Female Founder Spotlight: ELSA AND ME
Maja Svensson, 30, Brooklyn, New York ELSA AND ME
ELSA AND ME is a Brooklyn-based fashion brand that makes customizable women’s work and formal dresses from certified organic cotton. Our mission is to empower women to feel confident and feminine at work and in their everyday life.
What did you want to be when you 'grew up'?
What was the first real job you had that you realized was the first step for your career? What did you do?
I had a lot of jobs when I was young, but I guess my first real job was as a cleaner. It was after high school and before college. I had just moved to a different city to explore things outside of where I was from, and to figure out what I wanted to do with my life before deciding on what to study in college. After that, I worked as a nanny in Houston, Texas, which was my first experience living and working outside of Sweden. This was the beginning of my international interest and why I decided to study international economics.
Tell us about the job you held right before you decided to go out on your own. Did you walk into this job knowing you were eventually going to work for yourself?
I worked at Invest Sweden in New York, where I worked to facilitate U.S. companies becoming established in Sweden.
I have always wanted to run my own business, but I did not know this was about to take form in New York or at my job at Invest Sweden. I got very inspired by everyone doing their own thing in New York, which made me start exploring business ideas and experimenting with fashion design. My former boss at Invest Sweden was the one who informed me that I was an entrepreneur, and he was the one who eventually encouraged me to take the leap with ELSA AND ME.
What were the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in a corporate environment? Did you ever feel like you hit a glass ceiling or worked with others who did?
An advantage of being a woman in the corporate world is that you stick out, and can be noticeable in a crowd that is still predominantly male.
I never saw being a woman as a disadvantage. But I did not work for a huge corporation, nor did I have the opportunity to climb higher within the organization, because it was already quite flat and small. I also ventured out on my own after my time at Invest Sweden. So, all in all, I do not have a significant experience in the corporate environment.
When did you first realize that working for yourself may be a good idea, and was there a certain event that made you finally take the plunge?
I realized this in college when I had the persistent urge to start projects, and discovered my passion for doing and creating something new. Also, I have always been very intrigued by the idea of making your own money, and being in control of your own future and fortune.
I liked studying and learning on my own rather than going to classes and following a schedule. The college I went to had very few obligatory classes, which made it possible for me to do more work on my own. This is something I think you really appreciate if you're entrepreneurial; you get the necessary sh*t done, and strive with responsibility.
When I was in a transition period at my job at Invest Sweden and wanted to look for another job, as I mentioned, my boss was the one encouraging me to take the leap, instead of looking for a new job.
Do you feel that women who own their own businesses are faced with the same women-related issues as those in the corporate environment? If so how do you overcome it?
Yes. I do think that women overall are faced with the short-term challenge of being more grateful. People speak about feeling grateful vs. feeling entitled. Gratefulness is a characteristic more common in women, and entitlement is a characteristic more common in men.
Business and capitalism, in the short-run (Wall Street I guess?), do not always favor gratefulness over entitlement, which I think is the key to why a lot of women struggle climbing the corporate ladder. I think being grateful makes you ask for less salary/capital investment, and this is one reason why female business owners often do not grow as quickly, and tend to set lower salaries for themselves.
I am very torn about this, because I believe in gratefulness and that every great long-term leader the world has seen embodies this characteristic. As long as gratefulness does not turn into resentfulness, I think it is a characteristic we will see more of in the corporate world with the rising number of female leaders.
For me, it has been important to always listen to feedback in regards to both my career and business decisions from a variety of people: women, men, investors, finance people, and others. It was also important to have someone else evaluate me and my work, in order to get a sense for if I was devaluing my efforts, or not asking for enough compensation. Until today, I do not feel resentful for any of my choices. So, I guess that is how I overcame it.
What advice do you have for those who want to start their own business?
Just do it. Put your product or service out there as soon as possible, and don't try to perfect anything before you've actually gotten sales. You'll never know how people will react to your product or service until you've actually gotten feedback. And customers' feedback is crucial in the beginning.
You can strategize, plan, and make up different reasons for not actually doing anything just yet. But that is just procrastinating, and you become afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable and how you learn. As long as you learn from them, mistakes are critical to success. There is never a "right" time to start a business. Just do it.
What would you like Feminist Wednesday readers to know about your business?
ELSA AND ME is unique in that we'll come to our clients' offices, homes, or anywhere else for in-person fittings, and we offer the opportunity for clients to host their own fitting parties. We bring dresses, bubbly and cupcakes, and the client brings the guests. The host is eligible for rewards based on event sales.