One of the goals of our recent redesign was to better spotlight entrepreneurs and thought leaders who I meet through my job and my travels. Thus, I give you a new series, Creative Crush—both because I have a crush on what these people are doing and because they’re crushing it. And in honor of Small Business Saturday and all the holiday shopping madness that is about to ensue, who better to start with than one bad-ass clothing designer?
Name: Emilie Whitaker
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Company: Beija-Flor Jeans
What She Does: produces a line of feminine jeans that make you feel sexy
C&C: Let’s start from the beginning—tell me how Beija-Flor came to be.
Emilie: When I was in my twenties, my mom brought me a pair of figure-flattering jeans back from Brazil, and that sparked an idea. A lot of times women have to make a choice between something that fits them and looks good. You don’t get to have both—and it often winds up looking matronly. That was the challenge I was finding with denim. I was 25 when we started the company, and I wasn’t ready to make the jump to “mom jeans.” I’m still not ready to make that jump.
We’re all about making you look sexy, but also feel comfortable. My mom is in her early-60s, and she always wants to look good. It’s not about age for her, she just wants to look beautiful.
We didn’t open our retail store until last year. Up until then, we were focused completely on wholesale. We did around 30 trade shows a year. My brother is very high-tech, so we always had an e-commerce branch. Now, we have this box program where people can go on our site, and we work with them, ask them questions, then send them five pairs of jeans. It’s almost like personal shopping—we’ve taken the e-commerce but brought it back to one-on-one.
C&C: Your style of denim was inspired by Brazil’s approach to fashion. Are you Brazilian?
Emilie: I’m half-Brazilian, I’m half-Southern. I can feel very comfortable in Brazil, and I feel very comfortable in the South. I lived in Brazil as a child, and we’ve always been passionate about Brazil. As women, they really embrace their curves and their femininity. They’re not about covering themselves up. We kind of merged the two ideas.
When we started the business 10 years ago, Brazilian jeans were super low. That was one of the first things we did with our pattern: We found the middle ground of the rise and the jean.
C&C: How many different styles do you have?
Emilie: We have four different silhouettes, and within those four silhouettes, we do different washes and different colors and different leg openings. Our Audrey ankle jean is probably our bestseller because on a petite woman, it’s like a skinny jean, and on a tall woman, it’s like a sexy ankle.
C&C: Where does the name “Beija-Flor” come from?
Emilie: It means hummingbird. The literal translation is “to kiss a flower.” Where my dad is from in Brazil, there are over 300 species of hummingbirds. When I was little, we went to this hummingbird reserve, and it was amazing to see them flying around. We also liked the idea that they’re only found in the Americas, and they fly really far distances, so the fact that my mom is American and my dad is South American, it had a lot of meaning for us.
C&C: Is he involved in the company at all?
Emilie: He just gives his opinion on everything! He’s an engineer. Everyone in my family and friend circle has been involved. It’s really cool to see how happy our success is making everybody, because they all feel like they can take ownership in it.
C&C: You’ve only had your South Carolina flagship for a year. What prompted you to open a second shop in Nashville already?
Emilie: Everything’s timing. We’re in a very competitive industry, and we’re the little guy. We have to embrace the independent element to our brand. I like to be in an area that’s unique [like Edgehill Village], and it took a lot of creativity to get the space outfitted to that. That’s part of what we enjoy: those challenges. A typical strip mall wouldn’t really fit our brand.
Our store in Greenville is in a historic district and was an old tire store with slanted floors. We wanted that juxtaposition between rustic and glamour, because jeans can be that. You can take the same pair of jeans and hike and then go out at that. We wanted the store to be feminine. I feel like every space we’re going to be in, we embrace the uniqueness of it and the opportunity.
Being a Southern brand, we don’t get as much respect sometimes in the fashion world because everyone’s either New York or LA. I think Nashville represents how the South is starting to get respect from a design perspective. It’s really fun to be a part of that.
C&C: Other than the new brick-and-mortar, what are some recent achievements you’re particularly proud of?
Emilie: Bloomingdale’s picked up our line. I told my husband that, personally, getting into a major retailer like that was always on my bucket list from a business perspective.
C&C: I’m not a jeans girl, because they never do fit me right. Do you think you can win me over?
Emilie: We have a lot of athletes wear our jeans. Let’s try some on!