“Festina Lente (Make haste slowly).” Patience didn’t come natural to me. I’m always on the go, and I want results fast. It was a week after we officially launched, and I had invested a huge amount of money to sponsor an event in New York. I thought it was a perfect opportunity for us to make a big splash about our opening to our target audience. I am not sure if many new startup brands would make this decision to be honest, but I was eager to get our brand name out there. In the end, the event was a disaster on so many levels. I worked so hard at the 2-day event and spent so much money, but in the end, I got nothing but an earful of similar frustration and complaints from other sponsors. It was such a kick in my stomach to have wasted the money and time. If only I had not been so hasty, maybe buy a ticket to check it out and decide to invest money and time next year! A lot of similar business mistakes can be avoided.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elle Wang, founder of high-end maternity workwear brand, Emilia George®. As a Strategist for Partnerships, Business Development, and Stakeholder Management at the United Nations in New York City, for Elle, preserving her professional image has always been extremely important. Once she was pregnant with her son, George, she sought out professional maternity-wear that was long-lasting, sustainable, and comfortable. With no luck in finding such professional wear that checked all of these boxes — she realized that this is a huge gap in the market. Coming to the conclusion that many women out there were likely also facing this same dilemma, an idea sparked. Elle decided then that she would take it upon herself to create a line that empowers professional expecting and new moms to honor their identity while embracing the transformation of motherhood.
Emilia George® is redefining the traditional concept of maternity wear by providing mothers-to-be with professional silhouettes in sustainable eco-fabrics from niche producers around the globe. All Emilia George® pieces are also thoughtfully designed with discreet nursing capabilities for pump access, and the enduringly classic designs are perfect for any occasion during pregnancy and throughout motherhood. Emilia George® is the first maternity wear brand to include these built-in nursing features — making the pieces seamlessly transitional from pregnancy to postpartum.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am a person who prefers value purchases. When I was pregnant, I didn’t mind looking for the equivalent of Boss, Elie Tahari, Black Halo in the maternity-wear market. I wanted high quality and most importantly comfortable clothes, but I was deeply frustrated with what I was finding.
A 300 dollars-something dress made of polyester that did not even stretch enough to accommodate my third-trimester-body simply pushed me over the edge. I’ve never had such a powerful urge to make a change in any consumer products before, but as a 7-month pregnant woman who was sweating an ocean in a cold December, I just knew I had to create something that was breathable and comfortable and flattering to a pregnant body. It was a problem that was so personal, and I knew what I could create had value.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
Working at the United Nations inspired me in a number of ways, especially when I met refugee women, some pregnant and some mothers already, in Bidibidi refugee camps in Northern Uganda. I have always had this innate passion for helping others, and pairing that with my entrepreneurial spirit, I knew I wanted to do something good for motherhood.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One key differentiator is that all Emilia George®pieces are thoughtfully designed with discreet nursing capabilities for easy pump access. Emilia George is actually the first maternity wear brand to include these built-in nursing features — making the pieces seamlessly transitional from pregnancy to postpartum. We also use all sustainable fabrics from niche producers around the globe such as bamboo, cupro, and even recycled plastic bottles!
I am also proud to introduce the Fabrics MatterⓇ Movement via Emilia George. After finding that my son’s skin became irritated from contact with my clothes that contained harsh dyes, I was inspired to raise awareness for the importance of fabrics, not only for baby clothes but for the mother’s clothes too.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
● Grow organically.
During those months before I launched Emilia George I was perpetually in a hurry. I wanted my brand to launch yesterday even though I hadn’t received the first samples of our designs yet. It’s normal for a new entrepreneur to be so zealous about her idea, but I just couldn’t wait to show the world just how awesome these products are! But in that rush, I trusted the wrong people, hired incompetent teams, wasted a lot of money, and almost made it a non-starter. Take each step thoughtfully, and let your business grow organically. Unless you have millions of dollars set aside for your startup and can afford to throw in tens of thousands a month in Facebook and Google ads, the return on investment for small startups can be very poor. Don’t rush to bring in the world just yet before you have truly tested your products, received enough feedback, and made necessary adjustments — and all of these take time. Embrace this with patience and you can see yourself in a more sustainable position to thrive.
● Set a threshold/boundary for your sanity.
I work nonstop, but I never feel burned out. I could feel tired and sleepy, but I never push myself beyond a threshold I set for myself. We must set boundaries for ourselves and be honest about it.
● Collaborate instead of compete with other brands.
I’m always a little perplexed when smaller brands seemingly compete with each other. I would love to start a common space to bring all the small brands or single-product brands together. Don’t be afraid of sharing potential customers. Fashion is so much about personal preference, and I never felt it was a zero-sum game. I always love collaborating with other mom brands, including other maternity brands!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
During COVID-19, we donated hundreds of masks to daycares and preschools around the country that were open for children of essential workers. We’ve also produced over 100,000 customized masks for the National Institutes of Health, which has been a leading federal agency in public health research. Whenever people ask us for donations or deep discounts for our goods, we always do everything we can to accommodate.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
My mantra is, ”If you have a vision, you will get there.”
A Ukrainian friend said this to me back in 2008 when I was driving her in D.C. I came to this country in 2007 as a graduate student who knew no one, literally nobody, not even a single person of my own heritage. At each stage of my life I had goals, dreams, and wishes, and I could be paralyzed by fear alone to think that as someone who knew no one in a foreign country I could get anywhere…But I always hold onto those goals, dreams, and wishes and simply worked hard for them. Some took months and some took years, but I never wavered or gave up.
