For this article, we interviewed Emma Vollrath, founder of Emma Lou. Drawing inspiration from fashion shows circa 1970s and 1990s, the label is all about flattering, newfangled design. With a mission of disrupting the activewear space, Emma Lou is a combination of innovation and fashion to create something women will look forward to slipping on.
Innovative athleisure to help women look and feel good naked.
Emma Vollrath, or commonly called “Emma-Lou”, grew up in the California sun. Emma became fascinated by the wellness and fitness space, so she decided to become a personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Her desire to positively change the way women look at themselves after dealing with her own body image issues influenced her to start her own fashion brand, Emma Lou, with a goal to help you look & feel good naked. Emma knew she could create something that helped her clients on their self-love journey. Fast forward a few months of designing, sampling, and testing, Emma Lou came to be.
What is the main mission of Emma Lou?
Our tagline is: “it’s innovative athleisure to help women look and feel good naked” – because it’s such a taboo topic. I want clothes to work for me and I want them to look good on me, but I also want them to do something while I’m wearing them.
How has Emma Lou progressed, from your initial idea to where it is now?
As a personal trainer, I often asked my clientele where they see themselves in six months, both mentally and physically. And they always said: “I sometimes like the way I look, but I feel so insecure about my lower stomach and all my pants fit me weird.”
As I kept training, there were so many more women who said the exact same thing. I noticed that they have diets and working out, but they don’t have anything to feel good in. When I was brainstorming this with my grandma, I came up with the idea of putting a sweatband in the pants. It took like a few months and a lot of research, and I was the guinea pig. It was a lot of trial and error.
How has your background as a personal trainer helped you in your path to entrepreneurship?
I would say it helped me in two ways. It helped me connect with other women and was able to hear what they want first-hand. I took notes on what they were saying and that helped me craft the perfect pieces.
How was your business affected by the pandemic?
When I launched my first workout set in November 2019, I had a different name and aesthetic for the company, and most of my customers were friends and family. During the pandemic, when everybody was on their phones looking for things to do and to buy, I started getting into influencer marketing and changed my brand.
I ended up releasing the Toby set and that was the piece that people knew. I got lucky that I was one of those businesses that did really well during the pandemic – I was able to connect with people because everybody was at home and I could talk directly to my customers through Instagram lives. There were some supply chain issues, which delayed everything by at least three months, but other than that it was okay.
My whole business changed during that time and I’m grateful it did, because if I didn’t go through those necessary changes that happened to me during COVID then I probably would’ve still had the same aesthetic I wasn’t really into. My whole demographic changed, and that’s what helped me push my product out to more people.
What’s the most valuable advice that you have been told?
When you enter like the realm of entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of competition, but you don’t have to look at it that way. Someone else could do exactly what I do, copy exactly the product I have, but it won’t be done authentically. I’ve seen businesses or companies trying to replicate a product and yet never managing to develop the product all the way as the original product did. Competition is scary, but no one can do what you do, and people sense when something isn’t authentic. You’re the only person that was gifted with whatever it is you’re trying to sell.
If you could speak to your younger self from before you started the business, what would you say?
It’s okay to change. It’s okay to not end with the same business you started with. If it’s best for you and your business to change, don’t be afraid to pivot, people will respond well. If you ever have a really crazy idea, just go for it.
What was the most rewarding moment since you founded Emma Lou?
Selling out of stock was a great moment because it just shows that your consumers are enjoying your product. Another thing is when your work or a product gets published in the press, being recognised and getting more traction. Because no one really knows what it takes behind the scenes, it feels good to have that recognition.
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Emma Lou aims to make women feel better about their bodies. What are other effective ways in which women can support each other?
I think a great way to support women around you is just to listen and give good feedback. You can’t just talk about yourself all the time or not listen to the other person is saying. I try to make a point to listen to my friends or my customer base and maintain strong relationships with them.
Would you have any pieces of advice also for women who have an idea, but don’t know how to get started with launching a business?
If it’s fashion or something that consumers will take in, start with just one unit – one sample or one prototype, just get it in your hands. That way, you can try it yourself, and ask other people around you what they think – post it on Instagram! It’s important to be open to other people’s feedback because if I didn’t listen other people’s feedback in the beginning, I would still have the same product and probably wouldn’t have progressed at all. Start with a prototype and get feedback on it.
How do you manage the workload of planning future releases and focussing on more immediate work?
In fashion, there are trends that come and go quite quickly. It’s not as easy for small businesses to push pieces that go with the trends as it is for big companies. I try to gauge the themes that are coming up: I keep myself up to date on social media and fashion communities to have a good idea of what I should be releasing in the future. If one of my pieces that I’m planning to release won’t go with my consumers right now, I’ll just switch it out or I’ll draw a new concept that fits better.
Before releasing, it’s good to look at your insights and think: does this go with what my consumers are into right now? Because athleisure falls into fashion, everything has to be on trend and you can’t do a piece that was already done two years ago. Making tweaks and getting insight on what women would want to wear is something you have to do continuously.
What are your plans for the future – for Emma Lou, but also for you personally?
I would love to get into Revolve and Carbon38, those big retail houses. I am also looking into having my inventory stock somewhere, as right now it’s just in my room. Generally, I am working on releasing a steady flow of collections. I like to release things in sets and that responds well to my audience – I create a persona, I name them (like Toby or Randy) and people have fun with it. I already have things planned for like 2022/23!
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