How This Couple Started a Fashion Biz Together Without Killing Each Other
Every fashion student dreams of having their own company. And almost everyone in the world dreams of finding the perfect partner.
Eiman and Michael, the founders behind Happiness, got lucky and ended up with both.
The duo met while attending FIDM, started dating, and launched a company three years later. Now 10 years old, Happiness is sold at major retailers such as Shopbop, Nasty Gal, and Bloomingdales. They also have 15 stores in Europe.
We talked to Eiman and Michael about the reality of starting a brand with a partner, their new show with MTV Italia, and what Happiness is all about.
So where are you both from originally?
I’m originally from LA and Michael is from Italy.
So how did the brand come about?
In 2006 we met at FIDM. His family has always been in the fashion industry from the 80’s printing t-shirts in his parents garage. So his background [has always been] in fashion and so he came to the school to get some type of degree.
We fell in love, and his parents said, “you know, you can’t move forward with this type of relationship unless you work together or do something.” So that’s what Happiness is for.
So how is that, working together as a couple? Do you think it makes it easier or harder sometimes?
Eiman: You know what, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. It is hard, but we both bring different things to the table. I mean, I’m the creative, and Michael’s definitely the business man.
Cool, so since you kind of already came from family that worked in fashion, why did you both take it upon yourselves to get a traditional degree?
Eiman: So for me it was very different, I came from a family where they were all lawyers and doctors and neurologists. I was kind of the black sheep of the family, fashion was not important and was not taken seriously. So for me it was different, my dad said, “you need to get a degree, I don’t care from where, but you need a degree.” So I tried out community college, it didn’t work out for me. FIDM was something I was passionate about, so it was easy for me to learn, and I actually enjoyed it.
Michael: For me it was definitely an opportunity to graduate here in Los Angeles and it adds value to a traditional sewing and printing business, including the new additions to fashion such as graphic jerseys and more comfortable wear. In 2006-7, when we started, it still was not well developed in Europe.
Eamin, how do your parents feel about what you do now? Were they surprised that you had such success with it?
Eiman: In the beginning, I swear I had to fight [my dad]. He did not even know what to do with me anymore. But now he sees that the fashion industry is a huge industry, its a 2.1 billion dollar global industry. He sees that we’re working hard and its a career taken seriously. And now he’s actually telling my 14 year old sister, ‘follow Eiman’s footsteps…go to FIDM, get a degree from there, and do something in fashion,’ cause he sees that she is also a creative. So now it’s taken seriously after 10 years.
You mentioned Happiness is 10 years old this year, what do you know now about running a company that you wish you knew back then?
Eiman: Oh my God, if I had known how emotionally destructive running a company could be, I would probably do it again. I am talking from an emotional point of view, from the ups and downs and having to meet people. We have 200 people that have to work for us, and some can’t cut it and we had to let some people go and we develop relationships with those people and I guess that is probably the hardest part for me. But everyday we are learning and I am sure 10 years from now [it’s going to be] completely different. Every single year it’s changing. We didn’t even have [social media] 10 years ago, and now it’s one of our biggest marketing tools. There is so much to learn and we’re constantly learning each year, but I can’t believe we’re even 10 years in, because it feels like it just went by so fast.
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So you are doing a show with MTV Italia, what’s that going to be like?
Eiman: Everyone who has been around us has been like, “Oh my God, you guys need to be in a reality show.” I guess from working with my in-laws and husband and whatever, its just been crazy.
We’re starting to see that we’re competing against brands like Zara and H&M and it’s on a huge scale and they’re killing us and our small brands. And our strengths are working with 200 creative individuals and we are all young and wild and fun and a working family and that’s something they don’t have. That’s something we’re going to show and put awareness on. It got picked up and so far [people] are loving the episodes.
Were you two married before you launched the brand or were you guys just dating when you started the brand?
Eiman: We were dating for three years and when I moved to Italy we got married in Italy.
So did your friends and family kind of discourage either of you from starting a company with a lover?
Eiman: No, no, no,we actually ended up hiring friends and family in the beginning. It was my neighbor, the person I had in the moment next to me, because we did not have the budget to hire managers or expertise. So from there everyone actually began to become a part of a family, actually together sharing this company.
Cool, so do you guys have brick and mortar stores in LA?
Eiman: So we had a store in Fred Segal in Santa Monica, but Fred Segal shut down. We have 15 [stores] in Europe and in LA we’re opening very soon. We’re still trying to figure out the location.
So did you start online and then go to Brick and Mortar?
Michael: Our main business has always been in wholesale, so during trade shows and fashion week working with high-end buyers really focusing on showrooms then to final retailers. From there we developed our retail chain which is in stores and also together with our online. But as online goes we’re working also with Shopbop, which is one of our biggest customers, and other online retailers that are pretty good such as Bloomingdales and obviously with Nasty Gal.
Eiman: We sell to about 3,000 stores worldwide and we distribute too. To give that ultimate Happiness experience, you know with an espresso coffee and the personalization with sweatpants that we do in store you can only have a brick and mortar for that. We definitely want to open up more to give that.
Do you find that the Italian shopper has a different style then American shoppers?
Michael: In Europe the buyer will definitely [go to the direct store]. They like to visit the collection and talk to the designer, so definitely more of an emotional sale. Compared to [the] US where it’s mainly department stores or online, where the actual product and the hanger speaks for the product itself.
Going from fashion student to owning your own brand is kind of the dream for young fashion students, do you guys have any advice?
Eiman: You need to follow through with what you’re doing, no matter what anyone says. Also to know your customer 110%. I find myself in coffee shops in the corner, eavesdropping on people. Like, if they are talking about break ups, the next day I come up with a break up tee. It’s really important to know the customer and to know where they are taking you and be free to go along with the ride, such as social media, you are going to learn new things and to be open to it.
Michael: Don’t think too big right away. Just have a big project, but…have it doable so you can actually start a business.
Eiman: Yeah, work small and get bigger.
Michael: Yeah, just see what is going around you and the market, and from there you can grow big.