Hey, friends. If you’ve been following along closely lately, chances are you’ve noticed that we’ve been in a period of pretty rapid and exciting growth. You've probably seen our team bustling, orders pouring in, lead time creeping up, and launches of new products postponed. We even left town for a bit in March to assess our path and to make some decisions about how to handle the future. While we shared some of that experience along the way, I’ve been pretty quiet on social media as we’ve wrapped our minds around our position and worked through all the possibilities for Elizabeth Suzann.
Growth is tricky to talk about, and it has all kinds of connotations. Some presume it’s the be-all-end-all for a business. Others perceive it as strictly positive, an expectation of a healthy company. Still, others see the challenges it presents and question whether it's possible to remain authentic through the inevitable changes growth brings. I’ve always been incredibly transparent and honest with you all, and as such, I've been hesitant to talk about our growth until we could provide all of the relevant context that I’m desperate to share with you. To have a real conversation about growth, it’s essential to talk about where we’ve been as a company, where we are today, and where we are headed.
So, this past May, we’ve done just that - and we’ve recorded it to share with you. If you are at all curious about our company’s history, what our growth has looked like, where we are today as a team and as a business, and where I see us going - then please listen along. This is the first time we’ve released anything in this format (recorded conversation), and I’m really thrilled to connect with you like this.
If you don’t have time to spare, there are some changes related to our growth that I want to make sure you’re aware of. Most importantly, as a made-to-order company (meaning we cut, sew, and ship each garment after you’ve placed an order for it), we cannot limit our growth through selling out of inventory like most businesses do. In order to control and manage our growth, we will be limiting the number of orders we accept during a given week to match our production capacity. In the past, we’ve taken orders in an unlimited fashion and adjusted our team size/hours/lead time accordingly. With our ever-increasing growth, this is no longer possible or desirable (listen below to hear us dig into all of this).
This means we are going to “open up for orders” every Wednesday at 11am, and we will take as many orders as we are capable of producing in the promised lead time. We will then make products unavailable for purchase until the next Wednesday, at which point we’ll open up again. This will ensure that our lead time remains consistent (we’re working it steadily back down to 2-3 weeks) and will allow us to grow our team and capacity in a way that is healthy, manageable, and feasible in our current warehouse space. So, if you come to the website in the future and see that products are unavailable to purchase and “Returning Wednesday” - that means we’ve hit our order capacity for the week and will be opening up again to take more orders soon!
There are other changes to expect as well: more content focused on our process, business model, and story along with a more flexible and fluid release schedule that fluctuates with demand (we don’t want to release new product if our capacity is already saturated). Video content, written content, live Q+As - I am really looking forward to giving my attention, energy, and heart to our communication now that we’ve made some concrete decisions regarding our operations.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make a change like this to our model, but after months of thought and debate, it’s a decision I am deeply excited about. It will provide us the stability, control, and limitations needed to focus on the right things at the right time and to make sure we’re having the impact we care about on the world. Without further ado, I’m honored to welcome you into a heartfelt conversation about our growth, our history, our present, and our future.
L: I have never recorded anything for our site this way. I've done a few interviews on podcasts but never anything quite like this. Basically, it is a really big part of what we do here at ES - to keep you guys updated and in the loop with what's going on. I love sharing all of the parts of our process and all of the things that we're working through as a company. Over the past several months, there's been so much going on and so much exciting stuff happening, and it's felt a little bit overwhelming to write about it all. Usually, that's what I do; I'll take to the blog and write something long and detailed about where we're at, but it's felt like a little too much to tackle in writing. So, I really just wanted to talk to you guys about where we are, what we're doing, and what's happening.
So, I'm here today in my guest bedroom on the floor recording a conversation. I'm here with Chelsea. She's the head of our Sales and Marketing Team at ES. She's someone I'm really close to and super comfortable with, and she is here to ask some questions and kind of facilitate a dialogue about where ES is at in this moment. I'm just really excited to quite literally bring you guys into the conversation - conversations that we're having daily at the warehouse about the company, its growth, and its future. So, welcome to the convo! Chelsea, you want to take it away?
C: Liz, thank you, and thank you for this idea. I'm so excited to talk with you today and to ultimately share our conversation with our customers. I would love to dive right in. We are coming up on Elizabeth Suzann's five year anniversary. The company has grown and evolved so much during this time. So, before we get to where we are today, I'd love to talk about where we've been. Tell us why you started ES in the first place.
L: Well, it's tough because I didn't set out to start the company that we're running today. To go back a little bit before the beginning - when I was in college, I sewed clothing and made it from my dorm room, and I would sell things in this small boutique in the college town where I went to school. It was a little vintage shop, and I so badly wanted to be a part of this art scene. So, I would take vintage clothing, and I would alter it and make these skirts and dresses and tops and jewelry, and I had this little line called Tiny Dancer Clothing because I loved Elton John.
I was into clothing as a way to make money on the side and to participate in this community. I was also studying art history in school, and I was so fascinated by the role of clothing as a cultural artifact. I love the way paintings and music and literature can tell the story of a culture, but they always have this self-awareness that clothing doesn't have.
When you're painting or writing a piece of music or writing a book, you're very keenly aware of the role of your artwork in society's place and time. You know that you're telling a story or sending a message about who you are, what you're doing, and what your society or culture is feeling. When you get dressed or produce clothing, there's not always that thought-process happening; there's not always this keen awareness of clothing's role in telling the story of a culture. If you are putting something on your body often, you're just getting dressed for the climate, or work, or your day, but if you look back at what people wore during a given period of time, it tells you this much more raw and true story of what was going on, how people were feeling, and how they were living than the art or music or literature may tell you. Those works may tell you a more polished story, or a more politicized story, or a more intentional story.
So, I was into clothing conceptually, and into making clothing to make a little money on the side, but it was just something I was into, and I never thought it would be a career of mine.
L: It wasn't necessarily my plan. So, we moved to Nashville after I graduated. My husband was going to law school, and I thought I would take a year off while we settled into Nashville until I did my next thing. I figured I would go to grad school, maybe study art history, maybe teach. But in the meantime, I kept making clothes. I would send stuff back to the boutique in St. Augustine and just collect a check every month for a few things.
C: Still clothing that felt colorful and kitschy and full of pattern?
