Erica Easley, Founder of Gumball Poodle

[su_spotlightheader who=”Erica Easley” what=”Founder, Gumball Poodle” where=”Los Angeles, CA”] We’ve all had that moment when we think to ourselves, why doesn’t anyone just make this? Erica Easley had that moment in 2008, during the presidential election, when she wanted a pair of socks that would boldly announce her support for her candidate – below the knee. The difference between the rest of us and Erica is that she did something about it. Flash forward seven years and hundreds of socks later and today, Easly is the owner of Gumball Poodle, a worldwide sock company that counts Madonna and Beyoncè among its fans. Based out of Los Angeles, Gumball Poodle has a statement sock for every mood, so your fashion can speak for you. I sat down with Easley to talk about her inspirations, sexism in fashion, and what she learned from her UPS driver, Gus.

Erica Easley of Gumball Poodle for Move LifeStyle

How did Gumball Poodle get started?
Gumball Poodle was started as a fluke: in 2008, when everyone was excited about the election and there were Obama t-shirts, bobble heads, toilet paper, etc., I really wanted Obama knee socks. When I looked around, no one was making them. So, I decided to use some fashion industry connections and make OBAMA knee socks myself. I thought they were going to be a fun, one-off project but the world’s first presidential knee socks were wildly successful, selling through several manufacturing runs and garnering national press (LA Weekly, The Oregonian, Marie Claire, etc.). When the election was over, I decided to try making a few more sock styles…And I’ve never looked back.

[quote_right]You learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of when you build a company. Personality is vastly more important than schooling.[/quote_right]Where did the idea come from?
Random. It came out of a Friday afternoon conversation over margaritas with a friend from Oregon, in the Spring of 2008. Creating socks was truly impulsive.

Ha! So drinking does help spark inspiration. How did you manage to put together financing & gather resources? I made the first batch of socks with $2,400 from my savings and then worked my butt off. I lived modestly and I’m fortunate enough to have many talented and supportive friends who have, and continue to, share their abilities with me. I’ve never focused on what I don’t have, or what I should need, to make my business successful. Instead, I look at what I do have and think about what I can make out of it. Bootstrapping forces you to really understand your business and what is important.

Did you have a background in business before you started?
I was an English major who would never have considered herself an executive, a manager or someone who wanted to run a business. You learn a lot about yourself and what you are capable of when you build a company. Personality is vastly more important than schooling.

Erica Easley of Gumball Poodle for Move LifeStyleHow much has your business grown since your first pair of socks? We’ve had an incredible trajectory since our first year, basically doubling sales year over year every year since 2009. We’ve grown from a company where everything operated out of my apartment (including inventory and shipping!) to a brand sold worldwide, with offices in Downtown Los Angeles. Beyoncé and Madonna wear Gumball Poodle! That’s pretty surreal.

But the thing I’m most proud of is still just randomly spotting people wearing our socks – seeing what people are doing in our socks, and where in the world they are wearing them is always inspiring.

That’s amazing. Did you have any business mentors?
I know it sounds like a cliché, but I am very lucky that both my boyfriend and my father are successful business owners and some of my best advisors. Their perspective on business is very different, so I turn to them for different things, but it’s been incredibly helpful to have both of them supporting me.

Wendy Lazar, the genius designer of the I Heart Guts brand, was so encouraging, too – she introduced me to a lot of other young business owners, gave me trade show guidance, etc. Wendy really showed me the ropes and opened me up to the excitement of being an entrepreneur. She was the first business owner to champion our socks.

I also have a great group of friends who have been cheerleaders and helpers since day one.
I am very fortunate, and I marvel at the people who are successful without similar support networks.

Erica Easley of Gumball Poodle for Move LifeStyleYes, we also don’t know how people do it alone. Do you believe work-life balance is an achievable goal? Well, it’s something I’m working on. I’m a workaholic by nature; I don’t like to “relax.” Relaxing for me is getting things done.

What does a typical day in your life look like? Wake up at 6 am. Run. Emails, phone calls, email. Walk the dog. Afternoons are for creative reflection, talking with my team, putting out fires. Walk, garden, cocktail, dinner with my boyfriend and/or friends, music, read. Bed.

Do you have a favorite indulgence?
I’m a shopaholic (antiques and vintage clothes). I also love a good drink – right now it’s Campari and tonic.

Any books, art, or media that inspire you?
Andy Warhol, The Misfits and Ramones, New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders. Elvis Presley and Motley Crue. Fiorucci. Cyndi Lauper, Boy George and Rick James.

What advice would you give to your 18-year old self or to would-be entrepreneurs? I had no self-confidence at 18; I would encourage myself to take the risks I always thought about and stop holding back. As for entrepreneurs, I hate to quote a corporation but Nike is right: Just Do It. With whatever you’ve got, start pursuing your idea…Don’t wait for funding, or the perfect time to launch. Get out there and work, work, work. You’ll amaze yourself!

[quote_left]…like the guy who accidentally sent me a reply email intended for his business partner, saying socks were a joke and he’d only work with me if I was hot. I kept his sexist email on my wall for several years – it was good, kick ass inspiration.[/quote_left]Do you find fashion to be a more welcoming place for female entrepreneurs?
Many of my biggest supporters and best advisors are men. That said, I’ve also experienced some blatant sexism – so insulting, and I didn’t realize people still thought or acted that way…like the guy who accidentally sent me a reply email intended for his business partner, saying socks were a joke and he’d only work with me if I was hot. I kept his sexist email on my wall for several years – it was good, kick ass inspiration.

Wow. What do you consider to be your hardest won or most treasured life lesson?
One of my most prized lessons came via our regular UPS driver, Gus. As I was building my business, I’d see Gus almost daily with deliveries and shipments. I didn’t have any employees. I could be having the most hellish, stressful day and then a quick conversation with Gus – he always has a genuine smile, truly positive energy – would totally change my mood. He made me realize how the simplest kindness can make the biggest difference in someone’s day. I really try to emulate Gus’s spirit and remember small, genuine gestures can make a huge difference in someone’s day, whether a friend or a stranger.

How do you see your future?
Who knows? But I really hope it involves Morocco or India and lots of good books, good drinks and good people! The adventures and experiences you never expected are always the best.

[su_follow_guest pinterest=”” instagram=”” facebook=”” twitter=””]Gumball Poodle[/su_follow_guest] [su_photo_credit_1_photographer photolink=””]Andy Windak[/su_photo_credit_1_photographer]