emory-wire

Paying Dress Up

Crosby by Mollie Burch, a rapidly growing and socially conscious clothing line, was fueled by evenings on the couch, several glasses of wine, and a vision.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel

Mollie Burch (left) and Taylor Montes de Oca 20B

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When Taylor Montes de Oca 20B needed a roommate in Atlanta, mutual friends connected her to Mollie Crosby (now Burch). “I was in consulting and Mollie was designing for a fashion line,” says Montes de Oca. “I could just sense her frustrations with the business she was working for, so I said ‘where would you want to take your career?’ She started talking about her dream of creating her own line.”

Just a few months later, Montes de Oca had the opportunity to take an externship—a temporary break from her consulting job to explore other fields, so the roommates used that time to launch their own brand. “Within a few days, we had a business plan pulled together across a couple of pages of a flip chart,” says Montes de Oca. Now midway through their fourth year in business, they are in their second year of wholesale production.

Year one was consumed with writing a business plan and creating samples. During year two, they focused on taking orders at trunk shows. “Instead of having to put a ton of money upfront for inventory, we made samples,” says Montes de Oca and over the course of a month, the pair staged 22 trunk shows in cities up the East Coast.

“We meant to try and stay direct to consumer,” says Montes de Oca, hoping that the transition was going to be from trunk shows to online sales. Then stores began approaching them, and soon they had launched into more than 200 choice boutiques spanning the south, as far west as Texas, in addition to the direct-to-consumer sales from the website. Now the wholesale business comprises about 65 percent of their sales. They want to eventually move to more of a 50/50 wholesale/online split, but business is growing steadily. In 2018, Crosby by Mollie Burch sold 14,000 tops and 5,000 dresses. Year-to-date 2019, they’ve sold 16,000 tops and 6,000 dresses.

 

We talked with Montes de Oca as a part of our yearlong series on the winners of the 2018 Emory Entrepreneur Awards. She and Crosby by Mollie Burch took home the top prize in the Student Entrepreneur category.

Were you always into fashion?

Never. The style space wasn't something that was top of mind for me, but Mollie’s passion for it was contagious.

What sold you into the fashion business?

One, I have the entrepreneurial bug. I studied it and always dreamed of starting a company, regardless of industry. Two, we were upfront that fashion is not my thing and I really want to be behind the brand and to include a social impact mission.

Tell me about the mission.

It's called #ShineYourBright. Crosby by Mollie Burch is known for abstract but bold and colorful custom prints. So, our challenge was how to tie that clothing back to providing women with confidence and empowering them to be their boldest brightest selves. We had an early partnership with Wellspring Living in Atlanta which helps bring women out of human trafficking. We've been super excited to continue to grow that partnership and to use our customer base in other cities to engage similar organizations outside of Atlanta.

What’s next?

Once Crosby hits a certain stride it's less a startup and more of a functioning fashion line. We both agreed upon starting that we would love to find a strategic exit.

Best advice:

Never let anyone put limits on you, and learn to laugh at yourself and you'll do great things.

Biggest failure:

In college, I had a family friend who was running a nonprofit out of South Africa and I really wanted to do a grant-funded student project for him. I was overambitious, pulled a team together, and committed the time, but then didn't get the grant. I learned a lot about prioritization and overcommitting time. And that played into Crosby, too. We were super cautious.

What media do you consume?

NPR’s How I Built This and The Morning Brew, a witty newsletter about business news.

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about Emory?

Community. When I was thinking about school, I really only looked at what the school offered and what classes I could take. I have been surprised by the community—not just the professors I met, but the amazing impact Emory has had on the community they've built and how intentionally that community has been created. The impact has played out into Emory at large with the alumni network connections and has done so much for Crosby. I'm excited about the alumni network that exists in Atlanta and in the startup space here.

When you were thinking about this interview, what was it you really wanted to say?

The idea of having a social impact with a business is almost a qualifier these days. “You make money. Oh yeah, you produce clothes, but what else do you do for the world?” It's a super exciting time. I learned about this trend during undergrad, then defined as corporate social responsibility. Now you see businesses and brands that have ingrained that fully into who they are and that’s what we have founded Crosby on. We want to make sure the social impact is immediately affiliated with our clothes and not just an afterthought or a tag along.

Are you wearing Crosby right now?

Yes, it has consumed my wardrobe. I was never much of a shopper, so when the new season comes out and we get to pick our outfits, it just takes over.