L: Yes. I was still making the same kinds of things, but I was realizing that I wasn't wearing those pieces. I was making them, selling them, and people were buying them, but they weren't things that I had a desire to wear myself, and that was something that I struggled with. I was trying to wrap my mind around what was unsatisfactory to me about these things. The same was true for my whole wardrobe really. My wardrobe was full of color and pattern and print, but I would get dressed and I would wear... In college, I would wear ridiculous outfits; I would wear a petty coat and cowboy boots and flowers in my hair. I would try on these things, and I thought they were conveying my creativity or eccentricity or interesting personality. I was trying to communicate something so desperately, but it never quite felt like it was hitting the mark. I always felt like I was putting on a costume or playing dress up. It never felt like me. So, I was trying to kind of figure out if making these clothes felt like the right thing to keep doing, and it didn't. I was making things that I didn't feel comfortable wearing. I felt like I needed to figure out what was missing from my life and my wardrobe and try to solve that problem for myself.
So, I looked at my own wardrobe, and I looked at a lot at images and photographs from the past, and I was trying to pick out themes and what it was that I was really drawn to at their core and at their root. There were very clear patterns. The clothing that I wore most often and felt most myself in were simple pieces - white, black, neutral colors, simple fabrics, plain white button downs, a good pair of jeans... very, very... a black turtleneck... very classic things which felt so very different than the person I thought I was. I thought I was this artistic, interesting, young woman, and those pieces seemed boring and a little lifeless and not necessarily representative of me. But, I did feel the most myself in them.
So, I set out to create some new original work in this style. I started to draft my own patterns - teaching myself with books and YouTube videos - and to experiment making simple clothes that would capture the essence of what I was seeing in old photographs of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe and Jane Birkin that really spoke to me.
I quickly discovered that making simple clothing is very hard. It's a lot easier to do what I had been doing where you stick a bunch of stuff on something, and it looks kind of interesting, and it's overwhelming, and you can't really see if the cut of the garment is poor, or if the fit is poor, or if the silhouette is weak. All you see is the noise and the pattern and the color and those elements. Of course, it's possible to have beautifully cut clothing with a lot going on - that's absolutely true of all the couture designers out there - but it wasn't what I was doing to be sure. I just became obsessed with this challenge of creating truly simple garments that would be flattering and comfortable and make me feel like the person that I wanted to be - someone smart and good and caring and capable and hard working. I wanted to be all of these things and not held back or slowed down by what I was wearing. That is kind of why I started Elizabeth Suzann. I think I was trying to make what I felt was missing from my own wardrobe.
C: Definitely. I think you have encouraged me to see my own clothing in that way - clothing as something that makes me feel empowered and like who I want to be and allows me to do the work that I want to do without feeling like it is communicating for me, but instead, my work or my mind are communicating for me.
L: Yes, absolutely. Clothing so often speaks on behalf of the wearer and doesn't let them speak for themselves, and that was what I had felt in my own personal experience, and I figured that other women may be feeling the same way.
C: Definitely. So where did this concept take you? How did you take these ideas and this philosophy about clothing and turn it into something real, something palpable?
L: It began with a few, you know, initial styles. The Maxine Crop was one of the first ones. The Marlena series was one of the first series, and they're named after... I was listening to a lot of Wallflowers at the time... so, they're named after the song "Three Marlenas." I was really fascinated with paring everything down to its absolute root essence, and it became almost, I mean, borderline compulsive, this need to eliminate everything possible - seams, zippers, buttons, anything - and I was trying to figure out how to quite literally do the least amount of addition and embellishment and still achieve a garment that was functional and looked good.
So, things that were reversible, things that could be tied and worn in different ways and serve many functions in one single garment. Part of that goes back to my love for the 1920s. In the early 20th century, there was a group of fashion designers who were obsessed with creating a multipurpose suit - like a single wardrobe or a single garment that would be an entire wardrobe. It would be a jumpsuit that you could unzip and turn into a dress. Then, you could zip it a different way, and it would be a winter coat. Then, you could zip it a different way, and it would be a bag you could carry. They were these futuristic, weird garments that would serve all these functions. They really inspired me to see how much we could stretch the functionality of a piece of clothing.
That started me on the path of making some reversible things and things that could be worn in different ways. And then I just put these pieces into an Etsy shop called Elizabeth Suzann and just thought I would see what happened.
C: There is so much I want to ask you about right here. So, the first question is: is there anything besides history that influenced this design philosophy... the no zippers, the no seams, etc.?
L: Yeah, I think in terms of reducing things down to their essence, nature is absolutely something that influences the way I design. Evolution and things that you find in nature are so powerfully simple in terms of the way they function. The way the curve of a leaf is designed to funnel water to a certain part of a plant or the way rainfall will find the path of absolute least resistance to the bottom of a mountain and into a river and a stream. There are so many examples of things in nature finding the easiest path from point A to Point B. That was really significant to me. I wanted to find a way to achieve the same impact with as little design as possible, as few pattern pieces as possible. I think nature was a huge influence there.
C: So history and nature... Is there anything else that plays a huge role in the way you design, or is there anyone specific you envision wearing the clothing you design?
L: I think that goes back to the reason I started Elizabeth Suzann in the first place. Nature is significant, history is significant, but also the women who wear the clothing I make has influenced the way I design clothing. I began by designing for myself. It's a kind of like a meta-situation where I was designing clothing that would be comfortable for me to wear while designing clothing. That was a really powerful exercise for me to think about - What could I move in? What could I work in? What could I work long hours in and be comfortable, be able to hunch over, sit on the floor, reach high, squat down, take pictures, and do all these things, and then sit at the computer for 10 hours making Etsy listings?
I needed something that would facilitate that and that would also go back to my soul-searching identity kind of crisis and facilitate my expression of self. I think what I realized is that when I am physically comfortable, I am my best in every way. I think that I do better work. I do my work more efficiently and effectively. I can smile more fully. I can move more confidently and just be myself more easily when I'm physically comfortable. And so, for me, that means not sweating through polyester or not pulling in a tight waistband of stiff denim. It means being able to take a deep breath and not be constricted. It seems simple, and it sounds kind of silly, but those were all things that I had struggled with in the kind of costumes I had been putting on. I was feeling those things every day and feeling so limited.
I think... women in general, specifically women who are making things and working, need to be able to move and think. They need to be unhindered and unobstructed in doing their most important work. That is, I think, the kind of final piece to why I design the way I do.
C: Well, now we're at Etsy. So, take us back to the Etsy shop and tell us how you were producing and how that type of production has evolved over-time.
