Create & Cultivate 100: Fashion: Emily Current & Meritt Elliott

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Emily Current and Meritt Elliott are the definition of Business BFFs.

The LA-based design duo founded acclaimed premium denim line Current/Elliott in 2008, and by 2015, proved that lightning can strike twice with the launch of their second brand, The Great. The fully-realized womenswear collection re-approaches American classics in a nostalgic and slightly tomboy fashion. The label is their proudest achievement to date, and a celebration of their two-decade long working relationship. After all, the duo is on a mission to create best friends for your closet.

In a testament to where strong friendship can take you, the duo has evolved beyond the periphery of fashion and into interiors, paper goods, and lifestyle goods. While they are sought after brand builders and celeb stylists, they are also busy as hell. The duo currently design a collection for Pottery Barn (Baby, Teen, Kids, and Home) and just released A Denim Story, a coffee table book, with Rizzoli. They are members of the CFDA, and casually just dropped an entire new friendship-inspired youth brand called Emily + Meritt. While we’re over here wondering how they possibly stay on top of their Google cals, they’re plotting their next business endeavor, partner-in-crime style.

How did you each get your start in fashion? Did you always want to be designers?

We met as students at UCLA and bonded over vintage Levis, our similar Northern California upbringings, and personal style rooted in casual Americana boy- meets-girl ease. Right after college, we worked as magazine assistants and for Los Angeles based fashion brands. We both felt connected and inspired by the process of telling a story, both in visual imagery and through product. A couple of years into our careers, we teamed up and launched our styling and consulting business. Through thousands of fittings and a keen sense of the market, we created a small, vintage inspired and more tom-boyish denim line with the intention to disrupt an industry oversaturated with tight, sexy denim. It was a hit, and our love affair with design was officially sealed.

The Great is the second brand you guys have built and created together. What’s different this time around?

After our first business [Current/Elliott] sold to a private equity firm and we departed, we aimed to create a full lifestyle brand in The Great that was comprised of both denim and army tomboy pieces and its soft and vintage inspired feminine counterparts. For years, we were frustrated with how the fashion and garment industry was run, and how as two young women, we didn’t fit into it. We knew from our experience in a primarily male-run industry that relied heavily on women’s creativity that we could not only set out to make compelling clothing collections, but also to build a business infrastructure that we felt aligned with our morals and that supported women and their creativity. It was our priority, in this next chapter, that we owned both the business part and the creative part, as to succeed, they must hold hands. We wanted to curate a thoughtful and fair working environment. Since our launch we have seen such an incredible build, and cherish our loyal customers. We added shoes and a kids’ line and have opened our flagship store in Los Angeles.

How would you describe The Great’s aesthetic?

In creating this line, we were inspired to design a collection that wasn’t just denim and reflected the way we loved to dress. Perfect versions of classic, boyish pieces like Army pants, denim, tees, sweatshirts, and twill jackets are mixed with feminine silhouettes and pieces like embroidered white cottons, Victorian laces, vintage silk prints, ruffles and unexpected volume. This line is intended to dress a woman for the main event of her life…..which is her day-to-day life.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of starting your own brands?

The most surprising element to starting your own brand has been that the small tasks, the tedium, the physical hard work of being an assistant all those years ago never ends- even when you become the boss. You can be in charge and need to create the big ideas and make the big decisions, but the little details and the small demanding minutiae never ends. It’s ALL important.

You’re friends and co-founders. Why is that a business dynamic that works for the two of you?

We simply love and respect each other. We find that two heads and four hands can juggle multiple projects with much more ease. We celebrate each others’ strengths and nurture each other’s challenges. But at the crux of it, we find each other very creatively inspiring and pretty damn funny.

What do you think people crave when they get dressed in the morning?

People want to feel effortlessly stylish. They want to mix classic pieces that feel loved and worn with pieces that feel either more bold, or more feminine or more fun. They want to tell a story by what they wear, and a woman who wears The Great is saying, “I am cool. I am smart. I have innate style, and I do it ALL.”

What should every woman have in her wardrobe?

Perfectly-worn denim, the perfect crew neck tee in white, grey and black, a flat worn boot, a classic sneaker, a pair of Birkenstocks, a flattering black blazer, a vintage dress that can be dressed up or dressed down, a colorful kimono, a fistful of sweatshirts and sweatpants that can mix and match, and a few special pieces of things that are red, metallic, or animal printed.

The most surprising element to starting your own brand has been that the small tasks, the tedium, the physical hard work of being an assistant all those years ago never ends—even when you become the boss.

What about your job makes you feel the most fulfilled?

When we see a customer feel confident in our clothes, living their best lives. When an inspired team member comes in early or stays late because they love their job, and when we can snuggle with our loved ones at the end of a long work week.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

Be kind, stay laser focused on your vision, and surround yourself with smart, happy people.

What’s been the biggest highlight of your career to date?

We have had a diverse career with so many highlights! We have designed custom looks for the Oscars, we have proudly been inducted into the CFDA. We became authors in our visual ode to denim, aptly named A Denim Story. We have designed nurseries our own children have grown up in and designed a planner and paper line that young women everywhere can plot their dreams in—just like we did. Most recently, we have built our first flagship store for The Great, where our entire collection hangs (peppered with some curated third party and vintage!). We love that this space is not only a jewel box representation of our beloved brand, but a gathering place for so many incredible people in our community to shop and socialize.

Where does your passion/drive come from?

Our parents, our families, and each other.

Whose career really inspires you?

We are inspired by so many people in all different fields. We respect everyone from Michelle Obama to Tory Burch. We admire our business-minded peers Jessica Alba and Reese Witherspoon. We love the grace of Oprah Winfrey, the charitable spirit of Katie Couric and the business minds of Eileen Fisher and Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard.

Whose style do you love?

Meritt: Emily

Emily: Meritt

What has been your biggest opportunity or biggest challenge?

We have loved having the opportunity to talk about our journey with other young women looking to be entrepreneurs. We love to reflect and mentor! Our biggest challenge has been to find the time to rest and relax and recharge. Good ideas come from rested minds.

What are the common challenges you've seen among female fashion designers?

Just heard a statistic that only 4% of the investment that goes to founder-led companies are given to companies led by women. While we feel empowered by the recent cultural shifts, we still have a long way to go.

What would you change about the fashion industry if you could?

We want to encourage brands to clearly identify their brand pillars and stick with them as opposed to looking sideways and following the same trends. It’s OK to pass on some if they don’t pass through your brands filters. The more points of view and diversity in vision, the better—it is what makes the industry so special.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

First, we pow-wow and really dig into what didn’t work. Next, we get to the root of what has inspired us all these years and start again from an authentic, fun place. We have learned to be agile and resilient.

What’s next for you? What are you most excited for in 2019?

We are focused on growing The Great categorically and nurturing our new store in Los Angeles. We are also working on the Emily + Meritt brand as the little sister brand to The Great. with more accessible distribution and price points. You can now shop the Emily + Meritt brands with home décor at Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Teen, PB kids; our Paper Collection with At-A-Glance at 3000 staples and OfficeMax stores as well as Amazon; and our knits collection on More to come!

Photography by Annie McElwain Photography

Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica