Fearless Friday: Erika Austin
Oh golly...hard to remember when Erika and I met exactly but let's just say it had to do with an unfortunate stint with two men. The men are gone but we still remain besties. I'd like to call it a product of our youth or perhaps it's a right of passage....regardless, we quickly realized that we liked each other a whole lot more so fast friends we became.
Erika has done a lot in a short amount of time. She's lived everywhere from Florida to Abu Dhabi, finally landing in New York City for the long haul. After a successful journey with the luxury yachting industry, Erika decided it was time to take matters into her own hands and that she did.
Despite the distance and crazy schedule that now separate us, I can tell you that it always seems like no time has passed when we see each other. Be it the occasional Fashion Week or a 24-hour business trip...I can always count on her for real talk. And that my friends, is what real friendship is made of. She's fiercely loyal, driven, reserved yet wild, incredibly independent and she'll be damned if she doesn't conquer this whole fragrance industry. PS - Erika has zero problems playing with the big boys. Read on to learn more about her business:
Tell us a little about ECHANDLERY and the mission of your company. How did you create the concept? How hard was it to get started? Give us the deets!
I started ECHANDLERY almost 4 years ago from my apartment. Other than an absolute obsession with fragrance and beauty products from a young age I had no formal training in the industry, so I had my work cut out for me. I had come to a crossroads in life where I was feeling very unfulfilled professionally, and had met many very successful entrepreneurs and business owners. I thought, “If they can do it, so can I." I had just had my 32nd birthday, and decided I was going to go for it, full force. In the beginning, I wanted to create a candle and soap company but as I started to meet people in the industry and building fragrances, the company started taking on a life of its own.
I began with a home fragrance & personal care line of candles, soap, bath salts and exfoliates and was selling my products in some boutiques and spas in the Hamptons (as well as dispensing to my friends for feedback). I kept getting the same response which was, “Why don’t you make this a perfume? If you put this scent into perfume, I would totally buy it.” So, about a year ago, I pivoted and refocused on the ultra-competitive landscape of the fragrance industry.
As a freshly minted new business owner/entrepreneur, my role extends far beyond just the creation of the brand but goes on to encompass a soup-to-nuts dynamic. (Literally!) I am forced to wear many hats which aren’t necessarily in my area of expertise. It’s intimidating at first, but once I moved forward to get the systems in place, things became a little more turnkey. In my experience, there were many moments where I was absolutely head in hands, tears in my eyes, thinking, “Am I nuts for doing this?” In those moments, I always received some sort of sign to keep going. It would sometimes come in the form of a random text from a friend or even a commercial on TV. It’s been inspiring and invigorating to pursue an endeavor full force and feel that the universe is conspiring with me. It was fortunate also that I found a number of seasoned industry veterans that mentored me along the way, and to this day remain on my board of advisors.
1. What was the moment you knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur, let alone, in the luxury fragrance industry?
I think I’ve known my entire life. I have always loved beauty products, and collected perfumes for as long as I can remember. Growing up as a daughter of the military “a military brat” I remember trying products from all over the world and being captivated by the different beauty rituals from different regions. I remember the markets in Paris that had bins of bath salts with rose buds or aromatic herbs like lavender that are so bountiful there. I actually incorporated it into my line, but that was the inspiration. My mother would always put these beautifully packaged, triple milled soaps in my stocking for Christmas and I was always so excited to try them. I would notice the density, texture, smell, how much it would lather. I remember as a child wondering who Estee Lauder and Mary Kay were because they were all over my mother’s vanity. When I found out they were real women and that they created vast empires, I was instantly inspired. I wanted to do something BIG like that.
2. What one ECHANDLERY event/moment are you the most proud of and why?
Perhaps, it’s this moment right now. As I reflect over the past (almost 4 years) and am about to celebrate both my and ECHANDLERY’s birthday; I’m proud to still be at it 100% with many things on the horizon to look forward to. It reminds me of what my father once said as we were travelling on a boat and I was looking back at the place we just left, he told me, “Why are you looking back there; that’s not where we’re going.” That resonated...
3. How would you describe a typical day? What's your morning to evening routine?
The only typical thing about my day is when I wake up I check my emails and instagrams before getting out of bed. This allows me to wake up because I am not a morning person. I’ll often stay up super late working on anything from fragrance copy, project decks, or just doing research. There are meetings out with manufacturers, business advisors, or designers I work with. When I was writing my business plan, months were spent focusing on writing and developing it to make sure that it was cohesive, innovative, and sound. I try to make every industry related expo which are plentiful in NYC. I really enjoy them! Participation in seminars offered by key industry players provides indispensable insight, they are great for sourcing information and they also really ignite product development ideas - all in one hotspot.
