Passion projects can turn into something much, much more. Pair it with hard work and business acumen and you could be going places, much like the AELLA brand, founded by Eunice Cho.
Today we had a chance to interview Eunice, to have her share her journey as a female entrepreneur, finding her way in the fashion world by creating work clothing women would actually want to wear and stay in.
How many times have you said "Oh, I have to go home after work and change first before coming out." With AELLA's stylish options, you can truly transition from day to night effortlessly.
Read on for Eunice's story.
P: Pendulum Magazine
E: Eunice Cho
P: Can you tell us a bit about yourself prior to starting AELLA?
E: I was an art major at Yale. My first job out of college was to studio assist Wangechi Mutu, who is a tremendous female artist who has shown her multi media works around the world. I thought I was going to be a painter or at least spend my life in the art industry, but in the end, I was too interested in fashion.
P: When was the brand established?
E: AELLA was my passion project all throughout business school, so it’s hard to say a firm start date. It was a work-in-progress for a long time before we officially launched a website in 2015.
P: What inspired you to create AELLA?
E: I was patient 0. While I was transitioning from my fashion job (I was doing product development at Kiki de Montparnasse in NY) to business school, I realized what many of my girlfriends in finance or consulting had been complaining for years about: that business formal clothing sucks! Most options were so conservative, uncomfortable, expensive and even more expensive to care for. In the meantime, I loved living in leggings and loved the fact that they made my legs look so slim. With my family business in textiles, I was able to do some deep fabric research and figured that with the right materials, I could create way more comfortable and practical basics that I could rely on. Most ladies might shudder at the thought of “work pants”, but I wanted to be excited about wearing black pants again.
P: Walk us through your journey from having AELLA as a concept to launching it as a business.
E: It took a long time to do the fabric research and the prototyping. Athleisure, Kit & Ace, ADAY- none of those were around in 2015. I’m also an artist at heart, so it was really important for me to really learn and embrace the product development process. I didn’t want to just hire a big company to take care of it. Once I had the concept, it took me a long time to come to a marketable execution- and even at that, in the early days, our execution really had lots of room for improvement. Once we had prototypes, we launched in a very small way because I needed to test the product and test the market. It was a slow evolution of incremental improvement for the product, the brand, and the business to get to where we are now.
P: The brand AELLA started as a niche e-commerce brand, how did you get your brand known?
E: Word of mouth marketing and customer loyalty are still our most valuable sources of business. We deployed every single grassroots marketing methods out there: local events, brand partnerships, pop-up shops, pop-in shops, and PR. In the early days, PR was the most effective way for us to gain awareness; and we got a tremendous amount of earned PR because of the brand’s story and the problem we are trying to solve.
P: How has your company evolved since?
E: I think we have a deep understanding of who our customers are and what they want. Our product offering has grown, but the trial and errors we’ve gone through reflects the curation that our customers want to see. I think our brand has gotten more sophisticated. But I think we still have so much more we need to do in order to make black pants exciting and to help more women find comfortable and stylish options within AELLA.
P: The brand is now sold online through the e-commerce platform and also through retailers, what are the different tasks you have to take on to maintain these two sales channels?
E: We look at our product development holistically. Everything belongs within the world of AELLA, whether it’s for e-commerce or for retailers. But- the way we design and when have changed due to the seasonal buying calendar of wholesale business.
P: Which is more successful? Which channel are you focusing more of your efforts on?
E: We are actually seeing tremendous potential in our wholesale channels. I think it’s because our fabrics are so amazing and so seeing the products in person is a huge plus. We’re excited about this.
P: What advice can you give to people who want to start and manage their own brands on an e-commerce platform, as well as being distributed in multi-brand retailers?
E: You need to cultivate your relationship with your customers, whether they are individual consumers or retailers. You never know what opportunities may come from a single relationship. Case in point: our pop-in at the Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship purely happened because one of our customers was a very senior executive at Bloomingdale’s. She called the customer service line and I happened to pick up the phone. The next month we were in NYC meeting with the Chief Merchant. Your customers are your advocates and marketers. You have to take care of them. Also, none of this happens overnight.
E-commerce is on the rise and all the rage, but it’s not always the right answer for absolutely every single brand or product. Think about how your customers would interact with your product and what they’d need to do before they purchase it.
P: What is in the works for AELLA?
E: Our more trend-forward conceptual collection- which is available at select retailers across the country- is what’s up next. Because we’ve always been mostly focused on essentials, we’re very excited to bring some statement looks to AELLA.
We want to thank Eunice for taking the time to chat with us and share her story. Everyone's story and path is different, but what we want you, our valued readers, to take away is that a passion project can turn into a career.
Here's to doing what you love, every single day!