I could list so many examples from my academic and professional lives of how this mantra is so relevant. But to use a recent example: Emilia George, as a 6-month old fashion brand that was started by a Ph.D. in Public Policy who has zero experience and contacts in the fashion world, was accepted into Neiman Marcus! How did I make it happen? I have no sales or marketing experts to help me (because I can’t afford to hire them), so I simply looked up Buyers at Neiman Marcus on LinkedIn and cold-emailed a few relevant people. It took five months from my first cold email to when I got a response. After I sent the samples over for quality checks, the response was instant — the clothes were so well made that they couldn’t wait to list them. Neiman Marcus is my favorite department store, and I spent a lot of time on their website and their shops in my 20s. It was this vision I had that my clothes would fit in Neiman that probably started in my subconscious even long before I started Emilia George, and I’m so grateful that I got there.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
As a sustainable brand, I look forward to more companies following suit, and we’re starting to see better options at more affordable price points as well as companies with transparent practices. I’m also excited about the big push for diverse models with different body types, as this is something that has often been ignored in the industry.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”?
1. “Let people do the job they are hired for.” This was definitely a lesson I had to learn more than once because of the little Type A/Control Freak inside me. When I first opened Emilia George’s social media accounts, I wanted to work with this amazing mom/fashion blogger and hire her to manage our social media. I messed up by questioning her — asking her to explain why she follows and tags certain people, what her strategies were to do this or that, etc. before really seeing what she could do for Emilia George. It wasn’t long before we had to stop this collaboration — amicably thankfully! It was definitely a good lesson for me in handing over control of certain aspects of my business.
2. “Festina Lente (Make haste slowly).” Patience didn’t come natural to me. I’m always on the go, and I want results fast. It was a week after we officially launched, and I had invested a huge amount of money to sponsor an event in New York. I thought it was a perfect opportunity for us to make a big splash about our opening to our target audience. I am not sure if many new startup brands would make this decision to be honest, but I was eager to get our brand name out there. In the end, the event was a disaster on so many levels. I worked so hard at the 2-day event and spent so much money, but in the end, I got nothing but an earful of similar frustration and complaints from other sponsors. It was such a kick in my stomach to have wasted the money and time. If only I had not been so hasty, maybe buy a ticket to check it out and decide to invest money and time next year! A lot of similar business mistakes can be avoided.
3. “Trust your instinct.” This may sound like a cliche, but I’d want to suggest anyone who knows they have good instincts to trust them. If you feel a certain strategy doesn’t work for you and your company, do not prolong it. If you feel you can’t trust someone, do not work with them. If you feel it’s time to pivot, do it! I truly believe everyone has good instincts. I stopped working with two digital marketing teams within three months and I don’t regret it. Spending money on retaining experts and waiting for them to pay attention to your company while they have much bigger clients to service caused me a lot of anxiety. I’ve found other marketing channels much more effective since then. Some may just haven’t had the opportunity to uncover the power of them. Introspection is key to sharpening instincts.
4. “Have the courage to pivot.” No matter how big or small your company is, there will be times when you must pivot as markets change or consumer preferences change. In most cases there is no reward for holding onto something that’s obviously not working. (Of course we have exceptional cases of success for people who wait it out). Pivoting is not that easy for a leader. The change can be a little overwhelming, and it can make one question why they started it all in the first place. Courage is crucial in this case. I hesitated to pivot to making masks during COVID. I asked myself why would I get into it, but of course, supplying more mask options for the public is more than enough of a reason. It also helped us stay afloat when our entire business vision was crushed by COVID-19.
5. “Give and Take.” It’s something important for all human beings. As leaders, it’s important to remember the balance of give and take when dealing with business partners, employees, vendors, or anyone. I’ve traded favors with other entrepreneurs and I’ve had collabs that worked wonders on both sides, but some entrepreneurs aren’t as generous. That was enough to make me ponder if the person or business is worth us continuing to do things for them.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
Sustainability is not just a trendy word to me. My son was allergic to a fast-fashion brand dress I was wearing when feeding him and it was the heavy industrial dying on the dress that was to blame. I remember how those synthetic fabrics annoyed me and made me feel so uncomfortable, especially when I got hot flashes during pregnancy. Making sure the fabrics are healthy and so supremely comfortable that women can sleep in is the emblem of my brand.
It’s not a grandiose gesture to choose recycled fabrics. I was sitting at my supplier’s office listening to their presentation on how there are only two ways to process post-consumer plastics — bury them into the ground or burn them into flames. Both solutions are horrific. That’s why recycling them is a much better option as a global citizen.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As I mentioned, my experiences as a mother to my son have lent inspiration to my work and my founding of the Fabrics MatterⓇ Movement. I hope to inspire others to research where their clothes come from and the effect toxic textile practices have on us.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We have a small team right now, so I take the time to monitor all of our communications channels on a daily basis. If time allows, I will always address customers’ questions myself. We have multiple people actively monitoring our email addresses, so anyone can expect swift responses if they email us at [email protected]. Of course, feel free to DM us on Instagram (@emiliageorgeofficial) and Facebook (@emiliageorgeofficial)!