L: Yeah. So, I was making everything myself in the beginning. I was shooting all the photos, doing the pattern work, cutting, and sewing everything all from my spare bedroom in this tiny duplex in Nashville. In the beginning, I was working on a home machine. I knew that I wasn't doing things as efficiently as possible. I knew I needed better equipment, better tools, more industrial stuff. So, I read a bunch of books. I didn't go to design school or anything. I was learning all that I could from YouTube, the library, and books that I could get on Amazon.
C: Which you still do today.
L: My number one secret is to Google stuff. So, I think that I was always interested in the creative side of design, making goods, and the art of it all. But, I was also just as interested in problem-solving, improving the way I was working, and maximizing what I could achieve with my investment of time.
So, I went to Memphis and bought some industrial machines, loaded them into a suburban, and brought them into our tiny apartment. We built a cutting table to work from and created this little mini lean manufacturing set up for me in our spare bedroom. Eventually, we outgrew that little space. I had started the Etsy shop but didn't have much traffic, because nobody really knew who I was. So, I went to a few vendor events. I went to Porter Flea in Nashville - the first fair I did. I sold out of everything, and I made like $2000. I was freaking out. I was so blown away that people, number one, wanted what I had to sell, that I sold all of it, and that I had that much money. I was over the moon.
I was like, I can pay my rent for several months with this, and I can buy food. It just solidified what had, at that point, been kind of a project or hobby that I was working on. It all of a sudden felt like a tangible reality that I could maybe do this. So, I went to a few other fairs. I went to Renegade in Chicago and Brooklyn, and I kept doing those events. I was really cognizant of how I was engaging with people in those spaces. I would bring little business cards with me and hand them out, tell people that if they bought something from me that day and then later shopped with me online, that they would get a discount, encourage referrals, and all those kinds of things.
After a few of those events, I had enough online business from just that small group of customers and the friends that they told to keep the online shop going. I got a little too busy to keep doing in-person events because I had a little online presence that was bustling. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to get off of Etsy. I needed more control over the brand's identity and the message, and you couldn't do much at the time. You couldn't have an "about" page or imagery of your process, and I really wanted all of that. I wanted people to know how things were made, why I was using the fabrics I was using, and it didn't feel like there was enough space on the Etsy platform to do that. So, I had my fiancé build me out a website. He helped me do the product listings, figure out shipping, and all of that stuff.
C: At this point, did you know it was rolling? That Elizabeth Suzann was getting some momentum?
L: I don't think so. I think I was excited, but it felt like at any moment the bottom could fall out. It was not like I was making much money. I think in all of 2013, I maybe made like $12,000 or something like that. So it definitely felt exciting and fun, but it didn't feel, by any means, solidified. People were telling me left and right that the model I was operating under was not sustainable - making things to order, using these high-quality fabrics. Every piece of advice I got was, "As soon as you hit X, you're going to need to start outsourcing," or "As soon as you hit X, you're going to need to start producing in bulk," or "You can't use this model forever."
I hated to hear that. I don't like anyone to tell me what to do, and I also really liked the way I was producing things. In the beginning, it was out of necessity. I was making pieces to order because I could only afford to buy a few yards of fabric at a time. I would receive an order, take the customer's money, then buy the fabric, get the fabric, make the garment, and ship it out. I was operating that way because I had to. But I realized that I actually really loved that model, and it felt so wholesome and so right because there was no waste and no excess. I was only expending my human energy when someone had decided they wanted something. I was only cutting into a piece of fabric when someone had decided they wanted it. I didn't have an inventory, and it was manageable. As one person it was letting me do it, and I didn't see any reason to change that.
So, we went from Etsy to the website. I moved from my bedroom to my first studio, which was in the back of a gym. It was a yoga studio that was for rent on Craigslist, but I didn't know that it was for yoga. So, I showed up, and I was like, "Hi, I would like to set up a sewing studio here, I make clothes." I think he was so embarrassed and didn't want to tell me that it was a yoga studio. I realized what it was and I didn't want to pretend like I was mistaken. So, we both just kind of shook hands and he let me set up a sewing studio in the back of this gym.
I set up shop there and found an intern on Craigslist - many of you know her as the wonderful, Lydia. She came on as an intern and came in a couple of hours a day. Her mom ended up becoming one of my first sewers that would help me sew. I found another seamstress from one of the events a couple of months back. She gave me her card and said if I ever needed help to call her. So, it was all very organic and things just kind of fell into place one little piece at a time.
C: Absolutely. It blows my mind that all of that was taking place less than five years ago.
L: Yeah, time flies.
C: Well, what happened then?
L: So, we were operating out of this little gym studio situation, and I had, I think, three folks. It was Lydia, Faith, and Lauren helping me part-time in this little spot. So, I was still cutting and shipping everything, and Chris was coming over after class - Chris is my husband now, but was my fiancé at the time - to help me ship packages and to do the website. He found shipping software for me and was involved from the very beginning.
Eventually, we outgrew that small space, and we moved in the summer of 2014 to a little warehouse over in Berry Hill on Cruzen Street. It was about 1,500 square feet and a really small space. It was in rough, rough shape but we kind of made an agreement with the landlord that we would fix it up if they would give us a good price on it. So, we took a leap of faith. I was really, really terrified. I think the rent was $900 a month and I remember thinking what if I can't pay it. We weren't making a ton of money at this point, and it was a very real possibility that people just wouldn't order this month, and then what would I do? But we just jumped in with both feet and took our little team over to that building. Everyone was still part-time, and there were still a few days a week where it was just me - just me in there by myself cutting, sewing, answering all the emails, and doing everything. But I was assembling this little team of people who were slowly taking things off of my plate.
It was in that space that we brought on a few more sewers, some people started to take cutting off of my plate, we hired another intern, and Chelsea, who is here with us today, joined us in that space to help with media content creation and all of those things.
C: I'm sitting here with the biggest smile on my face. I think hearing all of that never gets old, and I hope it never gets old sharing it. So, tell us how long you were in the studio on Cruzen Street. What did that look like?
L: I remember the timing of this because it was right when it was about time to take my Spring/Summer Collection off of the website. When I first started, I was doing things kind of traditionally. I would design clothes for a season, release them, and then they would come down. I had released I guess it would be SS13 or something, and the Georgia Tee and the Marlena in Raw Silk were in that collection - a few pieces that I really loved and had been working on for a while. They'd been through a few iterations, and I was really proud of them. It was time to pull that collection down, and I remember not wanting to do it. I was like, I worked so hard on these, and if customers love them and people are still buying them, why would I trash them and move on to something else? I was struggling with that, and I know there are lots of reasons that seasons work for many companies, but it was something I couldn't get over. It felt like two or three months is not enough time to do anything well. People were just starting to get enough of these garments to give me good feedback on the fit and the style, and I felt like I could make them so much better. They had so much more life left in them. They had so much more growing to do as styles.
