By: Danae Edmonds
We first introduced our amazing readers to the brand Marielle|Ejiama a few months ago with the Motivate M|E piece we shared. There was so much interest in the ladies behind the brand, we decided to invite them back as “It Girls” and thankfully they accepted! In this It Girl interview, our friends Jasmine and Mercy share what its like to be ecofashion designers focused on making clothes that are both fantastic and sustainable.
Names: Mercy Emelike and Jasmine Harrison
Job Title/Company: Co-Founders; Marielle|Ejiama
Education Background: B.A. in Economics, B.F.A, Fashion Design respectively
1. Tell us a little about who you are.
J: We’re two crazy chicks building a sustainable fashion brand brick by brick. The origins of how we got started are both winding and abrupt as well as really funny. I’m a fashion designer who is crazy enough to believe that we can actually achieve-surpass-the big long term goals we set for ourselves as a company. Farm. Factory. We’re coming for the whole 9 yards.
M: On the more autobiographical side: we’re both from Virginia Beach, and we went to high school together (woo, Princess Anne). And now, we live in New York and run Marielle|Ejiama.
2. Can you explain to us what you do?
J: Mercy and I conceptualize each season in terms of inspiration, design ideas (should we try zero waste, focus on natural dyes, hand painting?), and what we want to challenge ourselves with for that season. Then I design the garments and we edit together and narrow it down.
M: Any pattern on the fabric is pretty much me. I usually do a fair amount of doodling, find shapes or compositions that I like, and kind of tinker around until I come up with something that works for us both.
3. How did you find your passion for design and fashion?
J: I’ve wanted to be a fashion designer since I was 10 and I was tenacious enough to stick to that. I feel like I’ll always be an angsty artist and fabric happens to be my most utilized media.
M: My interest in design comes from my interest in the world and isn’t necessarily specific to fashion — although I definitely enjoy fashion as a medium. I kind of take stock of what is happening around me, try to see the rhyme and reason in it, and then decide the kind of visual conversation I want to have. In terms of putting lines on a surface/creating textile designs, for me, the patterns are one natural extension of my way of unpacking and understanding things.
4. Who are you most influenced by?
J: I’m most influenced by the future employees that we will get to create jobs for and the future generation that will hopefully continue to carry on a legacy of what a sustainable life can have the potential to look like. So often I reflect on all of the amazing people that we’ll get to welcome into our family and it drives me to create a strong foundation, hone our brand voice and work hard, because it’s not just about ‘my dream.’
M: In general, almost everything I do is an expression of my family and friends — the people close to me who have shown me a diversity of ways of being/surviving and who have just believed in me in their own ways. Their faithfulness and consistency are things I want to emulate and prove fruitful.
5. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
J: I worked at the American Embassy in Seoul, S. Korea for a summer in the American Citizen Services office. It sounds a little more exciting than it was. But, I was 17 and did get to hang out with attractive marines so that’s certainly a win!
M: TJMaxx, the summer after I graduated high school. I held the position for maybe 6 weeks, maybe less for, you know, reasons.
6. What were your initial goals with your work? How have they evolved?
J: I think my initial goal was create a fashion brand that had the weight of icons like DVF coupled with the initiative of being environmentally conscious. My first concern was accessibility, which I thought was limited due to how expensive a lot of eco-friendly clothing costs. I’m coming to understand what the limitations to the market are, how tough it is to remain sustainable, how tough it is to reach your target audience, and the correct balance between driving motivation and aesthetics. At the end of the day, it’s not brain surgery, but I do believe that sustainable fashion can be a part of promoting a lifestyle that considers all aspects of our lives. Now, my goal is the same, but the way I think about achieving it is evolving.
M: In the very, very beginning — before we even decided to start Marielle|Ejiama, we just wanted to work together and effectively collaborate. I think sometime after that we then decided that there was no reason not to be utterly serious about it, so we went for it in the best way we knew how. The evolution has really been in us trying to be better than we were last time.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned from being an entrepreneur?
M: Persistence and backing away from being so results-oriented. I am still learning that daily.
8. Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
J: In five years I hope to be living in California and running our design office and factory with frequent trips back East to visit our organic cotton farm. I hope that we’ll be creating men’s and women’s wear by that time in equal measure. I’m looking forward to the ways in which our expansion surprised ourselves and hope to be partnered with global sustainable initiatives as well as local based ones with high school and colleges in the area.
M: Internationally distributed. Growing and selling cotton. Running a cut-and-sew factory. A few other things like more educated and more artistically accomplished.
9. What is a typical day like for you?
M: Packed. I’m usually juggling obligations and trying to remember to eat a couple meals. Jasmine and I wear a lot of different hats in order to make Marielle|Ejiama go, so each day has new adventures.
