Palo Studios: A Community Haven
This conversation is available to enjoy on Apple Podcasts.
Palo Studios is a multi-division company comprising of a wholesale agency, a brand, and a creative production agency all under one ethically minded umbrella of its founder, Cassie Rose Ebner. Every collaborator of Palo Studios is driven by positivity and well-being thus creating a new template for working in fashion. We talk to Cassie about the critical moment when the grasp of the classic wholesale model begun to loosen inspiring her to bridge the gap between conscious brands, retailers, and customers.
Advance Copy: How did your studies in fine art take you into fashion, and the mixing of commercial and creative? Could you reflect on a few moments between your studies and landing in this industry?
Cassie: I was creative from a very young age and my parents encouraged that. I took some fashion design courses when I was quite young from a passion perspective, and I always wanted to be a fashion designer. Thankfully by the time I went to college I pursued that as my major. I was supporting myself financially in college, working at a cupcake shop, babysitting, you name it, I was doing it to pay the bills. I was also taking internships to figure out how I wanted to apply my creativity. I started working for a production designer in the art department for a Disney channel television show and it went from an internship to a paid job and snowballed from there. But it was interesting having that perspective of fine art and just creating to create, and then this monetized version of that. Working in entertainment, although very exciting, I quickly learned that my nervous system was not a match for the industry. So, I pivoted and took different turns until I landed another internship at a wholesale showroom.
AC: Was your decision to work and study in parallel something that was a need or a choice?
Cassie: I think my experiences in the early years of my career was a multitude of different drives within me. There was absolutely a survival instinct and a need. I had to provide for myself. One of the ways that I coped was building an incredible amount of credit card debt. And I don’t recommend that to anyone, but I like to be transparent that I was not able to live a specific lifestyle while pursuing all my passions at that time. I took a risk and built credit card debt, believing that at some point I would be earning enough income to pay that off. Now, the position that I’m in currently debt free and, with my dream business it all paid off. But I definitely think there’s something to be said about [how] your socioeconomic status can determine what you pursue just from a practical standpoint, and I was willing to take a financial risk to follow my passionate pursuits.
“There is absolutely a toxic body image culture within the fashion industry.”
AC: You started your career just before self-development and sustainability were revived in the public psyche, when burning the candle at both ends was celebrated in most industries. Could you reflect on some memories from that hyperactive era when you entered the fashion industry?
Cassie: I’m extremely grateful that the person I worked for at the showroom, the owner, was extremely alternative in her views. She was a champion of independent, small businesses. She was super nurturing and oftentimes lent profound, personal advice, and support when I was dealing with a lot of things in my life. It was an intimate, beautiful experience, but she couldn’t bar me from the rest of the industry. Going trade shows and going to market week and interacting with all of those associated events, it was just so interesting to see the expectation of thinness. There is absolutely a toxic body image culture within the fashion industry. It was just of the times and the media was showing tall, thin blonde women. I was so grateful for women in the spotlight to just look different from what I had seen. It’s really important that the fashion industry has embraced a different, vast variety of images of women and people. But it’s very recent and a lot of it is for show. In our creative studio, I’ve had such an incredible opportunity to cast for projects and be able to push against that. I’ve been able to cast a wide variety of women and work with incredible people who, when I was growing up, wouldn’t have been given opportunities as models. There is a part of me that refuses to be a part of that narrative that I grew up with. That’s why I’m so interested in people who are doing things differently. I’m looking forward to the industry, integrating that more and more from all angles within their companies and in front of the camera, not just doing it as a marketing tactic.
AC: In that respect, we do have to thank Instagram for providing a platform for different kinds of role models. Having access to a variety of people who control their image and storytelling has been an important factor to dissolving some of the stereotypes, although we still have so many obsolete preconceptions to break down.
Cassie: It’s absolutely antiquated the way that the fashion world works. When I first launched my wholesale agency, it was revolutionary to only go to market twice a year because the world that I had come from, you [would] create five to seven collections a year. You constantly have to put out new, new, new, which is not sustainable in any way. And it was ‘revolutionary’ to keep a core collection that was timeless and essential to the brand.
“That’s how the creative studio was birthed: it was out of this essential need to share the brand voices for the people I was working with in wholesale.”
AC: You saw this shift in customer mentality, the rise of the transparency movement, DTC and social media, how did this influence your decision to quit working in a showroom and start Palo Studios? What did you want to do differently in this time of big industry change?
Cassie: I took on a pet project where the owner of the showroom allowed me to revamp a brand. She gave us a small budget and we re-did her lookbook, her line sheet, her Instagram, her website, and put it back out into the world. She went from making negative, because she was in a deficit from showroom fees, to making $50,000 in one quarter. She was selling $15 necklaces, so it was a huge impact and it solidified what I believed in, which was that people cared more and [they] wanted information and transparency. That’s how the creative studio was birthed: it was out of this essential need to share the brand voices for the people I was working with in wholesale. Now I’m able to separate those divisions when needed, but many brands experience all of our divisions and work with us in that way. But ethically I won’t take on a wholesale brand unless they have a certain level of assets, storytelling and production, because you’re just throwing away money to try and do wholesale if you don’t have your ducks in a row already. That’s where the creative studio comes in. If you don’t have access to doing that in an attainable and affordable way, then we can provide [it]. For the wholesale division, if a brand hasn’t gone through our creative studio, then we do expect certain items to be in place and we’re happy to explain what those are and give resources. Until those things are in place, then I’m just a revolving door taking in brands and spitting them back out. And that is of zero interest to me. Sustainability is absolutely about protecting our resources, protecting our earth being eco-friendly, but it’s also [about] having a sustainable business. I want to be able to provide income and jobs and a haven for people for a really long time. I want to work with brands over a long period of time and build beautiful relationships. That is absolutely my intention and that’s where I operate from and how I decide who to work with. What’s the point of having a business if you can’t do it the right way?