Anyway, we developed our Signature Collection that year. We photographed it, re-released it, and I remember that day being so nervous to launch a collection that only had pieces everyone had seen before. There was nothing new in the collection. I was so nervous about what was going to happen. Maybe everyone's going to be tired of this stuff, and no one's going to buy it. It seemed like a good idea, but maybe it's not. Well, we launched the website with the Signature Collection in it. It did just as well as the new product did, so that was a big turning point for me - the realization that we had acquired this customer base that was interested in the longevity of style and in improving work that would evolve, and we didn't need to necessarily be releasing new, new, new, new, new all the time.
C: How do you think you acquired that customer base?
L: That's a hard question because I think I know, but I don't really know at the same time. It was all word of mouth. We didn't do any advertising, and we never sought out press. Those are the traditional ways to launch and grow a fashion company, and we did none of them. Number one, because I didn't really know how, and number two, I wanted to focus on what's right in front of me. So, if I'm working on cutting and shipping orders, and I get an email about an interview, it's usually the last thing that I want to do. I want to do the work. I want to keep my head down and do the work.
Therefore, people were finding out about us from their friends. There were a lot of people who'd met us in those fairs and would tell other folks about us, and they'd email and say, "hey, so and so met you at this booth, I'm really excited about what you're doing." It just kind of grew that way. I was Instagramming my whole journey and sharing the ups and downs, what was new, what was working, and what wasn't working online. It was just really organic. There were people who would follow us and people who were writing about what we were doing, but it was always customers writing about us. It wasn't like we were in Vogue. It was just real people sharing real affection for what we were doing, and that seemed to work so well because it was so genuine.
C: Okay, now we have Cruzen Street, the Signature Collection, and the solid customer base. It's rolling, things are happening. What happens next?
L: I think this was around the time when we were starting to realize what growth could and would look like for the company. So, in 2013 we made a few grand that year. I was just doing a few shows, and Etsy was rolling. In 2014, we made about $400,000 in revenue. There were about six of us on the team, and that was our first real year. We had a real website, the Signature Collection was launched, and we put a lot of real effort in that year in terms of starting the business.
Then in 2015, we had a team of about eight of us, and we did about $1.2 million that year. We were on track to triple our growth, and we were outgrowing this warehouse we had moved into. We'd been there for a little less than a year, and we knew we needed to move again. So, I didn't have a handle on if this growth would last. It felt like a new business growth to me. It felt like we were new and people were still learning about us. We're still getting our bearings. It didn't feel like something that would continue to happen. So, we started looking for a space about twice the size of the building we were in.
On a whim, our real estate agent showed us this 10,000 square foot warehouse. It was way, way too big. It was way more than we needed. It was a huge lot, and it was in terrible shape. It was a disaster. But we walked in, and the price was right for the size of the building even though it was out of our budget at the time. We knew that, if we could keep growing, it would be an incredible opportunity, so we just took it and hoped we could make it work. It was terrifying, but we got ready to move. We kept expanding to the absolute limits of Cruzen Street. We built a loft over our shipping area that had like four-foot ceilings. We were about to explode out of this building, but we were making it work. Then, we transitioned into the Atlas Drive location, which is where we are now.
It was this huge building, and we moved into that space as a team of eight. But as we transitioned from Cruzen Street to Atlas, and as our team started to grow, we knew we needed to make some more hires. We knew that we needed to formalize the way we were operating a little bit more. We needed to have hours, keys for the building, we needed to know who did what and why, manage the growth of our team, start developing leadership, and all of those things that matter to businesses as they're growing.
C: You're talking so much about developing leadership and maintaining the business model that you believed was best for Elizabeth Suzann. At this point, you haven't had any previous education or experience in doing this. So, how did you make these decisions? Were there people or experiences or classes that were influencing the decisions you were making?
L: Yeah. I feel like I always have a little bit of imposter syndrome here because I didn't go to business school or design school. I really have no qualifications for just about anything that I currently do or have done. Sometimes I feel like I don't really know anything, and I'm just making it all up. I think my guiding principles are to do what I think is best and what I think is right. I honestly think I'm just trying to create a business that I want to work in and that I would be happy to be a part of.
Something that I used to talk about in the beginning is that I didn't see why we needed to make this transition from the way my day felt when I was selling clothes from home. I would go to my Juki in front of the window, light some incense, have a snack, have a drink, put on a podcast or some music, and sew. It was wonderful. I was at home. I was comfortable. It smelled good. I didn't understand why things needed to be so different from that just because you're producing clothing. You see pictures of traditional factories that are so lifeless, stale, and sterile; it's just so sad. Sewing is such a beautiful process. It's so fun. My goal has been to maintain that feeling as we grow.
Just because it's not one person sewing anymore doesn't mean it can't still feel like that wonderful peaceful feeling that I had when I was making everything in our spare bedroom. So that's kind of what I've tried to do - treat the warehouse like I treat my house. There's good food there, there's always cold drinks in the fridge, and there are plants everywhere. There's art there, and it smells good. We just spend eight to ten hours a day there, so why would we not want it to look and feel amazing?
I think at every stage I've just tried to make decisions that align with what I feel to be the right thing. It's interesting because of things like our made-to-order model and keeping things lean and…
C: What do you mean by keeping things lean, exactly?
L: When you think of manufacturing, you probably think of batch manufacturing - which is a traditional style where you do all of the steps of one process, and then you move everything over to the next step. If you were batch mailing letters, you would fold all of the letters, first, and then you'd put them all in the envelope, and then you'd lick all of the backs of the envelope, and then you'd put all the stamps on. Lean manufacturing is where you do everything to completion for one item. If you were lean mailing letters, you would fold the letter, put it in the envelope, lick it, put the stamp on it, mail it, and then you move on to the next one.
I really love those principles because that was naturally how I started making as one person, and it felt really important to keep things that way as we grew. I felt the reward for completing a garment. I would cut it, sew it, press it, wash it, pack it, and ship it. It was literally going from design to the customer all from my hands. As we grew, we had to parcel out different steps. We needed a cutting team, a sewing team, and a shipping team, but the construction of the garment I didn't want to divide that up any further than the sewing process.
