Creating Functional Fashion in Athleisure with Emma Lou Founder Emma Vollrath

Listen now:

Imagine if you could beat belly bloat just by putting on workout clothes? That’s what Emma Vollrath envisioned when she created Emma Lou. What started with a neoprene material evolved into a chic pair of athleisure that grew in popularity. The legging unique design targets water weight, reduces bloating, draws out toxins and increases fat oxidation. All before hitting your workout class. In this episode learn more about Emma’s journey from fitness trainer to designer and how she got her innovative design in front of the world’s biggest publications.  

What you’ll learn:

  • Emma shares her journey moving from fitness trainer to clothing designer 
  • Emma explains the intricacy and behind the scenes of the design and production of the product 
  • Emma outlines how she gained visibility for the brand and got in front of the press

To learn more about Emma Vollrath and Emma Lou, visit her website EmmaLouTheLabel.com and follow on instagram at EmmaLouTheLabel.

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Emily Merrell  0:04  

Welcome to the sixth degree Podcast, the podcast where we grill our guests about the things that make them tick and find out how human connection plays a role in their life. I’m your host, Emily Merrill.


I’m your host, Emily Merrill. And today I’m thrilled to have Emma Volterra founder and CEO of Emma Lou, on the podcast. Emma, welcome to the show.


Emma Vollrath  0:31  

Hi, thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited big fan.


Emily Merrell  0:35  

And I didn’t butcher your last name too much.


Emma Vollrath  0:37  

No, that was great.


Emily Merrell  0:39  

Okay, it’s a mouthful.


Emma Vollrath  0:42  

I know everybody asked the same question. And I’m like, yeah, it’s German. Sorry. Like my first name. Easy. Last name. A little more complicated, but good job.


Emily Merrell  0:51  

That’s a nice it’s a nice balance. You got the easy for first name and yeah, definitely. Emma v. And then who is Emma Lou? Or how did you get the name Emma Lou.


Emma Vollrath  1:01  

My there was a song and I went gift to my Lou when I was little, and my family would always say it to me. And I went by Louis for a long time. I literally forgot my name was Emma for a few years. And so Louie was like, my name. And then my friend, it started to evolve into Emmylou. And then here we are. Oh, I


Emily Merrell  1:19  

love that. You forgot your name was Emma. When did you? When did you bring Emma back?


Emma Vollrath  1:26  

Middle School. I’m like, okay, nobody is gonna call me Louie here at my family. I need to be cool. So I’m an owl. And my family was like, Oh, okay.


Emily Merrell  1:36  

I like that. The Louis story is very, very cute. And so before we dive in and dig deep into everything, Emmylou, how did you get started? Can you tell us your origin story? Like how did Emmylou come to be?


Emma Vollrath  1:52  

Yeah, so I was a personal trainer, I love anything health and wellness. If somebody were to tell me to eat there, I would eat there. I like I love feeling good. And I love looking good. And so I became a personal trainer and all my clients were always talking about their lower stomach area. Like all of them, I thought they were all talking to each other because it was literally the same thing every single session and like I’ve had enough, I can’t do it anymore. It was always revolving like they’re insecure to like themselves in the mirror, which made me really sad or bloating and water right in the lower stomach area, which I knew had been an issue for a while just we suffer with bloating as women in general, and that there wasn’t really anything I could recommend my clients to except they were waist trainers, but they you can’t really walk into like a Trader Joe’s with a waist trainer on without everybody giving you a weird book. And so I wanted to make something that was sustainable, que effective. And then I grew up in California, and I always had been like surfing boogie boarding, so I had a wetsuit. And so I cut out a wetsuit, like a little part of the wetsuit, and I put it into an old pair of Lululemon biker shorts, out at Lulu logging and I went to my grandma, and she sewed them in the pants because I knew that what do kept me warm, and so it was like a mini sweatband inside of my, my yoke, my yoga pants, and so I was wearing it for a few weeks, and I’m like, Okay, I’m not as bloated. I feel and look so good. What is happening and so I went to a manufacturer and they’re like, Okay, we could do neoprene, that’s gonna be pretty bulky in the pants. And I was like, Okay, well, let’s just do it. So I put neoprene in the in the waistband, and then that eventually evolved into recycled thermoplastic which is what I use now. And it’s been proven to help you reduce water rate and bloating and that’s kind of like my hero product and how I differentiate myself but yeah, really random but


Emily Merrell  3:51  

I don’t think I even realized that I was like, Oh, cool. It’s a cool like in brand and like, kind of graduated from from that. I was like, that’s neat that they suck you in. But I didn’t realize that they they help you lose weight that is awesome. So what did your clients say when you brought the product back to them?


