University of Virginia students are classmates, friends and collaborators. Often, either on Grounds or after graduation, they also become business partners.
2013 graduate Mollie Crosby – who now goes by her married name, Burch – designed her own interdisciplinary major, “The Art of Fashion,” through the Echols Scholar program, incorporating costume design, printmaking and art history courses. She took classes abroad as well as at the Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology. She knew she wanted to start her own fashion line one day.
What she did not know is that UVA would introduce her to her business partner, fellow 2013 graduate Taylor Richardson, who would help Burch make her dream a reality just two short years after graduation.
Mutual friends introduced Burch and Richardson when they both moved to Atlanta after graduation and they became housemates. Burch took a job with a fashion line, the Annie Griffin Collection, and Richardson, a graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce, was a consultant with Bain & Company.
“I started talking to Taylor about the fashion industry and how I wanted to make a change,” Burch said. “She knew I wanted to start my own line and we started brainstorming about how to make this dream a reality.”
In October 2015, Burch launched her own line, after leaving her position as the head designer at Annie Griffin eight months earlier. Richardson’s company allowed her to take a six-month externship to work full-time with Burch to develop the business side of her new company, now christened CROSBY by Mollie Burch.
Today, the fashion line has produced five collections, spring 2016 through summer 2017, characterized by the bright, bold prints that Burch designs by hand. Each is inspired by her research on people, places and trends, and is often centered on one particular concept. The summer 2017 line, for example, is inspired by the vivacious colors and culture of Havana, Cuba. Burch is already at work on the spring 2018 collection, since the fashion industry works about a year ahead.
“All of the prints are bold and abstract, with lots of bright colors and playful designs that are easy to wear,” Burch said. “I want the collection to be timeless, and I try to design pieces that my mother, grandmother and younger sisters could all wear […] they all have pieces they wear and love from the collections.”
At first, Richardson and Burch sold the line through trunk shows, traveling to more than 20 cities to share the collection directly with customers. As demand grew, they worked with sales representatives to sell the clothing to boutiques. Today, the clothes are sold online and in more than 140 boutiques nationwide, including Monkee’s boutique in Charlottesville.
“We have been growing pretty quickly,” Richardson said. “For me, it has been quite a learning experience. I had the business background and had learned about strategy and financial planning during my time at Bain, but did not have the experience in retail or fashion. Learning how to mesh the two is really interesting.”
Another UVA alumna, 2013 graduate Abby Decker, has come on board as the director of operations. She has helped the company maintain its growth by managing day-to-day operations.
More than a fashion line, the company also hopes to fight social injustice, using its bright designs to support organizations that aid victims of sex trafficking.
“Our slogan, ‘Shine Your Bright,’ aims to empower women to be their boldest, brightest selves and to help nonprofit organizations shine a light on the alarming issue of sex trafficking,” Burch said. “Atlanta is the biggest hub of sex trafficking in the country. I truly felt called to use CROSBY as a means to spread awareness and give back.”
Burch designs a unique print each season, based upon the story of one sex trafficking victim, and sells it to benefit Wellspring Living, an Atlanta nonprofit rescuing and rehabilitating women and girls who have been trafficked.
“Empowering women is a big part of our mission. I want the clothes I create to make women to feel confident and beautiful,” Burch said. “My hope is that our customers gain an urgency of their own to join us in the fight against sex trafficking.”
Burch and Richardson have partnered with another friend and UVA alumna, Virginia Scharf, who is the chief strategy officer for the Starfish Project, which sells jewelry made by women rescued from sex trafficking to help them recover and reestablish an income.
“With the support of our customers, CROSBY is taking action and making an impact on the movement to end sex trafficking,” Burch said.