I wanted to still maintain that garment going from beginning to end, start to finish, completion by one person because I think it's really powerful. Number one, it's so much more rewarding to see the actual fruits of your labor - to see what you have created, to create something well, and to do it beautifully. I think it also provides a lot more opportunity for education and learning. You can really, really hone your skill as a craftsperson if you're able to see all of the parts of a process. If you're just putting on neck bindings, you're not learning anything, and you're not pushing yourself. You're just doing a step in a procedure, and that's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to maintain what felt so important to me when I was making everything from start to finish - every day I was learning and every day I was growing. Every day I was feeling accomplished and like I had done something worthwhile.
At any rate, lean manufacturing is also highly efficient. You don't waste any materials. At the scale of what we're doing, with traditional manufacturing, you would produce 100 Georgia Tees and then ship them out when they get ordered. That is not what we do. We only produce the number of Georgia Tees that get ordered by you guys. We don't make any of that aren't needed. That is really, really wonderful in terms of eliminating waste. We don't have a bunch of fabric cut that we'll never need. We don't have a bunch of inventory sitting on the shelf collecting dust. So, it's good financially, it's really healthy, and it also has this kind of magical quality that I really admire. It just feels so much more special to me.
C: So at this point, the space has grown. We're now in this 10,000 square foot warehouse. Our team has grown, our made-to-order business model has grown, and inevitably, our customer base has grown. Can you talk a little bit about who influenced the way you interact and develop relationships with our customers?
L: Absolutely. I think in terms of the way we run our business, people like Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman's and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin were so influential. I was ultimately just trying to do the right thing and do things differently. I loved that we were making things differently than most other manufacturers because it felt like we were almost cracking the code. We were able to make garments and be profitable without holding a bunch of inventory that we didn't need to wholesale to stores. We were able to price things affordably because we weren't wholesaling. We were just selling online, so we didn't have the overhead of a brick and mortar. It felt like we'd found this incredible method and it was working.
But, I didn't have the confidence to pursue that until I had read some of the work of Ari, Natalie, and Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. Those folks really encouraged me to trust my gut, to feel okay breaking the traditions that existed, and to do things a little bit differently. I think their influence in the business model was also influential in the way that we spoke to our customers. The growth that we experienced, I attribute in large part to our non-marketing strategy. We do not pay for advertising. We don't do retargeting or SEO optimization or any of that. We just don't do it, we've never done it.
Our method was always to first and foremost provide value. If I'm posting on Instagram, I don't want to post fluff or junk and to put it in your space and your mind. If I'm going to intrude into your day and into your life, I only want to do so in a way that's going to add value. And that idea was also very influenced by the people I was reading, the Golden Rule, and how I want to be treated. I was seeing so much advertising happening that felt gimmicky, exploitative, and like bullshit, and I didn't want to be a part of that - I didn't want to waste anybody's time. I also didn't want to attract anyone to our little bubble that didn't want to be there. And the best way to do that was to not seek out anyone who might not want to be there. Rather, let them come to us and give people a reason to tell others about us who might be interested.
The way we did that was by sharing information and education. And yeah, it was just a win-win all around. I think that education model really, really worked in terms of encouraging growth and spreading the word about the company without having to pay to advertise to people who don't care about us or don't want to care about us. It was this kind of secret ingredient almost.
C: Let's go back a few moments to the move into Atlas. Tell us a little bit about the start of Atlas and how we've gotten to where we are today.
L: It was the end of 2015 when we moved into that big old building. It was just the eight of us, and we were trying to navigate growth as a company, growth of our space, and maintaining the culture that we had - this great family feeling - but we knew we needed to kind of mature a little bit as a business. We thought really hard about the way we wanted to grow our manufacturing process. We developed the pod structures that we use today where we have the tools for every sewer to complete a garment from start to finish in their area. We have an open floor plan so there is communication, ease, and flow between all the departments. We just worked really hard on developing our physical space to support the kind of environment and culture we wanted to generate.
We also started to focus on team building and leadership. That was never really anything that had crossed my mind before that point, and we didn't really need to think about it. It was just kind of natural and easy because we were such a small group, but we knew that if we were going to add to our team, then we needed to be ready for that kind of change.
In 2016, we had a really, really wonderful year with a couple big highlights. We had our Diversity Campaign where we brought in some customers to our studio to photograph. We gave them a tour of the facility. There were 13 women that I had previously only known through Instagram, and we had them there in real life eating dinner with us in our building and sharing stories. It was just one of the most special moments in ES history.
C: It was so much fun.
L: It was a blast. And we really just kept focusing on that communication strategy and in keeping with the Golden Rule of treating others how we wanted to be treated as humans and adding value to people's lives wherever we could and not worrying about anything else. We did about $2.5 million in sales in 2016. So, we doubled in growth from 2015. Our team grew from eight to 16. We really established our Operations Teams, and we began implementing some leadership structure that we hadn't had before. We developed the Leadership Team. And then in 2017, we kept fleshing that out. We read some great books, we started implementing more structure to our meetings and really established a kind of management strategy as our team continued to grow.
In 2017, we grew from a team of 16 to 34. We finalized our transition to being season-less - up until this point we had our Signature Collection as our core collection, but we would still add in seasonal pieces in the fall and spring. But in 2017, we finalized the transition to totally season-less. We have a Warm Weather Collection that will be available year round but sells warm weather pieces, and then our Cold Weather Collection will return at some point. We had some issues with that wool supply chain, but we're working through them.
In 2017, we did about $3.3 million, so we were continuing to grow at a really, really nice and a really, really steady pace, but it was just a kind of manageable incline in growth. We definitely made missteps along the way and had some challenges, but we just had a pretty steady rise up until 2018.
C: Yes. And that brings us to where we are today. So paint a picture for us. What does Elizabeth Suzann look like today?
L: Today at Elizabeth Suzann, we are a team of 34 folks. We are still in the Atlas Drive warehouse. It's about 10,000 square feet. We are still fully funded by our customers. We don't have any external investors. We've gotten to where we are today just by growth, organic growth. We still make clothes. We have our Signature Collection, which is still our most popular collection of garments. Our Warm Weather Collection is also very popular. We have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline. We still have a really, really vibrant community of customers that are engaging and growing with us every day.
C: Now that you've told us a bit about what Elizabeth Suzann looks like today, tell us more about what it feels like.
