It's not every day that two best friends with a mere $200 build what will eventually become a global fashion empire, but that's exactly what leading entrepreneurs Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor did in 1997. We chat with Nash-Taylor, who recently launched new clothing line Pam & Gela with Skaist-Levy, and a new book, The Glitter Plan.
theFashionSpot: How did you both meet?
Gela Nash-Taylor: We met in 1988 when we were both working at the Diane Merrick boutique in Los Angeles. It was a classic L.A. story…we were picking up shifts for a friend who was in rehab. We worked on different days filling in her schedule and everybody thought we were the same person, except that only one of us was helpful (me!). Of course, we were obsessed with what we were wearing. Pam was in a straw boater hat from her line Helmet, English riding boots and black cut-off trouser shorts. I was in vintage cowboy boots, knee socks and an antique Victorian children’s dress bought at a thrift store. We started gossiping and then got into deeper stuff. It was instant chemistry, like magnets, like we had been friends forever.
tFS: Can you tell us a little bit about your background prior to Juicy?
GNT: Pam was was born in Los Angeles and grew up a skateboarding Valley Girl in Encino. She graduated from the prestigious FIDM and then was a movie costumer. I was born in Corning, New York and moved to a new state every three years, which of course was an excellent opportunity to reinvent my style. I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in Acting and then moved to New York and appeared on Broadway. After that, I headed to L.A. to continue acting. When I was pregnant with my first son, Travis, I made a pair of maternity jeans out of an old pair of Levi’s which became the inspiration for our first brand.
tFS: How would you describe your personal style and has it changed over the years?
GNT: Not much has changed — we consider ourselves total eclectic maximalists. We both love English riding boots, vintage Victorian whites, hippie dresses, tribal jewelry, native headdresses, and of course, we are obsessed with the perfect tee, track pant and a great coat.
tFS: How hard is it having a co-founder? What were some of the biggest challenges? Biggest assets?
GNT: Being one of two is the secret of our success. We always have each other through all the highs and lows. We are two of a kind, truly sisters of a different mother. It is just how it has always been for us, so it is never a challenge, always an asset. Our husbands may feel our ritualistic 6:30 a.m. phone call is a challenge, though.
tFS: When you say you started the brand with $200. What does that mean? Is it literally $200? What did your initial capital go to and can you talk us through some of the initial steps of starting the brand?
GNT: Yes! We literally started Travis Jeans with $200. We would go dumpster diving through mountains of old jeans in a rag house in downtown L.A. because that’s what we could afford. We eventually sold that business for a copy machine that didn’t work and with the same capital from Travis Jeans, we rolled it over into our new business, Juicy. We are entrepreneurs, we didn’t go to Harvard Business School (or any business school) and we never had a business plan. We didn’t hire an MBA CEO to run our company. We did this with our own creativity and hard work and often by the seat of our pants. We just wanted to create something people loved and a work environment that made us happy. That’s our version of the American Dream. That’s the Glitter Plan.
tFS: Where did the name Juicy Couture come from?
GNT: We have never told anyone. It is a company secret and if we told you…we would have to kill you. But naming is important, whether you’re naming a kid, a band or a brand. A lot of businesses spend a fortune researching names and do focus groups to find out if names will strike a chord with people. We weren’t like that; we were instinctual. So we had a huge brainstorming session and batted around hundreds of ideas…and Juicy was born!
tFS: What was the initial vision for the brand and do you think the image of Juicy Couture has changed since its inception?
GNT: When you’re starting out, you have to find your DNA. We wanted to improve on the T-shirt, to give it a better fit, fabric and color. Although we didn’t know it at the time, fit, fabric and color was our brand DNA. It became business speak that we used in our marketing to describe our guiding principles for creating casual luxury basics that make your body look insane. We were a “made in the glamorous USA,” L.A.-based company and were obsessed with bringing our laid-back California Lifestyle to the world with sexy basics, soft buttery fabrics and the best-fitting tee ever. That was the beginning and that mentality has stayed with us throughout our evolution. Juicy became a whimsical, quirky lifestyle cult brand that had a demographic from 5 to 50 and spoke to women around the world. It was infused with our sense of humor and commitment to quality and we loved the world we created. After we sold to Liz Claiborne and our mentors Angela Ahrendts and Paul Charron left, Bill McComb became the new CEO. Our contracts were up and we had a very different idea of where the brand should go. Leanne Nealz became the new creative director when we left and Juicy’s image changed drastically. It was sold again this year and will now be available only in Kohl’s in the U.S. …need we say more.
tFS: With all that — any regrets about selling? At what point did you seriously think about selling?
GNT: In 2002, we went from $38 to $68 million in sales, almost doubling our business in a matter of months. Whatever was the new thing, we couldn’t sell it fast enough. It was truly our moment. But the faster we grew, the more strain it put on our infrastructure and the cracks were starting to show. Every store in the world wanted Juicy and we wanted to give it to them, but we had to learn how to deal with the issues that came with increased demand, including the complexities in manufacturing and distribution, the limitations of our team, when to say no and, ultimately, how to get help. At a certain point, as entrepreneurs, you have to figure out what your needs are and what keeps you up at night. If you are successful, you will hit a wall when you can no longer just trust your gut. That’s where corporate management comes in. In 2003, we sold our company. We never look back. We only look forward.
tFS: Can you talk to us about what have you done since leaving?
GNT: After a long non-compete, which was like being in fashion prison, we started our new brand, Pam & Gela, and are busy creating that world.
tFS: How did the book deal come about? What were some of the biggest challenges writing it?
GNT: We have always wanted to tell our story — it's the American Dream. We loved every minute of writing it. Booth Moore, the L.A. Times Fashion Critic, is another L.A. girl and has know us since the beginning, so writing it with her was a fun, amazing experience. The biggest challenge was remembering dates. Neither of us can ever get a date right, except the year we started because it was the year my son Travis was born.
tFS: Who are you targeting with the book?
GNT: We are hoping that anyone who has ever dreamed of starting a business will love reading the book. We are living in a very entrepreneurial world and we are hoping to encourage, inspire anyone who has a vision and passion. If we could do it, anyone can!
tFS: If there’s one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you started your entrepreneurial career, what would it be?
GNT: Big is the killer of cool!
Hungry for more? Check-out the duo in person when they sit down for a Q + A with Glenda Bailey at Bloomingdale’s.