To celebrate our 10 year anniversary, we’re celebrating the tastemakers, collaborators and like-minded business women who have championed & cherished the Lizzie Fortunato brand for over a decade. Friends for 10 is a series of short interviews that introduces you to these very women. They are our supporters and muses. Just like you, they are the people who’ve shaped our brand and made Lizzie Fortunato, well … Lizzie Fortunato. #LF10
The relationship we have with Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo is nothing short of one-of-a-kind. So it fits that the company they founded almost 10 years ago is called Of a Kind and celebrates emerging designers and embodies the female girl boss spirit that we strive for in our own business. Back to the beginning: Claire is a fellow Delaware gal who we barely knew in high school but connected with in NY when she came by our LES apartment (circa 2008) to buy a headband from one of our inaugural collections. Soon we realized that we shared a passion for hard work, real talk, and business brainstorming. Over a meal at then hotspot Ruby’s Cafe in Nolita, Claire and her fellow University of Chicago grad-turned-business partner Erica shared their vision for a website that would feature designers with both a shop-able and editorial component. Fast forward 10 years and Of a Kind is booming (complete with an impressive sale to Bed Bath & Beyond a few years ago which has given them the capital and flexibility to spread their influence); they have an addictive newsletter called “10 Things”; they are the hosts of “A Few Things”, a fabulous podcast that captures their cool and candid personalities; and they’ve just authored a book – Work Wife – that comes out in early 2019 and celebrates the bond that connects female duos as best friends and business partners. Overachievers a little? And somehow, among all of this (including Claire being pregnant with her first baby), Claire & Erica always make time for a breakfast or dinner to “talk us off the ledge” of owning a small business. A normal convo with these two covers upcoming travel, whether we prefer thick or thin winter socks, most affordable desk chairs to buy for our office, a litany of HR questions, and of course plenty of jokes about how we juggle the insane life that is being a small business owner in NYC. Claire and Erica are as close to work wives (for each other and for us) as we’ve ever found; our journey would not have been the same without them. Thank you, girls, for being Friends for 10!
Q & A:
1. What is your first (or favorite!) memory of Lizzie / Kathryn / the brand?:
CM: I grew up in the same small town as Lizzie and Kathryn and in the early aughts a fashionable boutique carrying high-end designer labels called Peter Kate opened. Good shopping options were very rare there, so this was a big deal. I remember going in with my mom to look for shoes for prom and they had this cute beaded jewelry for sale at checkout. It turned out Lizzie had made it and was selling it through them even though, like me, she was only a senior in high school. That left such an impression on me. I aspired to that level of creative skill and entrepreneurial drive, and she wasn’t waiting around for anyone to give her permission to start doing what she loved in a serious way.
2. Are you a Lizzie (creative) or a Kathryn (business)?:
CM: Oh, definitely a Lizzie. If for no other reason than numbers do not come easily to me. But also because when the four of us go out to dinner we always laugh about how predictable it is that if there are two sides to an argument, Erica and Kathryn will fall on one and Lizzie and I will fall on the other.
EC: A Kathryn! Though she definitely has far more advanced Excel skills than me, we are both very logic-oriented and structured. But, you know, plenty kooky in our own ways.
3. What is your favorite Lizzie Fortunato piece from the Fall’18 collection?:
CM: I think the Pronto Purse in Velvet Rose is so chic and unlike any of the others bags I see around. Pink and red has been a favorite color combo of mine since I was a little kid.
EC: I’ve been wearing the Link Earrings in Strawberry like crazy. When it comes to clothes, I’m big on neutrals, so these earrings have been a good and approachable way for me to work in a little color (FINALLY, some would say).
4. What is your favorite Fortune Find for your home?:
5. What is your favorite accessory (this could be a belt / a watch / a pet / whatever!); Why?:
EC: Definitely my bunny Ash (full name: Ash Wednesday Addams). But does it count it she doesn’t leave the house? My husband Thomas has serious aspirations of finding her the perfect bicycle basket so that she can breeze around town with the wind in her ears.
6. What is the oldest accessory in your closet?:
CM: My great grandfather gave his two daughters (my grandmother and great aunt) these beautiful gold cigarette cases engraved with each of their initials. I have both of them and think they’re so special. They’re surprisingly tiny because I guess women smoked very ladylike cigarettes back then?!
EC: My aunt gave me a gold bent-wire bracelet with my name in cursive when I was about seven—I was pretty indifferent to it then, but I appreciate it now. And, thankfully, it still fits.
7. What is the most random thing in your purse right now?:
CM: Tea bags. I stopped drinking coffee recently and got it in my head that I should start carrying around emergency tea bags just in case. They’ve never once come in handy.
8. Small but impactful advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs?:
CM: Get comfortable asking for things: advice, money, favors, help. You can’t build a business by yourself and you’ll have to rely on so many other people to make it a success. Knowing what you need and being able to ask for it is critical.
EC: Don’t feel like you have to know everything! No one does. Some people—many of them men—are just good at faking like they do.
9. What gets you out of bed in the AM?:
CM: Getting to work with people I genuinely enjoy being around on projects that are constantly changing.
10. Secret to your success?:
CM: Having a business partner who I love working with, who keeps me accountable and inspired.
11. My first job was _______:
EC: Working in the juniors department of the local department store in Peoria, Illinois. I got very good at folding jeans (useful life skill) and at spotting whether a Jessica McClintock prom dress someone was trying to return had been worn (less useful).
12. In my next life I want to be a ________:
EC: Young-adult author. Like, a person who writes YA books, not a teenage author, though I’d be happy with that, too.
13. What are you doing tomorrow?:
EC: I’m going to be in Minneapolis, where my husband has been working and where it is SO COLD right now. I’m hoping to stay inside as much as possible, aside from excursions to one of my three favorite restaurants there (all of which have women chefs!): Young Joni, Grand Cafe, and Hai Hai.
14. Beach or Mountains?:
CM: Beach, for sure. I can’t wait to have this baby so I can go back to visiting all of the beautiful, Zika-ridden beaches of the Caribbean.
Erica: Mountains all the way. That said, if anyone has a solution for altitude sickness, HMU.
15. Favorite place you’ve ever traveled?:
CM: My husband and I did our honeymoon in Japan in 2014 and it’s one of my all-time favorite vacations. The food, the design, the hospitality—I really love everything about Japanese culture. Our trip was vastly improved because we went armed chock-full of recommendations from Lizzie and Kathryn who had gone a year or two earlier. They were the ones who convinced us that the small art island of Naoshima was worth the trek and I am so glad they did. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.
16. Would you rather win an Olympic Medal or an Academy Award?:
EC: Olympic medal, ideally as Serena Williams’s doubles partner. But only with the blessing of Venus, of course.
17. Up Early or Up Late?:
CM: I cherish my alone time in the mornings to get caffeinated and exercise and do nothing, so I wake up absurdly early in order to get it in. I end up wasting a lot of time on the internet or preening, but the point is that nobody’s bothering me yet so I can do what I want.
18. One item you can’t live without when you travel______?:
CM: Packing cubes. I’m a chronic over-packer and having a little compartment for everything lends at least some semblance of rationality and organization to the whole operation. Also: A scarf (I have an Auntie Oti one from Fortune Finds that is my plus one for every trip), Zicam (nothing gets my guff quite like a cold), and an extra bag in case the shopping gets out of hand (I love this Muji one and this one from Paravel).
EC: A mini steamer. Do you know about these things? They’re wondrous. For $20, you’ll feel so very put-together.
Worlds Collide: Lizzie Fortunato through the eyes of Of a Kind
What Claire & Erica are Loving:
Shop their favorites and more: