Style the Aisle takes the blah out of bridesmaids’ dresses, so even single girls can look spectacular walking down the aisle.
“If you’ve got an idea believe in it and yourself. If you’re spending time on it then it’s a great idea. Never doubt yourself or downplay what you’ve got to offer. Give yourself the credit you deserve.”
Welcome back to Single Girl Brunches with the Best—a series of conversations with friends and leading ladies who are fierce, fearless and inspirational. In the spirit of fresh starts and new beginnings, I caught up with Erica, the stylish entrepreneur behind the hot new startup Style the Aisle, a site that lets bridesmaids-to-be rent their dresses.
J: Let’s start off by learning a little bit about you and your co-founder. How did the two of you meet?
E: My co-founder Meaghan and I had both come out of undergrad and landed jobs with a Finance firm in San Francisco. We worked together for several years until we went separate ways for business school. It wasn’t until a few years later after we were both married that we came up with the idea for Style the Aisle.
J: Tell us about Style the Aisle and where the idea came from.
E: Style the Aisle introduces a new way for brides to style their wedding party. Brides have to ask friends to drop a few hundred dollars on a dress they’ll never wear again, a weighty request that leaves most feeling pretty guilty. With Style the Aisle brides can select dresses for their party and their maids can rent them for a third of the price it would cost to buy a typical dress.
I’d been in a few weddings but never realized how difficult the process of picking bridesmaids’ dresses was for the bride. When it was my turn to be the bride, choosing my bridesmaids dresses was the hardest part for me. I wanted to find affordable dresses that wouldn’t be a financial burden on my maids but also didn’t look cheap or terrible in photos. There was also the factor of trying to please everyone and get dresses that the girls could “wear again.” Meaghan had gotten married a few years before, and I turned to her for advise while I was planning my wedding. Afterwards, we were talking about our wedding experiences and realized we could come up with a solution that would make the planning process better. Out of that conversation came the idea for Style the Aisle.
J: Once you realized you had a good idea, what did you do to start bringing it to life?
E: After two months of talking about the idea, I flew to Minnesota to spend a weekend with Meaghan sketching out the business idea. When I left I took away a list of next steps like coming up with a name and starting to reach out to influencers in the industry. My first cold call was a little bit terrifying. I reached out to a designer that we wanted to work with and expected it to be a pretty casual encounter. I hadn’t prepared for all the questions she had and how straightforward she was. I stumbled through okay, but ultimately she said no. Of course what I’ve learned now, in addition to being much more prepared, is that “no” really means “maybe.” If it’s a “no” today, it could still be a “yes” tomorrow.
J: As newbies to the industry, have you found the designers you’re working with to be helpful?
E: The designers have all been awesome. Their creativity is obvious, but I’ve been surprised by how business savvy they’ve all been. I walk away from every meeting feeling like I’ve learned something new. They offer us their advice for the business, help us pick out the best dresses to carry, and have even given us tips on packaging. They are really helping us to get our footing in this business.
J: Breaking into the start-up world can definitely be intimidating. How did you find the courage?
E: Meaghan and I each have really good small groups of friends. My circle of friends from business school encouraged me a lot. They made me feel like I could really do this. Having another group of people to help talk through problems with and get ideas and inspiration from is a huge asset. When you are getting feedback from someone whose opinion you really trust, other than your co-founder, it means even more because you know they aren’t skewed. Our friends have offered immense support from checking the website to telling us what they think of an idea. And, of course, of there’s my husband.
J: What does he think about the business?
E: He loves it and thinks it’s a great idea. He was a firsthand witness to the misery I went through during our wedding planning so he could easily see the market need for a solution like Style the Aisle. When the idea first came up, we talked about it for a few months before getting started. He was a great sounding board for our ideas and was the one who encouraged me to pursue it full-time.
J: What reactions did you receive when you launched Style the Aisle?
E: When we launched Style the Aisle I was working as a marketer at a large and well-known company. Needless to say, when I made the decision to quite and pursue Style the Aisle full-time my coworkers were shocked by the big reveal. I was initially met with confusion but as people had time to mull it over, many had a lot of encouraging words to offer. Most of them really believed in the idea and congratulated me on our work.
J: I can certainly imagine that must have caught people by surprise. Did anyone offer a negative reaction?
E: I will say that a few of the men didn’t quite get it. Of course, they’re never going to be dressing bridesmaids up for their wedding so I don’t hold it against them. The only thing I found shocking was when a few asked why I’d chosen to start a company instead of just staying home to have babies. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that reaction.
J: It’s those people who you simply have to choose to ignore. Who do you look to for when you need advice and support?
