Before they were entrepreneurs, Meritt Elliott and Emily Current were just two friends attending the University of California, Los Angeles, with a shared affinity for all things fashion and denim.
Now, the owners of successful lines of accessories, bedding, jeans, knits, and stationery are just trying to enjoy the ride — and bring other women along as they go.
“I think when we started our first company, we were really new to the business and relied on other people to show us the ropes,” Elliott said, “and when we learned the ropes, we found that we didn’t want to do business that way.”
That’s evidenced by one of their recent ventures, Emily + Meritt, which makes “soft knits for strong girls.” The best-friend entrepreneurs have made supporting women one of their main priorities in business.
“By the time we started our second company and fully funded it ourselves, we were able to start a new culture of how we saw the garment industry moving forward in the future,” Elliott said, “so supporting young talent, mentoring our team, hiring lots of creative women, and empowering them.”
“Jumping off a cliff”
After Elliott and Current graduated from UCLA, they started their careers as stylists. Soon, they came up with the idea for their first business venture, the premium denim line Current/Elliott, and began tapping their resources (graphic designers from internships, bankers they went to school with, and the like) to get advice on building their brand from the ground up.
“A lot of women were really supportive of our idea of going out and doing our own thing,” Current said. “If we had not had all these people nudging us, saying ‘Now is the time to do it!’ maybe we would have had more trepidations, but it felt like we had a network around us to help us.”
Meritt said their inexperience as designers, along with their low overhead, further compelled them to take the risk. “We felt that if we were going to jump off a cliff, that was the time to do it.”
“A wonderful shift”
Today, the owners of the womenswear lines like The Great continue to push for more support of women through their work with Rebecca Minkoff’s Female Founder Collective, a network that grants companies a seal that indicates to consumers the company is women-led.
“We feel that there’s space for everyone; we really try to lift each other up and help each other,” Elliott said. “It didn’t start like that 15 years ago in this business — and it really feels that way now. It feels like a wonderful shift.”
Elliott and Current have also remained committed to doing business their own way. For them, that means staying scrappy and operating like a startup, meaning doing more with less as they did when they were stylists. It also means finding balance by scheduling breaks, workouts, doctor’s appointments, and even walks during the workday.
“These days, when you accept a job, there’s so much more to it than a salary and a position title,” Current said. “There’s ‘What kind of work-life balance can you have in this job? What kind of inspirational situations can you find in this job?’ There are so many things that fill you up as a person and help you grow into the next step or version of what you can be.”
Marching to the beat of their own drum has always been the secret to Elliott’s and Current’s success, and they encourage aspiring entrepreneurs to resist putting themselves in any one box, too.
“Be prepared that your career and your destiny will take many shapes and have many chapters,” Elliott said. “A big lesson that we learned is that you can reinvent yourself, you can restart, you can rebuild at anytime — and there’s a lot of freedom in that.”
Melinda Carstensen, [email protected]aplanet.com