Emma Vollrath  4:09  

I had them were the really ugly prototype and they were like Oh, haha this is super cute. But then they weren’t in there were saying oh my god it actually like it wasn’t it’s not really for weight loss. It’s more for just your lower stomach gut health and with a waterway and bloating aspect and they noticed as a decrease in bloating and waterway in the area that they were like all by it. Even if it looks like this all by


Emily Merrell  4:35  

the end. Did you when you were doing this personal training. Did you ever anticipate being now a fashion athleisure designer?


Emma Vollrath  4:44  

Not at all? No.


Emily Merrell  4:47  

And so how do you have? Like how do you incorporate Emmylou into your personal training? And are you still doing the personal


Emma Vollrath  4:54  

training? Yeah, I think for a while i i didn’t want to put anything on my client I never wanted to sell them anything. I think as women, we have a weird thing about selling or asking people for money. So I never said anything. I just started to wear them. And I started to it had like my name on it had the logo and my clients would ask them questions like, What are you wearing? You know what brand is that? So then I kind of that’s when I was mentioned, but it’s just it’s so crazy how now I do I teach Pilates now. And I’ll tell now, I’ve just grown so much confidence that I’m like, before every class, I’m like, This is my brand. This is the website, this is Instagram, you should all buy it. And they do it just so fun. But yeah, I never thought I would be in this position.


Emily Merrell  5:38  

What a great lesson though, in terms of like having the community that trusts you. And like you were saying you would trust someone who tells you to eat dirt. They trust you and they trust you and what whatever you tell them to do. So are you creating something after having already worked with them? I’m sure. In a way you pre you built that pre approval that that like no interest in study, you had all of these little mini ambassadors built into your business, right after launching your business, which is pretty cool. Yeah, it was the whole word of mouth aspect, because I didn’t have money for marketing. Obviously, I just started this from like my grandma’s basement. And so I was all about just word of mouth and gifting, which is kind of how you have to start if you don’t have prior funding or anything. So how Yeah, let’s talk a little bit more about like the process. You know, you had your mom, your grandma, which I love. Shout out to grandma, inserting or to selling in into Lululemon pants. And then how do you even find a manufacturer? You just Google manufacture leggings? I mean, pretty much I really. Yeah, I


Emma Vollrath  6:49  

mean, I didn’t know I must have read it. And then I found I forgot what it’s called, I think it’s CFDA. And it’s basically, they have a whole list of manufacturers and I literally went through every single one. And I called them. And missing, my idea was so weird that they all work and just, they all kind of dismissed it because it didn’t make sense to put such a thick fabric into yoga pants, which are athleisure, which is supposed to be thin and move with you. And they just didn’t understand why I wanted to do that. So I finally found one. And I told them my idea. And they were kind of hesitant at first. So we went back and forth with samples for I think it was about four months, and I just could not get what I wanted. And then finally, I got a pair that I felt confident enough to buy and produce book and so started a really shitty website, and I started selling them. But I just wanted to get something out there. I didn’t want to just keep waiting and waiting because I felt like someone else was going to take an idea. So I wanted to kind of rush to get the product out. And when did this


Emily Merrell  7:56  

happen? So like, take us back in terms of a timeline.


Emma Vollrath  8:00  

This was so 2019 I was training up until COVID happened and then I couldn’t train anymore. So I was just kind of sitting bored. And just thinking okay, well, why don’t I do this? I have nothing else to do. I can’t train anybody. So let’s just start. And so it was it was kind of a pandemic, maybe.


Emily Merrell  8:21  

Wow, okay, so it’s a pandemic, baby. And you’re emailing back and forth with this manufacturer. For those that aren’t myself included, aren’t familiar with, like how it works with a manufacturer? Do you have to give them a certain amount of revenue upfront? Or what does that look like?


Emma Vollrath  8:40  

I think it’s it’s sometimes they do if you’re a bigger brands, I think because I was just starting out if they produce you can pay half and half. So once you find a manufacturer everyone has different terms. So I had them sign NDAs and just to make sure we’re on the same page, and so I was able to pay half and half because I did not have the money for that. So once I was able to sell like half my inventory, then I paid the rest. But they were I’m really grateful for them because that’s not the case for everybody. And I just got really lucky because they trusted me and believed in the product and so but a lot of manufacturers lost for the money as soon as they’re about to ship it because they won’t ship it unless you pay pretty much. Got it. And so how


Emily Merrell  9:25  

many how were they all leggings? Are they short leggings, long leggings, a variety of colors. Like how did that work?


