There are so many scripts around love. Maybe you think of Cinderella or Carrie Bradshaw, or maybe even your own parents or friends. It sets the tone – either consciously or not – about your relationship and your expectations around love. I recently read a book that argued that love is simply being kind to your partner. I like that sentiment. Love, to me, is being able to support your partner mentally, physically, and emotionally, and trust that they will do the same for you. It’s not about compromising; more the act of selfless service.
That kind of love is harder to find than the crazy head-over-heels scenario painted to us in the movies. Not only do you need to know your partner deeply, you must also believe in your own desires and have faith in yourself to follow them. “Sid just needed to do this,” Ann Mashburn explains as she discusses launching her eponymous business with her designer husband, Sid. “I knew it would be all-consuming and it was! I probably underestimated the satisfaction of making something out of nothing and supporting so many people financially along the way, with their families. That was pretty cool.”
Prior to starting the business, Ann spent 8 years at home raising the couple’s five girls, a time she describes as “highly entrepreneurial”, before returning to New York after a stint in Connecticut. Although the couple were New Yorkers for a time, when it came to launching the business, they knew they had to think outside the box—somewhere their money could go further, and they knew they would stand out. It was a brave move that paid off. “We looked at lots of cities and Atlanta was just one of them. It reminded us of the meatpacking district so many years ago…cool and just slightly off the beaten path,” she explains. “It felt great to be anonymous for a while, while we were getting our feet wet. We knew one person in town—it felt like an adventure.”
My first job in NY was working as an assistant to Polly Mellen at Vogue. I seriously got that job just the way countless others did at Conde Nast – by taking that typing test in HR and interviewing. I was actually passed up by Phyllis Posnick who later hired me at Glamour. Polly must have liked my little faux Chanel get up (I sew new buttons on something I got at Loehmann’s). She was absolutely one of the biggest influences of my career and life. I was not prepared for the humiliation (think Devil Wears Prada) – but once I leaned into that, figured out I could learn so much by being the least important person in the room and keeping my mouth shut, I just took hold and held on for dear life for 18 months until I couldn’t anymore. It was amazing. Totally set me up for life in so many ways. I learned how to dress well and had all those chic older women to model myself after. They were all so great and all about making it happen on the fly. I learnt as much about how I did want to lead as how I didn’t from that experience.
ON HER YEARS AT GLAMOUR AND J CREW & HER MENTORS
Glamour was such a great experience, though very different. And not just because I wasn’t an assistant anymore. At the time, Glamour was the big money maker at Conde Nast. To me, it was like the slightly frumpy but smart older sister who just did everything right but was not quite so glamorous despite the name. Phyllis [Posnick] finally hired me and she was great to watch in action as well. Totally focused, no-nonsense and not afraid to speak her mind. She was a very good role model for knowing who your audience is and staying in your lane and doing it really well. When she went on to Vogue, I worked for Xanthipi Joannides who taught me a lot about work-life balance. She just made it all work and led this very exotic-seeming life outside of the office with her Greek mother & husband in Connecticut and weekends with Patti Hansen and Keith Richards… It was the opposite of political, no back-stabbing, no competition, which is not always the case in the world of fashion.
My job at J Crew was such a treat and I still can’t believe my good fortune for that stint. Sid and I had moved out to Connecticut on a whim. We found this idyllic apartment above a stable on 90 acres right on the water – super cheap but basically living out of a storybook. After like two days out there, I knew there was no way I could go back into the city every day and leave my two little girls and miss out on my little country life fantasy. So I quit my job and made baby food and went on hikes for a while until I got a great phone call from Emily Cinader asking me to be a guest editor. She let me work one day a week pulling together photo shoots on a Monday, and then actually executing them the next Monday. It was unreal. Sid had worked there in the earliest days as their first menswear designer and she probably gave me the break because she liked him so much. They were a great group of young people who really defined the look and feel and DNA of J Crew. Jenna Lyons was an intern at the time!
ON TAKING ALMOST A DECADE OUT TO RAISE HER FIVE GIRLS
Prior to starting the business with Sid, I was home for an eight-year stint. Not to sound defensive, but a lot of times, the perception of motherhood and “keeping a house” isn’t seen as equipping you for job market reentry. I think it is highly entrepreneurial. I was making our business of family work and it was super creative and challenging and taught me so much.
WHERE THE IDEA FOR THE STORE CAME FROM
Sid was the complete impetus – it was absolutely his vision. He has wanted to do this since I met him in NY when we were both 23. He saw the white space for men’s – and used all those years working under other people and for larger companies learning how to be great and getting the experience he needed to do it on his own. My side of the business didn’t happen until we had the men’s side going for three years. My girls kind of pushed me into it. “You are doing so much work already why not get some credit?” they would tell me.
