Perhaps you have seen Will & Ivey’s stylish children’s clothing line on the racks of local children’s boutiques. Perhaps, like us, you find yourself wishing the designs came in your size. Will & Ivey founder Sandra Ney has an impressive fashion resumé — she studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and has worked for clients like Eddie Bauer, Gap and The Beverly Hills Polo Club. After a hiatus from the fashion industry, she returned in full force to create Will & Ivey. The company’s mission to weave peace and purpose through fashion is two-fold. Peace comes in the ease of dressing babies and toddlers in the clothing, and the purpose comes through partnerships (with The Forgotten Initiative and Tool Life) that give back to the community and impact the lives of children. Sandra Ney’s passion for giving back, enthusiasm for life, love for her family, desire to create change and keen eye for design make her more than worthy of being featured as today’s FACE of Nashville.
You are originally from California. What brought you to Nashville?
My husband was in a rock band in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The Christian labels in California and Texas shut down and moved to Nashville in the early ’90s. The four families involved in the band agreed to leave California and make the jump to follow the industry to Nashville. We were leaving everything — but we had each other.
It was an adjustment. At the time, I had the position as lead designer at Beverly Hills Polo Club. I was offered a great opportunity, and I said, “No, I am heading to Nashville.” I had also just started a children’s clothing line (by a different name) out of my home. After having my son, I was frustrated with the amount of graphics (trucks, dinosaurs) on the clothing. There wasn’t anything minimalist or even soft. I thought I was going to continue that when I moved to Nashville, but I could not find pattern makers or sample makers and finally had to hang up my patterns. That sent me down the journey of raising my children.
A great opportunity came my way in 1997. I met the wardrobe stylist for Trisha Yearwood and was hired to design her outfit for the Grammy’s. This was huge for us at the time when my husband’s band was not traveling — this job paid our rent! Again in 2002, I was really fortunate when a friend called me and asked me if I would take her position as a wardrobe stylist because she was moving to Texas. She passed the torch to me, and that was wonderful for me to get backing into the fashion world as a stylist. That got my creative juices running again.
How did you conceive Will & Ivey?
I always wanted to have a company that had a bigger purpose. When I started making children’s clothing, I knew this purpose had to do with children — although I wasn’t sure how that would play out. I always had a compassion for orphans as a student, and as I grew older, I had the light bulb moment that this is because my mom was abandoned with her four siblings. I am here because someone rescued my mom.
It was a life legacy change for my mom being adopted by the most loving people — who I called Nana and Bappa. Through their love, my mom embraced the heart of forgiveness. A big part of who I am is because of what she modeled. That is why my core value is ‘To love well’.
So it had been 20-some-odd years that I wanted to build this company. One day, I got a call from a friend of mine who wanted to design men’s jeans and, knowing my background, asked me to give feedback. Of course, my mind went flying. He looked at me and asked, “Do you want a job?” So I helped him brand the company and assisted in design for two years. We had a lot of fun, but after two years he realized it wasn’t his passion. What this did for me — it gave me back my confidence and ignited my desire to be a designer.
That day, I pulled out all of my old patterns and, admittedly, I started weeping. It was clearly the time for me to bring this back. My kids are 16, 19, 21 and 25, and this time around, I had them as my cheerleaders. So off I went building a business plan with my husband and dreaming about the future that would bring.
Will & Ivey became more of a reality when an acquaintance I had met through Lifesong for Orphans had dinner with me one night along with his wife. After hearing my story and my passion of wanting to help orphans and children in the foster care system along with helping a man in Honduras try and become self sustainable, they called me a few days later. They were excited about my vision and wanted to help and be a part of the story. So we became business partners.
Holly Mcafee’s gift is in administrative. She is all type A and is great in all of the areas in which I am very weak. Everything she does allows me to be the creative person. Then we hired Stephanie Smith, who had just recently moved to Nashville with her husband also leaving a great job with Joie, to help Holly with social media, marketing and sales. Now, we have a team.
Are today’s designs similar to your first patterns?
My first designs were similar to today’s in terms of minimalism, but they were very ’90s. Will & Ivey now is very minimalist, and I am moved by Scandinavian colors. I have always liked really simple lines and textures. In the Fall 2017 line, I added a color I call spice that pops against the pink. My goal is that the clothing is your favorite grab-and-go piece because it’s so easy to throw on a child. We focus on making the clothing really simple, easy and comfortable.
We always stay with the mission of weaving peace and purpose through fashion.
What is the most important lesson you have learned as a small business owner?
The biggest lesson is the importance of the quality of communication. That is the biggest key to anything running smoothly, peacefully. It is so clear that everybody hears something different or interprets something differently or reads body language differently. You have to continue working on skills of communicating.
Do you have a piece of advice you lean on?
Try to keep the main thing the main thing. For me as a creative, I am all over the place, so hone in and strengthen who we are.
Ever since I was a young girl my favorite verse has been Proverbs 3:5-7, which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” This keeps me going. I listen and let Him call the shots. That has been my go-to for help and to assure myself I am doing what I was called to do — and that means a lot to me.
What is a recent meal that wowed you?
What is your favorite holiday tradition?
My favorite childhood memory is Christmas soup. My mother used to make her Christmas soup and serve it in different China cups. Now that I am a mom, my favorite tradition is waking up and seeing my four children on the couch together on Christmas morning. After stockings, we have Swedish pancakes, which my Swedish brother-in-law introduced to the family.
Can you recommend a few good books?
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler; Make It Happen by Mario J. Rocchetta; Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow
What are three things you could not live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Morning hugs, perfume (since high school, I have worn Aromatics Elixir by Clinique), my black clothing staples and fresh cut flowers. When I retire, I want to work with a florist. I just want to be around flowers as I grow old.
Thank you, Sandra, for inspiring us with your passion and drive. And special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous pictures!
Dr. Chad Swan, a vascular and thoracic surgeon with TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center, and his wife Kelly are this month’s FACES of TriStar. They share their inspiring story of how they dealt with postpartum depression, offer insight on how to identify it, and share where they turned for help when they needed it most. Click here to read their brave story.