How did you two meet?
We met while working on our Master’s degrees at American University. We were catching up over dinner at Whole Foods one evening and we realized we were both frustrated by how time consuming it is to shop for ethically and sustainably made clothing. Six months later, we were still thinking about this problem and realized just how big the opportunity is. That’s when we decided to dive into business together and we haven’t looked back since!
What was the inspiration behind wearwell?
Wearwell started in its earliest days as a graduate school project when we realized that while many people are working on ethics and sustainability to create a more “conscious” fashion industry, no one was focused on removing the burden from the consumers themselves.
We believe that giving consumers the ability to exercise their purchasing power is the most effective way to drive meaningful and lasting change. When you dig deep into the issues, you learn that there are over 14 million garment workers who make the clothes we wear and over 85% of them are women.
This underscores the reality that the way we shop for clothes is a global women’s issue.
Our vision is that one day ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry will simply be a given. Being the company that makes that possible continues to inspire us today.
Have you worked in this industry before?
We’ve worked for a combined 20 years in international development prior to starting wearwell. We’ve both always had a knack for visual design, in addition to a personal interest in style.
Emily has lived and worked in 5 countries, two of which—India and Cambodia—are major garment producers. Beyond leading growth of programs, she’s run operations and impact assessments in these environments, which is a critical factor to our team’s success.
Erin led sales and retention efforts for online subscription services before building a new division within a 15 year old company—Devex—that jump-started its growth.
Our perspectives often allow us to challenge how things are typically done in the industry wearwell plays in. Starting our careers in the NGO and development space has made us super scrappy, to the point where we can achieve a whole lot with limited resources.
Any surprises or key learnings?
As most founders learn, success in startups often comes down to perseverance and patience. The early stages of a business always take at least twice as much time as you want. When you’re passionate about what you do day in and day out, you want things to be built at lightning speed. We’ve learned how to continue moving as quickly as possible, but also to build resilience into the company’s fabric so that we can foresee hurdles and manage the business to have staying power. The most recent display of resilience has been through COVID-19. We’re confident that we took steps fast enough early one to make the tough decisions and now have the resources and the talent to make it through this and come out the other side stronger.
What’s been the biggest challenge when founding wearwell?
It can be so tempting to throw yourself into a business you love and deeply believe in, while deprioritizing everything else.
At some point, you realize that the business only thrives as much as we, the founders, do.
We both finally hit our stride with balance in life, and much of that is due to the ways we’ve supported one another. Things like sticking to a workout routine, adopting pets, spending time with friends and family, and taking a day off when needed.
How do you handle competition and risk?
When your business is focused on social impact in a sector where there’s so much to be done, a rising tide lifts all boats. The power of competition is what makes you move faster and pursue growth harder.
We believe that by building a company consumers can trust and by creating a fantastic customer experience, we’ll succeed. However, when it comes to competition and risk, we think about the actions we take that can make our business more defensible. This touches everything from our tech decisions, to the sourcing arrangements that we make with our brand partners.
What’s your team culture like?
We’ve been intentional about culture from day one. We both believe that you get the greatest outputs from happy and fulfilled team members. So, we give members of our team tons of autonomy and opportunities to give us input along the way of what they need to be supported.
We also consistently communicate that we don’t care about the number of hours worked, but rather care about the work getting done and getting done well. The problems our company is solving can be heavy at times, so we also make sure we have fun! This means a pet-friendly environment and happy hours or yoga to keep it light!
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
We have some incredibly dedicated and enthusiastic customers. As we’ve been building relationships with funders and listening to our advisors, we realized that the wealth of our community could be harnessed through a campaign like ours on Republic. What better way to channel that enthusiasm in the business, than by giving your customers a stake in its success?
What is your superpower?
Erin: Communication. I’ve always loved reading and writing, even at a young age. What excites me is understanding what motivates people and crafting narratives that communicate and inspire people to come on board with your idea.
Emily: Curiosity. I’ve always loved to explore and learn. Asking questions and learning from people’s experiences help me deeply understand challenges and identify potential solutions.
What’s your kryptonite?
Erin: Unnecessary kitchen gadgets and dark chocolate. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and fully admit that no one needs a garlic keeper, garlic peeler, garlic press, and garlic roaster….
Emily: Cheap plane tickets and salt & vinegar chips. I’m a sucker for a flight deal, especially if it’s last minute and to a place I’ve never been. Pair that with a giant bag of salt & vinegar chips and I’m a happy camper.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Erin: Absolutely. I love having a routine for how I get ready for the day, starting with NPR and a cup of coffee, to how I meticulously prep my meals for the week. When I can go on autopilot with my daily tasks, my mind has space to think more expansively.
Emily: My favorite routine is not having routines. I find I can tap into my creativity best when I give myself space for flexibility and spontaneity. Some of my best solutions have come to me while doing something new and unusual from my daily life that sparked the ability to think differently.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do? What do you geek out about?
Erin geeks out on good wine and her favorite small family-owner vintners on the West Coast. Emily geeks out on clean beauty and especially loves trying out new ingredients and techniques.
We both love to read and listen to podcasts (How I Built This, The Daily, and the Throughline are a few!). We’re into yoga, cooking and acupuncture. Within the past year, Erin adopted her dog Ruby and Emily adopted her cat Stella. We’re working hard to make them best friends...stay tuned.