Since I was in elementary school, I have been drawn to the world of apparel and accessories. For as long as I can remember, I have been constantly sketching and looking through fashion magazines, tearing out pictures to tape up on my wall, creating collages and making folders of images that ultimately inspired me to create Emi-Jay, Inc.
In the eighth grade, my friend Julianne and I noticed a growing trend of hair accessories for girls at our school. Given our passion for fashion and accessories, we wanted to create something of our own. Our journey began in the Los Angeles fashion district where we bought a variety of materials. We started making hair ties in Julianne’s kitchen, dying elastics until our fingers and all of Julianne’s mother’s kitchenware was stained with different colors.
We did not intend to start a business—we really just did it for fun. Before I knew it, my Mom’s friend, hairstylist Chris McMillan, heard about what we were doing and told her that he was looking for quality hair ties that did not dent or damage the hair, but were also stylish and pretty.
Our moms encouraged us to respond to his interest. So we started to make up a bunch of ties—I remember sitting at Julianne’s kitchen table cutting and tying them.
One of Chris’s clients, Jennifer Aniston, wore one of our hair ties for a premiere and before we knew it, we had a real business! From the beginning, we wanted to offer a product that was not just fashionable, but also affordable and versatile. At the same time, our intention was to use the product to help us make the world around us a better place.
The “give-back” component was a very important aspect of our new business. Our families had instilled in us the value of community service and thus it was a natural progression to bring that into our business. Because of what our product is and the people who buy our hair ties, it made sense to give to both children’s and women’s charities. Some of the organizations that we support include Locks of Love, Operation Smile, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure. We also try to respond to immediate needs; for example, we donated a portion of proceeds to the Haitian Relief effort.
To our amazement, our business has already exceeded our wildest dreams. Initially, we started selling our products exclusively on our website, www.emi-jay.com. We have now expanded to selling our hair ties in over 750 retailers all across the country, including Anthropologie and Learning Express. Our products have been featured in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, InStyle, Allure, Seventeen, and Better Homes and Gardens. And our fans currently include Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Garner, Lauren Conrad, Dakota Fanning, and Kim Kardashian.
It’s hard to believe thatin 2011 our sales exceeded one million dollars — a far cry from our start at Julianne’s kitchen table almost three years ago.
Having my own business has taught me so much about myself and has encouraged me to reevaluate my goals. I used to want to be a designer, but now I have seen that there is so much more to the fashion world. I have discovered that I enjoy meeting the challenges of the business aspects of the industry in addition to understanding the entire process—creating, branding, marketing and working with others.
It’s been really interesting to experience the behind-the-scenes aspect of fashion and I now have a clearer vision of my future goals. Being a part of the business world as a teen has sometimes been daunting; it’s an adult-dominated arena and that used to intimidate me, but now I don’t even look at my age as an obstacle. Instead, I see it as an advantage because we are actually a part of our own target audience!
Emi-Jay has given me knowledge and experience that I feel so lucky to have gathered at such a young age. What have I learned? Now, I now know that:
Age is no barrier.
Whether you are 13, 33, or 83, you can achieve your goals. As a junior high student, I would never have believed that I could start a business that would become so successful and that would enable me to actually help people. But less than six months after Julianne and I hatched our business plan, we were reading a piece on our hair-ties in Marie Claire magazine! It was just a matter of believing that we could do it, working hard at it, and drawing on the support and resources that we had around us, like our moms.
It’s necessary to be brave and to be willing to change your goals.
It’s important to be open to stepping outside your comfort zone, and to take risks. From a business perspective, this applies to Emi-Jay and our quick realization that our original plan of developing a broad line of hair accessories would not be as successful as a focus on hair ties and hair bands. On a more personal level, through my experience with the company, I’ve come to understand and embrace the fact that while my goal is still to work in fashion, I’d like to do that in different ways than I originally envisioned.
Balance is necessary in life.
In order to be happy, one can’t allow work to undermine personal relationships, or vice-versa. As a junior high and high school student, I’ve found it challenging to balance school, business, family, and friends. But I’ve also found that time management is crucial—no matter what, I always make sure I find time to nurture my personal relationships and to just be a teenager, in addition to working hard at school and at Emi-Jay.
In a work environment, it’s important to be professional, focused, diplomatic, and an effective communicator.
As a thirteen year old, I was thrust into an adult business world—one in which I was required to interact on a professional level with adults in order to be taken seriously. And the lessons that I learned about effective and professional communication have also served me well in school, and in my everyday life.
It’s essential to bring compassion into everything you do!
I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to use Emi-Jay to help others, to be able to be a positive force in the world around me. I would advise anyone who has a business to use it to help give back to their communities in some way, as it really does make any endeavor more meaningful.
Emi-Jay has led me down a fruitful path of life-changing experiences and opportunities, but I’ve had to learn to be open to the unpredictable terrain of this path.
Your life’s path may not be as smooth or as mapped out as you might hope it will be, but sometimes it’s the twists and turns that make it worthwhile.