Tess Mann

Founder of Tess Mann Haute Couture and Couture by Tess

Tess Mann is the fashion designer behind the Tess Mann Haute Couture and Couture by Tess labels in addition to owning a bridal boutique under the name, Couture by Tess Bridal. Tess has been in the bridal industry since 2013. Prior to her formal entry into the industry, she had been designing since she was a young teenager, however chose a different career path in order to serve her country for over twenty years as a federal officer. In September 2018, Tess became a US Trademark Designer with her designs being protected by the US Patent Office. After serving the Memphis, Tennessee area for a little over six years in the bridal industry, Tess and her husband, Joe, opened Couture By Tess Bridal on 31 W. Broad Street in Cookeville, Tennessee in November of 2019. Tess is also the talk show host of Couture Chats with Tess on Youtube where she interviews fashion, fine arts and event industry professionals in her bridal boutique’s parlor.

What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?

I actually do not have a typical day. As a fashion Designer as well as the owner of a retail bridal boutique, I am required to be flexible, think quickly, and change gears without much notice. Inasmuch as our physical store has only two employees, I function in a variety of roles; manager, fashion expert, book-keeper, psychologist, marketer as well as employer and mentor. It is crucial I have a quiet place to focus on the priorities for the day and I work best with a very systematic approach to accomplishing one goal at a time. In a way, I have found making an old-fashioned “things-to-do” list works the best for me. By checking off each task which needs completion, an action item within a specific project, meet a deadline, or face an unexpected challenge for the day, I prevent myself from feeling overwhelmed. Each completed element on that list provides me with a sense of accomplishment, even if it may be short-lived until the next new project crops up to demand my attention.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I spend a lot of time examining the formal attire of other cultures, fabrics and colors used as well as gain inspiration from natural elements surrounding me in the environment. Other times it is inspiration from flowers, hummingbirds and vines, or it could be bridges and architecture from the past as I think about what new embroidery or lace I can sketch. I then use the embroidery ideas to create texture for my wedding dress designs, formals or mother-of-the-bride and -groom attire. I am also inspired by other fashion designers both past and present, and think about “how can I improve upon that”, or “if it only had this” it would be perfect. Other times, I just admire a design, kick myself and say “now why didn’t I think of that first?”

What’s one trend that excites you?

I can not say enough how thrilled I am that we are beginning to see more color in the creation of bridal gowns. Although many brides still prefer the softness of the Kora (off/white and pale ivory) tone, underlying color tones truly bring out the details of embroidery and beading. We are starting to see not only more two tone and multi tonal wedding dresses, but a more courageous venture away from the ordinary and expected choice of style in bridal attire such as full color floral patterns and actual hand painting techniques on bridal fabrics.

What is one habit that helps you be productive?

Honestly, I ask Alexa to put on some relaxing music such as Zen Garden, Native American Flute, Liquid Mind, or Dean Evenson which helps me relax and clear my mind so that I can be creative. And, if I’m subsequently feeling really creative, energized and raring to go, I turn the light switch on in my head and play disco classics.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Stand up for yourself, speak your mind, don’t be afraid to disagree with someone or question their opinion or statements. Don’t let people tell you what they think you should do, or the career path you should follow. I spent too much of my youth staying quiet if someone had an opinion or thought that differed from mine. At the time, I thought I was just being respectful and courteous. However, it took me until I was about 23 years of age to realize that it dampened my spirit and creativity. I spent quite a while self reflecting on what I really, really wanted to do with my life. Once I clearly knew what I wanted, I went full steam ahead and no one was going to tell me that I could not do it or that I would not succeed.

Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.

My husband actually does look good in a Speedo 🙂

What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?

You need to take time and unwind. Learn to separate work from life. It can be hard to do when you are first starting out with multiple tasks and end goals. However, it is important to recharge your batteries and focus on what really matters, and it is not turning into a workaholic.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

I personally feel it is important for me to get away from others and find a quiet space to either listen to relaxing music, or to step outside in the fresh air and stroll about for a brief minute or two. If I’m at home, I’ll walk a few miles. I always found my best problem solving occurred on long distance runs. Now that I am older and have a few worn out joints, I enjoy long walks.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?

I can not express enough how beneficial it was for me to find and secure a Public Relations Manager in whom I trusted and developed a strong rapport. My PR Manager has and continues to develop several professional connections out in the business world and works diligently to bring awareness to my brand as a fashion designer.

What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?

I don’t feel that anything I have done in my career has been a failure. There have been times when specific goals may have turned out differently than what I initially expected, but in reflection everything turned out for the better in the long run.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Establish a good relationship with your hometown or small banking institution. They know what it is like to be the little fish in a big pond. That small institution is more likely to provide you with excellent customer service, solid business advice and financial support compared to a large banking corporation. Your success is their success.

What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Being old school, I have used paper, pencil and eraser to sketch my fashion designs for as long as I can remember. However, trying to transmit my art over the internet has caused a serious problem with resolution, definition, and clarity of understanding for my factory to correctly interpret my sketches. Much to my initial horror and frustration, my husband gifted me with an iPad and strongly encouraged me to download the Procreate program for artists. After several months of frustration, accidentally deleting great designs and several self-help YouTube videos, I finally have the elementary skill level to transition from pen and paper to drawing my designs digitally. It took a little bit of effort to hold the apple pen differently and learn the technique of the different brushes, however, I am now enjoying it and having fun experimenting with the different color palettes, layers and techniques.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

I would have to say joining a women’s professional organization was by far the best thing I have done for myself. Being naturally a more reserved individual, the monthly get-together and socials has helped me tremendously in overcoming my reluctance to speak about myself. I have always been an observer however, interacting with a group of outgoing, successful women has assisted me greatly in realizing I too have ideas and visions to share. Successful people want to share their strategies for success and are actually interested to learn about how other people also became successful.

Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?

Dapper by Chris Keaton – Chris Keaton is an amazing and positive minded individual. He possesses a long history in both fashion, as a musician and later a music producer. He starts every single day with joy and laughter committed to making it a wonderful day, no matter what happens. He inspires me to be more positive and take every signal negative thought for the day and turn it into something uplifting. Chris says “I don’t know what is going to happen today, but it is going to be great.”

Key learnings:

  • Don’t be passive in your own life. If you want to be successful, you must take the bull by the horns and plan your success one day at a time. Your successes may not be what you expect, but they will be what you need.
  • Surround yourself with trustworthy and positive people. Take the time to invest in good people and they will share your excitement, vision and reap the benefits of being important team members of a successful company.
  • Collaboration is everything. Making connections with other professionals within and outside your industry is crucial. You never know when those connections can lead to project collaborations that result in exposure of your brand and bring awareness to you as a person.