“I want to be able to provide income and jobs and a haven for people for a really long time.”
AC: Historically many brands relied on the power of association with the ‘it’ stores instead of cultivating direct customer relationships. And nowadays, wholesale is a lot more volatile, and I think that’s made the selling of fashion, together with multiple external factors, an unpredictable exercise. I would love to hear your opinion and thoughts on this transitional period in fashion.
Cassie: The way that the showroom world worked was – you sign a brand, you throw it out in the world, and you see what sticks and if it didn’t work well, you’re just not good enough. If I take on a brand, I believe in them, and they are playing in harmony with the symphony of conscious lifestyle. And I believe that they would sit incredibly well with the retailers who I work with. We find the best store in every city that this brand should be in, and all of our brands are curated in a way that they should sit in the same stores, and we share that with the brand. It’s so worth doing wholesale and partnering with the right stores who believe in you, customers having this beautiful experience and then becoming your direct customer as well. It’s just a beautiful flow of community and that’s the way I look at wholesale. That’s why it’s important to have meaningful, beautiful partnerships. It gives the power back to everyone.
“Being a producer is not for the faint of heart, but it’s so rewarding to see what comes out on the other side.”
AC: Your way of working is a great example how wholesale can be approached in a more ethical, creative and enjoyable way. It’s definitely the moment to champion more transparency and clarity when it comes to the values we stand for in fashion.
Cassie: Yes, a hundred percent. I feel that way with all my divisions. It’s incredible that I get to pull together creatives who maybe would have been divided and competing against each other and now we can all work together [on] these beautiful projects and work with brands who inspire us. A lot of the brands that we work with will work with us consistently: monthly shoots and every other month seasonal shoots because they feel safe working with us and know that I’ll curate the shoot to match their needs, and they’re going to get the best rate possible. Everyone’s going to show up excited and work from the same passion point. It’s really a privilege to be able to work with the artists that I do and bring these things to life. Being a producer is not for the faint of heart, but it’s so rewarding to see what comes out on the other side. Between two business-to-business based offerings, I’m interacting with the most talented people and giving a platform to those people. On the other side of things, I have my in-house brand where I get to fulfill my dreams of being a fashion designer. I get to do collaborations with really cool retailers and even my own brands that I represent and work with. We can co-create together.
AC: The in-house brand which lives under the umbrella of Palo Studios, how and when was this idea born?
Cassie: During the pandemic I felt so disconnected from all my people. And I created the sweats as gifts to send out to buyers, to my clients and evoke a sense of community and relight the central fire of the village and bring us together in some way. That positivity radiating through the brand has introduced me to so many more people and connected me in many other ways that has then enhanced my service offering.
As we move away from identifying ourselves as our brands, as our companies, we can create these beautiful offerings, art, brands and services and put that out in the world. And then take the time we need to fill up our cup and nourish ourselves because it’s so important for everyone to feel nourished individually because the stronger you are in that way, the more we can do for the collective. My goal [in] this lifetime is not just to help one or two people it’s to push forward the world as so many other emerging artists and independent brands are [doing]. They’re changing the narrative and being stewards of the earth and just being real. It’s so important to me to cultivate that feeling and a safety net for those kinds of people. I really do believe in putting myself and my ethics and my morals behind my business. But also nourishing myself on a personal level and deepening my spiritual practice, exploring how I can connect with other people who believe in that same way. And then what can we do as a collective together to push the world forward?
“We have to step away from needing exterior validation that our products are doing well.”
AC: As an image creator and communicator, do you see fashion turning to being more tactile or more digital? Or maybe there’s another frontier you’re witnessing and are excited about?
Cassie: I think we’re going to start stripping away the importance of engagement. It’s beautiful that everyone has their own platform and they’re able to share their brand and their story [but] we need to remove ourselves from seeing value in how many people engage with that information. Instead of looking at the day to day, collection to collection, let’s start pulling back and saying, ‘What are we excited about? Let’s just keep putting it out there, let’s keep sharing it.’ That’s how you’re going to get attention instead of following the status quo and recreating what other people are doing. Now is the time for innovation. Now is the time to be different. Before you’d have to buy a billboard to buy a commercial, now you can just open a TikTok account. Don’t neglect using those platforms just be authentic on them, be yourself, be different. I don’t think we all have to become influencers, TikTok stars or start dancing. We have to step away from needing exterior validation that our products are doing well. And we need to tap into our inner artist and create from that space and stay consistent. And I think IRL things are important again. In a world of social media where we’re fed really specific things it’s important to be in the real world and just remember that life isn’t 2D. We’re physical beings that constantly want to expand and grow and we can’t do that behind a screen. So it’s really a balance and planting seeds and nourishing them and letting them grow. I know from experience that when all of your stars align, when you’re doing things from an ethical perspective, from a steward of the earth perspective, genuinely wanting to connect with people and allowing other people to help you, that’s where the magic happens.
This interview has been edited and condensed.