J: Try to survive! Ha. There is no ‘typical’ day, but I like to log in my time on tumblr, pinterest and instagram to stay current and interact with our audience. Other than that, whatever we need to do to push towards the biggest looming deadline!
10. What was the biggest obstacle you faced so far in the process of pursuing your dreams?
J: I think there’s a tie for not seeing immediate results and having people close to me not completely believe in my ability to make it happen. Those things are linked, in a way. I’m one of those people that love to craft, but get frustrated when I don’t see immediate results. That’s the reason I’ve been knitting the same scarf since I was in 4th grade! 20 minutes in and I want a blanket! It’s been a challenge, but it’s been something that has really forced me to grow, to see the little victories in the everyday struggle. When you really believe in what you’re doing and work hard-everything else tends to fall away.
M: Yeah, the hard thing for me about dreams is that they are so real in my head but they only become real to others through actualizing them. The process of taking thoughts from your mind and putting them into the world for other people to absorb and be excited about is really rewarding but also really difficult. Still, I think that the more you practice translating your thoughts into tangible reality, the better you become at it.
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
M: Don’t give up. It’s the worst best advice and the epitome of “easier said than done”
J: Just do it-Nike. ‘Doing’ it looks so different than what you can imagine, though. It’s not a fairy tale or movie where the conflict gets edited into a 22 minute chunk. It’s a fight everyday, but it’s worth it every time you ‘do’ it.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
M: My best ideas come after I think about something intensely and intentionally for a few hours and then allowing myself to not think about it all for a few days/weeks.
J: When I create a really solid backstory for what I’m designing. I’ve always loved reading and writing so I’m all about creating a detailed set-up to frame the collection. It may stay just between Mercy and I, but it helps keep us on the same page as we design.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
M: We tried vegetable dyeing our fabric. We wanted a marsala color, so we scoured in the internet for information and collected our supplies — we tried red onion skins, beets, and black tea in varying ratios. We soaked our swatches for various lengths of time. 72 hours later, we had muddy tan swatches that weren’t even colorfast. Lessons: 1) Maybe it’s okay for someone else to vegetable dye our fabric 2) Redesigning because you can’t source everything isn’t the end of the world 3) Most failures take a lot of effort 4) You can fail well, which really just means, learn and keep going.
J: How to pick just one! Haha. The t-shirt dress design was originally quite different than what it developed into now. It started as this cool, Star Trek kind of, structured neckline. I draped and patterned and made a sample of it and it did not translate. At all. The dress I designed on paper really need to be made out of a woven instead of a knit. Plus it just had too much going on in the neckline once you got it on a body.
I love the redesign better so it actually worked out. Especially because this t-shirt dress is now so cute and easy to wear and less ‘trying too hard.’ Sometimes I want to prove myself as a designer so I reach for these crazy intricate designs with about one million pieces. It taught me to edit, simplify and to remember that actual human beings will be wearing my stuff! Sometimes simple is best.
14. How do you unwind?
J: I do kickboxing and yoga on a regular basis to unwind. It’s good to get out any aggression/frustration with kickboxing and then reconnect to yourself with yoga. I’m an introvert so I love just hanging out on the roof with some of my best friends because we’re lucky enough to live within a 10 block radius of each other!
M: Oh, unwinding. When I absolutely can’t do anything else, I eat a pint of ice cream (the whole thing) and listen to audiobooks — like Game of Thrones or Sula or whatever I’m into that day. I’m obsessed with face masks, so that gets in there. Uhm, all of my friends are hilarious in their own ways so I basically can count on anyone of them for laughs. When I really need to kick up my endorphins, I bust out two or three miles.
15. What would you tell someone else who wants to start their own business?
J: Research. Have realistic short term goals and seemingly crazy long term goals and then just go for it. Don’t spend too much time worrying about what you don’t know. You’re going to make mistakes. Research the big things so that you can minimize the damage your mistakes will incur. Start early. The earlier you start, the more time you have to fail while you’re young. If you want a cliche quote, I would say that, “The future belongs to those that believe in the beauty of their dreams.’ Eleanor Roosevelt
M: Halfstep by halfstep. There are somethings that will have immediate, huge payoffs in life, but I think those things are rare and possibly uninteresting. Be really patient and celebrate yourself for the small things so that you can have the mental and physical stamina to build daily and see your ideas to fruition in the fullest sense.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
J: This is kind of lame, but I hope that it just inspires people to live the life that they imagine for themselves. I hope that people take risks and know that they’re not the only ones struggling, trying to figure things out and make their dreams into something tangible. It’s worth it to be brave and your dreams are valid.
M: You can build the world you want – it’s really just a matter of translating from your mind to the physical world.
17. Anything we missed that you would like to share?
J: Whoever read this long: you’re a badass. You’re more than capable of doing whatever God put into your heart to do. Work on that dream today and freaking conquer the world. Also, you look cute today.
M: Just all my love.