Emily Matson and Julianne Goldmark were in the eighth grade when they started an accessories and apparel brand which generates millions of dollars each year.
Emi-Jay is a company which has an endless number of famous fans: Alexa Chung, Harry Styles and Gigi Hadid are just some of the most recent celebrities captured in signature designs. Its website features lots of elaborate barrettes and trendy tees which read “You’re the avocado to my toast.” The brand sells to over 2,000 retailers, boasts seven-figure revenues and donates 20% of all profits to charity. Oh, and it was also founded in 2009 by two girls in the eighth grade.
Emily Matson and Julianne Goldmark (hence, the eponymous combination of Emi-Jay) were just two fourteen-year-old girls who enjoyed shopping at fabric stores and creating stylish hair accessories inspired by the stars of the hit TV show Gossip Girl. They were delighted when classmates snapped them up, and continued to create headbands and chic elastics on the weekends. Little did they know that a wave of good fortune would quickly turn them into CEOs who would have to learn how to scale a small business in order to fulfill huge orders: Some time after they began taking their hobby seriously, Emily’s mom gave one of their accessories to hairstylist Chris MacMillan, which he added to Jennifer Aniston’s sleek hairdo. That was all it took to set off a chain of events which turned Emi-Jay into an enormous success.
After Aniston was photographed in Emi-Jay, Marie Claire magazine called to feature the brand in their magazine, and the orders came pouring in. This stunning success would be enough to stunt veteran founders of companies, but the (by now) high schoolers quickly stepped up to the task and set out to meet the growing demand. They graciously received assistance from their mothers who also invested in the business and saw lucrative returns. For the following years, the girls spent much of their time in high school and college overseeing a large team and building up their brand.
We had the good fortune of meeting up with Emily Matson in New York City, and the recent NYU grad is every bit as passionate and inspiring as anyone would expect such an accomplished young adult to be. Julianne chimed in via email and her responses resonated with a very similar tone of positivity. Here’s their incredible story:
1. What is your background?
Emily: I was born and raised in Los Angeles. From a young age, I was drawn to all things creative and visual. When I was 11, I attended an arts summer camp where I learned how to use a sewing machine, cut patterns, and design my own clothes. Eventually, this translated into a gravitation towards fashion at large (not just the creative and experimental end). Although I didn’t have a defined sense of what I wanted to do with this love of fashion, I believe that is what laid the groundwork for Emi-Jay to come to fruition.
Julianne: I was [also] born and raised here in Los Angeles, always surrounded by a lot of creativity and forward thinkers. We both always loved figuring out new ways to accessories our outfits since our school had a uniform. So that’s really where my love of accessories started!
2. What is the story behind your company, Emi-Jay?
Emi: Emi-Jay was born when Julianne and I, in 8th grade at the time, noticed that hair accessories were becoming a pervasive trend. By the same token, our adolescent selves were astounded by the prices attached to high-end headbands and hair clips that our friends wore at school, as well as on TV shows such as Gossip Girl, what we deemed to be the pinnacle of personal style at the time. With that, we decided to take matters into our own hands. One Saturday, Julianne’s mom drove us to L.A.’s Garment District where we snatched up all of the materials (gems, lace, elastic, feathers, etc.) that our arms could carry. From there, we began experimenting on Julianne’s bedroom floor with the intention of creating something unique for ourselves and our peers, but with no sense of what would eventually come of this weekend hobby.
Jay: We started making intricate hair accessories (like clips and headbands) for ourselves and our friends when we were 14. We’d sell them to kids at school and then Emily’s mom told her friend Chris McMillan about it. He suggested we make a bow-like hair tie that won’t dent hair, so we came up with our original hair ties. From there it all kind of happened serendipitously!
3. What was your first big break and how did it come about?
Emi: Our big break came when celebrity hair stylist, Chris McMillan, put an early iteration of our hair tie on Jennifer Aniston to wear on the red carpet of a movie premiere. At this point, we had only begun playing around with what would become our signature hair tie, so to have it photographed (and circulated) was the most wonderful big break we could have dreamed of.
4. Did you ever feel like you were missing out on traditional teen experiences because you were focusing on Emi-Jay?
Emi: Absolutely not. We have been so lucky that with the support of our moms and a wonderful team, we were afforded the opportunity to travel and be immersed in our business while balancing school and a “traditional” teen social life.
Jay: I think we both did a pretty good job of balancing all of the above. There were definitely times though where I remember missing out on a party or little things – but we were so busy and having fun with growing our brand that it didn’t really matter.
5. What was the most surreal moment on this journey of entrepreneurship?
Emi: The widespread recognition of our product is something that continues to be surreal to me every single day. To know that we created something that people wear, enjoy, and share will always be hard for me to conceive of.
