A Visit to Land of Women

McKenzie Raley founded Land of Women in 2013 as “lingerie for the sport of womanhood.” She’s been making every minimalist girl’s underwear dreams come true ever since…

Q / Hi McKenzie! How do you usually start your day?
A / I usually get up around 7:30, brew some coffee, and walk the dog. It’s the only part of my day that’s routine, so I cherish it. I purposefully wake up a little early so I can have the extra time and get organized. From there I’ll head to the garment district, check on production, go over fabrics for the upcoming seasons, and make sure sales are going smoothly. There are usually meetings sprinkled in between. It’s just me and my business partner and our intern, so we’re a pretty small team. We each have our own list of things we need to tackle and we do group check-ins at the end of the day.

Q / Do you have a daily uniform?
A / My outfits are pretty much always varying textures of black. I’m a big fan of Theory or Demy Lee sweaters with some broken-in black jeans and sneakers. The more simple and comfortable the better.

Q / Is there anything you carry with you every day? If so, why is it important to you?
A / I don’t like having much on me when I’m walking around, usually just basic wallet/phone/keys. By the end of the day I’m usually carrying boxes of bras or elastics so I have to keep my bags light.

“The more simple and comfortable the better.”

Q / Is there a time of day that you feel most productive?

A / First thing in the morning is my most productive time by far. I’m not a night owl at all, I’m usually in bed by ten. I write up a to-do list the night before so I know what I need to do the next day, which helps a lot with focus.

Q / What is your favorite place to work?
A / My home. I live in Greenpoint, which is much different than the garment industry energy-wise. I’m usually in the city 4-5 days a week but every once in a while I’ll have an errand-free day and I can stay home. It’s much more easy going and sitting in the back yard being able to design and work in peace is such a luxury.

“…sitting in the back yard being able to design and work in peace is such a luxury.”

Q / How do you try to balance your time?
A / I’m still learning the best way to go about that. It’s so easy to get sucked in to your phone and work all night but I’m learning that you have to look up and be present and step away. I try and disconnect on the weekends, but it’s a conscious effort. I think it takes time and experience to know what is really important and what can be put off until tomorrow.

Q / Do you find lists helpful? How do you keep yourself organized with all the projects you have going on?
A / Absolutely. If I didn’t have a list I’d only get half of 100 things done. My lists have subcategories. It’s the virgo side of me I guess.

Q / What is something you are good at? Something you struggle with?
A / I’m great at macro, not so great at micro. I think big and love to create concepts, story boards, mood boards and collections. I’m incredibly lucky to have my business partner, Sarah. She’s better at daily tasks and details, which I can do but I’m not great at.

Q / What do you enjoy most about your career? What are the most challenging things about it?
A / What I enjoy most about my career is that I really do enjoy it. Sounds pretty simple but there was a time when I really wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. I think with creatives that’s a common problem; we’re good at a lot of things and very resourceful so it’s hard to pick one career that you can attach to. With Land of Women, I took one idea and one bra and it turned into a business. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.

“With Land of Women, I took one idea and one bra and it turned into a business. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

Q / Is there anything you will never take seriously in terms of your work?
A / The general life or death attitude in the fashion industry. Of course I take my work seriously, but sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you are not saving lives and it’s just a bra.

Q / Something that’s very important to you?
A / I’d say the most important thing in my work is honoring the Land of Women ethos. Making sure, collection after collection, that we’re still on track and giving our woman what she needs. It’s easy to let opinions get to you or take style suggestions from stores but the more confused you are about your direction, the more confused your customer is. Keeping our collection small and strong is really important.

Q / Where do you go to be quiet and think?
A / When I’m in Brooklyn, my home. When I’m in the garment district, I go to Muji and sit in their giant beanbags. Trust me on this. It’s amazing, try it.

“It’s easy to let opinions get to you or take style suggestions from stores but the more confused you are about your direction, the more confused your customer is.”

Q / How does your home influence the kind and quality of work you produce?
A / I don’t think my home influences my work, I think they just happen to compliment each other. Our home is pretty minimal. It’s comfortable, livable, just like the lingerie!

Q / Where did you grow up and what led you to your current home. How would you say these places shaped your perception of work?
A / I grew up in Wisconsin, which was really special. Sprawling fields and lakes, cows, horses. It really is the motherland. I moved into our current home with my fiancee, Stef, who had moved in a year prior, so we got to design together. Living in the country taught me to stay grounded and resourceful. Living in the city taught me to be ambitious and make something big. Both have had tremendous benefits.

“Living in the city taught me to be ambitious and make something big. Both have had tremendous benefits.”