L: It feels really exciting. It feels simultaneously like we really know what we're doing but also like we don't know anything at all. I think we've grown. We've been here for about five years, so we figured some stuff out. There are some things that I had no clue how to do in the beginning, and we've really perfected them at this point. There are other things that I thought we had nailed down, and it turns out we needed to break the whole system and start completely from scratch.
It is really exciting. Every day we are a different company than we were the day before. We have new people, we have more customers, more people in our audience, and we're kind of learning what it means to be ES in this moment. Our ES community feels like family. The people that I engage with on Instagram, the emails we get, the mail, the physical mail we get on a weekly basis...it's incredible. It is so touching to read someone's handwritten words about what we're doing, and it feels like that community is only picking up speed. I think the thing that stands out to me the most is that there's this palpable potential in the air. There is something rumbling under the surface. I can tell that there is a lot of growth potential right now. It's electric, and it's terrifying, and exciting all at the same time.
C: I can feel it. Well, growth, growth, growth. Can you tell us a bit about what the company's growth looks like, and how we've handled growth up until this point?
L: As we talked about before, we've been on this kind of steady incline. In terms of revenue, our team size has tracked really nicely along with that revenue growth. We tripled and doubled, and our team has kind of grown along with those revenue steps. But it wasn't like a perfect line. Over the year, when you look at it year by year, it's a nice neat line, but when you look into our revenue month-by-month or day-by-day, it's very much a roller coaster. And you'll see that we receive orders in peaks and valleys. So we'll release a collection or a garment or a collaboration and sales will spike, and then they'll dip. That will happen on a day-to-day basis. That will also happen on a month-to-month basis, and it's been a challenge.
Up until this point, we've handled that difference in demand by fluctuating our lead time and fluctuating the inputs of our team. We will either grow the team when necessary, or we will work overtime. We'll just work more hours or the lead time will fluctuate. The growth overall, as an average, has been steady, but week-to-week and month-to-month, it has been very much peaks and valleys. If you saw it on a dry erase board it would look like it's overall going up but in the shape of waves. We've handled those waves with different strategies, and we've tried different things. Usually, it's lead time combined with changes to our staffing - more people and more hours.
C: What do you think is contributing most to our growth right now?
L: Well, we had our annual retreat in the beginning of this year 2018, and we thought we had a handle on where we were headed. We did about $3.3 million last year, and we projected about $4.2 million for this year. We were staffed for that number. We had the right number of people in the building. We thought we'd maybe need a few more hands for some jobs that haven't been filled yet, but we were staffed to do about $4.2 million. We went off site and talked about this plan and what that looked like for our team and how we were going to achieve it and what was going to be released this year. We came back, and then we implemented reviews on the site.
It changed everything, which is incredible. It's such wonderful feedback. It just goes to show how strong the community is that people trust one another and want to hear how our clothing works in other people's lives. But essentially, we've been talking about numbers here today, so I'm not afraid to keep talking about them. Our conversion rate, which if you know much about e-commerce, the two things that contribute to a company's revenue are traffic to your site and conversion. So, the number of people that are there and then the number of people, out of those that are there, that are going to buy. Our conversion rate was around 1.1% for essentially all of time until February of this year. With the implementation of reviews, it increased the conversion rate from 1.1% to upwards of 5% for people who interacted with reviews on the website. That's about half of the visitors. So, about half of the visitors to our site interacted with reviews and, for those folks, conversion rates upwards of 5%.
C: And we knew reviews would affect our conversion rate a little bit but not quite this much.
L: Yeah, we'd read a lot of literature about what to expect. It was definitely a healthy move to share the real feedback you guys have with one another and to give direct confidence to shoppers who maybe want to make sure they spend their money wisely and on the right thing. We knew it was going to be a great thing for the website and a great thing for good conversion.
One thing to note is that we want people to buy our products that want them. We don't want people to buy our products that don't want them or don't need them. Reviews let you guys talk about how things are working in your life and what is working and what isn't. So everybody who comes to our site makes more informed decisions and better decisions about how they're going to spend their money. We thought maybe it would increase conversions 65% or something. And this, of course, is in the many hundreds in terms of increased conversion. It was way, way, way more than we had expected.
C: Well, because of all of this, it seems clear to me that you were recently at a crossroads. We were recently there. And this growth potential that we didn't expect or predict was suddenly here; it was in front of us. We didn't have a strategy for managing this unexpected growth. You described how we had gone on our team retreat to plan for the $4.2 million, and it was suddenly changing. So, you and Chris decided to head to the west coast for a few days to pause and think about what this meant for the company and perhaps what this meant for the two of you and for your lives. Can you talk about what was going on in your mind during this time away and what two futures you were wrestling with?
L: Yes. Essentially, pre-February we were prepared for $4.2 million, a team of 35, and staying at our current warehouse. With the change in conversion after reviews were added on the site, we were heading for six or seven million dollars a year. That's pretty crazy.
C: It's unbelievable.
L: It is unbelievable, and we couldn't really wrap our minds around what that would even look like. There were two distinct possibilities in my mind. One was that we figure it out, we figure out how to make that work. How can we handle that demand and produce it? So, one future is a future in which we grow. Rather, the company grows in accordance with the demand. The other future is that we don't grow along with demand, and we grow at the pace that we had planned on growing at.
And there are some things that I was fearful of in both futures. In the future where we choose not to grow in accordance with demand, I was very fearful to let you guys down. I don't want to be in a world where products are unavailable or our lead time is astronomical. I don't want to not be accessible to you all, and most importantly, I'm afraid of limiting our impact. I want to improve as many lives as possible and to hear from women how our clothing has affected the way they live and the way they work, it makes me sad to think about limiting that in any way and reaching fewer people than we had the potential to reach.
That was really scary to think about. You always hear the phrase in business, "if you're not growing, you're dying." Limiting our growth or deciding not to meet demand tasted a little bit to me like - okay, well, if we do that, are we just going to stagnate eventually and then die? Is this going to be the beginning of the end? And then the other future in my mind was the future in which we grow with demand - we meet it, we figure out how to meet it. This would mean growing our team, adding a second facility, moving, or changing the way we produce. So, not doing made-to-order or not doing full garment production and going to batching. Those are terrifying things to me; those are huge compromises of my core values and the values of the business.
