in order to really understand the marais, we thought it would be make sense to give an insider’s look at us, and the events that led us to starting a lifestyle company. we’re all too familiar with the female struggle of choosing between work and home life – but some of the continuing realness of the problem is too often concealed with generalizations about the topic. in giving a face to the issue, we want to give you a glimpse about our experiences.
first, here's a look at elissia.
why did you leave your life as a lawyer on wall street?
in my past life, i was an attorney. i know. not exciting, so i won't elaborate on the ins and outs of being a corporate lawyer on wall street. if someone were to ask me: why did you become an attorney, i’d always stutter for a second, and then come up with some nonsensical answer that it just happened. while, in actuality, i did it because it was the safe thing to do. by nature, i’m risk adverse, so becoming a lawyer had a logical and predictable path that i took.
while i did like some elements of my former career, like learning from brilliant colleagues, the constant onslaught of challenges, the required analytics and the sense of achievement for my successes, it wasn’t my dream job.
you then naturally ask, what is your dream job? well, as trite as it sounds, it’s creating a business from the ground up. starting something, operating the machine and growing it. while still practicing law, i considered and worked through sketches of not one nor two, but multiple different ventures. none came to fruition. in the end, i never really had the guts to go for it.
after years of daydreaming and considering a move, it wasn’t until i became pregnant with my first son that i was able to make that jump. you see, whether i realized it or not, i gave myself the excuse that i wasn’t just leaving my career for some unproven start-up theory, i was leaving it to raise a family. between you and me, we know that was all an excuse, whether I personally understood it or not – clearly, many women resume their legal careers after having children. but, the door was open, so I took it, and left the practice of law.
how did you come to start a home furnishings business?
after years of exploring the possibility of tons of new ventures, i learned, for me at least, the business discovery had to be organic. i couldn't just sit down for hours, brainstorm and unveil a company. (i couldn't figure out the answer, like a good lawyer would) i had to just see it. kind of like dating. you can't look for it. it will find you. if you look, you'll fail miserably.
so, it wasn’t until i embarked on a 15-month long life-changing venture of building my family residence that i had that a-ha moment. for a year and a half, i haggled, searched, researched, called, travelled and compared: blood, sweat and, actually, a few tears (very few). it was through this building process that i discovered the marais. with this epiphany, i mentally went through a reality checklist. (1) was there an unfilled gap in the market – check. (casually chic home furnishings and décor only readily accessible abroad.) (2) was there a way to make this model unique and attractive to consumers. check (through direct to consumer sales with retail pop-ups for inspiration, experience and exposure. (3) did i love every second i thought about home décor products. check (like, beyond love it.)
what happened in between?
as you already now know, after having my first son, i embarked on my new professional identity – that of an entrepreneur. for the most part, my gateway to the marais is a story of me dabbling in, and purchasing, local companies – all of them already working businesses that were in need of TLC. i was a fixer of sorts for these businesses. i issue spotted and repaired broken company pieces. some ventures were victory stories; others, not so much. but, all gave me just a little more confidence to launch something from scratch.
why you wanted casey as your partner?
the moment this new business idea lightbulb turned on, i knew i wanted a teammate – a partner to embark on this journey. without much mental digging, another light beamed – casey! i knew casey from another local venture. i loved her experience, her skills in branding, marketing, retailing and photography and so much more. after just one conversation, the moon and the stars aligned. we had the same vision, aesthetic and goals. done and done. stay tuned for later blogs on partnership (we certainly have our views on this subject, and will send you tidbits in real-time.)
and if you are still reading (we love you). more about casey...
why you left work?
it was time. i was pregnant with my fourth pregnancy (with three prior never making it to fruition), and i was part of an exec management team where we had just sold a business to private equity (yawn, yawn). i also found myself in a less creative space than I wanted to be in the workplace. it was a simple decision.
before leaving my role, i was a work maniac, addict, unbalanced, some may say…it defined so much of me. what i put in, i got out for the most part - so it was highly rewarding. i had moved to London, England at 21, threw everything into my work and got married. work was my baby and by my 26th birthday i was CEO of Lulu Guinness Ltd. it was a perfect role. it married my merchant experience with managing a multifaceted global business and it was a pivotal moment for the company.
at 30, i moved back to california (where I was born and raised) with my first husband, found my next role, got divorced, and then moved to NYC. that was a busy year. five years later, i left the workplace and entered a new chapter of my life.
why a home furnishings start-up?
there is something special about the home. it’s that place we all go back to, where we spend time with our family, relax, work, and make a ton of memories. there is plenty of everything out there, but when it comes to home, it’s an area I always (and I believe most people) feel good about investing in it. in other words, so much easier to justify shopping for than another pair of shoes - don’t get me wrong, i love shoes. i’m also the person that is constantly changing things around the house, moving things around, adding, subtracting - it’s a creative expression that never gets old.
it’s also increasingly hard to find unique home furnishings that are casual, cool, and accessible. retail today is a very challenging space, but with my merchant roots I always go back to it. the challenge is intriguing; i believe a brand has to be a brand that people want to engage with, and ultimately it has to have awesome products at the right price, and bring them to people in new ways.
what happened between?
between moving to NYC in 2010 and today, I got married up again and inherited 3 kiddos. #instantmom i never really had a plan for children since work was filling that spot for me, but it was pretty awesome to walk in to my new ready-made family! after getting married my husband had the bright idea to expand the family and it was definitely one of his brightest ideas yet (actually he has a lot of bright ideas - but don't tell him I said that). so we casually headed down that road (not realizing the challenges I was in for) while juggling our work life / family life schedules.
after leaving my career, i spent the next 6 months navigating my challenging pregnancy. i enjoyed being pregnant, but it was a delicate affair with a whole lot of focus and determination to make it to the finish line. we did, and I had baby Gray, Grace being her full name. and spent the next year hyper-focused on being a mom. after i felt confident she was strong and she was a little bigger, i started to think about what was next. i went down a few paths, trying to figure out a business i could own and operate, and still be a mom that wasn’t headed into NYC or on a plan most days. it may have seemed ironic that i was feeling that, but having her changed me, yes, however cliche that sounds. i couldn’t imagine kissing my baby on the cheek in the morning and night, and not getting to be part of anything in between. it’s hard for a woman who once had a very intense career to figure out how to be a mother and plug back in without a lot of sacrifice. so when elissia called me to chat about starting up a home furnishings company, it was just the right time in my path, and our visions aligned. it was serendipitous.
why we’re a team?
like they say, two is always better than one. i agree with that for the most part — especially when it comes to the power of multiples…in just about every way. but finding the right partner is not easy. and even when you do, it’s like having another marriage in your life — you have to be very in tune to your partner. i know elissia would tell you that her and i are still figuring that out on the daily — and solidly committed to it. the best part about having elissia as my teammate is that she shares the same work ethic, determination and intensity, which means i know I can count on her. and that is a BIG deal. not to mention she has a great eye when it comes to design. along with that, we share the same vision, style, being mothers, being women…and we get to share this wild journey, have camaraderie, shoulder the stress, the laughs — that is all pretty awesome too!