Q / What is your first memory of work? Of success? Of failure?
A / My first memory of “work” was selling seashells on my driveway when I was nine. My first memory of success was with modeling. I got really lucky and was able to support myself and pay off all my school loans. In my early twenties, success was mainly a financial thing; living independently, supporting myself. My first memory of failure was when modeling stopped for a year after being non-stop for three. It was a pretty depressing transition but it ultimately led to me creating my first bra prototype. Just goes to show, nothing is a coincidence.

Q / Do you keep any collections? If so, how do they influence you creatively?
A / I keep all of my collections! Many of our styles are continuous so those are always in the studio. Every time I make a new collection I look back on the textures, the stitching style, the shapes, and see what’s missing. I want to create the perfect closet for our customer so making sure we have a small variety of designs is important.

“Every time I make a new collection I look back on the textures, the stitching style, the shapes, and see what’s missing.”

Q / Does social media factor into your work at all? Is there anything you find problematic about it?
A / Pretty much our only PR is Instagram. I think social media, when used in the right way, is really powerful and our Instagram is a continuous mood board of inspiration. It really lets people know our brand and our woman. We haven’t had any problems with it, in fact it’s been the opposite. We’ve gotten to know so many cool brands and designers within our community that we wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Q / Do you use the internet on vacation or do you prefer to completely disconnect?
A / Sadly, yes. You can’t completely disconnect when it’s only you and one business partner. One day, I’m hoping to be able to do that but you have to work hard first to have that freedom.

Q / Is there anything in particular that you do to take care of yourself and relax?
A / I love a good glass of wine, that’s usually first on the list. Just being with my family usually does the trick.

“I think social media, when used in the right way, is really powerful and our Instagram is a continuous mood board of inspiration. It really lets people know our brand and our woman.”

Q / Was there any particular person who led you to change direction from modeling toward design and helped shape your career in a formative way?
A / My mother and my fiancee both played huge roles in that. My mom always encouraged me to start my own business. When my fiancee Stef and I started dating she found the first prototype in my closet and was like, “this bra is amazing! You have to keep going with this!” That little push was all I needed and a week later I was all-in.

Q /How did your parents feel about your career path? Does anyone in your family work in the same industry?
A / They’ve always been extremely supportive of my career path(s). I think I was pretty head-strong as a kid and they knew I was just going to do whatever I wanted to do. I don’t think they knew much about fashion so when I got some success, their reaction was “that’s great!” They’re just happy that I’m happy. My grandma’s sister and my grandpa’s aunt both worked in fashion; one was a store owner and the other was a model. It’s a pretty cool story actually, she ran away from home in Iowa at sixteen, went to NYC, changed her name to Linda and became a showgirl, then a Vogue model.

Q / What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? The funniest?
A / My worst job, ironically, was working at Victoria’s Secret. That was probably the funniest too. I was the designated “spritzer” and just sprayed perfume around the store for five hours.

“I think I was pretty head-strong as a kid and [my parents] knew I was just going to do whatever I wanted to do.”

Q / Would you say your career is more solitary or collaborative?
A / A little bit of both. My business partner and I will work independently throughout the day, even though we’re communicating constantly. It’s a really good balance. I do design and development and she does logistics and production management. We primarily work with other people when it comes to sales. I love visiting our stores.

Q / What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
A / Building a lingerie brand that represents a woman who hasn’t been acknowledged yet in the industry.

Q / How does your work affect the rest of your life? Personally? Financially? Time-wise?
A / I don’t have kids but I imagine it’s similar to owning a start-up: You can’t leave it for more than a few hours, it’s all you talk about it, it’s really expensive and it can cause some friction at home. At the same time though, like kids, the business grows up and you learn to manage it better. I knew going in it would be a big change, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It also helps to have a patient, equally ambitious partner who can understand it.

“I don’t have kids but I imagine it’s similar to owning a start-up: You can’t leave it for more than a few hours, it’s all you talk about it, it’s really expensive and it can cause some friction at home.”

Q / What has been your proudest career moment thus far?
A  / Man, this year there have been so many. Our collaboration with The Dreslyn was amazing, we got into Nordstrom’s Pop-In Shop and we have another big announcement coming that I can’t reveal just yet. I’m happy to say we crossed off a lot of our goals this year.

Q / What are you looking forward to this year?
A / I’m already thinking into next year! Honestly, I’m really looking forward to the holidays and seeing my family. I haven’t been home in a while and I can’t wait to see them.

“I’m happy to say we crossed off a lot of our goals this year.”

Interview and Photography
Catherine Litke

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