Emma Vollrath  9:34  

The first set, I dropped those black and I did yoga pants and a sports bra which looking back they were quite hideous. But I began just wanted to get something out there but then only a month later, which was a mistake. The first mistake I made I ordered like 200 more and another hideous color. And I remember only like 10 people bought them and I was like okay, I need to not buy any more inventory for the rest of my life, because I have nowhere to put it. No one’s buying this color and it’s not doing well. So that was my mistake number one.


Emily Merrell  10:10  

So when you ordered 200 More, you probably ordered it thinking that they would sell. So what? What did that look like? How many did you order initially, and then want you to buy then 200 more.


Emma Vollrath  10:25  

I ordered 100 of everything. So 100 tops, 100 yoga pants, and then I ordered 200 of the other color. And also I got the proper logos for upside down. Oh, no, that was just, it was just a whole a whole thing. But that was fixed. I got them back. And I put it reload, uploaded them on the site. And it just was not. Nobody was buying them. And I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, I just rushed into it so quickly thinking, this is so easy. I don’t know why everybody doesn’t have a brand. My stuff basically sold out within a month. Because it’s ridiculous. And I ordered this new stuff. And it’s like crickets. Oh my


Emily Merrell  11:03  

god. So if you were to do that all over again. And for anyone that’s thinking of starting a business, what would you recommend


Emma Vollrath  11:11  

they do? start really small, don’t if a manufacturer tries to get you to order more than 100 Do not do it unless you already have a waiting list of you know, 500 people, then go for it. But if you don’t, and you’re starting how I did orders and minimum order quantity, just ask them, Hey, what’s your MOQ? I am a new brand, you know, XYZ, this is what I’m looking for? Yeah. And just make sure that you do your product research color. Ask your audience, what colors do you want to see, don’t order a burnt orange when they’re asking for a pink be really specific with, with what you’re putting out. Because in the beginning, it actually really does matter. Because, you know, that’s money that you need.


Emily Merrell  11:53  

They’re like, I’m doing a lot of gifting this season to them. But in terms of marketing, how did you create awareness, we know that you have your clients, we know that you have gifting. What other strategies did you undertake to get the word out there.


Emma Vollrath  12:09  

I did a lot of pop up shops, which I still swear by now I do pop up shops all the time. I just think when you’re actually in person selling the product and having people try on. It’s It’s honestly such a greater experience than just on Shopify or just on your website because you’re there. And you can you’re talking about the brand, you’re telling your story like I tell that story about the wetsuit 60 times a day when I’m at a pop up. And I’m just always been because people love that they love a success story. And they love you know, when the product actually works. I think pop ups were huge for me, word of mouth, and I just would always pitch to the local newspaper. I don’t know that was really, you know, but if my town was really it’s really small. And so it helped get the word out. And then I got invited to like farmers market events and other press opportunities. So kind of it helps to help a lot.


Emily Merrell  13:06  

Was there ever a moment that you kind of felt was like a tipping point for you?


Emma Vollrath  13:14  

Negative or positive?


Emily Merrell  13:18  

No, we’re not positive yet.


Emma Vollrath  13:20  

Well, do you mean a negative tipping point or? Oh, no, no,


Emily Merrell  13:23  

like a pot? Sorry, a positive tipping point. So for example, like someone unexpected like a celebrity or your product or the news article, all of a sudden drove more traffic to your site.


Emma Vollrath  13:39  

Yeah, I think I eventually went through I think two months after I launched the you know, the bad pair of yoga pants that nobody bought, I knew I had to do something different. So I rebranded I named it a i Not to my name to MLM because I started out with something different. I changed the logo, I changed the website. I changed everything I changed the inside, recycle thermoplastic fabric, which is what it is now and I launched this is really specific, but I launched one very core and like cottage core was a huge thing on tick tock and Instagram and strawberry dress phenomenon. I don’t know if you remember that. But it was like tea parties and all this like because we were in quarantine nobody. It was like really random. But I launched a white sat matching set and it blew up like on Instagram and on Pinterest because I’d have a tick tock yet and Vogue picked it up. They picked up the SAT and someone wrote about it. And one of the writers wrote about it. I think it was her 10 favorite things during quarantine and after that, that was when I was thinking okay, this is I’m in the right place right now because I had just rebranded everything was going well it was aesthetically pleasing to look at it was light and fun when it was just such a dark time in quarantine that it really went well and kind of took off. So that was great.


Emily Merrell  15:00  

So that basically the stars aligned Pinterest aligned with the find stability or discoverability of your brand. The rebrand helped and Vogue fell into your lap without you even pitching it.


Emma Vollrath  15:12  

Hmm, yeah, I, I got the email from the editor and she was like, Hey, you just wanna let you know I featured your brand. I tried, you know, I heard XYZ and she posted about it. And it was amazing. And I was screaming, I remember just like, bawling my eyes out.


Emily Merrell  15:27  

I think I would have put my pants at that place. Like, Alright, I’m done. I can die. Now. This is great. Though, recognize me? In terms of help you have been. We’ve got grandma who’s the sewing original sole job. But who else has been a part of your, your growth and your discovery?


Emma Vollrath  15:48  

My dad was he has his own. You know, he’s such a businessman. And so he helped me register my company as an LLC helped me get started all like legally. And my mom is the biggest advocate for Emmylou on the planet. Everything I post she posts I think, immediate family just so helpful and amazing, my friends for being such troopers for modeling all the time when I can afford models, and just being the best support system I could have ever asked for. And I think the community I have now is also just so amazing, like the girls who by Emmylou, I want to hang out with all of them.


Emily Merrell  16:26  

I love that and how, you know moving forward, we’re out of quarantines busily thinking about the future of the brand. What does it look like for you?


Emma Vollrath  16:37  

Right now I’m in the process of fundraising. So I there’s just so much I want to do at a quicker pace. And I’m doing it right now. And I have so many ideas for implementing the glow band and jumpsuits shirt. I mean, everything I wanted, I just want to make it such a fun, innovative brand. And I want to get into carbon 38 revolve and yeah, like, I want to be everywhere. I want to have my own brick and mortar store. I want it to be huge, because it’s a better free athleisure brand. And we’re always eating, like better for you cookie dough better for you. I don’t even know like pizza bites. And I’m like, What about better for you athleisure there’s not really a brand that has benefits already. That’s like a two in one.


Emily Merrell  17:22  

And that’s just like working out while you’re working out too. Or it’s really double double the cardio hit class just by wearing the product. Are there any transformations or results that you’d like to share? In terms of like customer success, customer success, they’ll say,


Emma Vollrath  17:42  

yeah, I get DMS and emails a lot and they are always cracking me up. I remember one was saying like the mixes that can run me over with a car and I’d say thank you and it’s just like, I’m like girls who have emailed me about them having IBS, which I didn’t even make this product for that reason. But they were saying I wear this on my hot girl walks three times a week. And I’ve I’ve had the pants for about two months and I’ve noticed a huge difference and bloating and waterway and I just feel so much better. And that makes me really happy because if I can make something that even helps one girl I’m so here for it. Oh my gosh, I love


Emily Merrell  18:25  

and then you said your fundraising. So tell us a little bit about your fundraising journey and what that looks like. It’s,


Emma Vollrath  18:33  

it’s been it’s been really hard as a first time female founder especially in retail, it’s honestly it’s been the most challenging thing probably ever. I enjoy the challenge and it’s been interesting meeting people but also it is a male dominated industry, sadly so I’ve gotten tons of backlash on my product and myself in general. So I just think now me having a community of women also in the space is so important because I actually cannot go through this alone. It’s really tough. And I don’t want to discourage anyone from fundraising. It’s a really nice process to put yourself through because it gives you tons of experience but again it’s it’s really It’s tough.


Emily Merrell  19:18  

It’s yeah, it’s not a pleasant experience but it also is like a very humbling one and makes you super super disciplined with what you knowing your business knowing your business in a degree that you think you’d never know your business probably. Also, mi you’ve been featured. Holy smokes from the Vogue article since then you’ve been featured everywhere from Girlboss WW D Sports Illustrated swimsuit, the skinny confidential for busy bizarre re Claire, how did that happen?


Emma Vollrath  19:52  

I harass editors. I’ll be


Emily Merrell  19:59  

honest Yeah, unless your secrets


Emma Vollrath  20:02  

at Wilson because some of them they reach out to me just from Oh, I saw you on this site or not, but I’d say more than half are just doing outreach just organically, just being really specific with my subject line because I know they get hundreds of emails a day. So that’s one tip that I can say that I learned is, you don’t just want to write introduction or like, hi, you want to be really specific so mine’s like lymphatic massage and your pants are like lymphatic massage things and your parents you know, as I like to make it funny in this interesting because they’re like What the hell is that what is so that’s definitely helped me just being out there and putting my product out there and they always love it which makes me really happy.


Emily Merrell  20:50  

I think your story is really incredible book I mean, starting from listening to what your customers or your clients were complaining about finding a solution iterating the solution be seen many obstacles along the way reiterating pivoting in ways and then also being really resilient and like getting the shit out of things and if people don’t respond following up for shooting your shot I think so many times people take the first no as that’s the end all be all but move down the list keep going and and see who says yes, and I think that’s an awesome story. Is there anyone that has worn your product yet that you’re like, oh my god, I can’t believe Kim K or this or so and so we’re this


Emma Vollrath  21:36  

I think, honestly and Lauren Bostick rounds in it confidential she’s I mean, I’ve had some really fun influencers where the product but she’s the one that I just look up to so much, because she’s in the whole deep loading space. She just has her ice roller. All that. So I love that she continues to support me all the time on her Instagram and it just makes me so happy.


Emily Merrell  22:00  

Yeah, sure. Shouting out I’m obsessed. That’s that’s a pretty big moment. Though. Glorian one or the other, right? Yeah, one or the other. So, Emma, how can listeners find out more about Emmylou? I know more about your fundraising journey potentially sport your fundraising journey and just follow along?


Emma Vollrath  22:21  

Yeah, our Instagram, Tik Tok Pinterest pretty much every social media is at ama l o u, the label la B O, and then I website ml or the label.com. And then you can find me weaved in there. I always, you know, make posts on Emmylou and my personal Instagrams on there, too. You guys want to hang out if you have questions on there?


Emily Merrell  22:45  

And when do you have a pop up coming up in the next few months?


Emma Vollrath  22:48  

Yeah, I mean, if you let you if you live in California, especially southern California, I’m probably will be at a lot East here that you go to. So for me, yeah. Okay.


Emily Merrell  23:00  

Good to know. So I’m obsessed. I’m like, Oh my God. I want the Randy bra, the Randy The Randy yogas. I love this color. I don’t know what you what do you call this? Like?


Emma Vollrath  23:11  

reddish color? Like a Bert. or orange or no, sorry. burnt? brown, red.


Emily Merrell  23:19  

Not the burnt orange. We’re not a fan of. We’re not giving away those for free. Yeah. Trash kids. So we’re just getting well, am I um, before we leave, I would like to ask is six fresh questions. So just I love asking people questions. This is why I created a podcast so I had to condense it down to six. So my first question for you is tell us an unknown fun fact about


Emma Vollrath  23:47  

Emma. I’m obsessed with m&ms. Oh, is it because your name is Emma. Now I just love them.


Emily Merrell  23:56  

Do you have a favorite color m&m? Are you one of those?


Emma Vollrath  23:59  

The green peanut m&ms?


Emily Merrell  24:02  

Peanut m&ms and green peanut m&ms? Who would be a dream person to wear your product?


Emma Vollrath  24:11  

Cindy Crawford, love her. Oh,


Emily Merrell  24:15  

why don’t you do this? The mother daughter duo?


Emma Vollrath  24:17  

Yeah, I send them both with that.


Emily Merrell  24:21  

Yeah, buy one get one free. What show are you watching and not?


Emma Vollrath  24:27  

Can’t stop talking about the washer just started watching that and it’s really good on Netflix. Pay the watch


Emily Merrell  24:34  

or add that to the list. And what book are you reading? Or have you recently read?


Emma Vollrath  24:39  

Verity calling whoever you just finished it ends with us. So, so good.


Emily Merrell  24:47  

I guess the new one just came out. It begins with us. came out yesterday. So Verity, you recommend


Emma Vollrath  24:53  

it? Yeah.


Emily Merrell  24:56  

Okay, and what is your favorite and remote? excused emoji.


Emma Vollrath  25:02  

Probably this is really weird but the ballerina slippers i don’t know why my top one always


Emily Merrell  25:09  

like is do you say it is like at some point? No, I


Emma Vollrath  25:15  

think it’s because I use it in a lot of the captions for Emma little for some reason. I don’t know why, but it just is out there for a week. I’m like, I’m not using this anymore. I need to go.


Emily Merrell  25:25  

That’s amazing. I’ve never had that answer before. And my final question for you is Who gave you permission or inspired you to do the thing you wanted to do with your life?


Emma Vollrath  25:35  

My mom,


Emily Merrell  25:37  

I love it. She is she a fitness person as well.


Emma Vollrath  25:40  

Now, as a shopper, she was a shopper so she she gets it.


Emily Merrell  25:47  

She’s she’s your ideal avatar. Love it. Well, Emma, thank you so much for joining today’s episode of the sixth degree. I loved hearing your story. I’m so inspired by your brand. Can’t wait to wear it and shop it myself. And thank you for being here. Thanks so much for having me. Yeah. And listeners. If you liked today’s episode, please give us a five star review. Share with friends. And we’ll see you the next time on the sixth degree with Emily Merrill.

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