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New York Called Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur

A short while back I posted a story about Lisa Salzer, designer and founder of Lulu Frost. I had a truly wonderful experience during my interview with Lisa and came to find that she had just as strong of feelings as not long after the story posted I took a position with Lulu Frost. The relevancy to this short story, you may ask? Before the job opportunity came about I had scheduled an interview with the girls behind Of a Kind. While heading to my interview with founders Erica and Claire I learned of their coincidental upcoming collaboration with none other than... Lulu Frost!It wasn't so much surprising as it was exciting to see two companies I strongly believe in joining forces. After all, I admittedly cold emailed "Who it may concern" of the generic Of a Kind e-mail for a chance to tell their inspiring story. For those who are unaware, Of a Kind is a website that identifies up and coming designers, tells their story, and partners with them to develop special, limited edition product exclusive to their site. Their goal is to provide a platform of support for the emerging designer community while connecting them with consumers who are interested in buying something special. Simply put, it is a very intelligently executed integration of commerce and editorial.But how did this brilliant idea conceptualize? It started with two small town girls who moved to New York after college. Erica Cerulo grew up in Peoria, Illinois while Claire Mazur grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. The two crossed paths at the University of Chicago as undergrads. Jobless and desperate to work in the magazine world, Erica moved to New York in 2005 upon graduation and shortly ended up at Details Magazine. She spent five years at Details until transitioning to Lucky. Claire moved to New York in 2006 not long after graduation to receive her master's in arts administration from Columbia. At Columbia, Claire decided she wanted to build a career around helping artists and creative professionals build a living doing what they do. This is when she discovered 20x200.20x200, in Claire's words, "...flips the whole model of the art world on it's head because you can buy good, limited edition art online from emerging artists for as little as $20." Claire applied to work at 20x200 four times without luck. In the process of her fifth application, the idea for Of a Kind was born. "Why couldn't we take what 20x200 was doing for artists and apply that same model to support emerging fashion designers?" they wondered. But if they wanted consumers to buy from under the radar designers they knew they would need to use storytelling to get people excited about who these designers are.At this point there was no turning back. Erica and Claire started a blog on Tumblr in January of 2010 to begin establishing their brand and voice. This was when Tumblr was a smaller entity so if someone joined and blogged consistently people took notice. During this time they were cold e-mailing designers from their g-mail accounts and searching for a web developer to get e-commerce running. They met tech guru Steve Spurgat who liked their idea. "Steve gave us a lot of confidence because he really believed in us and was willing to help. We didn't know a lot about starting a business and he taught us the basics," said Erica.The two also gained headway with designers. Mandy Coon was one of the first people who responded. "We were shocked when we heard back but her response told us that Of a Kind might work. If these designers, who had already garnered attention, thought our 'product' was still something that could help their careers, there might be a need for it," said Claire.By August of 2010 they were knee deep in planning and decided to quit their day jobs. "We didn't know this idea would work but we were so passionate about moving forward with it that we didnt think about much else," they told me. Their friends and family helped support the start-up but Erica and Claire did not pay themselves for 18 months, which was definitely scary. By the time they launched the e-commerce site in November of 2010, they had accrued a large following on Tumblr and press was knocking on their door. Daily Candy covered their first week, and they also got a lot of recognition for being the first e-commerce site to launch on Tumblr's platform. "We are very proud of how it was executed. We are not a blog with a shop in the corner or a shop with a blog in the corner. You can't escape one without the other, which is what we wanted," they said.While the Of a Kind team is still very small they are looking to grow the company. As Claire would say, "I am the one who says, 'Let's ask for the world,' while Erica responds, 'Let's say please.' We have a great team dynamic." They spend much of their day in investor meetings running around the city. Claire specializes in merchandising and product development while Erica handles the editorial element. Now they are at the point where designers are emailing them to get involved and their vision is only getting stronger. They negotiate with designers on price and quantity and their product offering is based on accessibility, approachability, and exclusivity. Normally they aim for three releases a week but during the holidays they are releasing new product, with accompanying stories, five times a week."This is a business that appeals to a lot of people who live in New York especially. Young professional who are starting their careers in marketing or advertising tend to respond to this and love the idea of discovery. I think they also connect with the idea of a community of people trying to make it in the creative industry," said Erica. New York has had a huge effect on their business as many of the designers are based in New York. They have been able to build a meaningful community here in the city.At the end of our interview I couldn't help but ask the girls what friends from their small towns would say about them now? "Well I think they would say they would never trade places with us! No, but really, we are still friends with a lot of people from back home. Another big part of starting this business was the ability to introduce people in towns like the ones we grew up in to up-and-coming designers they wouldn't otherwise have access to. We sell in 49 states," said Erica.I have been a big fan of the Of a Kind model and point of view for a while and after meeting them I was even more impressed. They communicate extremely articulately and have the smarts to spearhead a successful business. I also believe in the value storytelling brings to a brand's image and completely agree with their take on the modern day consumer as well as consumer of the future. They really just get it. I am very excited to see what other unique angles and innovative steps Erica and Claire take. They are truly two-of-a-kind.

Check out their collaboration with Lulu Frost and shop other product here. I also highly suggest you follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram as well as sign up for their newsletter!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. linda wood says:

    Hi Erica! Remember me…your old English teacher from DHS? I am sooo happy to read about your career! You are living the good life now, girl!! Conmgratulations to you and Claire!

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