Business is a machine. It lives—it breathes—hard work. This can also be said of Erin Condren and her multi-faceted stationary company Erin Condren Design. Erin, after a career in fashion apparel, started her business out of her very own home, and with a little help from family and friends she is quickly becoming a big hit online and everywhere around the country. But what really stands profound is her ability to juggle a growing business with a growing family. She seems on top of the world, and the ease with which she conducts her business had me convinced that Erin has it all. But she assured me that being a business woman is not the easiest thing in the world. Erin is dedicated to her work and driven to see it succeed. Simply put, she loves what she does and lets her passion speak for itself. As I sat with her in her office, Erin recalled how her business came to be and explained, in her own words, what it means to be a modern business woman. When did it all click that stationary design was for you?
You know for me, it was that I had to have a job. My husband and I definitely needed two incomes, and so as my life in the [fashion industry] quickly went out, I knew I needed to find something to do. When [my business] started as a gifting thing is when it started to go viral. I’d get emails, because everything I made had my email address on it. And as emails started coming in, and people were like ‘Where did you get this?’ I started realizing ‘Ooh, this actually may be income’, and it just started snowballing. And in my first year, in 2004, when I did that [first] person’s holiday cards, she ordered 100 and I decided I’m going to give her 150 holiday cards; next thing you know I’ve got a hundred and something people going ‘Hey, where do I find these, what do I do?’ It was kind of that aha moment, where I thought this is going to be my next career. I realized it could provide income for me, and it wasn’t just going to be a fun creative outlet.
Do you still sell your original designs?
Yes! I’m so glad you asked me that, because now I have these amazing, young designers, and it’s so fun to work with them because you know, they’re faster, they’re working on programs I was never trained on. But we always sort of giggle when we launch something and maybe one of my original designs that I created like Candy Lace or my Asterisks, or one of the signature looks of my company are still the top sellers. But I’m not trained classically. I went to UCLA. I was a Sociology major. I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do. I look back and I wish I’d had the confidence when I was there to go into design or art. I was just nervous. I don’t think I had the confidence; I didn’t think I was good enough. When I walked through that art department I was like ‘Whoa, I’m not this good.’ But afterwards I went back, and took a couple courses at UCLA Extension in design, so I have a little bit of training, but most of it people would laugh—it was on Publisher. But it was organically balanced. And here we are.
What does it mean to be a modern business woman?
It’s very different to be an entrepreneur and be able to make that jump into a successful business person. So you can have an idea, or a drive, or a motivation, or something that kind of makes you an entrepreneur, but it was my business partner that sort of explained the harsh reality that ‘Okay, you have something here, it’s working, but now the things that are going to happen next, and the journey that you take to become a successful business person—it’s tough’. And you start creating a family of employees, but like regular family, families are dysfunctional. And you might need to let people go, or grow in ways that are painful.
Must be hard...?
But it makes sense in your journey to be successful. About being a woman, I’ll tell you, it’s a journey. I have a daughter, and I watched my girl-friends who were at UCLA with me and later had great careers, but chose to stay home once they had children. And that’s amazing and I am so grateful for our PTO, and all the people who are helping out at the schools. And there was that sort of [cringes] ‘I’m not one of those’ feelings for a while. But now I’ve found a balance between having a career and being a mom. It’s something that can happen, but it’s not easy, it is really hard. I remember my mom used to tell me about the three D’s. You need to be weary of divorce, or maybe your husband becomes disabled, or worst case scenario, he dies. Will you be able to continue to stay in your home, support your family? You know, all those things that are not easy to do even with a husband. I just hear those words from [Mom], and they keep me motivated in business, and now I feel great. It’s a juggling act, but I’m sorry, I think women can do it a lot better than men can! [laughs] Did I just say that on tape?
What do you love about your business?
What I unanimously hear from my customers, from my friends, from people who have been buying since 2004, is ‘Oh my gosh, this made me so happy.’ I always love Christmas Eve thinking ‘Wow, tomorrow morning so people are opening up packages that are just going bring joy and happiness.’ There is no greater joy, and I say that to my team sometimes when we’re exhausted, or if there is someone nasty on FB that maybe was disappointed. The power of social media is such a blessing and a curse. It does hurt us all if we do let somebody down. But then I think how many thousands of people have said ‘Wow, you have no idea how happy this made me.’ So I think that no doubt, the best thing we do is just make people happy.
Interview by Pauline Aguayo