As co-founder and CEO of Beija-Flor Jeans, Emilie Whitaker has harnessed her entrepreneurial savvy and innate awareness of what consumers want and need to turn legions of women into “Beija-Believers.” Emilie’s innovative, passionate and thoughtful approach to fashion has landed her in countless profiles including a recent Women in Biz feature by Google. In this Spotlight, this designing woman, wife and mother shares a little insight about her life behind the seams.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START BEIJA-FLOR?
I never understood why it was so hard to find the perfect fitting jean. I always seemed to be trying to fit into something that clearly wasn’t designed with me in mind. It made me realize that most designers weren’t designing for the women that actually wore their clothing. On one of our trips to visit my father’s family in Brazil, my mother and I noticed how local designs seemed to embrace a woman’s curves in ways American styles did not. The proverbial light bulb went off and Beija-Flor Jeans was born. And ever since, we’ve focused on making women feel as amazing as possible in every piece of clothing we produce.
YOUR CAREER MILESTONE:
Getting over the fear of failure. I remember the moment I realized we had created something special. I had a buyer challenge something about the line and without fear of losing the sale, I confidently answered him back. He ended up buying the line for his stores. I realized then we had earned the right to be confident in our product and brand.
YOUR FIRST JOB:
Working in our family business, a women’s clothing store that my grandmother bought in 1979 when she was 66 years old. I probably learned more in that job than any other.
ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE YOUR 22-YEAR-OLD SELF:
Listen to advice and even if you don't take it, be open to hearing it.
My mom. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 39 years old. After beating it, she participated in an outward bound program where she camped out overnight and carried her own canoe. Those experiences allowed her to approach life with no fear. Her courage and determination in her personal life have made her an incredibly hard worker who's always up for any challenge. She has brought that to Beija-Flor and continues to inspire me and our team.
BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED:
My dad has always given all of his children great career advice. One of his go-to phrases is "work smart." When overwhelmed with projects and timelines, I always remember those simple words.
YOUR FASHION ICON:
My sister, Anna, is one of the most fashionable people I know. I wish she would do all of my shopping.
YOUR MOST OVERUSED PHRASE:
It's a win-win!
WHAT EXCITES YOU CAREER-WISE?
I love innovation - from the cutting-edge fabrics that we continue to source to new methods of reducing our carbon footprint. I love to seek new and better ways to do business and create our collections.
FIRST THING YOU DO IN THE MORNING AND LAST THING YOU DO BEFORE BED:
Listen to my little girl tell me about her "crazy dreams."
YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT:
My marriage. I got lucky and found the love of my life, but we both work at creating a relationship our daughter can learn from.
WHEN YOU WERE A KID, WHAT DID YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
At five - a fire woman. At 12 - Crazily enough I wanted to be the owner of a fashion company.
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL BEAUTIFUL?
Being surrounded by people I love and making them laugh.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?
Our team works so hard to make every jean perfect - from choosing the most innovative fabric to obsessing over even the tiniest of details. There's nothing better than hearing a customer say how much she loves our work. It reminds me why we started the brand in the first place and makes all of this worth it.
WORDS OF WISDOM FOR OTHER BUDDING FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS:
I think all entrepreneurs need to develop a thick skin, especially women. When you put an idea or a business plan out into the world you will get tons of opinions and criticism. While it’s good to get feedback, I think women need to shelter themselves from all the people trying to tell them how to do something. My advice to female entrepreneurs can be summed up like this: Prepare for the situation. Empower yourself. Believe you can do it.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR BEIJA-FLOR?
So much! We’re expanding our core collection, adding amazing new washes and branching out into new textures. We are growing in ways that are beyond my wildest dreams and I love every second of it.