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Mixing friendship and business without killing each other

Natalie Mayrath

Business and friendship don’t always mix well, but Emily Current and Meritt Elliott are a design duo 22 years into their bestie business partnership, boasting multiple successful companies along the way. They manage a portfolio of businesses including THE GREAT, a multi-category apparel collection currently sold in stores including their brick-and-mortar flagship on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and Emily + Meritt for Pottery Barn, a design partnership with the home retailer.

They’ve developed unique business models for each of these ventures. “The Great is a direct-to-consumer business that is supported by a wholesale business, and Emily and Meritt is a direct-to-consumer business that's supported by partnerships,” says Current.

It all began at UCLA, where the two women bonded over an obsession for hunting down the perfect pair of vintage jeans. Soon after graduation, they began styling celebrities, musicians, and art directing advertising campaigns.

Denim remained on their minds. “We just loved denim so much that we felt like we needed to make it come to life,” Current says. They were able to engineer their own denim brand with the help of their industry connections, and Current/Elliott was born in 2008. With the introduction of the “boyfriend” jean, they bucked current trends and the advice of industry experts who told them women wouldn’t ever wear that style. Soon after they launched their first samples, after spending an all-nighter sewing labels onto the jeans in Elliott’s kitchen.

Then an editorial feature in Vogue gave them a big boost. “We saw a hole in the market in the denim industry,” Elliott adds. “We created a focused, disruptive brand that resonated with the customer, selling almost 100k pairs of jeans in the very first season.”

“We didn't know the rules, and sometimes when you don't know the rules, and you approach design and business in a different way, it's exactly what's needed at the right time,” says Elliott. The male-dominated fashion industry proved to be a challenging space, but they stuck firmly to their core values. “We like to say that time of our lives was business school 101. I think we were a little bit of a unicorn at the time,” says Current. “It was a boy's club.”

Despite the brand’s success, it made sense to sell when a buyer came knocking in 2013. Current and Elliott knew they had more chapters to write in their design journey. “When we created, then sold, our first brand, we knew it was just the beginning of our journey. We had so much more we wanted to create. In creating our first brand... we identified that the mix of tomboyish and super feminine pieces, all rooted in authentic vintage, resonated in the market... so we eventually launched THE GREAT.” THE GREAT offers a full collection of denim, blouses, shoes, knits, and more. The duo also recently spearheaded the launch of the west coast outpost of Rebecca Minkoff’s Female Founder Collective.

Any business partnership can be tricky, especially between best friends, but Current and Elliott navigate the highs and lows through their keen sense of communication. “It's really a marriage, and our communication styles work together, so we've been able to maintain such a long partnership. But when there is a challenge, we talk it out respectfully, like the way that you would hope everyone would, and the way we teach our kids to,” says Current.

They attribute their more recent success to surrounding themselves with strong women in their company, and implementing what they’ve learned about staying true to their vision and values over two decades.

“This industry can be really tough, but we are really loyal and lovely first and foremost to everyone we work with,” says Elliott. “That really comes through all the way to the customer experience into the product, and that’s just kind of been our North Star the whole time.”

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