Emily Roggenburk, co-founder with her husband of Slang, a new apparel brand "born" in The Land, is a boss.
..No, but really, I kind of work for her.
After hearing about Emily's new apparel brand through my sister who worked with her at American Greetings in Cleveland, I jumped at the first chance to get involved. I'm currently a brand rep for Slang, which is a win-win for everyone, especially you reading this because you'll receive 10% off anything on the site when you enter the code "ALANA" at checkout. (How was that for an ad? I'm new at this.) But really, you can never have too many t-shirts to rep your favorite cities and teams. *Hears mom make passive-aggressive comment about my budgeting skills.*
I love Emily's business story not only because it evolved from the Cavs winning the NBA championship but because it's impromptu, bold and venturesome. Check her out!
The Reference Club: Walk us through the career path that lead you to where you are today.
Emily Roggenburk: I’d like to think my career actually began when I was still in college. I studied Apparel Merchandising, Business and Fashion Design at Indiana University and began getting involved in the business world as early as I could. I became a Brand Ambassador for TOMS Shoes and a “Style Guru” (aka collaboration blogger) for College Fashionista. Both of those experiences have stuck with me over time and have helped me develop the brands I own now.
After college, I landed a position in Product Development at American Greetings and decided to pick up my life and move to Cleveland (somewhere I had never even visited before looking for places to live there). When I moved to Cleveland I literally did not know a single person. When my family left after helping me move in, I had a few days to myself before starting at American Greetings and I remember going to the grocery store and museums around town just to get some human interaction. Random fact I guess…
I worked at American Greetings for five years and held various roles in Product Development there. I started in Core greeting cards (the bread and butter of the card world), moved to justWink (their Gen Y-focused brand), got promoted as an Assistant Manager in Core greeting cards, and spent my last 9 or so months working on the Target team. I learned so much in each role, but my favorite part of my time at AG was being a manager.
What I’m doing now started when I made a last minute decision that would soon change my life. Last June, while I was still working at American Greetings, I was swept up in the emotion of the Cavs winning the first championship title for Cleveland in over 50 years, and on a whim, decided to rent a helicopter to take photos during the Cavs Parade. I was lucky to find one on such short notice, and afterward, I went home immediately and started editing the photos. By 6pm that day (the parade started at 11am), I had a fully functioning e-commerce platform and was selling the photos of the parade. From there, I began a photography business specializing in aerial special events photography. The new business had such a positive start that I decided to leave the corporate world to pursue entrepreneurship full time.
More recently, my husband and I launched an informal apparel brand called slang, because when you’re a full-time entrepreneur, you quickly find that having your hands in just one thing isn’t enough (ha). Slang is focused on creating and curating to emphasize the originality of each wearer. What does that mean? Basically, our apparel offers a non-traditional take on the things/places/etc. people are passionate about.
I currently do all of the design, marketing, sourcing, customer service, editorial (and more) for these brands, while my husband focuses on the accounting, legal work, and helps with marketing and customer service as well. (wow, that was long, sorry!)
TRC: In all seriousness, I think it's important and helpful for readers and myself to hear all of the twists and turns one's career path can have. Thanks for sharing all of that. What influenced your recent career change?
ER: Like I mentioned before, my career change was based on a whim decision. However, I can say that it was probably in the works in the back of my mind before I realized it. My husband and I had been talking about starting our own business long before the parade happened. I think the desire to shift came from a mix between performing a very similar role for five years in the corporate world and the excitement that came from seeing such positive results so early on in my pursuit of entrepreneurship.
TRC: My favorite power song is ________.
ER: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question because I have such eclectic taste in music, but I’m going to have to go with my gut here and say 7/11 by the one and only, Beyonce, mainly because it reminds me of the strong women in my life, who I’m lucky enough to call my best friends.
TRC: *Friends who know me, I swear I'm not just picking people to interview because they like Beyonce* Emily, what’s the most challenging part about networking as a two-man start-up?
