studio to confirm that the ordered piece(s) is still right for her. If for some reason something doesn’t work – whether it is a sizing miscalculation or an item just doesn’t quite meet her expectations – then I process any exchanges or returns for her. At this meeting, we also determine if any alterations are needed and if so, quickly run over to the alteration shop together (only a couple of minutes away & no appointment necessary) to get the garment marked up by the tailor. Then if she prefers, I will deliver the finished garment to her either at work or home. I again have her try on the item(s) one last time to make sure it is perfect! In a nutshell, I want my clients to feel confident in shopping with me, knowing that we will work together to ensure she gets the end result that she is seeking, as well have a fun, hassle-free experience!
Cincy Chic: Do you charge a fee for these personalized services like personal shoppers do?
Tyer: No, my services are strictly value-added benefits with shopping through me. I am compensated by Doncaster through a commission on the clothing items that are purchased. I feel that the personalized services that I deliver above and beyond helping women with their clothing selections are not only critical for the time-starved women today; but also distinguish me from my retail competitors such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, etc.
Cincy Chic: How often and how long do clients have access to your sample line?
Tyer: The short answer is that my clients have access to the current available sample line almost all year around – which of course changes out when one season concludes and the next season originates. Now here’s the long answer: Part of Doncaster’s core beliefs is that their wardrobe consultants should have flexible options so that they can work in whatever way best meets their needs and goals – so it varies by consultant. Traditionally, consultants would sell the clothing line out of their home and receive the sample line anywhere from one week to three or four weeks at a time per season, depending on the size of their clientèle base. More recently, in larger cities where there are multiple consultants, clothing studios have been established where several consultants combine their resources to share display space and receive the sample line for much longer periods of time. We have a Cincinnati studio which is based in Blue Ash that six of us share. So, we typically have the clothing samples for 10-12 weeks at a time and coordinate our schedules using an online calendar program. This provides us with the scheduling flexibility to work around the increasingly busy schedule of our clients, rather than force them to fit into ours!
Cincy Chic: Any closing comments that you would like to convey to our audience?
Tyer: I just would just like to invite women who are interested in the clothing line and our concept of wardrobe planning to check us out! You can log on to Doncaster’s site at www.doncaster.com as well as check out my website which is in the process of debuting at www.DoncasterFashionistas.com. I can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 513.543.5891. We are currently setting up appointments for the months of August-October to review the Fall line. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing from you!