Ali Mejia of Eberjey on becoming the at-home comfort the world craves
Describe your business in a few words:
For over 25 years, Eberjey has created styles and spaces that encourage softness, ease, confidence, comfort, and total authenticity. We use only the softest fabrics and timeless craftsmanship to design iconic pajamas and beautiful, functional pieces that support sleep and individual style. Through our fast-growing DTC business, four retail locations, and wholesale partners worldwide, we’ve become the at-home comfort the world craves.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I’ve been passionate about sleepwear from a young age. I remember rummaging through my mom’s closet and being mesmerized by her gorgeous European lace lingerie sets and decadent silk gowns and robes. I became obsessed and started asking for pajamas for every birthday, slowly amassing a fine collection.
I showed up at my college dorm room with beautifully crafted PJ’s only to find myself in a sea of students donning raggedy old, oversized T-shirts and boxer shorts. This was back in the 90s when sleepwear wasn’t the well-known category it is today. I quickly became known as the “girl with the cute pajamas” and it was then that the first lightbulb went off.
After graduation, I dabbled in the corporate world but always had the desire to design a line of sleepwear. I was constantly searching for the pajamas and lingerie I desired, but never seemed to find anything that checked all my boxes. It wasn’t until I moved from NYC to Miami and started working in direct marketing that I decided it was time to design and my side hustle was born.
I found a retired lingerie patternmaker who helped bring my design ideas to life and finally felt fulfilled expressing my creativity. At the time, Mariela (my Co-Founder) and I were coworkers sharing an office at a global direct marketing agency. I would bounce into the office on Monday mornings eager to show her everything I had created. She loved what she saw and kept encouraging me to make more. We both had an innate entrepreneurial spirit and constantly brainstormed ideas about this lingerie idea I had. After six months of sharing, we decided to leave our jobs and start Eberjey together.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I studied politics and Latin American studies at Princeton. After graduating, I went down a traditional route and worked in finance on Wall Street. It wasn’t a fulfilling path for me – I yearned for more creativity. I took a trip to Florence where I had the opportunity to reflect and hone in on my next steps surrounded by art and aesthetic beauty. I left NYC, moved back to Miami, and took a job in marketing at a global firm where I began designing on the side. That’s when I met Mariela, and it wasn’t long before we left the corporate world and started our own business.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Back in the 90s it wasn’t the “norm,” particularly for women. I ran little businesses in high school and college and felt compelled to marry my entrepreneurial passion with my creativity –
I just wasn’t sure how. There weren’t many female entrepreneurs to look up to and Latina businesswomen were severely underrepresented at the time. With an innate knack for design and a creative eye, but no fashion or business experience, it was intimidating to take that next step. Thanks to Mariela’s shared vision and confidence in me, we were able to bring our dream to life.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
At the onset, we didn’t have a strategic marketing plan in place or any connections. We had to rely on our own creative energy and hustle. We self-funded our business and didn’t have much capital to pour into a large marketing budget. We started before the internet really took off and long before social media, so we were much more limited in finding ways to organically grow our business.
We took every opportunity to talk about our designs with anyone who would listen. Our first marketing tactic was to pre-send direct mail postcards to the list of attendees at the trade show we launched at. We were able to reach a few of the right buyers who came to our booth through that postcard, placed orders, and put us in business!
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
We’ve had many mishaps and learnings along our journey. One that comes to mind was when we decided to upgrade the quality of the buttons on our best-selling pajamas. It was meant to elevate the product further, but instead turned into a huge disaster. Somewhere along the execution something went wrong, and the buttons ended up not closing properly. We had many upset customers and had to recall a significant amount of product. It offered us a great learning experience. After that, we implemented stringent processes whenever any changes are made to any product.
What is the accomplishment you are the proudest of to date?
Nothing pales in comparison to what we just went through navigating the pandemic. There was that moment in March 2020 when all our wholesale accounts cancelled their orders, and everything came to a screeching halt. Panic set in and we had no idea how we would get through it. I’m thankful for Mariela and her leadership as CEO, and for our incredible team and how they came together to help get us out of an extreme and uncharted situation. I’m incredibly proud of how we came together, used our creativity to steer the company out of crisis mode, and shifted to become a more customer-centric organization. We learned how to talk to our customers in a more personal way and how we could be there to comfort them with our at-home pieces during such a challenging time.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I want to know who the candidate is outside of the office. Their interests. Their passions. As a creative, I’m fueled by a mix of curiosity, ability to collaborate, and unique character to form a productive working flow and that takes finding the right culture fit as well. Critical thinking is also important to a creative role, so I always ask for an example of a challenge or mini crisis the candidate has faced and have them talk me through how they navigated it. It’s important to get a sense of how a potential employee would handle stressful situations.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We recently celebrated our 25th birthday with a rebrand. We’ve come a long way since we started and felt that it was time for us to get a fresh new look and feel. With an overwhelming desire to deliver the best shopping experience possible, we refined who we are, what we do, and how we do it transitioning our website, packaging, and more. We’ve evolved our logo and brand color palette as well.
We’ll keep supporting our wholesale partners who have been instrumental to our business over the years and welcome the chance to take more control of our own narrative with a strong DTC business. Our team worked incredibly hard to bring the next phase of Eberjey to life and we’re looking forward to seeing where this takes us through new product launches, fresh fabrics, and exciting partnerships.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Having a great idea won’t bring you immediate success. We were naïve in the beginning pouring our hearts and souls into everything we did thinking people would instantly notice. We faced a lot of rejection in our early days and had to overcome disheartening obstacles. Finding success takes time, grit, and perseverance. Even now, after 25 years, we still have moments where we make mistakes, or something goes wrong. You need to make mistakes to learn from them and it’s important not to be too hard on yourself.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
It’s not easy, but it’s imperative to our health and sanity. Eberjey is grounded in self-care and the importance of taking time to unwind. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Growing up my mom encouraged me to take long relaxing baths when I was stressed, and it’s a practice I’ve continued. Running a warm bath with soothing scents, candles, and jazz music then slipping into soft pajamas is the ultimate form of self-care.
Getting more sleep is just important for your mental health as it is for your overall wellbeing. I try to block out blue light an hour before bed to help me get better quality rest. This helps me to wake up earlier so I can spend some time with my girls and prep healthy meals before we start our busy days. Journaling, guided meditation, dancing, and walks outside are all instrumental in helping me look inward and find my balance.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
It often surprises people that Eberjey is a self-funded, minority- and women-owned business. I was born in El Salvador and emigrated to Miami when I was seven years old. My heritage is deeply ingrained in me and has shaped me into the woman and mother I am today. I’m honored to help pave the way for future Latina female entrepreneurs.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means having the courage to follow your dreams. It’s taking that blind leap of faith and trusting your intuition. It’s investing in a lifechanging journey of self-discovery and embracing resiliency.
It also meaning coming together to change the world. I love that Entreprenista gives women a platform to celebrate each other’s wins. In supporting other female-led businesses, we find more support and inspiration for ourselves.