ER: I don’t necessarily think having only two people means that it is difficult to network, but it does mean that we both have a lot on our plates. I guess the hardest part about it is simply making time to network. We’re both very involved in the community already, so that definitely helps when it comes to networking.
TRC: Three words that best describe Slang:
ER: neutral, informal, unofficial
TRC: Diving deeper, what makes Slang different?
ER: Kyle and I spent a lot of time developing slang and the branding behind it. I went through multiple drafts of a Brand Guide and asked my closest confidants (aka those 7/11 ladies mentioned earlier) for feedback. Ultimately, what makes slang different is the feeling of the brand. I truly believe that when you look at our social accounts, website, or any of our marketing materials, you get what we’re trying to do right away. slang is easy and accessible but it doesn't try too hard. It’s all about inclusivity and representing the things we’re all super passionate about, but in a non-traditional way. For example, you might want to represent the Cleveland Cavaliers during the next 2017 NBA Finals (aaaayyyyy), but maybe wine/gold or blue/orange aren’t really colors you love wearing every day (or at all). That’s where we come in. We’ve got loads of cool t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. that are classic, neutral and versatile and that will fit right into your already all-neutral-everything closet.
TRC: Had to bold the statement above because that's what I love so much about Slang. Wore one out last Friday under a leather jacket without it looking like I was coming from a sporting event. What are you spending most of your time on right now, business wise?
ER: Oh my gosh, I wish I could easily answer this question. Not to sound cliche, but the life of an entrepreneur really does lead you in a million different directions. Let me try to find a way to explain how I spend most of my time…
Well, today is Saturday, and for the last three days I’ve spent my time in our slang warehouse where we print all of our apparel. I’ve primarily been printing t-shirts (yes, just me, for three days straight), which entails pretreating, pressing, printing, pressing again, drying, packaging and shipping each. individual. order. To be 100% honest it is quite the process, but I LOVE IT. My knuckles were literally cracking on every finger today from working in this cold warehouse with my hands all day for days straight but guess what? I could care less. Working for yourself makes even the seemingly worst conditions totally bearable and even enjoyable.
Outside of printing t-shirts until my hands bleed, I also try to spend about 50% of my time designing new products for both my photography business (Emily Roggenburk Photography) and for slang. I’m also shooting for 3-5 special event photo shoots per year, so that gives me something to look forward to because I get to travel for those!
TRC: A little off topic and I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but, who do you root for at baseball games: Mustard, Ketchup or Onion?
ER: I’m usually at Indians games with my husband and his son (my stepson), Karson, and since there are two boys and me, you know I gotta represent the ladies; onion all the way. (FYI - Karson always picks Ketchup, so Kyle always gets stuck with Mustard)
TRC: After the 7/11 song choice I had a feeling you'd pick onion. SAME. As a new business owner, what skills would you deem the most important? (e.g. networking, finance, marketing, creativity, etc.)
ER: It’s funny because the examples you mention above are very important for sure, but they definitely weren't what came to mind first. For me, I would have to say goal setting and staying focused. I can’t tell you how many times I get shifted in new directions throughout each day, so coming up with a plan that you truly believe will help you accomplish your long and short term goals is very important. With that being said, I’ve also found that being flexible with my time is extremely important as well. Being an entrepreneur means that you basically are working (or at least on call) 24/7. It’s happened more than once that inspiration has struck during the middle of a basketball game I’m watching on TV and instead of getting to sit and enjoy the rest of the game, I spend the rest of it with my computer on my lap designing a new shirt (usually with a beer in hand, though).
The other thing I think could possibly be one of the most important things for a new business owner to know and understand is that you have to take on a business perspective, even if you are a primarily creative person. And if you can’t grasp the business side of things, then hire someone who can ASAP. I would be lying if I said I thought I would be where I am without the help of my husband, who (as I mentioned before) does all of the accounting, taxes, finances, etc. While I do think I have a uniquely 50/50 business/creative brain, it definitely helps having someone who has an extensive background in the business world helping me out.
TRC: Any quirky advice for 20-somethings?
ER: Just do whatever you want. Honestly, just do whatever you want and live a life that makes you really f*cking happy.