Punk Rock Bride, the District of Columbia-grown bridal company founded five years ago, is setting its sights on the West Coast.
The wedding gown collection, which caters to brides who are looking for off-beat designs and more modern cuts, was started by Stephanie Ward in her Georgetown apartment in 2008.
"There was a real void in the industry for more original dresses," Ward said. "(Our customers) are looking for something with interesting detail, something a little less traditional. We don't get a lot of brides who want the poufy ball gown with a long veil and tiara."
In November, Ward closed the doors of her Capitol Hill shop and relinquished exclusive selling rights to Soliloquy Bridal Couture in Herndon, Va.
Then she went west to Seattle, where she is scouting sites for a new location.
"We were getting so many Web hits from Northern California, Portland and Seattle that it just made sense to expand," Ward said.
Ward, 37, entered the bridal industry when a friend asked her to create a gown — something simple and unique — for her 2005 wedding. It turned out to be an A-line dress made with eight types of fabric.
"I thought it'd be difficult to capture everything somebody wants in one dress," Ward said. "But once I got going, I realized there is so much opportunity there."
Ward bought about $1,500 of fabric and started sewing gowns in her living room. Nearly all of her business came from word-of-mouth referrals.
Jessica Webb Smith, who got married in June 2008, was one of Ward's first clients.
"I had no idea what I wanted, but I knew it had to be something simple and flowy," said Smith, who lives in Reston, Va. "If I'd had a really heavy, stiff dress, I would have been miserable."
Ward designs five dresses a year. She currently has 25 gowns — most priced between $2,100 and $3,800 — in her collection.
"I started out just making dresses that I liked, that I wanted to do," Ward said. "Finally, I realized I need to get people to see these dresses. I need a storefront."
In 2009, Ward created a Web site and opened a shop on Capitol Hill. Today, she said the company brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue. Sales have doubled every year since 2008.
Ward's first designs consisted solely of A-line dresses. Many came with straps.
But, she said, she quickly learned to add more variety.
"After a while, I noticed that people wanted more strapless dresses with form-fitting silhouettes," she said. "I had to learn to kind of have to work against my instincts."
But even punk rock brides, it turns out, have a soft spot for long white gowns.
"Sometimes people will come in looking for a hot pink dress," Ward said. "Then they say, 'Well, how often do I get to wear a white, floor-length gown?'"
But, Ward said, even if she opens up shop on the West Coast, she plans to maintain a presence in the Washington area.
At Soliloquy in Herndon, the brand has garnered a loyal following, shop owner Miriam Liggett said.
"We get calls weekly asking for (Punk Rock Bride) dresses," she said. "We carry 14 other brands, but they're among the most tried-on dresses at the store."