How to Make It as a Fashion Entrepreneur
Of a Kind co-founder Erica Cerulo tells us what it's like starting a business with a friend.
Over the past five years, the indie online retailer Of a Kind has become one of our most-trusted shopping sources. Not only do Erica Cerulo and her co-founder Claire Mazur tip us off to the coolest designers, accessories, and housewares, but they share the stories behind them. The entrepreneurs and BFFs have since expanded the beloved brand to an email newsletter and a podcast, and have enough career advice to fill a dozen Clover Letters (but we're fitting it into just two!).
First up, Erica shares her inspiring wisdom about risk-taking, starting her own business, and how a road trip changed her life.
What were you like as a teen?
I was a rule-follower who loved extracurriculars and who obsessively crawled the internet (on a dial-up modem and AOL!) and devoured magazines to discover things I didn’t have access to in a small-ish city.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
Risk-taking is a good thing. I don’t mean you should do dangerous stuff or anything, but you have to put yourself out there (and deal with rejection and failure) if you’re gonna achieve the things you want to.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally? What was the step by step process?
I’d say that my, erm, professional development really started the summer after my junior year of college when two of my best friends and I did this program called Roadtrip Nation (which is something I think everyone should know about). Basically, we drove across the country from L.A. to New York in a borderline-insane blue and green RV interviewing people along the way who had taken interesting, unexpected career paths.
The interview that rocked me was with Atoosa Rubenstein, who was then the editor-in-chief of Seventeen. She revealed to me that in my gut, I knew that I wanted to work in magazines but was afraid to commit because I didn’t have any experience or ins—I was daunted by the potential for failure. I ended up interning at Seventeen during my senior year of college, and there, Atoosa pushed me to move to New York without a job when I was done with school.
So I did it: After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2005, I picked up and moved to NYC without a job. I worked retail, interned at a magazine called Vitals, and cried a lot. But then one day I got a magazine job! I landed a coveted and low-paying job as an editorial assistant at Details.
I loved working in magazine editorial—I spent five years at Details and then Lucky—but the industry also changed so, so much during my half-decade there. My one-time aspiration of becoming an editor-in-chief wasn’t as exciting as it once was. Then one day in 2010, Claire emailed me about a gig she was applying for at an art website, and that got us talking about an idea for the business that—pretty quickly!—became Of a Kind. The concept right outta the gate was asking designers to make things for us that are limited-edition and exclusive (read: special and collectible) and to also tell the stories of those designers—what makes them cool, what makes them tick.
Of a Kind as been five years of hard work, uncertainty, awesomeness, surprise, focus, luck, weirdness—all the things. I’m glad we were as naive as we were when the started the business—I think that’s been key to finding our own way.
What's one thing you wish had known then that you know now about having a career?
Things change—and quickly. Whole industries nosedive in no time at all, and new ones emerge just as rapidly. Plus, you change. What you want out of your job and your life might not flip-flop suddenly, but it definitely evolves. You have to try to stay tuned into all of that shifting that’s happening internally and externally so that you’re not filled with FOMO or regret about the decisions you made or the moves you didn’t make.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out?
Be real. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be profesh and dot all your i’s and cross your t’s, but it’s also important to let the authentic you-ness shine through. We get so many intern applications that basically say “To whom it may concern, I’d like to work at your fashion startup because I think it would be interesting.” Could that be any more boring? Share how you really feel, impress me with your understanding of what we do, and tell me how you’re going to help make it even more awesome.