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New Business Fills Gap in 'Tween' Market

Local woman capitalizes on filling niche in clothing market.

When Cindy Conner tried to find special dresses for her teenage daughters she found that the choices were very limited.

"I found that when I looked for dresses for my girls, they [the dresses] were too juvenile or too mature," said Conner. "There are plenty of things for babies, toddlers and children, but there's a huge niche [for tweens] that's overlooked. They're not served by many markets."

Since she had a background in marketing, Conner started thinking about designing her own line of girls' dresses. One thing led to another and it wasn't long before her new company, In By Ten, was born. With this new company, Conner has created a line of classic party clothes for the contemporary girl.

"I knew I wanted to go back to work, but I wanted flexibility. I was always interested in clothes, but never thought I'd be a designer," said Conner. "I used to go to the showroom in New York with my aunt, and when I told my mother that I had decided to start my own company, she and my aunt took me to the garment district. They told me that the most important thing was to get sources for my fabric and trim."

Conner took them at their word and found both fabrics and trims that are high quality. They are also not traditional. To keep things simple, Conner designed two dress patterns and one shirt pattern. Each of those patterns is made with different fabrics and trims, making for a varied line.

"I worked with a pattern maker who designed an Audrey Hepburn type of shift," said Conner. "The neckline is important to the design."

IN BY TEN's pattern maker is from Alabama; they use a grader (who does the sizing) from Alabama. All the manufacturing, however, is done by a small company located near Richmond.

The idea of the dresses seems to be working. Conner brought in long-time friend and business woman Sue McDermott, to help her with marketing.

"Sue doesn't take 'no' for an answer," said Conner, of her aggressive marketing techniques.

"They're happy to have our business," said McDermott of the manufacturing company. "It means a lot to use a local business."

Conner and McDermott are hoping that mothers will buy their dresses and skirts for weddings, bar mitzvahs and cotillions. Conner said that both the Alexandria and Capitol Cotillion have approved the dresses. Conner and McDermott use their girls, CeCe and Isabelle Conner, and Maggie and Mary McDermott, as their guideline to what will work. One of Conner's friends, Laura Francis, said, "I wish I had a little girl to buy an In By Ten dress for."

"Our biggest compliment so far was from a girl who was really into soccer; she tried on the dresses and thought they were comfortable," said McDermott.

Megan Beyer is another fan. She said that her two girls, Grace and Clara, are completely different, but that they both like the In By Ten dresses.

"My nine-year-old [Grace] loves the skirts. My 12-year-old loves the dresses and the skirts," said Beyer. "I could never get her to wear them before. It's totally an answer for me. I think they're great, getting ready for church is no problem now. It's great to find an intersection of what they like and we like."

SO FAR, CONNER and McDermott have placed their product line in 30 boutiques. They are focused on selling the dresses in smaller stores, rather than large department stores. The closest retail outlet will be A La Lelia, which will open on King Street next month. Owner Lelia Partee said that her new store will be a moderate to high-end boutique for women and girls. The focus for the girl's section will be on the tween market, which is a great tie-in to the In By Ten line. Although Partee's girls are younger than Conner's, she's already found that it's ìincredibly difficult to buy clothes for that age [pre-teen]."

Partee said that she decided to carry the line after she met Conner, who is a neighbor and with whom they have friends in common.

"I grew up in a house where my mother sewed, she makes wedding dresses in Richmond," said Partee. "I appreciate the effort that Cindy puts into picking out her fabrics and trim. Cindy is an amazing friend and good business person. She has been a great mentor," said Partee.

The In By Ten line is also available at Lemon Twist in Chevy Chase, Md,; Young Elegance in Fairfax; Magic Windows in Middleburg, and Picollo Piggies in Georgetown.

For more information call 703-683-4664 or send email to inbyten@aol.com.