Jay: I’d say getting chosen as Oprah’s Favorite Things. It’s such an honor and such an exciting thing that we get to share with our moms and our whole team. It’s complete chaos all holiday season long, in the best way possible.
6. Which factor do you think contributed most to the growth of Emi-Jay from a cute idea into a company that generates millions each year?
Emi: I think that our combined passion and relentless determination to create the best possible version of our product imaginable has propelled us forward from day one. We knew that the hair tie had the potential to be so much more than a piece of elastic, so we have worked tirelessly to make it the most wonderful, comfortable, versatile and, of course, beautiful we knew how. Additionally, we decided that giving back needed to be a vital component of our business from day one, and I believe that the charitable aspect of Emi-Jay has not only set us apart, but helped us flourish into so much more than just an accessories brand.
Jay: I think the versatility factor for sure. We took a hair tie that doesn’t dent your hair and made it so you can wear it on your wrist as a bracelet or keep it up in a high ponytail all day. It’s a staple product every girl has in their bag, so it truly was a no-brainer.
7. What is one thing that nobody tells you about starting and running your own business?
Emi: We started Emi-Jay with a vision and the support of our parents, with no business expertise. With that said, we have learned a tremendous amount as we have grown. Even if someone could have told us what to anticipate, I think the only constant is change and being open to learning every step of the way. Nobody has it entirely figured out!
Jay: That there will be so many ups and downs. We’ve had incredible success and been very lucky, but there are definitely times where we get frustrated whether it’s with product development or making big decisions. It’s all worth it though.
8. Did you ever consider deferring college to pursue your business interests? If so, why was college especially important to you?
Emi: Never! As previously mentioned, I feel extremely lucky to have been able to remain involved with Emi-Jay without ever having to compromise my education. School has always been a priority for me, and it has been so rewarding to be able to supplement my education with all that running a business has taught me (and continues to teach me) outside of the classroom.
Jay: I personally only completed 2 years of college. I’ve always had a more creative outlook rather than academic, so I left to work full time, which ended up being a very positive move for me.
9. What was the college experience like for a young entrepreneur?
Emi: With regard to the college process, I know I can speak for many when I say that I found it to be an incredibly frustrating time. It’s nearly impossible to have your passions, ambitions, and goals fully realized at such a young age (and frankly, I think it’s unrealistic for us to be expected to). Needless to say, my process led me to NYU, where I did not initially see myself (and felt like a disappointment at the time – since it wasn’t where I ever envisioned myself ending up), and it ended up working out quite fortuitously. However, I began there with little to no sense of my broader career goals or the field(s) I wanted to pursue, and a very narrow sense of what I even wanted to major in. I think that college presents a rare opportunity to take four years to truly figure yourself out – not only in terms of your interests and ambitions, but to situate yourself within your environment, and within the world at large. It was during this time that I became comfortable with the unknown, and ultimately learned to embrace it.
10. What are some things you’re excited about right now?
Emi: I am excited to be living in New York City as a young person delving into the professional world (on my own, this time!). As daunting as it is, I am endlessly thankful for all that Emi-Jay has given me and equipped me with as I begin this new chapter.
Jay: It’s an exciting time for us right now because Emily and all of our friends just graduated college. We’re sort of all over the place in the sense that we really can do whatever we want and get to figure out what our “thing” is. I’m just trying to take advantage of being 22!
11. Were there any moments when you considered giving it all up?
Emi: Not that I can recall.
Jay: There are of course moments where we feel like oh maybe we should have kept our product line super simple or little things like that. But at the end of the day I don’t think we ever had the urge to throw it all away out of nowhere.
12. What is your personal vision for the future?
Emi: I have loved living in New York the past four years and plan to stay here as long as I am able to. I look forward to pursuing a career here, hopefully in the art world, and staying involved with Emi-Jay, of course. The rest is uncertain!
Jay: I wish I could tell you! My mind changes every single day when it comes to where I see myself. A part of me would love to move to New York, but I haven’t decided. I know interior design is something I’m very passionate about so perhaps something in that realm will be in the near future! All I can hope for is health and happiness in the future.
Some facts about Emily:
- Her favorite city is Paris.
- She would describe her personal style as “Classic – with the occasional pop of color or unconventional silhouette.”
- Her dream Emi-Jay ambassadors would be “the Obama girls – and Michelle!“
- As a kid, she wanted to be a “fashion designer.”
- Her least favorite subject is “Math.”
Some facts about Julianne:
- Her favorite city is “Positano, Italy.“
- She would describe her personal style as “laid back, simple.“
- Her dream Emi-Jay ambassadors would be “Chrissy Teigen or Bethany Mota.“
- As a kid, she wanted to be a “designer.”
- Her least favorite subject is “MATH.“
Step inside Emi-Jay’s studio: