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Living In A Juicy World
Alumna heads trend-setting fashion empire
If the world seems to be getting juicier, it may not be due to global warming. It may be due to global wearing—of Juicy Couture, the white-hot fashion empire launched by a Carnegie Mellon alumna.
Juicy Couture is everywhere. It’s casual and cocktail; sunglasses and shoes; men, women, and children. It’s equal parts class and sass—and stores can’t get enough of it. Reese, Gwyneth, Madonna, Brad, Kevin, and Ben all wear Juicy. But Juicy’s more affordable than many other labels, so the soccer mom next door wears it, too.
It began modestly. Gela Nash-Taylor—who was Gela Jacobson when she graduated from Carnegie Mellon as a drama major in 1978—was pregnant and couldn’t find maternity clothes she liked. So she and her good friend Pam Skaist-Levy bought loads of plain vintage jeans. Using their design sense and a lot of hard work, they transformed the jeans into a successful line of maternity wear.
By 1997, having learned the basics of the fashion business, they were ready to tackle something larger—but they didn’t go the standard route. Nash-Taylor recalls, “People say you have to go to a bank, do a business plan, and borrow $60,000 to $100,000. If I’d started a business $60,000 in debt, I wouldn’t have been able to get up in the morning.
“I don’t know if that’s the difference between men and women, or between business majors and acting majors—but Pam and I didn’t want that kind of debt.”
Instead, the entrepreneurs launched Juicy Couture with $200 of their own money and a revolving line of credit. They didn’t take a salary for two years; they plowed profits back into the business; and they repaid loans almost instantly. “The bank was irritated,” says Nash-Taylor wryly. “They didn’t make much money from us.”
Juicy Couture is different from many companies in another way: it does no formal market research. The founders create and sell what they want to have in their own closets, and in the closets of their husbands and kids. (Nash-Taylor is married to Duran Duran bassist John Taylor; he designs the logos for the Juicy men’s line.) "We know what we like," says Nash-Taylor.
And clearly they know what their customers like. Juicy Couture’s lines have expanded quickly, but thoughtfully. Women loved the casual "lifestyle clothes," so the company added men's and kids’ lines—along with accessories, swimwear, and watches. The founders didn't want to wear other designers' clothes at night, so they launched Couture Couture—basically "Juicy after dark" cocktail and evening wear. This summer, their first fragrance will debut. And this year, 17 new free-standing Juicy Couture stores will join the four already open. "We have so many ideas and plans," says Nash-Taylor.
In 2003, Liz Claiborne bought the company for a reported $53 million and a percent of future sales, but Nash-Taylor and Skaist-Levy are still the heart of Juicy Couture, with responsibility for creative direction as well as day-to-day operations.(Continued …)