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An image from Meshki’s most recent campaign.
An image from Meshki’s most recent campaign.
Photo: Meshki

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How Two College Students Wound Up Dressing Kylie Jenner and Taylor Swift

Behold, the power of social media.

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Spend just a few minutes clicking around Meshki’s e-commerce site, and it’s easy to see why the online-only fashion brand is thriving right now. The homepage touts Meshki’s “rose gold edit,” a collection of satiny separates in the millennial-approved hue. Almost everything else comes in colors like “mocha,” “nude,” “khaki,” and “tan,” the preferred palette among today’s top (read: Monica Rose-styled) celebrity tastemakers — and the uniformly body-conscious cuts are similarly A-list-approved. Few pieces are priced higher than $100; most are under $50.

But it’s the super young Aussie duo behind the business that might surprise you. Meet Shadi, 24, and Natalie, 22, Meshki’s fresh-out-of-college co-owners. When I first hop on the phone with the two young Sydney natives, I’m greeted with shy giggles and a request that their last names be withheld from my story “for privacy.” It’s an unusual ask — but then again, the girls’ road to success has been just as singular.

As it turns out, Shadi and Natalie never set out to run a clothing brand in the first place. Instead — in a move many twentysomethings can identify with — they simply wanted a bigger social media presence. “We actually don’t come from fashion or business backgrounds,” Shadi says. “Me and Nat met when we were at university studying architecture, funny enough, and we both had a passion for styling and fashion. So we decided to start an Instagram page together, just to share images that inspired us.”

They created the account in April 2013, and began regramming outfits from bloggers like Kayture’s Kristina Bazan and Tuula Vintage’s Jessica Stein, accessory close-ups culled from various street style sites, and quotes like “Be a goal digger.” But the real focus, even at the start, was” celebrities. Specifically, stars who gravitated toward the same curve-hugging, monochromatic clothing the founders favored, like Blake Lively, Miranda Kerr, and Kim Kardashian.

By that summer, Shadi and Natalie’s social media mood board had begun to build a following — and people wanted to know how to shop the looks they were sharing (exclamations like “Need this!” “Where are those jeans from?!” and “Loveeeee!” pepper the comments of their early posts). Realizing the business potential at hand, the two students each invested $200 AUD (about $153 USD) of their own money to set up a Big Cartel boutique and stock it with a small number of trendy, affordable pieces from third-party vendors, like a short white skort they offered for $39.99 and a black lace romper they posted for $59.99.

Since they didn’t have much money to sink into their project and therefore little room for error, the Aussie entrepreneurs used Instagram not only to field customer service questions, but also to crowdsource ideas for new product. “Yes or no?” they’d caption a photo of a bejeweled ear cuff; two weeks later, the piece was up for grabs on Meshki. They based their buys on styles that had performed particularly well in their earlier Instagrams, too. Both gold-plated belts and asymmetrical skorts, for example, featured prominently in multiple street style posts the women shared before they began selling versions of those same pieces.

Shadi and Natalie chose the name Meshki — Farsi for “black” — for their new endeavor, a nod to their Persian heritage and shared love of the ever-flattering shade. “It’s about the way you feel when you wear the color black,” Natalie explains. “You feel sexy, powerful, bold. That really embodies our brand.”

But running a budding e-commerce business when you’re still a full-time student isn’t easy. “We would find ourselves answering customer emails during our lectures and running to the post office to send out orders in between classes,” Shadi remembers. “But with hard work and a lot of sleepless nights, we managed to finish our degrees and [move] Meshki out of our home garage — which at one point was so packed with clothes, you couldn’t even move!”

Toward the end of 2015, Shadi and Natalie began designing their own pieces to add to Meshki’s inventory — and as demand for their in-house label grew over the following year, the two founders were finally able to staff up, adding a small production team, additional designers, and PR support to take Meshki international.

By August 2016, Meshki had caught the eyes of several (stateside) celebrity stylists — like former Monica Rose assistant Jill Jacobs, who had just taken over the task of dressing Kylie Jenner. That same month, Jenner snapped a selfie clad in Meshki’s $89 Adara Dress — and gave the brand a shoutout in a “Shop the Selfie” post on her app. “White isn’t a color I wear often, but I love how this Meshki Adara satin mini is so sexy, yet simple,” Jenner wrote. “It’s like an oversize shirt with a cinched waist — and then, hello, that thigh slit!”

A post shared by Kylie (@kyliejenner) on

The dress sold out overnight, of course, and Meshki’s sales went through the roof that month. “It was crazy,” Shadi remembers. “We were over the moon. We love Kylie and we love her style, and it really came out of nowhere! We’ve had to restock that dress so many times, and it’s still one of our bestsellers.”

Over the following few months, Taylor Swift, Hailee Steinfeld, and Hailey Baldwin were all spotted wearing Meshki designs as well. But while the co-founders happily acknowledge how celebrity support has boosted their brand (“They have a real influence on fashion trends and can really make a difference in the growth of your business,” Natalie notes), it feels fated that Meshki would wind up on the backs of famous folk — after all, they’re literally the ones who inspired the line in the first place.

“We look at what LA celebrities are wearing — the Jenners, the Hadids — and then put our own twist on it,” Shadi says simply when I ask her to walk me through Meshki’s design process. Adds Natalie, “Our main goal is to keep our pieces very celebrity-inspired but at an affordable price point, so everyone can get that It girl look without spending a fortune.” Scrolling through the company’s Instagram, it’s honestly difficult to differentiate the posts featuring Meshki celebrity placements (like model Karrueche Tran in the $77 Sasha Satin Wrap Dress) from inspirational images (say, Kim Kardashian — who has yet to wear Meshki — in a lace bustier). And, well, that’s precisely the point.

Today, with the help of their 18 or so employees, Shadi and Natalie are able to take a new design from sketch to sample in a month’s time. The clothes are designed at Meshki’s new Sydney headquarters — the team outgrew their first, smaller office space late last year — and made in either Asia or the UK, where much of the world’s fast fashion is manufactured. And while overseas production obviously helps keep the brand’s prices low, Shadi notes that choosing affordable fabrics is key. “Plus, we don’t like to over-embellish our pieces, because that does drive up the price,” she adds. The rare exception? Meshki’s “crystal edit” of” diamanté dresses ($344), halter tops ($153), and wrap skirts ($77), a favorite of Hailey Baldwin’s.

And while a brick-and-mortar Meshki store might seem like the natural next step, Shadi and Natalie are committed to keeping their company online-only. “We really don’t have plans to open a store anytime soon,” says Shadi. “We’re just focusing on expanding our team — our staff has tripled in the past few months! — and launching new designs.”

Not bad for a brand that, until fairly recently, was being run out of a garage — but that’s the power of social media. Says Natalie of Meshki’s success: “We started the business in 2013 on Instagram, and we just got really lucky with the timing. The market’s very saturated now; back then, everyone was on Instagram but there weren’t many online stores. You need a lot of capital to start a business, which we didn’t have, so social media really helped us.”

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