Interview: Julie Mollo

It's been a minute! Goddess Directory went on a little break while adult responsibilities took priority (boo!), but we're back and more ready to share some kick-ass business owners than ever! It just happens that we get to restart this series with an incredible story and brand that has just enough pep to get me excited to do this again - Julie Mollo.

One look at the cheerful photos below and it's clear why Julie Mollo is enough to get me pumped about featuring her and restarting this series. In a time that feels so scary and bleak, Julie's products are a burst of energy and joy. I remember following along with her years ago while she was making reversible retro clothing (her Retroversible line) and thinking she was so smart to create such versatile products. I had no idea at the time just HOW smart of a businesswoman Julie was or that she was responsible for the fruit-themed costumes Katy Perry famously wore on tour that I had drooled over. That, of course, is an incredible story on its own.

In the years since I saved her clothing items on Pinterest, Julie has gone on turn her unexpected best-selling pieces into a line of their own, and she now is designing the most fun vinyl clutches you've ever seen. Not only are they a fun bit of personality to add to any outfit, they're also affordable, making them accessible to aspiring Katy Perry's everywhere. Her clutches on their own are impressive, but how her career journey has taken shape and how she's navigating the pandemic are even more so. Read on to see what I mean.

My pick: I'm a sucker for all of the fruit clutches, like the peach one and watermelon clutch!

Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?

A: I had no intention of starting a business. I was a 20-year-old fashion design major at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 2008, back home for the summer in Grafton, MA between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was working 3 jobs and also designing and making a collection of clothing when my business started for me. I reached out to Katy Perry’s team over Myspace, sending them my website and letting them know who I was. I had never made clothing for anyone besides myself and my professors, but I had this weird feeling that Katy would love my clothing. She had just hit the scene with ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and was totally my style. After sending that email, her stylist emailed me that night and Katy emailed me the day after. I sent them a box of clothes for her to wear on the Vans Warped Tour and met with them a week later to design the iconic, fruit-inspired ensembles she would wear on the VMAs, Today Show, Leno, and so many more event, carpets and stages. Now, nearly 12 years later, I’ve taken those same shapes that I put all over Katy's (and other’s) frocks, sewn them on glittery clutches and sold them, affordably, all over the world. Almost 4 years and about 35,000 clutches later, here I am.

Q: Was there a moment when you felt like this was something that was going to take off and become a success for you?

A: There were a few moments- one for each stage of my business. The first obviously being when Katy wore my clothing, the second being when I had the idea for Retroversible, my retro-inspired reversible line of clothing I designed for 5 seasons between 2014-2016 (whole other story there). The third, and most lucrative, was at my first pop up shops when I was unable to keep my clutches in stock (like, made them all night, sold out of them the next day, lather rinse repeat for 6 months). They began as an add-on item I designed to go along with my clothing- I never intended on going into accessories- my customers chose that path for me, and looking at the full picture, I’m so glad I did. Accessories make perfect sense for me, my story, and my business!

Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions to you starting this as a career or a business? Were you nervous to share it?

A: Because my journey was so untraditional, my family was obviously thrilled. Once Katy wore my clothing, I received a ton of press and started a custom clothing business in my dorm room. Once they saw me do that, I think they realized that this was something that could actually be lucrative. There were a bunch of bumpy, figuring it out years in there after college, but since 2014, they saw me be able to create a full-time job and pay all of my bills and grow to a point of hiring employees and moving into an office (I used to work from home), and I know it’s been so fun for them to see it come to fruition.

Q: Is this your full-time job? If so, how long did it take you to transition into full-time?

A: Oh, it sure is! If we're starting from the very beginning, it took around 7 years to become full time without any other contracting or part-time jobs/side hustles at all. I’ve never taken outside money and I don’t come from a wealthy family - all of the money that has been put into my business had been from side hustles or credit cards. I’ve never regretted any investment in my business, as scary as they may have been to make at the time.

Q: How do you usually decide on what to design next?

A: I like to follow trends to an extent - colors, foods, animals, shapes - like, 2 summers ago, I was selling pineapple clutches like hotcakes, then the following summer, avocado clutches; it’s so funny how shapes trend. I like to listen to my customers - they are really great about telling me what they want to see next. My initial 2020 plan was to release a lot of new, larger styles of bags - not just clutches - and i'm excited to be able to release those things super soon on August 28th aka #ClutchDay (the 4 year anniversary of the day i sold my first clutch)…. I’m excited to eventually bring my customers everything they’ve wanted!

Q: Obviously, we’re in strange times right now so I have to ask everyone I talk to - how has COVID-19 affected your business and what are you doing to keep everything going during this time? What can people do to support you and others during all of this?

A: Mid-march to mid-April was very rough. My supply chain was severely impacted by COVID as all of my zippers were held up in China and I was not able to fulfill orders. I’m one of those people that loves to work and when I wasn’t able to, nothing else in my life felt right. Everything is handmade in my studio by my contract sewers and they were all home. I used to be the one to make (and do) everything, so as soon as COVID hit, it felt as though I had moved 2 years backwards. I was pretty miserable. Now that one month has turned to five, I’ve become used to walking to my studio (instead of taking the subway) and working alone most days. Some of my contract workers are back, but some are still remote, I miss the days when all of us would be in the studio- collaborating, listening to music and fulfilling orders- it was so fun to work as a team. It feels like we're getting through it, and sales are slowly ticking up, but it was a pretty rough go for a while! I’m very curious how the rest of this year plays out, we had such big plans that needed to be altered due to COVID, and we are pivoting pretty hard. We got this. Shop small. Know who you are giving your money to. Social media is a great way for customers to get to know the actual people who you are shopping with and I love it for that. Follow, support, and spend your money. It always baffles me when people say (and I know they mean they have the best intentions) “let me know how I can support!”. You can buy something - for yourself, your friend, your family member. I will say that this pandemic has brought about such a season of gift-giving and I would say about half of my sales during this season have been sent as a gift!

Q: What do you wish you knew about running a business when you first starting out?

A: EVERYTHING! Each stage of my business has come with a whole different set of things to figure out- and you can’t fully understand it until you’re in it. I had taken one basic fashion business overview class as a sophomore, but nothing else. I really had no clue what I was doing. Now, in my day to day, (and in usual times when I have all of my employees) I’m more on the business side than creative, and I love it so much more than I would have thought.

Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?

A: This is like picking my favorite kid- but I love my pink lipstick keychain clutch - I use it as a wallet everyday. I love how much it holds and also love that I can slide the zipper through my key chain and run around my neighborhood doing errands with my cute wallet and keys and thats it! It’s one of the most popular items on my site and fits perfectly inside my classic clutches.

Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?

A: I would love to have a stand-alone pop up shop - I was very seriously planning and looking into this right before the COVID crisis hit NYC and am so grateful that I never pulled the trigger on that. I look forward to opening one in the future and really look forward to all of the fun ideas that I have for it….so much fun stuff! I love interacting with my customers and when I was first launching my clutches I had pop-ups all around the city. Interacting face to face with customers is so important to me, I love seeing and hearing directly from the people that have given me a business and would love to open a pop up in multiple cities and meet my people across the country!

Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?

A: Em John Jewelry for keychains and super fun accessories! Sunday Forever for all of the good vibes (i never take their red string bracelets). Shhhowercap is so fun to gift and they have such great branding, Sofia Ramsay jewelry- I love her chokers!

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