Remember being thirteen? Group dates at the movies, having swim practice and a piano recital on the same day, starting a business out of your parents’ guest bedroom…wait, what? For Emi-Jay founders Julianne Goldmark and Emily Matson, starting a hair accessory business in eighth grade was just a practical solution to get Gossip Girl-worthy hairstyles without Gossip Girl prices.
Both now freshmen in college, their business has come a long way from bedroom floors; they now have large-scale headquarters complete with about 25 fulltime employees. They’ve had partnerships with big-name brands (Splendid, Nordstrom, and Spanx, to name a few) and can be found in retail stores across the country as well as online, but they’re just relieved to be done with applying to colleges! “I have to be honest in saying that the college process was one of the most stressful times of my life. It was brutal!,” said Goldmark. Read on to find out how the two wunderkinds got their start and how they continue to balance their business and being college students.
Full Name: Julianne Goldmark
Current Title/Company: Co-Founder of Emi-Jay, Inc.
Educational Background: Current college student
Full Name: Emily Matson
Current Title/Company: Co-owner and founder of Emi-Jay, Inc.
Educational Background: High school and currently a freshman in college
You both started Emi-Jay as young teenagers who had to ask your mothers to take you to the fabric store for supplies! What inspired you to start up your business so young, and how did you first get the idea?
Julianne: Emily and I have always both been very creative and somewhat mature for our age. We just wanted to make hair accessories for us and our friends. We didn’t really have the intention of starting a large-scale business, we were doing it just for fun! Our idea came from our favorite show at the time, Gossip Girl. As middle schoolers we weren’t looking to spend a ton of money on a hair accessory (some we found online were hundreds of dollars) so we went downtown and got the supplies to make our own!
Emily: When we were in 8th grade, Julianne and I were both very into fashion – we were inspired by what we saw in magazines, on shows like Gossip Girl, and most of all, what our friends at school were wearing. However, most of the beautiful hair accessories that we saw were far too extravagant and expensive for young teenagers like ourselves, so we took matters into our own hands by making pieces of our own as a mere hobby!
In what ways has Emi-Jay evolved since you first started out? In what ways would you still like to see it grow?
Julianne: Its honestly crazy how much Emi-Jay has evolved! We started out making our products on the floor of my bedroom, to turning a guest room into an “office”, to hiring full-time employees and moving to a medium sized office, then we’re now moved to a large-scale Emi-Jay office building/headquarters! Besides all of that we’ve grown as a fashion brand. We have amazing fans and followers and we sell all over the world. I’d like to see it grow by continuing to have partnerships with great brands like we’ve done with Splendid, Nordstrom, and Spanx. It’s all so exciting and we’re beyond lucky!
Emily: It’s crazy to think that a hobby that started in middle school (on Julianne’s bedroom floor!) has blossomed into a legitimate business that people around the world know about – it’s really surreal. I think Emi-Jay has infinite potential to continue growing; it’s been a dream of ours since the very beginning to expand into high end accessories, like those we started making at the very beginning. The sky’s the limit!
Tell us about the reaction of your peers/friends and family when they found out you were starting Emi-Jay. Did you come across any that were skeptical of a business idea when you were so young?
Julianne: That was definitely one of the biggest challenges! I think at the beginning (and sometimes even now) people didn’t take it very seriously! Everyone would always say “aw that’s a cute idea” or something along those lines. Being young gave us both an advantage and disadvantage. It helped us set our brand apart from competitors considering we started this when we were 14, however it also allowed people to undermine our capability of success at the beginning!
Emily: Absolutely, I think most people saw us as nothing more than two young girls with a hobby, which is really what it was at first. However, when we began receiving press and becoming a legitimate brand, it was interesting to see people’s reactions upon learning that it was no longer just a little hobby, but something serious.
Tell us about your first sale! What did that feel like, and how did you do it? At what point in the business did you begin to see consistent growth?
Julianne: Our first store was Stacey Todd. A small, chic boutique in Los Angeles! We knew people there so it was a simple start for us. Once our first piece in Marie Claire Magazine came out and we had to get a website, that’s when we realized it was turning into an actual business! Having online orders come through and beginning wholesale orders for stores was all extremely exciting and rewarding! After having walked into stores and people not taking us seriously because of our age it was very satisfying to see that people were loving our products!
Emily: We started by selling in a lot of small boutiques as well as through our website, but I really think we felt like we “made it” when we received an order from Nordstrom. They contacted us, and ever since, we’ve been so proud and honored to sell our hair ties in all of their stores across the country. I think that was really the point that validated us as a business.
Did you ever intend for Emi-Jay to become your full-time job one day? What were your original expectations?
