Fashion and art overlap with the launch of Minneapolis-based Alice Riot, a clothing company co-founded by Kelly Groehler and Kate Iverson. These limited-edition skirts, dresses, and scarves bear the designs of female artists.
The idea for the clothing line was born out of desperation on St. Patrick’s Day of 2015. Groehler, a career-long corporate-ladder climber, had just resigned from her position at Berkshire Hathaway Energy in Des Moines, Iowa. She was shopping online for clothes to wear on a series of upcoming job interviews.
“I could not find anything online that I liked,” she says. Then her phone pinged with an Instagram notification. Iverson, a Minneapolis-based artist, had just posted an image of one of her new paintings: Riot No. 2, a black-and-white design with pops of neon green.
“I looked at it and out loud, I said, ‘I want that as a skirt,’” Groehler recalls. She reached out to Iverson, and an unexpected collaboration began. Groehler relocated to the Twin Cities that summer.
The brand name is inspired by two family members: Alice is Iverson’s niece, a “precocious, awesome little girl who’s going to rule the world one day,” Groehler says. Alyce is the name of Groehler’s late aunt, a woman who “was always encouraging me to chase after my dreams and do the things I wanted to do in life and not stick with convention,” Groehler says.
Another family member helped bring the brand to life: Iverson’s sister Andi Hillestad, who helped develop the signature looks of the Alice Riot line. Hillestad has been designing since her teens, a talent likely inherited from her and Iverson’s mother, also a designer.
The Alice Riot line consists of four garment patterns: a pencil skirt, a midi skirt, a sleeveless sheath dress, and a 3/4 sleeve sheath dress. There are also two scarves, sized 40” x 40” and 40” x 70”.
It took a while to find the right fabric given the artsy origins of the line. “The big challenge was finding a textile that still felt high-quality and would take the print beautifully,” Iverson says. “We wanted a flexible fabric that wouldn’t easily distort the print when stretched. There was a lot of trial and error before we came to the perfect end result.”
Ultimately, for the garments they went with a 90% polyester, 10% spandex blend that is wrinkle-free and all-seasonal. The fabric doesn’t pill and animal hair doesn’t stick to it. The scarves are 100% silk.
Three of Iverson’s pieces are featured in the debut collection. “I didn’t have fabric in mind when I made them, but I think they are among the most robust, print-friendly works I’ve done,” says Iverson.
Prices reflect the value of the artist’s work as well as the limited edition aspect of the line. Pencil skirts and midi skirts retail for $200. The sleeveless sheath dress goes for $325 and the 3/4 sleeve sheath dress is $375. Scarves run $75 or $100, depending on size.
“Instead of a limited number of prints that are hanging on the wall from an original work of art, we consider the clothing to be the blank canvases that are the limited edition prints instead,” Groehler says. “You’re making an investment in a work of art when you buy one of these pieces.”
Alice Riot’s first customers will have to go through Indiegogo to purchase threads from the debut collection. Those customers will also serve as a focus group, testing the out-of-box experience, the packaging, the shipping, and providing product feedback. The crowdsourcing campaign will not only raise money for the company but will refine the brand experience for the customers.
A lot hinges on how the launch goes, but assuming it’s successful, Alice Riot will move to an online commerce platform for the second collection. The current plan is to feature two artists per year on the same cuts and styles of garments, all sold online.
Groehler, a “dyed in the wool feminist,” hopes the brand goes beyond fashionably dressing women. Ideally, Alice Riot will be a vehicle for female empowerment.
To further highlight women’s advances in the professional realm, the company’s lookbook features real-life leaders as models, including Amanda Brinkman (chief brand officer at Deluxe Corporation and host of the Small Business Revolution series), Nausheena Hussain (executive director of RISE), Robyne Robinson (ROX jewelry designer), Heather Cmiel (marketing communications strategist for 3M Health Care), and Vanessa McDuffie (a stylist and blogger).
“Five years ago, if you had told me I would be starting a fashion line, I would’ve laughed,” Groehler says. “I built my career and stayed on this really narrow path and got to the very top and discovered I hated this [corporate] stuff.”
Though she’s dedicated to building a career that she’s passionate about, she knows her past experience in the corporate world will help her make good decisions as Alice Riot grows.
“It’s a new space,” she says. “I’m excited to learn what we can from it and see if we have a customer base for this. We think we do.”