A Six-Year, Faith-Filled Journey Yields a Promising Future for this Children’s Clothing Brand
Last week, we featured Eli and Ella Rose, a California-based clothing brand, as our small business spotlight. We were fortunate to catch up with Jehan Walker, Founder, Creative Director, and CEO of Eli and Ella Rose. We discussed the origins of Eli and Ella Rose, the ups and downs of the company, Walker’s relationship with Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation, and the future of this promising clothing company. Read the highlights from our interview below:
How did Eli and Ella Rose start? What year?
Eli and Ella Rose began in 2016. The name, Eli, means “my God.” “Ella Rose” is the name of my niece, my sister’s kid. I started designing men’s fashion first. I had a 30 piece collection sketched out, plus an accessories collection, but my finances weren’t equivalent to launching a whole brand. I was still in the process of dreaming big, but I always knew I was going to open my own business.
Ella Rose was the first piece of the vision. I didn’t want to just have a little girls’ brand, and after praying and talking to God, my partial vision of Ella Rose became Eli and Ella Rose.
At the time, one of my friends called me. She had just remodeled her boutique, and she wanted help visual merchandising for her store. I worked for True Religion for four years, and my main focus was visual merchandising. In the process of helping my friend remodel her store, I put a jump on making Eli and Ella Rose come to life.
My mindset was, I don’t have any of my own kids, only godkids. How would I dress my own kids? I would dress them in leather jackets, linen suits, cashmere, wool, sweatsuits – really quality pieces.
“If you see the parent, you can identify the child.”
I started doing research on my market and my competition. The children’s clothing industry is mostly small businesses, mom-and-pop shops. I’m a big dreamer, but I needed to start small. No sketches, no sourcing fabrics. I needed to find brands, build from what I already had and what was already out there. I told God, “If you gave me this vision, send me the money to make this a reality.” Then, money started pouring in and I was able to source one teddy bear brand, a jacket brand, a girls’ brand, and a boys’ brand – four brands total. I had the inventory.
In October 2016, I connected with Shawn’s Pumpkin Patch, located at the time at La Tijera and Centinela. That first weekend, I built, sanded, and stained four clothing racks. From mid-October till the 31st, I hosted Eli and Ella Rose’s first pop-up to diverse crowds of people. On November 11, 2016, I launched the Eli and Ella Rose online shop.
What happened next for Eli and Ella Rose?
Around March-April 2017, I ran into the third-party company leasing The Bloc in downtown Los Angeles. I started an Eli and Ella Rose pop-up in a kiosk that opened into a big square. A representative from The Bloc stopped by the Eli and Ella Rose pop-up and said:
“I don’t have kids, but if I had kids, I’d only want them to be wearing your clothes.”
After The Bloc ended their kiosk program, I moved us into our first brick and mortar location at The Bloc in September 2017.
I stumbled upon Pacific City Mall in Huntington Beach and began envisioning expanding Eli and Ella Rose to another pop-up location. In March 2018, we opened our first kiosk at Pacific City Mall, which lasted for six months. We spent a month during 2018 Christmastime at the Del Amo Fashion Center.
In May 2019 until the pandemic, Eli and Ella Rose had a location at the Manhattan Beach Villa Mall.
That brings us up to the pandemic. What was the pandemic like as a business owner?
I learned to be obedient to the original vision of Eli and Ella Rose. My main vision was to start an online brand, and during the pandemic, I had a realization of what I was supposed to be doing. To be honest, I spent a lot of the pandemic closing pop-up shops and stores. Although we were a small business surrounded by bigger businesses, we were thriving. Then, the pandemic happened.
We opened back up as the rest of the world opened back up, and in summer 2020 we reopened the Eli and Ella Rose location at The Bloc. My dream location has always been the Century City Mall, and I spent years searching for a leasing contact. Around September-October 2020, I got that contact, started scouting locations, and opened up an Eli and Ella Rose pop-up in November 2020.
You weathered the pandemic, how is Eli and Ella Rose on the other side of it?
Throughout 2021 and 2022, we opened several locations. In May 2021, we had a store in the Beverly Center. In October 2021, we had a store in Pacific City. We still had Century City Mall and The Bloc.
In December 2021, I lived through a family tragedy. My cousin was killed in a home invasion, and we were very close – we were born a year apart. My plate was already very full with Eli and Ella Rose. I love my company, and I love what I do, but I can only give what I’ve got. I started to downsize my company, slowly but surely. Currently, Eli and Ella Rose is only located at The Bloc.
Throughout the years, I’ve retained so much information about retail leasing, building clientele and business relationships, and choosing brick and mortar locations. It’s been ups and downs, but I’ve learned a lot.
Once a baby touches a hot stove he’s not gonna want to do it again.
Right now, I am returning back to base one, back to strengthening Eli and Ella Rose’s infrastructure so that we can be strategic about how and where to grow next.
Speaking of growth, you received a $15,000 CDFI loan. What are your plans for the funding? What has your experience been working with VSEDC?
Since Eli and Ella Rose has only been operating out of one location, we are planning on relaunching the brand as a whole. Everything is customized – bags, ribbons, stationary. We are in the process of finalizing spring and summer inventory to shoot a campaign and relaunch a website. We are also in the process of hiring a marketing team.
Working with VSEDC has been a breeze thus far. My mentor, Terry Gubatan, is always a phone call or email away, whether it’s providing emotional support, checking in, or sharing a grant or funding opportunity with me.
It’s been a blessing to work together.
I was first introduced to VSEDC when I worked as the personal assistant to [VSEDC Founder] Marva Smith Battle-Bey. To start off as a personal assistant in the company to now receive a personal mentor and funding from VSEDC is a full-circle moment.
Any business advice you can share with us?
The main focus before starting a business is the business plan: an idea of how you’re going to market and who you’re going to market with. Then, focus on the financial backing to bring your business to life. Without a business plan and financial backing, an idea is just an idea.
The third thing is upkeeping your mental health as a business owner. Once you get the ball rolling and bring your business into the world, you can’t stop the program. You have to deal with it, flaws and all. If you’re not equipped to go on the journey, the emotional roller coaster of owning a business, it’s going to be so hard.
Be hands on as a leader. Always be open to new ideas and ventures, but at the end of the day, be clear on your vision.
Finally, let reality be reality – with all its trials and tribulations.
We enjoyed our conversation with Jehan Walker of Eli and Ella Rose and admire the resilience and creativity of both the brand and its founder.
If you are an emerging entrepreneur helming a small to medium-sized business, learn more about our Business Coaching services, including loan readiness, here.