Julianne: I don’t think any of us (moms included) would have ever thought that this is what would come out of it. If you told any of us 4 years ago that we’d have a booming business based around hair accessories, we’d all call you crazy. We had zero expectations and I think that’s what’s gotten us so far. If we had all these expectations we wouldn’t have been surprised or spontaneous throughout the whole process!
Emily: I personally have learned so much from Emi-Jay, but I don’t intend for it to become my full-time job. I can’t wait to see where this business takes us and what it will blossom into, but originally I didn’t expect for this to be anything more than a small, short-term hobby at most.
Tell us a bit about your team. Has it expanded since you first began? If so, at what point did you take on additional employees?
Julianne: Our team has grown tremendously! We started out in my house in a guest room with about 7 people including ours moms. Over the past 4 years we’ve moved offices a few times and now have an amazing team of around 30. Our team is incredible. We have a production team, website/social media, PR, office manager…they’re like family to us!
Emily: Yes! Our team currently consists of about 25 – which includes everyone from production and design managers, to invoicing, production staff, graphic design, etc. At first, we didn’t have much of a “team;” it really took everyone in the family who had extra time on their hands to tie hair ties. I can’t imagine where we’d be today if it wasn’t for all of the amazing people who have helped us along our journey.
You’re both starting college this year! What was the college application process like for you? What were the most important things you were looking when selecting your school?
Julianne: The college application process was pretty stressful. I was lucky because I finished everything before Christmas break which was a huge relief! I wanted a school in either LA or NYC because those are my two favorite cities and I could have a college experience as well as a work life and city life.
Emily: I have to be honest in saying that the college process was one of the most stressful times of my life. It was brutal! I knew I wanted to go to a school in an urban area above all. And I have always loved New York, so I found myself naturally gravitating towards New York schools.
How will you balance running your business full-time and being a college student? Do you ever worry about having to sacrifice your social life for the business when you’re so young?
Julianne: We’re honestly really lucky that we have such an incredible team and our moms are amazing. We’ve done a good job of being able to balance our work and social life. If we have meetings they’re usually during the day, which gives us the night for social stuff. Of course there’s been a few times where a photo shoot or interview is scheduled on the same day as a party or something we’d be missing out on, but that’s just a part of it! Email is truly our savior! Almost all decisions and things are via email. With Emily in NYC it’s actually not that hard, we have social media to keep us all on the same page!
Emily: Absolutely, but I think high school served as a great crash course in time management. We really had to learn how to balance a social life, our schoolwork, and Emi-Jay work, but I really think (with the help of our moms and amazing team), we were able to make it work. With that said, I feel confident that I’ll be able to keep everything pretty balanced in college – fingers crossed!
What is the best part of your job?
Julianne: The best part of my job is seeing people wear our products and talk highly of them. Nothing feels better than seeing comments or hearing someone talk about how much they love Emi-Jays. I’d say the second best part (sounds cliché but its true) is working with such a good team. When we take trips to NYC, we have the best time and are constantly laughing. We’re all so lucky to have each other and to have Emi-Jay.
Emily: The amazing individuals we’ve met and opportunities we’ve had. Whether it’s meetings at major publications, trunk shows, or visiting the Splendid/Ella Moss headquarters in Downtown LA (and the Red Cross headquarters!), or even just seeing the people that love and recognize our product
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Julianne: I’d say one thing that’s been a challenge to me as there are so many competitors these days is keeping our brand separate and as individualized as we can make it. I think it’s important to connect with the followers and buyers as they’ll stay loyal as long as you keep them in the loop. You want to make customers feel special and included, that’s something we’ve learned.
Emily: As I mentioned before, I think it was learning to balance our lives around running a business. Luckily, I think we’ve learned a lot, but there were definitely times where it has been a challenge.
How has working together affected your relationship as friends?
Julianne: It’s definitely different than your ordinary friendship, however I think it’s gotten Emily and I closer in different ways. We balance each other out, which is great. We’ve also become so much closer with our moms. I’m really lucky to have Em, I know she’ll be a good friend forever!
Emily: Working as business partners is definitely an experience that not many girls have at such a young age, but having Julianne as a business partner has definitely given us a unique bond that not many would understand. We understand each other on so many levels and have done everything from photo shoots, meetings and speaking at conferences together.
Can you describe a little bit about what goes into your position? What is your day-to-day work life like when you are also in the midst of getting ready for college, taking classes, etc.?
Julianne: Emily and I are just starting college so we’ll see how that goes when we get there! But since we cant be at the office everyday we’re constantly emailing. I feel like an old business woman constantly checking her email but these days that’s truly the most efficient way to have everyone in the loop.
