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This Chicago Biz May Put an End to Unhappy Bridesmaids

 Photo: Courtesy of Brideside
Photo: Courtesy of Brideside

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Let's face it: the whole bridesmaid-dress situation can be a little tricky. If you're a bride (a nice one, at least), you aim to please a group of girls with different body types, budgets, and stances on the color pink. And if you're a bridesmaid, you're in danger of overspending on a study of hideosity in chiffon. With Brideside, two Kellogg School of Management grads are aiming to provide a solution.

The just-launched startup, based in Chicago, is an online retailer that gives customers the bridal boutique experience at home. Featuring dresses and accessories, the site allows for at-home try-on, and it has fit tools and editorial content.

We interviewed co-founders Sonali Lamba and Nicole Staple about the biz, what makes a good bridesmaid gift, and why pastels can work for winter.

So, fess up: do both of you have horror-bridesmaid-dress stories that inspired this business idea?
Sonali: In the time leading up to business school and during it, Nicole and I lived as weekend wedding warriors. I had 12 bridesmaids in my own wedding, and Nicole spent summers traveling to and from her bridesmaid duties. We experienced firsthand, on many occasions, the time, frustration, and energy that went into the process. I knew there had to be a better method of tackling this dress dilemma.
Nicole: It became clear that many bridesmaids deemed the honor of standing up in a ceremony a hassle, largely because of this one element. We identified this as a pain point that not many other companies had addressed. We then devoted ourselves to planning, creating, and building a concept in business school that would deliver the personal bridal boutique experience at home and online.

What gap in the Chicago marketplace does Brideside fill?
Nicole: While we've seen innovation in a variety of sectors of the wedding industry— from online registries to planning apps—the bridal party has largely remained untouched. Because Chicago is the biggest bridal market in the country, it seemed like a fitting location [to launch our business.]

Which bridesmaid designers or style dresses are you both loving right now?
Sonali: We both are huge fans of Lauren Gabrielson, a talented designer based in New York. She uses gorgeous chiffon and silk fabrics and constructs shapes that flatter any woman's body. She also leans towards bolder color palettes, which make her collection refreshing.
Nicole: I'm a fan of the multitude of necklines that bridesmaid dresses offer now. As far as designers, I'm loving our chiffon designs because I personally always choose comfort first. Donna Morgan is a classic that [brides] should always consider and Joanna August creates elegant shapes, as well. These pieces are very re-wearable for other occasions.

What are some good ideas for gifts for bridesmaids?
Nicole: Brideside has also extended into accessories, so we offer necklaces, bracelets, and earrings for bridesmaids to complete their look. Not only are they beautiful pieces, but they serve as perfect gifts from the bride-to-be. We love the jewelry of one of our brand partners, K. Amato, a local Chicago designer. Her Personalized Drop Necklace is a thoughtful way to customize each gift because the gem of the necklace is complemented by a charm of an initial.
Sonali: Bridesmaid gifts should be personal and reflect the taste and personality of the bride. The opportunities are truly endless, but I like printed robes for day-of activities, monogrammed makeup bags, and a classic piece of jewelry.

What are the current trends in bridesmaid dresses, and do you think the whole category is leaning toward something you could actually wear again?
Sonali: Pastels and blush tones are here to stay. We're seeing these soft hues worn 365 days a year. Designers are producing these colors in all types of fabrics, from chiffon to silk dupioni, which lends to the versatility of the shades. Another trend, lace bridesmaid dresses, adds more elegance and formality to an outdoor or rustic wedding.
Nicole: Doesn't every bride tell her bridesmaids, "And you can totally wear this dress again?" The truth is that many of the styles we're seeing, as well as carrying on Brideside, offer a shape that is more modern and versatile. The answer is yes, you might be able to wear it again, if you style it individually and creatively.

What's been the most exhilarating thing about owning your own business—and the hardest?
Sonali: We like to say that our business was incubated within the walls of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, which is amazing in its own right. I have vivid memories of the excitement and sheer terror when our customer phone line rang for the first time. I still jump out of my seat when it does! With every customer I talk to, every dress I sell, I'm honored that women around the country trust us to be a part of their wedding. I live for these moments, and they simultaneously keep me up at night.
Nicole: It's a truly incredibly experience to come into work everyday and have the freedom to think creatively about recreating an industry. It's amazing to talk to customers and build a whole new experience just for them. There are huge barriers that we must overcome, and while that can be a very scary thing, it pushes us every single day to do our best, and build the best experience we can.
· Brideside [Official Site]
· Wedding Trends [Racked Chicago]