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The Start of Stage 9 Secrets

Alexa Ray - owner of Stage 9 Secrets

I have always been serious about music and performing. I live, eat andbreathe my music career and have for the past 10 years with immensefocus. So never in a million years did I think I would or could start afashion boutique. I began my music career in opera ( as Alessandra Paonessa ), so not only was my world engulfed in music scores and countless hours of practice, but also the constant hunt for the right performance gown.

Making a statement has always been equally important to me as rehearsing for an upcoming gig. Early on I learned that the way you present and style yourself can effect how others perceive you. I used to be the kid with dark eyeliner, rainbow socks and a hot pink striped fauxhawk. You can imagine the looks I used to get walking into a room - I lived for the reaction! But now looking back, I realize the valuable lesson I learned early on. The power of style and the influence it can have on others perception of someone.   

Over the years I've spent thousands of dollars in wardrobe, and time searching for appropriate attire to make sure each gown followed appropriate etiquette: considering time of day, type of stage, not too short, not too low, when to cover my arms… and so on.  Most often my shopping options were between a mother of the bride or prom dress…. needless to say many unsuccessful shopping trips.

Over the years I tried to broaden my search for gowns. Winners was often a great go-to; if gowns were in season. Eventually I turned to online shopping and had great success but quality wasn't always guaranteed. And when it came to buying gowns online? WHAT. A. NIGHTMARE!

In the Fall of 2019 I received word that I had been nominated in the Hollywood Music in Media awards for ‘Best Female Vocal Performance’. I decided immediately I wanted to make the trip to attend the event and of course the big question that comes to any girls mind immediately is "what to wear?". I really wanted something that would turn heads and if I was flying all the way from Toronto (TO), Canada to Los Angeles (LA), United State, I wanted to make sure I looked flawless. So the hunt for the perfect gown commenced...

But OH The Horrors...

I won’t slander the brands I shopped, but what I will say is that I learned very quickly what you see in the photos isn’t always what you get. Have you ever seen those Pinterest shopping fails? Ya… that was basically my experience in a nutshell.

Size was an issue. I'm a size 8 US and normally that would translate to a medium or large. I thought I was being safe ordering an XL for my online order as something too big can always be taken in by a seamstress, right? Apparently not?! When my order arrived, that ‘XL’ wouldn’t even go up my legs. This was only the beginning.

Another order I placed was for a beautiful navy off the shoulder gown with sparkles and an over-skirt. I was SO excited for this one. And when it arrived? I’m pretty sure all the sparkles had fallen off before I even opened the bag. The glitter literally looked like it had been glued onto the fabric which had dried, crusted and flaked off on its way to me. 


Not only that but the fabric was different than what I expected. The image below contains the promotion shot of the dress worn by a model on the left, and what arrived on the right. You'll notice in the promo shot, the over-skirt has an interior layer made of chiffon with an exterior layer of satin fabric. This gives the interior a bit of a see-through property and beautiful movement. Indicated by the red circle (click image to enlarge). However the dress I ordered came with one layer in a spandex type material, and neither chiffon nor satin fabric was used. 

It was clear the dress I received was a knock off inspired by another design. The fabrics used were completely different than what was advertised and this was a huge disappointment because I thought I was getting a great deal.

Returning gowns is always an option but I didn’t even bother. I had spent over $100 USD on the dress and had ever right to complain. But by the time I shipped the dress back to where it came from (wherever that was), it probably would have cost the amount I paid for the dress to return and wouldn’t have been covered by the company. At the very least it would cost me a headache so what's the point?

And these stories go on. Below is another sample image put together of what I thought I was getting on the left and what I received on the right. Don't even get me started on this one… (click to enlarge).

And I wish I could say this experience was isolated to online dress shopping but sadly not. Since I've started the company, I've had a few orders of jewellery that didn't turn out where quality didn't match the promotional images shown (stop me if you've read this before). It was so bad we had to change suppliers, but it was the right choice to find the right products.


And So Stage 9 Secrets Was Born

All of these nightmare experiences got me thinking that if I was struggling this hard to find quality gowns through online ordering, then others must be too right? So WHY is it so hard to find quality? The deals are there, there has to be a better way to guarantee the quality of products, no? The more questions I asked, the more research I did which led me down a rabbit hole of information. And then the eureka moment: I ran to my closet and quickly started looking at all the tags of my favourite gown brands to search them online. Before I knew it I was booking meetings and applying for wholesale accounts. It just so happened that the designers I connected with, were all in … you guessed it: LA! 

Before the HMMA’s I met with these brands and even looked over products first hand to make sure everything I had been told over the phone was true and the quality was to my standards…. and what a night and day difference it was! Not only did I walk out of the meeting with a gown for the HMMA’s, but a full product catalogue for my new business. And so Stage 9 Secrets took form!

Alexa Ray at the 2019 HMMA event

A video clip and some pictures of the dress I wore at the 2019 HMMA.

click to enlarge

I realized that my new found knowledge of the industry coupled with my personal experience as a singer could be valuable to many. I decided with it I wanted to create change, to better the world for performers by creating a community where artists could support one another.  A place where independent artists, actors and performers could go to find statement pieces, styling resources, potential sponsorship opportunities - essentially all the resources I wish I had when I was first starting out and more.

As an independent artist in Canada my experience and biggest struggle has been the lack of finding professional support and resources. Most artists don't have deep pockets when funding their own projects. This means style and fashion budgets are usually really tight or ‘whatever is left’. Most artists don't have access to companies to help grow their brand & style which arguably is just as important as the music we create. I want to change that.

Especially now with how the entertainment industry has been hit by the pandemic, supporting talent has never been more crucial to the survival of the arts. With so much uncertainty in the industry, Stage 9 Secrets aims to support the community of artists how we can, with the resources we have. We're excited to show the community what we’ve got in store!

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