Sol Angeles' Founder On The Moment That Launched His Brand
A version of this story first appeared on Forbes.com
Everyone's had that moment of panic where you ask yourself, What am I doing with my life?
Realizing you're dissatisfied with your career or want to branch out into something new can be extremely terrifying, but that huge "aha moment" can lead to great things.
For Eli Myers, the founder of California tee and knitwear brand Sol Angeles, that moment came after both he and his wife found themselves unceremoniously unemployed during the recession. Ten years later, Sol Angeles is a hit brand sold at Anthropologie, Shopbop, and more, and collaborating with the likes of SoulCycle and the US Open for capsule collections.
Our founder Sarah chatted with Eli about that fight-or-flight moment that led to Sol Angeles' creation, the importance of the connections he built starting out in the fashion world, and his plans for the brand's future.
SARAH BOYD: How did you get your start in the fashion world?
ELI MYERS: After graduating from Film School in NYC, cash strapped and desperate for work, I took a part time marketing job for a start-up fashion company called Z Brand. As the NYC ambassador for the brand, I socialized with buyers, worked trade shows, befriended store owners and employees, and swagged any and all people I knew and liked.
Working for the brand, I was given exposure to the inner workings of clothing, and I found it fascinating. I greatly appreciated the timeline of T-shirt making. Coming up with an idea, making a design, and printing a shirt, could happen in a less than a day, compared to film making which takes an eternity and an army of people.
I decided that if I could transfer the creativity from Film, into Fashion, I would make the trade.
Coupled by the fact that I had fallen deeply in love with my boss, I was going to be in fashion for a while.
SB: What was your biggest takeaway from your first job and how did that prepare you for future opportunities?
EM: I got very lucky with having an amazing family dynamic at my first fashion gig. I am best friends—to this day—with many of my former coworkers. Having a great team can make you truly love what you do, and helped me enjoy the work I did. It was exciting, and it drove me.
We have built a family at Sol Angeles that genuinely has so much love. People working here are lifers, ride or die. We know how lucky we are to have these people, and we love them.
SB: Tell me about the “aha moment” that led to the creation of Sol Angeles.
EM: My wife—formerly my boss—and I met at my first job in fashion. We fell in love with each other and with fashion simultaneously.
The structure and pace of our job helped frame the structure of our lives and filled us with purpose.
After working together for 5 years, the company that employed us folded during the financial crisis, and shook up the whole fashion market. Stores closed, people couldn’t get credit, Ed Hardy was the biggest fashion trend…it was a scary time.
Living together, both unemployed, was even scarier; unspoken stress and angst run amok.
It came to a head on a Sunday evening in July, coming home from a pool party to an uncertain future. Lindsey (my wife) confronted me while sitting in our car waiting for our garage to open, saying, "What are we doing with our lives? We are lost." What are we going to do!?
At that moment I went to the depths of my soul, realizing the gravity of the moment, and knew I had to come up with solution that would turn this around. I put my hand on her leg, hastily reversed out of the drive way, all the while announcing the plan: we are going to start a brand today.
We are going to the art store right now to buy white boards, pens, markers, sticky notes, etc. We are going home and I will pull a brand out of my brain and my computer, and we will be at MAGIC (a huge fashion trade show) in one month.
And we did it :)
SB: I’m a firm believer in building valuable connections and how creating a successful business is all about how you know. How have the connections you’ve built over the years contributed to Sol Angeles’ success?
EM: I love people genuinely, which is a hard thing to fake. I give a lot of hugs and spend a lot of time talking with all of people we work with.
In the wholesale world, relationships are incredibly important. In all of the years leading up to having my brand, I met buyers from every major department store and built a exceptional amount of love and goodwill. We felt like all of those people were cheering us on when we started our brand.
Operating as a stand up person is a memorable thing in this particular industry, and we work exceptionally hard to keep up our industry reputation as the nicest team in the game.
SB: What are you envisioning for Sol Angeles’ future?
EM: First, opening an experiential flagship store in Los Angeles is my top priority. Second, expanding our collection and classifications offering (within reason). And third, executing events & fundraisers that benefit and giveback to the community that has supported us.
SB: What’s the number one piece of advice you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
EM: Be happy with where you are today, even if you are on your grind to get to a better place. Chances are, if you can’t be happy today while chasing your dream, you might not be happy when you actually make it.
SHOP SOL ANGELES:
What was your aha moment right before starting your brand?