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Ampersand Women: Of a Kind’s Claire Mazur & Erica Cerulo

August 28, 2014 | Filed in: Woman of the Week

Today’s Ampersand Women are proof positive that friends sometimes make the best business partners. Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo first met as undergrads at the University of Chicago. After graduating, they did stints in the art and magazine worlds, and in 2010, they launched Of a Kind, a commerce-meets-content site that sells limited-edition collections of jewelry, fashion, and home accessories.

Four years later, the duo has earned a cult following and raised $100,000 from friends and family. They also recently launched Collections, through which they feature various brands’ full ranges, rather than one-off limited-edition pieces. Here, Mazur and Cerulo talk about starting a company from scratch, and how they’ve managed to grow the business without killing each other along the way.

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How did Of a Kind come about?

EC: We created Of a Kind to offer a platform to promote emerging designers. We were always the sort of girls who loved discovering new talents before anyone else had, and we wanted to help others do the same. Our sense was that, on the designer side, it was really hard for up-and-comers to get their work out in a meaningful way, to connect with customers who would become long-term, loyal followers of their lines down the road. We launched Of a Kind—commissioning designers to create limited-edition pieces and releasing them in conjunction with a series of stories—in November 2010. It’s crazy to think we’ve been at this for almost four years!

CM: Erica and I had been friends for ages before we started the company, and we had spent a lot of time talking about business ideas and trends that got us excited. So when the idea for Of a Kind came about (the result of my asking Erica to edit a cover letter I had written for a job I wanted!), we knew we had to pursue it.

What have been some of your favorite discoveries/collaborations/designers?

EC: For some reason, we always come across cool lines when we’re traveling to places like L.A. and Austin. I think we’re a lot better at getting out there, exploring neighborhoods, and popping into shops when we’re out of town than when we’re in NYC. And, lately, we’ve both been super excited about featuring home designers on the site. Maybe it’s our age or something, but right now we’re really drawn to ceramics and rugs and all of that goodness.

CM: It’s always fun to work with a line when they’re super young—like, a few seasons in, working out of their homes, maybe barely even wholesaling—and watch them grow up and become big businesses. We worked with the clothing line Ace & Jig in their second season, and Dusen Dusen was also one of our first collaborations. Both of them have gone on to become quite big businesses with hundreds of wholesale accounts.

What lessons have you learned since starting your own business?

EC: So many! One is that the stressors don’t disappear as the business grows (and grows up!)—they just change. In the beginning, we were pulling our hair out because we were doing everything ourselves. We thought when we hired people, it would get easier. And while having a team has been so awesome, we now spend our time and headspace managing, which is taxing in totally different ways.

CM: I’m a big fan of asking—for advice, favors, answers, introductions. But I’m also learning that when it comes to asking for business advice, oftentimes you know the answer better than anybody else, because you know your business better than anybody else.

Any advice on how to work together while maintaining a healthy friendship?

EC: One of the smartest things we did early on was to define our roles. Though we are both involved in every aspect of the business, we have a spreadsheet that outlines who’s in charge of what. That gives both of us a sense of autonomy and, more practically, keeps us from responding to the same emails.

CM: Give each other space. We see so much of each other during the week, so we try not to see each other on the weekends if we can help it. There is nobody in the world who will not begin to annoy you if you spend 24/7 with them.

What are your personalities at work, in three words?

EC: Braindead at 4pm.
CM: Always hungry. Always.

Describe your style for the office.
EC: All neutrals, all the time—with a loud shoe, bag, necklace, or cuff.
CM: I’m loving a slouchy pant these days. Full-on embracing the diaper butt look.

Best advice you ever got?
EC: Be yourself. That was my dad’s mantra when I was growing up, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken it to mean “trust your instincts” more and more.
CM: That I can do whatever I want. My parents were that type, and it has made me the type of person who dreams really, really big.

What do you wish you’d known when you first started Of a Kind?

EC: That there’s not necessarily a “right” way to do things—you can create the sort of business and company culture you want on your own terms.

CM: That most everybody and everything is replaceable, so if something isn’t working out—a project, a partnership, an employee—end it before it wastes too much of your time.

If you could have a power lunch with anybody, who would it be?
EC: Suri Cruise. I have so many questions for that girl.
CM: Easy. Beyoncé.

Success is…
EC: We’ll let you know when we get there!
CM: Having a driver take you to and from work every day. You would never have to think about footwear! You could wear whatever crazy heels you wanted! Jenna Lyons, the creative director of J. Crew, has that. It’s why she’s in a position to let her young son pick out her shoes every morning.

Happiness is…
EM: Season 1 of Veronica Mars and ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery.
CM: Buffalo wings—extra blue cheese.

– Interview by Maura Kutner Walters

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