Upstate New York has always been a haven for creatives, and when COVID hit in 2020, many founders relocated from New York City to upstate out of necessity, desire, or both. Below are profiles of three entrepreneurs—Trinity Mouzon Wofford, the founder of Golde, Eliza Blank, the founder The Sill, and Hillary France, the founder of The Wylde—who made the move from the city to the country last year. Read on to discover how the change impacted these founders and their businesses.
During the summer of 2020, when COVID was surging, Trinity and her fiancé Issey, the cofounder of Golde, spent the summer in Saratoga Springs to gain some relief and safety from the intense situation in N.Y.C. They were going back and forth from Saratoga to Brooklyn, a three-and-a-half-hour ride each way, when Trinity had the realization that, for the time being, it made sense to return full-time to upstate New York to live and run their business.
On one ride down from Saratoga during late summer, she remembers thinking to herself that she needed to go back; that perhaps running her superfood health and beauty startup, Golde, and paying rent in Brooklyn for too little space was not benefiting the growth of her business nor her own personal growth. On top of these challenges, Trinity and Issey are in an interracial relationship and, in the city, tensions were becoming palpable during the summer of 2020 in response to the BLM movement and the upcoming election. In a way, she felt as though the systems of the city were starting to fail her and she needed to actively change her surroundings for the benefit of herself, her family, and her business.
Trinity grew up in Saratoga Springs. In fact, four generations of Trinity’s family have lived in the same house that she returned to, where her mother still lives. Returning to the house that her ancestors had lived in for generations felt very natural and provided a safe space to gain a fresh perspective. It’s allowed her to go deeper into outlets such as gardening and plant care, which, in her own words, have allowed for more creativity. Not surprisingly Golde has benefited from this positive energy and change.
During this past year, Golde has been lucky. The business hasn’t been negatively affected, and has, in fact, thrived. In January, Golde launched in Target, and one of the brand’s two new products scheduled for release in 2021, Shroom Shield, has launched. The team has always been remote so no adjustments were needed in order to keep the business running smoothly. The lack of pressure to be everywhere and do everything, something that anyone who lives in a big city can relate to, has allowed her to realize that she can’t predict the future. She can only think a few steps ahead, and for the first time, she is living in the moment and is fully enjoying it and the lack of pressure this brings.
It’s a similar story for Eliza. Coincidentally, both she and her husband Steve grew up in more rural areas of Massachusetts, so the desire to feel the grass under their feet has always been there. She found herself at NYU for university, and although she loved the city, she always missed nature. It’s this love of nature that inspired her to start The Sill, an online plant nursery that delivers botanicals right to your doorstep. It also inspired her to buy her first home in Stone Ridge, situated in the Catskills, in 2015.
The paths to starting The Sill—as well as finding a house in upstate New York—were not straightforward ones. Eliza found raising money for The Sill to be challenging. Venture capitalists often want fast growth at all costs, and Eliza was committed to making sure her foundational economics worked, which, for her, meant slower growth with her eye on profitability from day one. After an arduous raise, she is confident they found the right investors for The Sill, and these investors have been by her side navigating the most difficult year yet. As was the case for most businesses, March 2020 was a very dark time. All five of The Sill’s stores were closed and the distribution center in California was forced to shut down. The bright spot is that sales didn’t suffer. As it turns out, people look to plants for emotional support, and since people could not be together, they found connection in giving small gifts of kindness in the form of plants to each other.
In 2015, when buying their house upstate, Eliza realized that their mortgage would be less expensive than their rent in the city. Little did they know that five years later this house would become their permanent residence, sanctuary, and office for over a year. The past 18 months have led her to question if the social convention of the office is necessary. Does the team even need a five-day workweek? Eliza has started to hire permanently remote team members as far away as Hawaii and the business’s headquarters are now fully remote. For Eliza, she firmly believes that the space and closeness to nature their home provided them mitigated the extreme pressure and stress she experienced during COVID as a leader and also as an Asian American woman. Her home upstate became an oasis from what the world had become, or perhaps further revealed, that we live during a time of extreme unrest and racism.
When asked what’s next for her and her business, Eliza responds that she wants to live a life well-lived. She wants her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to have the space to play and become independent. For the business, she wants to further realize the broad ways in which nature can be infused into our homes and what the brand essence of The Sill is, and how it can evolve to fit into this new space that we have all found ourselves living in. For Eliza’s family, they will go back to the city for a year in the fall and see how it feels. For right now, the country has allowed her to have creative breakthroughs and reimagine how The Sill can further help us maintain our well-being within our home as we spend more time there than ever before.
Hillary had always thought she would make the gradual move from spending weekends in Hudson, New York to living there full time. What she could not have predicted was that this move would happen as abruptly as it did in March 2020. For seven years, through her company Brand Assembly, Hillary had been running trade events for some of the most enviable fashion brands. Her business had been thriving, and then, within the first month of COVID, the Brand Assembly’s trade show business was almost obliterated.
She saw an 80% drop in activity and she soon found herself in the position of having to reimagine her whole business model. She immediately gave up her office, attempted to pivot but was unable to make it work, and slowly drained her resources. She had to accept that perhaps this almost fully offline and in-person event business was not an operation that could survive a pandemic. Not surprisingly, for the last year, her trade show business has been on hiatus (and the good news is that they are set to return in October of 2021), however, the backend operations piece called The Faculty is still fully functioning. This situation could have fully devastated Hillary, but instead, it pushed her to finally pursue a dream she had always had: to create a space for brands and community to convene in one place in Hudson. At that point, she had nothing to lose so she packed her bags, gave up her N.Y.C. apartment, and moved to her weekend house in Hudson to create what is now called The Wylde.
Hillary had spent nine years going back and forth to Hudson and saw an opportunity for a retail annex in this quickly growing city. In fact, Hudson was recently ranked the #1 metro area in terms of the biggest change in net migration. With the influx of people to the area, she figured there was more of an opportunity than ever to create a space where people could feel a sense of community and continue to be inspired by fashion and conversation. On April 17, 2021, Hillary launched the Wylde’s first outdoor market Summer Saturdays with a selection of handpicked vendors across apparel, accessories, vintage, and apothecary. Local N.Y. brands like M.Patmos, Hudson Hemp, and Lail Design are featured within the market while the permanent retail store that opened on April 30th launched brands like Rachel Comey, Dôen, Mondo Mondo, and more.
Is The Wylde solely an upstate dream? In Hillary’s mind, it’s not. When taking the Amtrak train down to the city she has daydreams of opening The Wylde up in another emerging market if she finds success in Hudson. Rather than feeling consumed by the fashion space she feels excited about how fashion, culture and even coffee (a Wylde cafe is slated to open in August 2021) can bring people together to create community and meaning. This evolution of the business more truly reflects the changes she has felt personally this past year and the community that she had always sought to be a more permanent member of.
About the author: Melissa Grillo Aruz has been an active part of the New York startup ecosystem for the past 20 years having senior roles at Forerunner Ventures, Gilt Groupe, and more. She currently runs her own marketing and talent consulting business under www.aruzventures.net where she helps commerce companies scale their business. She currently splits her time between upstate New York and Brooklyn. Instagram and Twitter @melgrilloaruz.