They’re on the move. Erin Cavanaugh and Yi Zhou are the co-founders of See ROSE Go, a plus-size activewear collection that aims to fill the gaps between athleisure and actual days on the running track. “People always talk about what their customer looks like,” sighs Yi, “But we’re more interested in what she’s actually doing in our clothes!” Of course, the items are super-stylish, too—they’d have to be, since both Yi and Erin worked at Nike and Converse before teaming up to start their own indie brand.
We interviewed the former “work wives” about their new company, the way layering is still underrated, and why everyone should have a “Post-It Wall."
Starting a business—especially with someone else—is hard! What made you know you could work together?
ERIN: We had already worked together for 9 years at Converse and Nike, so we had a lot of shared history… and I always admired how Yi had a very considered approach to design. She thinks about how the consumer is using the clothes. I always loved working with her. I have sisters and I’ll put her right up there. It’s like working with a sister. We disagree sometimes. But she pushes me like no one else. I’ve always appreciated that.
YI: Erin has an innate understanding—a deeper sense—of what we need right now. When we talk about fashion, it’s the beauty of design but also the functionality, and where life takes you when you wear something you love… And that became even clearer now—we want to add real value to women’s lives. Erin knows how to do that!
This is a plus-sized line, but neither of you are the target consumer. What’s it like to make a product for women, but not for yourself?
YI: Actually, it kind of lit a fire under us, because we were hearing from women—our families, our friends, their friends—about what they needed and couldn’t find. It really ignited our passion and our problem-solving skills, because it’s not right that millions of women can’t get dressed the way they want.
ERIN: So the first thing we did was talk to hundreds of women size 14 and up. “Who are you? What do you want from your clothes? What do you want from your life? And just like all women, their answers were everywhere, but the need for clothing to give you the ability to get what you need from life? That’s universal.
How do you share ideas when you’re working remotely?
ERIN: We have old-school Skypes. Not even Zooms; Skypes. We talk to people in Seattle, in Belgium. We beg our friends to take us into their closets via video so we can see how they actually use their clothes. And then we make a wall of Post-It notes.
YI: It is a full wall. And then we look at the wall and we say, “What themes keep coming up here?” The big one for activewear was body heat. We heard from so many women, “I’m so hot right now. I would love to layer but I can’t, because there aren’t good layering pieces in my size.” And we knew we could solve that right away!
How do you handle a disagreement?
ERIN: The thing about a disagreement is, you know it is going to lead to an agreement. Emotions are high. There are tears. But there’s always respect. You listen. You hear each other out. And then you go to the data and the customer. In those instances, you say, “Ok what is best for the customer?” And that wins out.
YI: Coming from a huge company like Nike and then starting small and starting humble, it puts us in unfamiliar territory. But if both of us feel uncomfortable, that means we’re touching a nerve—and that’s good! It means we’re hitting on something that’s really important, and that we can solve for the better. So I often think “silence is golden”—you walk away from a problem or a conflict, and come back to it when you have a new viewpoint. We also rely on external advisors, and of course, our customers. They’re the most important.
What have you learned from each other since becoming co-founders?
ERIN: Yi taught me to focus. I’m all balls in the air, hair on fire, 4 kids at home, running a business. Yi says, “Erin put your phone down and look where you’re walking!” She’s taught me to give my attention to the balls I have in the air, and ask, “Which balls are glass and which are plastic? Which things can I let drop for now? Which things do I need to keep going at all costs?” I can do that because of Yi.
YI: Erin helps create the confidence I get from being a creative person. For over 20 years, I’ve worked for American Eagle and Nike, and the things I design go out into the world but my own work becomes invisible… Now, when people put their money down on our products, and say “Thank you; this piece has made a difference in how I live my life,” that is the biggest deal to me! That makes me, as a designer, feel like, “Ok, this is our purpose. There’s a value in bringing something beautiful to someone.” And Erin has allowed me to do that!