I was also afraid of losing touch with our team. If the team size grew too quickly, then I wouldn't personally know everyone in the building and why they were here and if they connected to what we were doing. I was afraid that the people who worked here could lose touch with our vision and our mission. That we would be hiring so quickly that we couldn't possibly make sure the people who are joining were the right ones and that we wouldn't possibly have enough time to invest in them and to really get them on board with what we do and why we do it. I was afraid of losing the quality of the product and the quality of the experience. Those are all things that I thought could suffer. If we have people on support staff that haven't been with us for a long time, how are they going to give you guys good support if they haven't had time to wear the clothes and learn about them. How are they going to support you well in your shopping? If we have folks on the production teams that we don't have enough time to train thoroughly, the quality of the product could drop.
I was most viscerally afraid of my own physical and mental limitations in terms of feeling emotionally responsible for potentially 75 people or 100 people and afraid of my physical limitations in terms of managing another move - another huge factory move. It's so exhausting and hard to move a facility like the one we have.
C: And it feels like we just got there.
L: And it feels like we're still getting settled two years in or almost three now. It was just terrifying to me that I wouldn't be capable of that growth or that growth would inherently change my relationship to the business.
C: Although you were wrestling with all of this, you did ultimately come to some decisions with Chris on that trip to the west coast. You shared this caption on Instagram after you returned from your trip. You said, "For this stage of my company's life, the size of our team and physical space will determine how quickly and how much we grow. I haven't decided exactly what that will look like just yet. It will likely mean limiting the number of made-to-order pieces we sell at a given week or month, so it doesn't exceed what we're capable of. It will also probably mean slimming down our product line so we can work more efficiently. It may mean exploring limited edition runs of items to keep our permanent offerings manageable. It means slowing down our release schedule, and it definitely means continuing to do what we do excellently."
So, can you expand on this and talk about the choices you made after getting some clarity?
L: We had this kind of "come to Jesus" meeting with our team leaders before we left town and were thinking about these two different trajectories that were in front of us. We knew we needed to make some decisions for ourselves about the kind of business we wanted to run and the kind of place we wanted to work. We got on a plane, went to California, and we thought about these two paths that were in front of us. I read a book on the way there called Small Giants. It was so perfect, and it was exactly what I needed at that moment. It's a book about companies that are value driven and mission-based, and they have all had the opportunity to grow rapidly, but have chosen instead to stay small and committed to doing what they do excellently.
One of the most influential concepts in the book is a discussion about the phrase you hear so often, "If you're not growing, you're dying," which has permeated almost all business culture. It actually does not really apply that well to small privately owned companies. That stands true for publicly traded companies whose sole existence is rooted in growth, and if they are not growing, they're not doing their job for the stakeholders. That is not our objective as a small privately owned company. Our objective is to take care of the livelihoods of those who we employ and to take care of our customers, and there is no inherent need for exponential continued unlimited growth. You can grow steadily. You can grow slowly. You can continue serving your community very effectively and not fail in the marketplace, and that is proven by the companies he profiles in the book and thousands of others that aren't in the book.
I think I knew what the right decision was even before we left, but we really just needed the permission and space to kind of admit it. I think before we landed I knew what the answer was. It's hard to face those fears; it's hard to choose one when you know there are pros and cons to each choice. It's paralyzing almost. You don't want to pick one when you know there are consequences. But ultimately, I think it was clear. It was clear that growing without limit and growing rapidly at the cost of our mission and our values is not a company that I want to work for, and ultimately, I think it would have probably been the worst thing we could do for our customers and for ourselves and for our team.
So, we talked a lot. We went into the city for a few days and just unplugged, and then we went out to the desert and talked about the options that were on the table and what was good about them, what was bad about them, what we would suffer from, and what we would gain from each choice. We concluded that growing at a rate that feels responsible regardless of demand is what we wanted to pursue.
We had explored the different variables that were on the table for us to kind of tinker with- the things that can change in our business, our lead time, our revenue and our team size. Our team size determines what we're capable of producing, our lead time determines how long we have to produce it, and our revenue determines how much we need to produce. So, we can adjust any of those things in order to successfully run our company. Up until this point, we've let the lead time fluctuate, and we've let our team size and our capacity fluctuate. We'll work overtime, or we'll hire more people, and ultimately, what we decided is that we cannot successfully move forward in a world in which our team size and our lead time can fluctuate limitlessly.
The conclusion that we came to is that what we would prefer to limit is the number of orders we take in. We will grow our team, and we will develop our space and increase our efficiency in a way that feels responsible, healthy, and manageable, in a way that I feel confident that I can handle, and in a way that we can lead effectively. And then, we will take as many orders as we can with that growth. It doesn't mean we don't want to grow at all - we do. It doesn't mean we don't want to keep getting better - of course, we do. But it means that we don't want the unknown.
We decided to pursue modest growth at a rate that we had planned on, at a rate that is healthy, at a rate that feels comfortable. And to us, right now, that looks like a team of about 50 people in the next one to two years. We're at 34 now, so it means adding 15, 16 folks to the building. It means staying at Atlas Drive. That was a big, big source of stress for me, picturing moving our facility and picking up and doing another renovation and another huge factory development. It means staying in our building and adapting to meet our needs, and then it means taking in as many orders as that team of dedicated ES people can produce. So yeah, that's kind of what we decided.
C: You previously described what this looks like at Elizabeth Suzann. You described a team of 50 in the next one to two years. You described maintaining a lead time of around two to three weeks. You described staying in our building. What about how this might look outside of Elizabeth Suzann? Can you talk more about what this will look and feel like to our customers?
L: I think, most practically, this will mean a change to the availability of our products. At the root of this, we have been taking as many orders as our customers have been willing to place so generously. Thank you. But we have just been taking whatever comes. In order to manage our growth and control our growth, we will need to limit the sales we take in. So, we are going to try as best as we can to not exceed our capacity. We're not going to go launch a million products and then not be able to take orders for them. There is a very real possibility that demand will outstrip our capacity at some point over the next weeks and months and year and perhaps indefinitely.
This could look like our products being available, and then, at the end of a given week, we have hit our capacity for production, so they are unavailable. The current plan we have developed is a Wednesday to Wednesday order period where we essentially start the clock on Wednesday morning, and we will take as many orders as we are able to produce in one week. If we hit our capacity on the following Monday, for example, we wouldn't take orders again until Wednesday morning, at which point, we'd open back up for orders to come in. And what this will allow us to do is to not take in more orders than we're capable of producing, which means our lead time will not fluctuate. We're working to get it back down to two or three weeks, which is my happy place for our lead time. I like that waiting period. It feels appropriate and realistic for what we sell.
