Power babes, Kyle Garcia and Elizabeth Shirley, are redefining college jewelry and staying true to their friendship along the way. We chatted with the pair about building their business and how empowering each other has been a major key to their success.
Where are you from? What was it like growing up?
K: Elizabeth and I actually grew up in the same area in the suburbs outside of NYC. We went to the same middle and high school. I was a competitive swimmer and it pretty much dominated my life while growing up. I swam before and after school for as long as I can remember.
E: Like Kyle said, we grew up outside NYC. It was great because we got the best of both worlds-- a slower pace at home, but we had access to all that NYC had to offer --- broadway shows, museums, shopping. I was a dancer and was able to dance in the city at SAB for a bit. Kyle was a swimmer in high school. I remember she always wore Roxy and Abercrombie & Fitch track pants (remember those?!).
What brought you two together?
K: Elizabeth and I became friends in high school but really became close over a holiday break in college during our sophomore year. We had stayed up all night listening to music and talking about life, and it was then that we realized we would be friends for a long time. :)
E: From a business standpoint, Kyle had this great idea to modernize college jewelry and was making some bespoke pieces in NYC when she approached me to join her. Kyle always had great style and after looking at the industry (which was desperate for design innovation and a feminine perspective), I decided to leave my director role in the advertising world and build a brand with her. At the time, I was working at an ad agency called Badger & Winters, led by a fierce woman -- Madonna Badger. She believed in the power of the female perspective and building brands that were focused around women when not many other companies were. Our agency even launched a global campaign called #WomenNotObjects to spread awareness about the harm objectifying women in advertising caused. It was this environment that really pushed me to join KYLE CAVAN as a co-founder. I saw an opportunity to build a company that spoke directly to young women today -- the trailblazers, our future.
KYLE CAVAN is a much needed company and the first of its kind — where did you get the idea?
K: KYLE CAVAN was born out of a personal desire to own a cool, stylish piece of college jewelry. I had just attended my 5-year Duke reunion and realized that the only thing I had to commemorate my time there was an old sweatshirt. I wanted a piece of jewelry that didn’t scream COLLEGE or SPORTS but was stylish and subtle and that I could layer with my other meaningful pieces of jewelry. I loved the tradition behind the class ring but it just wasn’t my style so I wanted to create pieces that could carry on that same tradition but that I would love to wear.
E: KYLE CAVAN, the brand, was inspired by the start-up culture here in NYC. As young women, we watched other women our age tackle huge, old school industries with their ideas, design, and voices. We watched Emily Weiss, Jenn Hyman, Jen Rubio all say “there has to be something better. There has to be something better for us.” These women and the success of their companies really inspired us to tackle the college licensing industry -- which is a tough industry to get into.
What was it like starting Kyle Cavan? Any entrepreneurial myth busters?
K: It was a learning experience.
E: Confidence is so important. You really have to believe in your company and your idea for it.
How do you divide up the work between the two of you, and how have your roles changed over time?
K: I handle design and production.
E: I handle business development and marketing.
How does your partner inspire you?
K: Elizabeth thrives on action and is the ultimate “doer”. It’s always been a quality that I admire. First as a friend, and then as a business partner.
Action and doing are key parts of Elizabeth’s DNA, and it always leads her to explore and look for what’s next. It could be a partnership idea for Kyle Cavan, a new band, a new museum, or a new restaurant that we have to try. She is always pushing her own boundaries and it’s definitely carried over to our team.
She embraces wearing many hats…sometimes multiple at once and she does it all without any hesitation. From a totally professional level, I have a partner that compliments how I think. We definitely see things from different angles, and it sometimes takes a few conversations to get on the same page. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world. We’re of the same mind on the big things, like our values and goals, but we often need to meet in the middle on the details and decisions in between. I know that’s made me better and that is truly all you could ask of a partner or a friend.
E: Kyle is what I like to call a “foxhole buddy”; she’s someone you want in your corner if sh*t hits the fan. She has your back no matter what and in a start-up environment this is critical. Her character and integrity inspire me. She also is incredibly creative. Our minds work differently, and that’s really great when trying to solve a problem. If she can’t solve it, I usually can and vice versa.
How do you motivate each other?
K: The dream of owning our own beach houses one day keeps us pretty motivated. :)
E: The dream of being financially secure and independent, but also proud of the work I do every day is amazing motivation. I constantly imagine what my path would be if I stayed in the corporate world versus what success looks like in the KYLE CAVAN world. There is no comparison.
What is your advice to women that want to start their own business, but have no idea how?
K: Make sure to network and meet as many people who are in start-ups or have successfully launched a business FIRST. Understand what it really requires -- financially and emotionally before jumping in. Having a solid, thought-out plan is critical to doing this successfully.
E: Connect with other business owners. Join communities like Dough. It’s the only way to really understand what’s required to start your own business.
What advice could you give on working closely with a friend and balancing a personal and professional relationship?
K: Elizabeth and I have a unique working relationship. We’ve been friends for 20 years and lived together for 6 so we really know each other inside and out. We never hold back when sharing our opinions with each other. We’ll completely disagree and sometimes fight - but we’ll hash it out right then and there and then move on and not think about it again. We don’t carry baggage.
E: You have to be honest and open with your partner and deal with issues straight on and as they happen. There is no room for grudges or passive aggressive behavior in a fast moving start-up. It is also critical that there is a shared respect for one another and also clear boundaries in terms of roles.
Another important thing is to be able to turn off “work mode” when in “friend mode” so you don’t carry baggage from one to the other and vice versa.
3 fave LIVELY pieces?
The Lace T-Shirt Bra in Black
Unlined Lace Bra in Sage
The Mesh Trim No-Wire Bra in Toasted Almond
The Mesh Trim No-Wire Bra in Toasted Almond
The Lace T-Shirt Bra in Black
The All-Day T Back Bralette