How to Make It as a Fashion Entrepreneur (Part Two)
Of a Kind co-founder Claire Mazur on transforming her teenage hobby into her own retail startup.
“Follow your passion” feels like an eye-rolly thing career counselors say, but Claire Mazur’s path proves it is completely possible to turn your hobby into a truly legit career. As the co-founder of Of a Kind, she and her college friend-turned-business partner Erica Cerulo serve up the coolest new clothes, beauty products, and home goods from emerging designers. They've since expanded into a podcast, a newsletter, and a complete online marketplace for the best new things you need—and need to know about—asap. Read on for Claire’s brilliant advice on starting a startup, exercise as therapy, and the importance of following up.
What were you like as a teen?
Shockingly confident in certain areas, completely lacking in others. I was really self-conscious about doing anything athletic, but I did a ton of theatre and had no stage fright whatsoever. I’m now addicted to exercise, but public speaking has started to give me awful anxiety. I rarely felt pretty (and certainly never felt pretty enough), but now look back at pictures of myself and I’m like “Why did I give myself such a hard time? I was kind of adorable!” (With the exception of a handful of seriously misguided attempts at plucking my own eyebrows that also coincided with braces.)
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
This is going to sound weird, but: Get some exercise. I didn’t discover it until I was an adult and it’s the most powerful anti-anxiety and antidepressant mechanism I know of (and I’ve tried a lot of meds and therapists!). Every time I’m able to fend off an anxiety attack with a 30-minute jog my thought is “How different would my life be right now if I had discovered this in junior high? How much suffering could have been avoided if I’d just joined the track team?” Oh, one other thing: Leave your eyebrows the F alone.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
In college I was really passionate about managing the annual student arts festival—I wished it could be my full-time job. So when I graduated I went on to get my master’s degree in Arts Administration at Columbia University, figuring it would a) teach me how to do that and b) land me in New York City, which is exactly where I wanted to be. What really captivated my interest was something we weren’t learning about in school: all these new websites that were popping up that were giving artists, musicians, filmmakers—creatives!—platforms to show off their work and reach new audiences. Companies like Tumblr, Kickstarter, and 20x200.
When I graduated I got a full-time job working for a not-for-profit organization, but eventually, a position opened up at the art website 20x200. I wrote an insanely enthusiastic cover letter and sent it off to my now business partner, then college pal, Erica to get her feedback. I’d put so much energy into thinking about what made 20x200 so special in order to write that letter that eventually it hit me: Shouldn’t business models like 20x200 exist for other creative disciplines, too? So before Erica had even responded with her edits, I started a new chain, subject line: “Read this instead of my cover letter.”
That email chain is basically the founding document of Of a Kind, our five-and-a-half-year-old company. It contains all the thought and inspiration that led to the company we created. The same thing I loved about running that student art festival—working with creative geniuses to bring their visions to life and new audiences—is exactly what I love about running Of a Kind. So things have come full circle, and I did find a way to turn that college passion into a full-time job. And then some.
What's one thing you wish had known then that you know now about having a career?
Almost any passion can be turned into a career. Growing up I loved to shop. When we’d go on family vacations I always felt ashamed that I would have rather been scoping out stores while the rest of my family wanted to visit all the historical sites or go for a hike—things that seemed more constructive. Turns out my love of shopping became a really rewarding career.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out?
Get in the habit of following up. Everyone’s busy and absolutely nothing gets done and nobody gets noticed without follow up, or in some cases, nagging. You interviewed for a new job? Follow up to say thank you. Your boss asked you to get in touch with someone who never responded? Send a follow up email. You asked a question that didn’t get answered? Ask again. You just finished up a great project or internship? Write a note to the people involved and tell them how much you enjoyed it and valued their partnership.