4. How do you describe your personal aesthetic?
Luxe. Yet, I think I’m pretty low maintenance. I love being a girl. I love pretty robes for when I’m lounging at home. I gravitate towards fresh, classic, clean lines and solid colors. I always pay attention to the material and how it feels on your skin. I love dresses because they’re a complete look, feminine and easy to throw on and accessorize when in a rush. I’d rather invest in quality bags, shoes and underthings, pretty lingerie is an instant mood booster. It’s almost like your own little secret weapon. And, (of course!) I never leave home without perfume on, if that’s the only thing.
5. What individuals, tastemakers, celebrities, entrepreneurs, public figures inspire you?
Dr. Samantha Boardman of Positive Prescription - Her site is such a well of positivity, which is much needed in this crazy world. And, she’s fabulous!!
Victoria Beckham is a style icon and creative genius. Her collections wow me every time they come out. She has a fresh take on the modern woman that radiates sexiness, business acumen & power in the same breath.
Beyonce is pretty hard to beat in the inspiration category. For someone to consistently achieve so much at such a high level speaks to her excellence in her field. I think she’s incredible.
I have a great network of friends that are entrepreneurs, to whom I am constantly inspired, and in awe of: Andi Atteberry of BlingSting, Ashli Stockton of Sunday Forever, Christine Anderson of Always Christine Jewelry, Kandice Pelletier of KP Swimwear, and of course Johanna Grange of Oak St. Social. They are cheerleaders (not only for me, but to all), and always an inspiration of what’s possible with hard work, perseverance and sheer tenacity.
Derek Blasberg - I love his articles for Vanity Fair (favorite magazine) he has great moxie, and always looks happy (and his Instagram feed is like a step into fantasyland.)
6. If you weren't in the fragrance industry...and could be anything else...what would it be?
I always wanted to be an actress since I was a young girl, and can do (some would say) pretty good impressions. (Not sure, but at least it’s funny.) I also went to school for Broadcast Journalism, and envisioned being a beauty editor because I’m a total product junkie, or a travel reporter due to my incurable, mad case of wanderlust.
7. It's creative time...what's on your music playlist? What inspires you?
I discovered Lolawolf and have been playing them non-stop! I actually just saw them at the Full Moon Festival on Governors Island and it was everything! She (Zoe Kravitz) certainly has inherited the beauty & talent. I also find inspiration through artists’ Pandora stations like Lana Del Ray & Tove Lo. Also, Classic Rock n’ Roll, old school soul music and The Strokes will always have a place in my heart. While in Amagansett, I got re-introduced to my spirit animal (aka Country Music). This is me, “Austin”, thanks Blake Shelton.
8. Favorite restaurant on a Friday night + why?
I don’t really have a favorite Friday night spot. I love to try new places. Some of my oldie but goodies in NYC include: The McKittrick Hotel with Gallow Green and The Heath, L’Artusi, Acme and Il Buco (sit in the downstairs wine room, it’s so beautiful and romantic).
9. Wine or classic cocktail?
I love curated cocktails from the old school speakeasy’s, the art in the concoction is like a love affair between the aroma and the palettes that find you. My friends would attest to my love of Red Wine. I swear, it preserves your youthful essence! Resveratrol, et al...
10. Favorite weekend getaway destination?
Whether it’s Summer or Winter, I love going to Sag Harbor, NY or New Canaan/Darien, CT. They both are relatively close, and have a completely different energy from the buzz of the city. It feels like the fresh air fund out there. I also love playing tourist here at home, whether it’s a new art exhibit, restaurant or show, there are always so many new and amazing things to do in New York City.
11. Bonus question - 5 must-have apps that you need in your life to function?
Yelp - I use it constantly to find new restaurants, check reviews and get directions.
Uber/Lyft - I prefer to walk in general, but who doesn’t appreciate a personal driver?
Instagram - I love seeing what everyones up to, as well getting inspiration.
Net-a-porter - When in a jam with nothing to wear, the same day delivery service is worth its weight in gold! It’s something I appreciate, and think would pair nicely with my fragrance.
Amazon - It’s amazing how they’ve created an empire, that has stretched as far and wide as they have. I use it constantly, especially for all my home shopping. They remind me of the Monopoly game.
12. What's next for ECHANDLERY and Erika?
That’s a difficult question to answer, because we are one in the same. ECHANDLERY’s debut perfume collection is about to go to market! Stay tuned...
Check out ECHANDLERY on Instagram.