See the environment, set the scene, take the shot.
That’s the creative process Leesburg resident and wedding photographer Rebekah Murray used as she traveled around the world, capturing moments and portraying emotions couples would remember forever.
Now, as a full-fledged fashion designer and business owner of nearly four-year-old company Virginia Dare Dress Co., the creative medium has changed, yet the approach and goal are the same.
“With photography, you are creating a mood in images,” explains Murray. “So, I’m trying to do the same here and create a mood with each collection. How you shoot affects how something feels, so if I can help change how people feel by what they wear, that’s the key.”
Murray had been a globe-trotting photographer for nearly eight years when she felt an urge to try something new. While initially she had no idea where to start, her parents had suggested back in high school that she pursue fashion. Now as an adult, with graphic design experience and several years as an employee of Anthropologie (which she now credits as an influence on her designs) under her belt, she decided to dive in.
Following a quick Google search on “how to start a fashion business,” asking her grandfather—a longtime designer from New York—for advice and a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016, Murray unveiled her first dress collection.
The Leesburg-based company offers 10 basic designs—most made of natural fibers like cotton and silk for maximum versatility and durability—that are inspired by period films and visionaries of the 18th century, such as Jane Austen. Think flowing fabrics and whimsical cuts that would put the wearer at home in The Secret Garden— or heading out for a romantic date in present-day NoVA. And, as of late 2019, each piece is handcrafted in a factory in southern Virginia, giving the dresses that extra bit of local charm Murray was hoping for, while keeping them at a reasonable price point.
“A lot of my local customers are from DC and Arlington, and they have a love for escaping to the countryside, much like I do,” says Murray. “Being at that juxtaposition is very much the brand. My pieces have to translate to both worlds.”
She also strives to connect with her customers in order to constantly improve her designs.
“If you’re not chasing customer feedback, you’re doing it wrong,” says Murray. She even offers a survey following the release of each collection where customers can measure themselves and send in their details, enabling Murray to average out the numbers, and alter the fit and size of each dress to match what her customers need.
“You can have that ripple effect for changing someone’s life if they just feel consistently more confident and more like themselves,” says Murray. “I love clothing and design, but I care more about ensuring the customer feels like they belong in that day they’re living.”
What’s also in keeping with her company’s mission of making the dresses matter? A new campaign that supports health care workers nationwide fighting the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the campaign, dubbed #VDDCOSendingLove, Murray’s newest dress designs (available for preorder, as production was put on hold in the spring to make and donate fabric face masks), are set to be released this summer. The Emma Dress and the Kate Dress, both of which are shopper favorites, now come in several new colors and pattern designs, and a percentage of the proceeds go toward materials needed for making fabric face masks, as well as supplying medical-grade masks from manufacturers in China.
Plus, Murray personally delivers packages of masks made by at-home sewers to local hospital workers, all of which have thank-you notes and words of encouragement with them. As of press time, Murray and her team have raised funding to supply over 2,000 masks through donations and purchases.
“I think the most unifying thing about my main customer base is that they’re relational people, and maybe that above-and-beyond mentality is part of what brings people together in the first place,” says Murray. “So with this campaign specifically, it seemed like something they would want to have happen. I have the privilege of a larger platform and community to mobilize, and with that comes the responsibility to use it for good.” // dresses range in price from $98-$158