Liz was one of my first employers in the Fashion Industry. She is the woman who introduced me to the Sleepwear Industry, which is where I spent most of my career, before launching Alexis Mera. She truly was an inspiration, her hard work, and very friendly and patient attitude were honestly something I aspired to as a college student. Big thanks to you Liz, for the motivation! :) It only makes sense to include you in our Inspired By series, so here it is!
Tell us about yourself and Elizabeth Cotton!
I started Elizabeth Cotton 10 years ago after working for several other retail companies in production management and sourcing positions. For years I daydreamed about starting my own business, and by the time I had the idea for Elizabeth Cotton I had a decent amount of work experience and that gave me the confidence to quit my job and go for it.
Elizabeth Cotton is a collection comprised mainly of women’s sleepwear, but we also do some sleepwear items for men too. This month we are introducing Liberty Fabric overnight bags and cosmetic cases as well as men’s neckties and I am so excited about them! Over the past years the line has been sold in numerous lingerie shops and linen stores and we were also in Neiman Marcus for seven years.
Our e-commerce business was the easiest to grow and manage from the very beginning so over the past three years I have switched to that model and now sell exclusively online. Selling items directly to customers allows for us to offer beautiful fabrics and construction at prices that would not be workable we had to include a wholesale markup. Our collection is made entirely in the United States.
What brought you to a career in Fashion and what keeps you there?
What drew me to fashion was a love of making things. I love creating and designing things and couldn’t have handled a job that didn’t result in some sort of very real product. Factories and the actual manufacture of merchandise have always interested me and that drew me to the production and sourcing end of things.
What are some of the primary challenges/obstacles that you face as the Owner of your own Sleepwear Brand?
For the longest time I didn’t have the confidence to define success on my own terms. When dealing with customers and even when reflecting upon my own performance I was insecure about the fact that my company was small. There is a hugely successful book about entrepreneurship called “The E-Myth” and it details a man that has a pie shop. The man makes the pies is so consumed with the actual operations of the shop that he has no time to focus on growth. The solution the book gives is that he needs to outsource everything so that he can focus on “big picture” tasks. After years of feeling as though I ought to do the same, I finally decided to just own the fact that I like making pies. I love having help with certain areas of the business, but I would rather be making pies than managing a team of pie makers, and that is ok.
My company might be small, but after 10 years I am still here. I have never acquired debt or failed to pay a bill, and I absolutely love what I do! Decide for yourself what success means to you and don’t fall into the trap of thinking bigger is always better. It isn’t.
If you could restart your career, what would you change?
I wish I hadn’t been afraid to speak up for myself. I ended up quitting an awesome job I loved because I didn’t know how to handle an unethical manipulative boss. Nine other women in the group ended up leaving or being let go before he was finally fired.
In the first episode Tina Fey’s new show “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, four women are rescued from an underground bunker where they were held captive for 15 years. Matt Lauer interviews one woman, and asks how she was first lured there. She says the “Reverend” seemed strange but she listened to his bullshit story and followed him anyway because she didn’t want to be rude. Matt Lauer then looks at the camera and says smugly, “I’m always amazed at what women will do because they’re afraid of being rude”. This struck me as so, so, accurate. Women in particular are taught to be polite, and sometimes when warning bells start going off we silence them out of fear that our instincts are wrong. If things ever get sticky at work or anywhere else- don’t wait for someone else to step in and either solve the problem or confirm your feelings are correct. Speak up.
How do you approach work life and personal life balance?
I work from home and have three little girls, so it is pretty much a daily struggle, but one that I am very grateful to have. The most important thing to realize here is that there are a million different good ways to balance the two, and no perfect way.
Tell us one tip that you would give a young woman who is trying to advance in her career?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try to learn everything you can from women who are where you would like to be someday.
Anything else you would like to share?
Figure out what it is that you love doing, and find a way to make a career out of that. Life is too short for clock-watching or living for the weekends. Enjoy yourself!
Elizabeth Cotton PJ's are the perfect holiday gift! Check out her line now at ElizabethCotton.comTweet