- Elle Wang is the founder and creative director of New York-based clothing brand Emilia George.
- She was working full-time from home, caring for her toddler, and running her clothing business at night in early 2020.
- After a miscarriage in June, Wang says she made changes to her strained schedule to prioritize her health.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
I first had the urge to create high-end maternity workwear when I was seven months pregnant in February 2019. I was working full-time, and felt simply pushed over the edge by the uncomfortable clothing I wore to work everyday – the first thing I did when I got home was get naked.
I’d always enjoyed fashion and would go to fashion week shows when I had a chance, but I had zero background, contacts, or training in clothing and design. Since I had no idea how to draw, I worked with several independent designers to create maternity collections.
After giving birth and spending months turning my idea into a reality, we officially launched Emilia George on December 10, 2019.
A few months later, COVID-19 hit.
I had barely introduced my business to potential customers across Manhattan. My husband and I had to quickly pull our child out of daycare and began working from home for our full-time jobs.
Soon, I began receiving emails from production partners and fabrics suppliers saying they’d be closed for the unforeseen future. Promising retailer partners told me that all new brand onboarding had to stop.
At the same time, I was taking care of our 1-year-old son in a city filled with sirens and horrific numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths. It took a toll on me, and I wanted to quit many times.
When nothing seemed to be going my way, I learned to pivot.
As I bootstrapped my business, production partners closed and major retailers barely stayed afloat. I had enough reasons to shut down Emilia George over and over again once the pandemic began, but I didn’t.
Instead, I cut down costs by completely halting digital marketing spend on Facebook and Instagram. The only partner I kept was my PR team, who proved instrumental in driving brand awareness during such a strange time.
When we entered April 2020, we decided to make face masks to help alleviate the shortening supply. The launch was covered by sites like Vogue and Elle, and soon we were flooded with orders. We sold over $40,000 worth of masks alone in May.
In June, the National Institutes of Health asked us to make customized masks for their employees – one of which Dr. Anthony Fauci wore at a Senate hearing in September.
While it helps to be a lean startup, being a one-woman show came with hardships.
After we began working from home, my husband and I had planned to conceive again. But we weren’t prepared to do our jobs while taking care of our toddler full-time from home. Being the founder and CEO of a new one-woman startup was exhausting on top of childcare, and my day job being a partnerships and strategy advisor at the United Nations.
Most days, it was only after 7 p.m. that I finally had big chunks of time to work on Emilia George, from fulfilling orders to talking to my production partners and suppliers in Asia. At the height of the pandemic, I often had to fill orders until 1 or 2 a.m. before I could even think about going to bed.
My production partners overseas in Italy and China often asked me if I ever slept. I did – just not that much. For a good few months, I was only sleeping for around four hours a night.
I had a miscarriage in June.
I always wondered if my crazy work hours and stress had caused it. When I got pregnant again a couple of months later, my husband and I were determined to make changes to better safeguard our health needs as a family.
We found a live-in nanny to help with childcare and hired additional team members to help with Emilia George’s operations. Now, we have a team of six awesome women, and are continuing to grow.
As my accountant was about to close the books for 2020 – Emilia George’s very first year – I noticed our gross revenue: over $490,000. To make sure my being 29 weeks pregnant hadn’t resulted in some numerical error, I double checked with her. It was true: I’d made nearly half a million dollars from launching a pregnancy clothing line during COVID-19, all with a toddler at home and a baby on the way, not to mention while managing a full-time job.
While I was surprised and happy by this success, I knew it came as a result of countless hours of behind-the-scenes work and dedication that was far from easy.
I’ve learned the best thing I can do to support other entrepreneurial women is to share my story.
I understand the work and perseverance it takes to grow a startup as a working mom. So many people have fantastic ideas, but finding that initial investment can be incredibly daunting. When it comes down to it, the better connected we are, the more we can do. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.