Emily: Since we are full-time students above all, our role in Emi-Jay is a bit unconventional in the sense that we can’t physically be at the office every day. With that said, we are always in the loop on chains of emails (especially now that are in different parts of the country), and Julianne and I are very involved in the creative aspect of Emi-Jay, whether that means picking new colors and patterns for upcoming seasons, working on our website or even social media – we have the best time picking out cute things to Instagram!
How did you learn the ins and outs of running a business? (i.e. getting investors, finding manufacturers, writing contracts, etc.)
Julianne: We honestly just went with the flow. We had no business plan, no investors. We have some amazing relationships and contacts we’ve gotten over the years that have helped tremendously. If it weren’t for the old and new relationships that we all have, who knows where we would be!
Emily: Since Emi-Jay really started as an “accidental business”, everything has been a learning experience for us. And our moms too! We’ve been so lucky to receive advice from people in all aspects of the business world, but we continue to learn new things every day. In all honesty, I think that’s what’s made this experience such an amazing one.
Emi Jay can be shopped online as well as in retail stores across the country. What was the process like of going from selling your own products to also being sold in other stores?
Julianne: We had a contact form on our first website. Stores would just email us either through word of mouth or from the few magazine articles we started out in! Now we have a wholesale order form, people in charge of sales. It was a long process to get where we are today for sure!
Emily: Julianne and I initially went into stores ourselves (and were hardly ever taken very seriously), so it’s really crazy that we’ve come so far and now have representatives in showrooms selling our product, and even being at gift shows and selling the hair ties in huge retail chains, such as Nordstrom. Within 4 years, it’s really incredible how much we’ve grown but we really hope to continue branching out both here in the US and internationally.
Emi-Jay has received recognition in media outlets including Oprah Magazine, Lucky, Teen Vogue and InStyle to name a few, as well as acquired celebrity fans like Jennifer Aniston. What do you attribute to this kind of success? What would you say sets Emi-Jay apart from other similar brands?
Julianne: I think there is three main factors that set us a part and makes our company gain such a loyal following. The first is that we give back to the community, second would be our age and style and third is the quality of our products! Adults and teens love supporting up and coming companies when they’re run by young entrepreneurs and giving back to charities makes them feel great about buying the products!
Emily: I think so much of what makes us the unique brand that we are is our story. As two teenagers that run a business with the help of our mothers, we really take pride in our story. Not only do we produce quality hair ties that are made here in the US, but we are teen entrepreneurs with a passion for giving back to the community. Together, these aspects make Emi-Jay unique and set us apart from similar brands.
You just came out with a new product line of bows, in collaboration with Chris McMillan! Tell us more about that venture. How did the opportunity come about, and what made you decide to donate the proceeds to charity?
Julianne: Chris McMillan has been truly amazing from the start. If it weren’t for him we wouldn’t have had the success we have today! It was very fitting that now as we’ve now graduated high school and four years ago we had started Emi-Jay, that we come out with a product with him. A portion of proceeds of each product goes to charity, and for this collaboration we wanted Chris to choose a charity that was close to his heart and ours.
Emily: Chris McMillan was really the one who launched Emi-Jay into the business it is today. Four years ago, when Julianne and I were making hair accessories on her bedroom floor, Chris (a friend of my mom’s), was on the lookout for a chic, modern take on the classic hair tie. From there, Julianne and I came up with something for him, he put one of our creations on Jennifer Aniston to wear on the red carpet of a movie premiere, and it all followed from there. With that said, Chris has been so instrumental in making Emi-Jay the brand we are today, and so we couldn’t think of someone better and more influential to pair up with to design this amazing accessory. As previously mentioned, giving back is a huge part of our brand DNA, and it happens to be something very important to Chris too – so deciding to donate the proceeds to charity was a no-brainer!
What is the most important thing you have learned over the course of starting and running your own successful business?
Julianne: Don’t have expectations, let everything take you by surprise and you will not be disappointed! I’ve learned to surround myself with supportive, fun and positive people. Anyone who’s negative or unsupportive isn’t worth your time. As long as I’m having fun and enjoying my job and the people around me, good things come together!
Emily: The most important thing I have learned over the course of starting and running my own successful business is how to be professional. Whether that means dressing professionally or acting in a professional manner, being a teenager in a mostly adult-dominated arena has forced us to act mature in order to be taken seriously. However, being professional is an amazing and valuable skill that I have no doubt I will be able to take with me for the rest of my life, no matter what industry or field I’m in.
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Julianne: As cheesy as it sounds, believe in your product or your idea and stick with it! Stay positive and look around you to see who could be of great help. You never know, some neighbor down the street could help you start a business!
Emily: Be passionate. No matter what it is you want to do, know your product and do all you can to excel in that field. Whether that means reaching out to professionals, reading magazines, or doing research on that specific topic, it all pays off. Love it and follow it with all your heart!