We're going to be working to get it back down to that area and then the limitation of sales will let us keep it there. And as our team grows, our capacity will grow with it. We're going to be growing our team slowly, steadily, responsibly and increasing our capacity as we do that.
C: What is the difference between limiting sales and preserving capacity and allowing our lead time to increase?
L: Number one, I don't like the ever-growing window in between when we take a customer's money and when we're able to start working on their order. I am also uncomfortable with the unlimited nature of it. So two to three weeks is fine, four to six weeks is fine, even eight to ten weeks, I'm okay with. But, if this could theoretically get into the twenty's or thirty's - which it could with demand being so up in the air - it just doesn't feel appropriate to sell clothing at that long of a lead time to me. It feels kind of absurd. So, I much prefer to control the demand, control how many orders we take, and then instead of having a four week lead time from the get-go, you just place the order two weeks later with a two week lead time.
Something about that just feels better to me and feels more wholesome. It also provides a little bit of stability for our team, and it lets our materials stay in line with what's been ordered.
C: Stability definitely comes to mind hearing you explain the difference there.
L: Yeah, for sure. I don't like the idea of taking orders for fabrics that have yet to arrive. If we are limiting sales for our capacity on a weekly basis, we know that we have the fabric in the building for the orders we're taking. If we're taking orders for garments that are going to ship 20 weeks into the future, there is a theoretical chance that the mill will shut down and will stop making our fabric. Then, we have a scenario where we need to be canceling orders or changing them. It's just not a world I want to be, and where people have committed to buy our product, and we are unable to deliver.
Limiting the capacity and only taking orders for what we know we can actually produce feels like a much more realistic promise and a promise we can keep. The further out it gets, the more tenuous it feels, and I don't want to be in the business of making those long-term guarantees. It just doesn't feel necessary to me.
C: So stability and clarity. These are just a few things you want for our customer's experiences. Can you talk more about what else they can expect in terms of their shopping experience or their experience on our website?
L: Yeah, definitely. I think this strategy is going to allow us so much more freedom to do the things that we're really excited about. I really admire companies like TOM BIHN. They have some products that are not available for purchase because they're "in production." At times, the majority of their bags are in that state, but their website is so rich and full of content that it never feels like there's nothing to do. That's something I'm really excited about pursuing - generating content surrounding our story, our process, and the way we work so that even if you're not able to add something to your cart that day, you can still engage in our experience and figure out what you might want to buy. Then, you can sit on it, decide if it's really the right decision, and email our support team to talk about sizing. There are still a ton of ways to engage with what we do, even if things aren't available, and I'm really excited about adding to that content.
I think that's a big thing we can expect - some investment in that kind of rich educational content on our site. If I'm not worried about this rapid growth plan, I'll have time to do all those things.
C: Well, as I've gotten to build a relationship with you over the past several years, I know one thing to be absolutely true, you are fearlessly future-focused. So, in this vein, tell us where we are heading.
L: There is a lot on the horizon. The timing of it feels very up in the air right now because we want to release things in accordance with how sales are going. If we are at our capacity, then we're not going to push a bunch of new product, but there are so many exciting things coming soon. We have big expansions to our sizing. We're going to be offering up to US size 28 which feels incredible and -
L: I'm so ready for that. And we have some exciting new fabrics coming. We're in development with some organics. We want to transition all of our cottons over to organic, potentially hemp blends. We are interested in bringing some new colors to the collection. There's a lot of product stuff that I'm really excited about in due time. There is also the team growth that we have on the way. We don't want to grow crazy fast, but we do want to build our team a little bit. So, I'm excited about some new hires. We have some really exciting changes coming to the building. We're going to be putting in a second floor. We've filled up the bottom level, the 10,000 square foot footprint, so we're adding a second story. We're going to move all of the Sales and Marketing Team, Media Team, and Customer Relations Team upstairs, and let the whole bottom floor be for operations. I'm really excited about that. We're going to be putting in a second kitchen. I'm really stoked about the changes coming to the building.
C: It's crazy that what was once a 10,000 square foot warehouse that felt way too big is now in need of a second floor.
L: Yeah, I did not think we would fill it up quite like this, but it's really exciting. So a few of those big things are coming. Long term, we have lots of exciting stuff on the horizon.
C: I want to hear about that, and I'm sure everyone does as well. So, what is your dream vision for Elizabeth Suzann long term?
L: Dream vision long term, no holds barred, just the sky's the limit. I would love to see Elizabeth Suzann headquarters on a big green field surrounded by trees and nature. I picture this beautiful warehouse with lots of glass, glittering windows, and you go inside, and we have this vibrant team that's buzzing away. You feel it; you can feel the energy. It's quiet but you can still hear machines whirring and people chatting and laughing. We just have this incredible facility, but we're doing more than making clothing.
I am enamored by the concept of vertical integration, and that's what we've done by bringing our production, design, sample making, and shipping in-house. I would love to dive even deeper, rather than growing by expanding our product offerings and doing a lifestyle brand or home goods. Those are exciting to me too, but what's more exciting to me is diving deeper into what we already do. So, we make clothing, but we currently import fabric. I would love to have fabric production in-house. That would be incredible.
I would love to even consider producing some of the raw materials for that fabric in-house and being situated in a facility where we could support all of that is so exciting to me. I picture a building where we dye all of our yarn, a building where we have weaving mills running, or we're producing fabric. I picture a development building where we are researching new textiles. We have an agriculture department that's producing some of the raw material. I know it's kind of wild, but I just picture this holistic community of businesses that produce what we sell.
I picture a daycare onsite for our staff. I really see people working at Elizabeth Suzann and having a second home there. I want our business to be a supportive, integrated part of their life. I want to be able to create a vehicle for that - for eating well, living well, taking care of your children well, being happy and fulfilled in the work that you do. I want to just find a way to facilitate all of those things. The exciting thing about vertical integration is the growth opportunities it provides for our staff. So, someone who's been with us for a long time on one team as we develop a new business or develop a new industry that we're getting into, it provides so much opportunity for learning and that is one of the most exciting things for me because that's how I like to grow. Being able to provide those opportunities for others is really exciting to me.
But outside of that little plot of greenery, I see a thriving community that's grown even beyond what we have today. A community that has continued to engage in thoughtful dialogue. A community that has continued to push the limits of honesty and vulnerability and trust. A community that is engaging with one another, with me, with our team, with our products in a thoughtful way, in a meaningful way, and in a way that takes the values of our company and spreads them so far beyond the people that just we can reach.
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