I admire people that go out and take a risk, that never settle because it’s comfortable. You’re out doing what you love and are passionate about, even though it was a risk! What words of wisdom do you want to share with others who might be making this transition?
I have always been an idealist, for as long as I can remember. Idealists like to believe that you can live a full life doing what you love. Well, that’s only half of the truth. I think you can’t truly live a full life doing just what you love, you also have to do things that you may not be comfortable doing, and may even fail at, (possibly over and over again). And by failing I don’t mean by the world’s standard of “success” or “failure”. You define what that looks like for you, and taking a risk and seeing where it takes you makes you see things about yourself and the world that you never could have imagined. And I think that’s a risk worth taking.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?
Wow, there are so many challenges I face daily as an entrepreneur. Perhaps the biggest ones are battling the inner critic within me (as a perfectionist I want to do everything without fault, and yet I am limited, so I constantly disappoint myself) and also time management (in my case I tend to overwork and not give myself enough time to enjoy the other parts of life outside of my work).
You’ve mentioned before that having patterns on fabrics is important for you. Why is it important for you, and how does this play a role in Ele Story?
I think there is beauty in the simplicity of unprinted fabrics, and I love when it’s about the texture and the drape of the materials. In fact, most of my own wardrobe I have very muted patterns. However, I love that because I design for children, I can really take patterns that I love to tell the innocence and the playfulness of the children I design for. The scale of the pattern matters too, when it’s made into adult clothing vs. children’s clothing. I love to mix prints and colors, and even different fabrics to tell that story. More than patterns, however, I think Ele Story redefines the classics. I love taking what I have learned from my costume design background and translating it by bringing a favorite decade or aesthetic back: classic but with a modern twist.
I can’t wait for the story of Ele having her first crush. Do you think we will see this soon?
Haha, thanks Neth. For now Ele is a little young and I have been focused more on her playfulness. Maybe in the future!
Now, will you introduce a collection of boys clothes in the future?
In fact, I have! We came out with our first boys’ button front shirts, called “Cool Cats shirts” that ended up being a hit just over the weekend at the fair. I love when people come to our booth and ask, “Oh…nothing for boys, right?” and I point them to the little section (literally 2 color ways for boys) that I had just designed. It’s a tough one for me because I don’t have a son to dress, but I do have a whole collection ready to go, just waiting for the right fabrics to come along for me to start producing.
What is it about Ele Story clothes that makes kids want to wear them?
Well, I would like to think that Ele Story clothes are a lot of fun to wear, and kids feel his/her best and very much themselves when they’re in our clothes. I have moms that buy pieces from us tell us that they’re the only pieces their kids do NOT want to take off! And that’s an amazing feeling. I know my own daughter, as soon as she puts on our latest chiffon dress design, starts bursting out the Frozen theme song, “Let it go!!!” (which toddler girl doesn’t these days?) But I love that because I know that is her way of saying, “I feel beautiful like a princess.”
I know that you do a lot of street fairs or craft fairs. How does this play a role in the company, compared to selling your clothes to vendors or online?
Yes, we actually do quite a bit of craft fairs and trunk shows. The shows are great for us, and for me personally because I LOVE the people interaction. Working for myself and by myself can get lonely, and I go to these shows really looking forward to seeing how our customers like our pieces. Really, it’s marketing, but it’s also a great way for us to get feedback since we are primarily online and we cannot see how much every customer reacts to the pieces! So I really enjoy them. They are also a great way for people to personally touch and feel and even try the clothes on for themselves.
On a set for a photoshoot, how do you make the kids feel comfortable? Usually kids are pretty shy at first, but what are the tricks to loosen them up before a shoot?
Kids are actually amazing models. I say “actually” because when you meet a little child you can tell right away they are either very shy or pretty social. For the most part 2 yr olds tend to be very shy when you talk directly to them. In photo shoots I have been involved in so far, however, the kids just seem very comfortable right away. They LOVE playing “dress up”. They make friends with their fellow models almost instantaneously, and by the end of the hour (we keep it short, at most 1.5 hours) they are holding hands and hugging each other, and they don’t want to leave. I love that about children. I am not saying they are easy to photograph because sometimes they don’t necessarily follow your instructions, but in some ways they are just so natural because they are who they are without needing to try too hard: innocent, bold, beautiful, and fun.
As for the future of Ele Story, what can we expect? Most importantly, what can we expect from you?
Well, a lot is going on on the design end of Ele Story. We have only released 1/3 of our spring styles, and will continue to churn out more! We made a difficult decision to pull out of selling to boutiques this season because it was very challenging for us to keep up both sales channels, and also because I love to design different pieces all the time, there is more flexibility/fluidity for us now to just focus on coming out with new styles every month.
The most recent project (shhh…kind of a secret, ok maybe not so much anymore) is a themed boxed set that is based on fairytales. Our clothing is about bringing classics back, so this is a more literal approach by bringing classic fairytales back, but with an Ele Story interpretation.
For me, the toughest part of the business is actually making the clothes – working with manufacturers. There are so many players involved in producing a style. How do you make sure that each style comes out the way you would like? What is the most important thing you’ve learned in this process?
I think this is a common struggle. The best thing I can do to ensure every piece comes out beautifully hand crafted is by over-communicating, producing locally is also key, so I can visit whenever I need to. I recently used a new production team and we are still learning each other’s style of working. So I had to be humble and allow room for “mistakes”—I went back after a batch of clothes were done not to my standards and apologized to them that I must not have made it very clear to them. I think keeping yourself humble and always be willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt (giving them another chance) is generally my philosophy. I would like to think that I am building valuable relationships and that eventually we learn to help each other out and keep each other afloat.
How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired? I know it can be tough when you’re multitasking everyday and putting out fires.
Whenever I can, I take walks, exercise, or meet up with a fellow artist/friend. I have to do things that aren’t necessarily related to Ele Story in order to keep fresh. I also love to go shopping and see the latest trends out there to keep myself inspired.
Anything you’d like to say before we end?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be interviewed. I think it is always nice to be reminded of why I do the things that I do. And I am constantly encouraged by B+L’s story as well. Keep up the good work!
Visit Ele Story: www.elestory.com
Judy Jou designs children’s clothing for Ele Story.