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Inside the Workroom of New D.C. Brand Aroche Georgetown

Images courtesy of Aroche
Images courtesy of Aroche

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At Aroche Georgetown, customers put the finishing touches on Aroche's bags with a sleek customization app on Aroche's website. Personalization is huge for the D.C.–based accessories line, which just launched last month with roll-up tote bags, travel-ready pouches, and walkable flats. You dream up the monograms and color combinations — in some combos the designers never even imagined — and Aroche makes it happen in-house with high-tech printing technology.

"I had this idea that I wanted to do something that you could customize. I thought that the Internet had this great possibility of actually giving you the opportunity to be very close to your clients, even though it's electronically," said Aroche's Alvaro Roche, who previously worked with the Gianfranco Ferré fashion house in Italy and founded EPK, a childrenswear line now sold in over 15 countries.

After constant travel to China and Latin America got to be too much for Roche, he partnered with FIDM marketing/merchandising grad Elsa Arcila to create a business that was based right here in D.C. And Roche and Arcilia hope that their preppy-meets-European design will help spotlight D.C. as a fashion capital.

"That's why we called it Aroche Georgetown, to make it clear that it was a D.C. brand," Aroche said. Racked spoke with the team behind Aroche right after their launch about what colors people love for their monograms and the challenges and triumphs of starting a Washington-based fashion brand.

On your website you say you do everything in-house? What does that mean?
Alvaro Roche: We do the personalization ourselves. It's a hyper iron-process. It comes from the iron-on idea and it's obviously a million times better. It's done through these heat presses that we have. This huge cutter and printer.

It's pretty cool. We've gotten a couple orders for things that we were like, "Eh, are you sure?" So we write the client, "Let me show you this and this." Most of the time they come back, "Yeah I'm sure." OK, OK.

Like the colors don't go together?
Elsa Arcila: Maybe like blue and blue.

Roche: I thought it would be trending, like similar colors. We've done 100 orders so far and I don't think we've repeated one. That's why we called it Make It Personal. We believe that people in D.C. are here, they're not just doing a job, it's really personal to them. They feel they are serving.

The app is fun to play with, there's so many choices.
Roche: This is my favorite button, the random button. You do it for me, I don't want to choose. It picks colors I would never put together but it works.

Can you personalize the shoes or no?
Arcila: We thought about that, we really wanted to do it. We tried and we couldn't find something that we could do easily that wouldn't fade away. We're thinking about how to do it.

The shoes work in with the look of the bags?
Roche: The shoes and bags go together. We were in New York and we were just looking at shoes in Barneys. It's an incredible floor with all the shoes in the world. We were looking at the shoes and we were like, floored by the price that a flat was. It used to be $250 or $300 and now it's $600, $500, $800. We were like maybe we can make some flats that are well-designed but price them under $200. I love designing shoes and Elsa loves shoes, so why not?

Where are the products made?
Roche: It's all made in China. We invested about eight months trying to get production in the States for the bags and in Italy. In Italy it was too expensive. We would get to a price point that was too close to what we didn't want to do, which is expensive shoes. Production in the States is difficult because there is not a lot of production space. So they were full, it was expensive. It was difficult, the lead times were long.

I have a lot of contacts in China, we sent it on a whim to see what they'd say. And they came back and it was perfect, and they said how many do you want, we can deliver in four weeks. We were like, OK, I guess we are producing in China.

Do you think production of the bags in D.C. is within the realm of possibility?
Roche: We dream about this. We tried. We went to Baltimore. There's these two very nice hippie guys, they really were excited about doing it, they kept the bags for eight weeks. But they didn't have the machines.

Arcila: We wanted to do canvas and leather here in the U.S., and they couldn't do it.

Roche: We're working on a project now with a company out of Seattle and maybe we will be able to. We really want to do canvas and leather here.

What's been the biggest challenge of launching and the most fun part?
Roche: The biggest challenge was we were set on producing in the States. What was really nice about working in Italy was you get in your car, you drive three hours and you talk to the guy who is making the things and a lot of great things come out from watching the guy making the stuff.

So I was like, ah, let's make it here. There's gotta be someone around D.C. And then we started expanding our circle, expanding our circle, and the ones who were really apt to do that were in New York but it just didn't work out. It was slow, they kept pushing us back, they had things to do. That was a challenge.

And then what's been the most fun?
Roche: Launching now.

Arcila: Seeing the website come to life.

What were the colors of the first bag you sold?
Arcila: It was blue and purple and white.
· Aroche [Official Site]