E: When we first got started we made a list of influencers—mainly bloggers and wedding planners—to reach out to. I will email them asking for a phone call and generally get a response about 40-50% of the time. The ones we have been able to talk to have provided some really great advice. One recommended that we put up an informational website while we were finalizing the business plan. One of our designers later commented that she really loved the website and our style, and that’s why she wanted to talk to work with us.
J: What do you find to be the most challenging thing about doing something you’re passionate about?
E: Being patient! Everything takes longer than you expect. It hasn’t even been a year but it still feels like it takes so long. Being patient enough to be thorough and to do things the right way is a definite challenge for me.
J: Launching a company is no easy task. What keeps you inspired and driving forward?
E: Before the launch, it was our support group. Now that we have launched and are working with brides, it’s their feedback. Every time a bride emails saying she loves our dresses and wants to dress her bridesmaids in them, it reignites the fire.
J: What advice would you give our readers who might also be considering launching their own business some day? Any extra thoughts for those considering starting it with a friend?
E: Believe in your idea! I feel like sometimes when women have a female-focused idea it is often not taken seriously. You need to make sure you speak confidently about your idea and really believe in it. There will always be doubters but you can’t let that doubt creep in. You especially need to show your confidence externally. Believe in yourself and your idea, and don’t downplay either. If you’re spending time on it, then it’s a great idea. Give yourself the credit.
There are very few people I would have wanted to start a business with. Meaghan and I avoid disagreements because we’ve always really respected each other’s work ethic. I respect her opinion and intelligence and always saw her as someone I’d want on my “team.” I’ve valued her opinion during different stages of life, like choosing a business school and getting a job.
J: Between husbands, running a company, your careers, how do you make time for it all?
E: Because I enjoy Style the Aisle so much, it doesn’t feel like work. On Saturday mornings I am excited to wake up and work on it. It doesn’t feel hard to balance because I enjoy it so much.
J: You’re both married, how do you stay true to your inner Single Girl? (Note we define a Single Girl not by marital status but by the qualities she embodies ambitious, true to herself, goes after her own goals, has her own passions)
E: I have to say that it works because of who I married and our relationship. I’m very honest about what I want, how I want to spend my time, and what my goals and ambitions are. As a result my husband is really supportive. He wants me to continue to be able to do the things that I enjoy. I never want to look back and feel like I wasn’t honest with him and to hold a grudge because of it. Long-term he knows who I am and what I want. Our relationship is still my priority but so are my passions and goals and we find a way to make it work. You can’t be happy unless you’re being true to yourself.
J:That’s excellent advice and it sounds like you have the kind of relationship I think all Single Girls hope for. For those on their way down the aisle, what advice would you offer when trying to find the perfect look for their bridesmaids?
E: Pay attention to fabric. It can really make a difference in how a dress falls on you and how it fits. I didn’t understand the importance that really nice high quality fabrics can make until I started working in the industry. Also, go for classic silhouettes because those look flattering on everyone.
J: Outside of the company, what are the things you are most passionate about?
E: You’d think that because our business is all about dresses I’d be into fashion, but honestly it’s never something I’ve gotten into. I love our business because I love weddings. Planning weddings, going to weddings, reading about weddings; I am obsessed with every aspect of them. What’s been great about Style the Aisle is that it’s giving me the chance to see a whole other side to the wedding process. Working with the designers has taught me about the manufacturing process for getting a dress to market and all the challenges that can be encountered along the way. It’s interesting to see that side of the business—like getting to peek behind the wedding veil. Even more than weddings though, I’d have to say that my real passion is travel and be in the outdoors. My dad worked for United Airlines so I’ve been lucky enough to have access to free flights all of my life. That freedom definitely fueled my passion and is something I’ve taken advantage of heavily.
J: I can definitely relate to that one. I worked for an airline for a bit and had the amazing privilege of free flights as well. Do you have a favorite travel memory?
E: On that comes to mind is the 6-week backpacking trip my younger sister and I took through southeast Asia. We try to go on an off-the-beaten path trip together once a year, and this one had turned out to be a true adventure. During one part of the trip we were trekking through Cambodia, and it seemed there was a new hurdle for us to jump over around every corner. First it was our mopeds running out of gas, then a flock of geese blocking the road, then a roaming bull and a pack of wild dogs. We could never have imagined what was going to happen, but that’s what made it fun and memorable.
J: Definitely sounds like an adventure! Before we end, what are your words to live by?
E: I love the Mark Twain quote, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
For more on Erica, Meaghan and Style the Aisle:
Originally published on Jan 24, 2014