Emily Burnett and Sterling McDavid of Burnett NY Boldly Go Where Few Brands Dare Venture

Launching a luxury fashion brand is a risky venture; particularly when you consider the current market saturation and the high concentration in the US on fast fashion. Still, there are brave, fashion souls who take up the challenge.

Emily Burnett and Sterling McDavid, of Burnett NY are two such brave souls. And their bravery is paying off.

After only two collections, Burnett NY has been picked up by some major fashion retailers. All of this is a testament to Emily and Sterling creative mien, business acumen, and the brand’s model of inclusivity.

Emily Burnett and Sterling McDavid are proving that dreams due come true. And unlike the “Odd Couple’s” Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, two dissimilar personalities sharing in an apartment in New York City and almost driving each other crazy, these two New York City creatives have crafted a brand where a woman’s fashion needs and desires come first. And they are not driving each other crazy!!

Fashion Reverie: Burnett NY is the brainchild of Sterling McDavid and Emily Burnett. How did you two come together?

Sterling McDavid: I met Emily about four years ago when I was on the search for my wedding gown. I went to many fashion houses in search for the perfect designer to make my gown. I couldn’t find any designers whose sketches matched the idea in my head. However, when I met Emily she was able to realize my vision; it all just came together.

I was engaged for two years, so it was early on that I got to know her. We worked together for some time and at my last fitting I looked at her and said, “why have you established your own brand.” At the time Emily had been a creative director for Dennis Basso for ten years.

After my wedding in August 2017, me and Emily got together to work out a partnership and how we could build a fashion brand together. A month later we had a business plan and we had come up with a strategy of how to build a fashion brand that moves the needle in women’s wear.

One of the first things that we recognized was that we were two women running a fashion brand. It may be hard to believe, but in this industry that is unusual. It is a rare to have a female creative director and a female running the business side of the brand. In addition to that we felt that the fashion industry historically has not been inclusive. We wanted to be inclusive, not just with race and ethnicity, but also with size, age, and gender fluidity. We genuinely wanted to be for all women.

With this vision we felt the best way to actualize our vision was to raise money from female investors. With that in mind, we found a diverse female investor group from all over the global.

Burnett NY Pre-fall 2019

FR: So, you wanted a diverse group of female investors that differed from the usual investment sources.Sterling McDavid: Our investors range in age from 30 to 70 years of age. They are from all different ethnicities, as well as different body sizes. And they are all regionally located. When we started this brand, we realized we wanted diverse opinions on are advisory board.

FR: Why does this diversity make a difference to your fashion brand?

Sterling McDavid: It makes a big difference. Emily and I only have two points of view and any time you bring in different cultures and perspectives, it can really help a brand grow in the right way; particularly around cultural sensitivity. For example, our East Indian investor has made us aware of things that work in her culture and what things don’t. 

FR: Oftentimes, when fashion brands use plus-size models in their runway shows, the plus-size model is there only for effect or to give the illusion that the brand is inclusion. And unfortunately, many times the garments on those models are not flattering. Your fall 2019 runway show was different. It appeared that you took the time to really put the right garments on the right models. Could you talk about that?

Emily Burnett: It was important for us from the beginning to target women of various sizes. It wasn’t about taking a sample size and putting it on a size 12. We wanted to include models that were sizes 12 and 14 and consider how they would they look their best wearing in our runway show. We wanted the clothing to flatter those body types. And what a larger woman would wear if she were going out and what garments would complement her body type.

Sterling McDavid: We wanted to inspire women with what they are wearing and not have the clothes wear them. Emily is very good at designing garments for a variety of body types and shapes. Every size twelve is not the same, so it helps that we have an in-house atelier where we custom make garments.

FR: Why did you leave Goldman Sachs and go into an industry that is peripatetic and uncertain?

Sterling McDavid: I have a traditional finance background. I went to business school at the University of Texas and I started my finance career at Goldman Sachs. My parents both had an entrepreneurial background and my goal was to get as well versed in the world of finance as I could get. And so, when I had the opportunity to go off on my own and start something, I grabbed it. Prior to starting Burnett NY with Emily, I had started two other companies.

Growing up in Texas and Emily growing up in Arizona, you don’t realize that you can have a creative career, even more a career in fashion. We had lots of support from our parents who believed we could be anything we wanted at be; however, fashion just didn’t exist for us until we got older.

I know now can be immersed in a creative environment without being the creative force. I can still bring my finance skills to this endeavor.

FR: To my knowledge Burnett NY is one of few fashion brands—excluding Sally LaPointe, Rodarte, and formerly Cushine et Ochs—comprised of two women as the leading forces behind the brand. Could you talk about that?

Emily Burnett: We think it important to show to women that you can live your dream. But more importantly, that we can create items for other women that lift them up and inspire them. It interesting to us that there are so few fashions brands were women are the leading forces. We just don’t understand that. So, putting feminine faces as the focal point of this brand is so important to us.

Additionally, we have a social mission with our brand. A portion of the proceeds from our sales goes to benefit UNICEF Girls education and empowerment programs. Burnett NY encourages young girls to live their dream, and maybe do what we are doing, even better.

FR: What is the design aesthetic of Burnett NY?

Emily Burnett: Our design aesthetic is boldly feminine. Our idea of the Burnett NY woman is a woman who is boldly confident in herself and confident with others. When she walks into a room she presents herself in a strong way. Still, she is very feminine. Burnett NY dresses women in power suits without having women look overtly masculine.

FR: Who is your customer?

Emily Burnett: We cannot be everything to every woman. However, our woman is that demographic of 30 years old to 60 years of age. She is always sophisticated, educated about fit, fabrications, and construction. Burnett NY is a luxury brand and it’s important that the materials reflect our price point because our consumer is very familiar with luxury garments.

Sterling McDavid: Our customer is also very multi-faceted. She could be a CEO but also have an intense fitness routine.  

Emily Burnett: Everything in our fall 2019 collection has an evening aesthetic that could transition from work to a cocktail hour to a gala in the evening. Which explains all the separates in the collection which helps facilitate our customers busy but exciting life.

FR: What was the inspiration for your fall 2019 collection?

Emily Burnett: Our inspiration was a bold, iconic power woman. Think of Michelle Pfeiffer and Sigourney Weaver from the late 80s and early 90s. They have ambition and passion, but they are also sexy and very, very feminine.

FR: I noticed that you had a lot of flowing skirts in your fall 2019 collection. Why that direction?

Emily Burnett: I loved the idea of this power suit with lace embellishment and flowy pleated skirt. I like to have a lot of movement in the clothes. Movement in the clothes facilitates a lot of grace and a kind of charm. That said; I still am heavily drawn to the more architectural pieces in the collection. So, I mix the flowy and architectural together.

FR: What are your price points?

Emily Burnett: Our starting price points for our separates go from $995 up to $2500. Our evening gowns go from $2500 up to $9000. Dresses are in the realm of $2500 to $4000.

Photos courtesy of Burnett NY

FR: What’s next for Burnett NY?Sterling McDavid: We think a lot about this business in the long term, so even when you built the business plan, we thought about different things the brand could accomplish down the road. We do see bridal collections in our future, and accessories as well. Our present goal is to focus on our customer and meet her needs.

FR: And Neiman Marcus recently picked up And Burnett NY.

Sterling David: Correct. That is a now for us. We are only in our second season and we have been picked up by Saks, Neiman Marcus, and Net-a-Porter.

—Wiliam S. Gooch



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