POSTED ON JUNE 17, 2009:
Don't Worry, Be Happy
Tulsa clothing line spreading good cheer with a variety of garments
Deeply Engrained. Debbie Vinyard started the local t-shirt line Happy First in May 2007, but the idea behind the clothing line existed long before that. An eternal optimist, Vinyard has an assortment of sayings that she uses to wish people well.
In recent years, fashion has become something more than clothing covering peoples' bodies. Designers have adopted a newer, refreshing approach: "fashion with philosophy." These lines still give consumers a stylish look and comfortable attire while having a subtle extra something, whether it is a larger philosophical concept or a philanthropic edge.
Examples might be a clothing company that's line is completely constructed from organic materials or practices eco-friendly business. Other examples include companies like Tom's Shoes, which donates a pair of shoes for every pair sold.
With that spirit, one local company is also implementing a variety of practices, providing a clothing line that evokes stylish wear, a unique philosophy and a charitable side as well.
Debbie Vinyard started the local t-shirt line Happy First in May 2007, but the idea behind the clothing line existed long before that. An eternal optimist, Vinyard has an assortment of sayings she uses to wish people well. Her greeting "Happy First" was "her way of celebrating the first day of every month, the first big milestone in life, and the first moments of living each day."
As someone who appreciated positive companies, she knew that she wanted to expand this saying; assisted by her brother-in-law, the owner of a Dallas-based advertising agency who also saw potential in her life mottos and sayings, the decision to create a business with a creative edge started. As the Web site her brother-in-law's company helped to create states, she started a business "incorporating Debbie's affinity for fashion and illustration with her infectious enthusiasm for life." Thus, Happy First was born.
Vinyard said she always wanted to work in clothing. Although a penchant for numbers eventually led her to pursue an accounting degree, Vinyard began her college tenure in fashion design.
Another fashion foray was her role as a co-owner of the aerobic wear retailer Body Gear, a Tulsa store in the 1980s. Vinyard said a Happy First woman is very "ambitious, driven and wants to do things with her life." She believes the line is for women who are happy with their personal and professional life, not just going through the motions of everyday living. This extension of her "happy first" philosophy gives the company its logo.
When the idea of an egg as a logo was presented to her, Vinyard admitted that she thought the concept was weird. Once it was explained to her, however, she agreed that the egg represented what she wanted the line to say. Now trademarked, the egg "represents the limitless potential for growth living inside each one of us. Like an egg, happiness must be nurtured to develop into something strong. Like an egg, happiness is fragile, yet resilient. And, like an egg, happiness is merely the beginning of a new, beautiful existence. It is when we break out of this shell that we become exactly who we want to be."
While a comfortable and stylish fashion line with a thought-provoking message would be enough, Happy First also contributes to a cause. Ten percent of all Happy First sales are donated to leukemia and lymphoma research. A Hodgkin's Disease survivor, Vinyard donates time and money to cancer treatment research and ultimately a cure. Having a worthwhile cause and contributing donations is another extension of continued happiness.
Vinyard's decision to create a Happy First t-shirt line was determined because, she said, it was the best way to share her expressions. While Vinyard maintains creative direction, she leaves the creation of her graphics to her designers. Vinyard said she takes inspiration for graphics based on what is trendy and by the input she receives. Having recently seen resurgence in butterflies, the t-shirt line now features butterfly graphics. Additionally, Vinyard's friend and owner of Tulsa boutique Island Nation, Pam Langston, suggested that peace signs would be a good graphic for the collection, which are now part of the line.
Additionally, Happy First t-shirts feature flowers and floral motifs, a silhouette of a woman on a swing, trees, oriental branches and the company's trademarked egg. Philosophies like "Happy Camper," "Happy First Lady," and "Happy Hour" also adorn some of the t-shirts. Vinyard said the "Happy Hour" t-shirt is the most popular, but joked that it's likely due to the phrase's other meaning.
The colors of the shirts are as varied as the graphics themselves. The t-shirts are in soft, subdued shades and several of them are available in more than one color combination.
The shapes of the shirts are also assorted, including: v-necks, crew necks with cap sleeves, long sleeved wraps, tanks, camis, a-line neck with ties, thin knit hoodies, henleys, tunics, and baby doll tanks, to name a few. Sizes also range from small to large, with several of the shirts extending to x-large.
The Happy First line is also expanding. Vinyard, who also works at Inner Peace Yoga in Tulsa, has created a spa line featuring yoga staples and all-around comfortable line of racer-back tanks, half-zip hoodies, lounge pants and Capri pants, camisoles and sports bras. The spa line comes in basic shades of black, white, navy and chocolate brown with soft, contrasting shades for the small, delicate logos. There is also a baby line of Happy First wear. These t-shirts and onesies, from sizes six to 24 months, prominently feature the egg logo. The colors are also gender-neutral, with whites, pine greens, and mustard yellows. Happy First also has its first accessory, a Happy First scarf.
Beyond expanding her line, Vinyard is expanding her brand. In addition to the online store happyfirst.com, where you can also learn more about the Happy First philosophy or sign up to receive a "Happy First" email at the first of every month, the line is also sold in women's and children's clothing boutiques and gift boutiques throughout Tulsa and throughout Oklahoma including the first boutique to sell Happy First, Island Nation (500 RiverWalk Terrace) as well as Bella Dames (5958 S. Lewis), The Inviting Place (5970 S. Yale), and Little Black Dress (1325 E. 15th St.). Vinyard has also taken the line nationally, with boutiques in Colorado, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, Missouri and South Dakota selling Happy First wears.
Vinyard wants to continue with the expansion. In contribution with Dfest's yoga conference (July 24-25), Happy First will have a booth in the Crowne Plaza. And of course, Vinyard hopes of continuing to spread Happy First nationally. The day that I spoke with Vinyard, she had just received a phone call from another boutique interested in selling the Happy First wears. She has already seen a response through the Happy First Twitter.com page, in addition to her Facebook.com and MySpace.com pages. Knowing the importance of an online presence, she is excited about having been featured on several blogs and is looking forward to starting her own blog soon.
Furthermore, Vinyard also wants to increase the opportunities of the Happy First line. Along with a men's line and children's line, there is also a full range of accessories she would like to have under the Happy First umbrella including things for pets and other odds and ends. For instance, if you make a purchase through the Happy First Web site, you also receive some Happy First postcards.
While sounding like a large endeavor for someone's whose fashion line already features so much punch in one t-shirt, it seems like Vinyard will accomplish her goals of expanding her business and more importantly, her philosophy. To find out a Tulsa Happy First retailer or to do some online shopping, visit happyfirst.com.
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