I was pretty prepared and I knew about the practical risks of entrepreneurship. Enough to know that wasn’t for me! But – I knew I would regret not trying, more than I would regret losing the greater part of our savings. Sid just needed to do this. I knew it would be all-consuming and it was! I probably underestimated the satisfaction of making something out of nothing and supporting so many people financially along with their families.
In our hearts, I think Sid and I have always thought of ourselves as being in the service business just as much as the design business. We both worked in restaurants and loved being back of house people. For whatever reason, we both just like the feeling of working with a team of servers. The camaraderie you feel, the stories you tell about customers. When we moved to CT and were both in the creative field, we didn’t have the wealth that our neighbors had. Maybe this was a fiction we told ourselves, but in our heads’ we felt like the poorer, cooler couple that palled around with some heavy-hitting Wall Street people from ‘good families’ and ‘good schools’ and places that felt totally foreign to us. Anyway, we just figured out how to make things amazing on a dime. It was a challenge. Great design I think, is making more with less. Not that we can’t appreciate luxury – we do! We sell handmade shoes and suits with as big of a price tag as you could imagine. Stuff we can’t afford ourselves! But we just remember who we are and see ourselves as helpers to guide people toward the things they will know, love and cherish forever. What this is is different for different people – whether it’s a cheap-and-cheerful striped t-shirt or a handmade suit. For us that is meaningful. We want people to feel like we steered them in the right direction. Looking great in the end makes you feel so so wonderful – like the best expression of yourself. That is what I learned at VOGUE. It can be a joy and a delight to dress yourself well. It doesn’t mean you need a lot.
WHY SHE LAUNCHED THE BUSINESS IN ATLANTA OVER NYC
Sid and I were New Yorkers for a time – and that is a hotbed of talent in fashion. But we needed to start the business someplace where we could make it amazing and make it stand out and dollar wise, there was no way that was going to be NYC. Everything was three times as expensive there: rent, salaries, buildout expenses. We looked at lots of cities: Boston, DC and Chicago but We fell in love with the center in Atlanta that we are still in today. It reminded us of the meatpacking district so many years ago – cool and just slightly off the beaten path. To be honest, we were a bit naive. Oh, and the airport! We knew we would be going back and forth to Italy so being in Atlanta gave us the opportunity of economics and being a bit hidden from the eyes of everyone we knew. If it didn’t work out, it felt a bit less public here than in a bigger city, and then we could just recover and move onto the next thing. It is scary to try something like this, and I think it felt great to be anonymous for a little while, as we were getting our feet wet. You don’t necessarily want to learn to ski with a group of pros! We knew one person in town. It felt like an adventure.
TURNING THE STORE INTO A LIFESTYLE DESTINATION
We just added the things we loved and thought were cool like books and records. The store really is just an expression of what we love. And in the end, that is the differentiator – no one has your taste. People can copy anything: great design is accessible anywhere and everywhere. Sid and I just have OUR point of view. We just wanted to make sure our place looked like us.
THE BIG MISTAKE YOU MIGHT BE MAKING WHEN IT COMES TO STRATEGY
Now, I definitely have a brand but I didn’t start out thinking, I’m going to start a brand. People didn’t really talk that way in 2007. ‘Brand’ wasn’t the buzzword it is now. We started out wanting to make things, set up the house those things, and create a feeling and experience for people to shop. That’s all. We knew we would need to scale for the business model to work but sometimes I think people get it a bit wrong when they think about brand building first. You have to start with an idea and ask yourself what problem you’re solving? Who are you serving? Is what you’re doing helpful? Only then do you go to proof of concept and make decisions that stay true to what you want to create. That makes a brand.
We have expanded to 5 cities – Atlanta, Washington DC, Houston, Dallas and LA. We would love to grow the brand, but only to the extent that it remains special. No one wants to shop at a “chain” as much as they did before.
ON WHY WORKING AT VOGUE IS HER PROUDEST CAREER MOMENT
The reason I am proud of that time has nothing to do with the work I did – I was actually a super mediocre assistant. I am not the most organized person in the first place, and the added hysteria in my brain made it nearly impossible to think. I was constantly being shouted at and asked to do things I had absolutely no idea how to do (and remember… there was no Internet). I was new to New York, and even ordering her lunch was stressful. Was the melon ripe enough? How long should I let it sit before the fruit flies started swarming around it? I am proud of not what I did, but what I learned, I guess. I am so old now, but my 23 year-old self was mature enough to just soak it all up and watch how others did their jobs. In the same way you go back to a favorite book to remind you of that character you want to be, I just really learned so much from all those characters. How did I want to treat those above me, beside me and below me? It was practically biblical!