As I parked my car at the Brownlee headquarters in Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood, I second-guessed if I had the correct address. I stepped into a stunning, modern home with huge windows and plush mid-century furniture. Cats wove between our legs as Christina Currey and Abe Hutcheon welcomed me with a warm hug. Hanging racks of can’t-help-but-touch French terry and Supima cotton pieces flanked the studio. Vibrant vision boards lined the walls like wallpaper. I could immediately tell this small-but-mighty team was up to something huge.
Brownlee (pronounced BROWNlee, not brownLEE) was born from and named for co-founder and creative director Christina Currey’s debonair grandfather and stylish grandmother. “My Mor Mor (‘mother’s mother’ in Swedish) was the matriarch of our family, and Brownlee, the patriarch, was her admirer, lover, and best friend. Together, they were the best-dressed people I knew,” Christina says. So she set out to amalgamize the Scandinavian principles of minimalism and coziness with her knack for fashion and design.
Christina has been hands-on learning fashion for more than a decade. “When I was 16, I went to a trunk show in Nashville hosted by a fine-jewelry designer. I was enamored with her work using gemstones and mixed materials in beautiful unison,” Christina tells me. An internship turned into an eight-year-long adventure assisting with trunk shows in Manhattan and Hawaii, learning design, product development, and business management. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Christina moved to Los Angeles to join the design team full-time. Of the 10 employees, she was one of two based in L.A., so she gained knowledge and real-world experience she could have never gotten in a classroom.
When it came time to leave jewelry behind and turn her luxe leisurewear dreams into reality, Christina needed to assemble a team of her own. Enter: Abe Hutcheon, co-founder and COO (among other shifting titles). He first met Christina at a Nashville Fashion Alliance event in 2017. “I remember she had platinum blonde hair and was wearing something red,” Abe says. “I stood behind her as the presentation began. We shared jokes and playful banter that hasn’t gone away to this day,” he says. Abe was hired a few weeks later and left his job working in child welfare to pursue a new career in fashion. “I immediately jumped into the messy fun of entrepreneurship where Christina and I began collaborating and bringing her vision to life.”
FINDING THE FABRIC
Sourcing and exploring textures has been one of Christina’s favorite parts of this journey. “The very first garment we sold was a men’s swimsuit,” she says. “The fabric was the key. So soft and airy with just enough stretch. Strong and durable. I brought that notion into every exploration that followed: I went to every single booth at the fabric tradeshows.” Christina asked how and where each fabric was sourced. She wanted to know who harvested and milled each material. “I ran my hands over every texture you could imagine.”
“We spent our early years getting our footing, nurturing long-term relationships with small-batch manufacturers and domestic mills. We were perfecting our product,” Abe says. Now that Brownlee has solidified its core offering — soft, durable, versatile basics that make you feel anything BUT basic — they’re expanding and moving forward in a new direction. And customers coast to coast are noticing.
“We just launched our new, elevated branding and a state-of-the-art headless e-commerce site optimized for an intuitive and painless shopping experience,” Abe says. As a direct-to-consumer company, they strive every day to make shopping Brownlee online fun, transparent, and inclusive. “We can’t ever forget the clothes,” Abe says. “Christina has created her first full-length collection of french terry pieces in playful silhouettes that are indeed one of a kind, so fresh, and you know you need them the second you try them.”
“Aside from your skin being so thankful you tried Supima French terry, we also hope to see your confidence equally thrive,” Abe says. “Brownlee is luxury without all the restrictions. Wash it, workout in it, brunch in it. It’s an invitation to let go of the complicated nature of personal styling and feel excited to be wearing something premium.”
BUSTING LEISUREWEAR MYTHS
Some people assume that Brownlee is only worn as home-wear or leisurewear. “But how far that is from the breadth of opportunity for wear!” Christina exclaims. “This brand, our product, is made with functionality in mind. To have a beautiful garment is one thing. To be able to wear it always, without worry, is another. Our goal is to remind individuals, through our collections, that well-made, beautiful clothing need not be delicate,” she adds. “We want you to love in them, dance in them, cry in them, adventure in them, grieve in them, sleep in them, have coffee at sunrise in them. And most importantly, rinse them easily and repeat.”
A NEW CHAPTER FOR BROWNLEE
Brownlee recently soft-launched a spiffy, easy-to-navigate new website. “Many are not aware that, in the world of e-commerce, we’re no longer only competing against other early adopters in direct-to-consumer shopping,” Abe explains. “We’re competing against every major brand as they quite literally buy up all necessary digital retail space required to see profits. We’ve learned it’s more important and difficult than ever to understand why your brand exists and to be able to communicate that in a way that resonates.”
A DAY IN THE BROWNLEE LIFE
“Every day in the office is incredibly fluid,” Christina says. “Abe and I wear a lot of hats on any given day. That has been the nature of this start-up growing into a small business. We are leaning into the fluidity, waking up every day excited and ready to navigate. One day could include designing collections for coming seasons while we launch the current one, and the next could be sales- and marketing-centric. No one day looks the same, and I feel that’s the beauty of it.”
THE BUSINESS ADVICE THAT GOT THEM HERE
“My late grandmother was the brightest, hardest-working single mother and businesswoman I’ve ever known.,” Abe says. “She would always tell us grandkids: No matter what you choose to do, be the best you can be.” Abe’s taken that simple but lasting notion into business and life. “I tend to find myself most enlivened when I’m surrounded by others who feel the same.” He adds an honorable mention favorite piece of advice: Don’t half-ass a lot of things. Whole-ass one thing. Author unknown.
“My father instilled in us that we are only as good as the people around us,” Christina says. “We were recently speaking about the value of a great partner in life, business, and friendship. This concept is echoed in many cultures, religions, and sayings worldwide. Surround yourself with people you cherish and admire and to whom you are loyal. Where those sentiments are reciprocated, nurture those souls as if they were your own. They are invaluable,” she adds.
Christina recalls something Abe wrote years ago: It’s not enough to look beautiful. I want to feel beautiful. And I want to remember that feeling, wouldn’t you? “I hold this notion dear to my heart,” Christina says. “It encapsulates a desire that every human on earth has experienced. A desire stronger than looking your best: feeling your best. Picking that thing in your closet that begets that within you. That’s Brownlee.”
Thank you, Christina and Abe, for letting us into the world of Brownlee on the heels of such an exciting re-brand. Find out more and shop at brownlee.co.
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