Emmanuel and Victoria Ley are the husband-and-wife team behind Fashion Stork. Based in Vista, CA, Fashion Stork is a monthly clothing and accessories subscription club for men, catered to their sizes, style, and preferences.
We talked with Emmanuel Ley about his experience working alongside his wife Victoria and establishing an online business venture. Learn how small-business owners can run a successful company while working with a significant other. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a little about yourself. What's your background?
I had my own graphic design and print business from 2005 to 2011. Then I partnered with a client of mine to begin a project that is now 10 Dollar Mall. In mid-2013, I parted ways to begin Fashion Stork.
Victoria was a restaurant manager for five years. In 2009, she started a wedding photography business, which she had for about four years, until she began working with me on Fashion Stork.
How did Fashion Stork get its start? How does it work?
Our business began in November 2013.
We send a box of clothing and/or accessories to men on a monthly basis. We didn't see a need as much as we saw an opportunity when buying odds and ends in the clothing industry. Odds and ends – clothing and accessories that there are only one or two left of – are not favored because of their lack of quantities, as well as the amount of time it takes to SKU for an online retailer. For example, if you go to a clothing store and see a rack with twelve sizes of an item you like, and the item right next to it has only one size left, that's considered an odds-and-ends item. It will most likely get grouped with other items left like it and be sold in a clearance section later.
We thought to ourselves, 'If we can simply put this in the hands of the guy who it fits, we can buy and offer it for less.' Since then, we've found that our clientele demand a little more when it comes to curating items for them. We've branched out to new vendors, including top brands and private sellers.
Our typical client is a man, 24- to 40-years-old, who's looking to better his fashion sense without spending too much. We have a "one price for everything" model versus competitors that sell each item sent to you individually.
Tell us about your charitable endeavors.
We donate toward the adoption of children. To accomplish this, we work with families one at a time. For every box we sell, we send a family $1 per box until the quota for adoption fees has been met or until the child has made it home. We've donated over $75,000 since we launched.
Our goal is to substantially lower the amount of time a family and adopted child have to wait in order to unite.
Why did you decide to go into business with your wife?
My wife and I initially went into business together out of necessity. With a background in design and sales, I was lacking in corporate structure experience. I was very bad at negotiating with vendors. My wife came in and implemented everything the business needed.
How do you communicate?
There are pros and cons when communicating with your spouse as your business partner. When we aren't communicating well, we stop and put a pin in it. The pros happen all on their own, and as a result, we can make decisions much faster because we are husband and wife versus just business partners.
What's your favorite part about working together? Least favorite?
We never have the "s/he doesn't understand how hard I work." We see how much we both put in on a regular basis, so when we say, "I have to work late," there's absolutely no misunderstanding. In fact, there's a sense of "Get it, babe!" energy that comes with it.
At the same time, working together means individuality gets taken away from the marriage. We both agree it would be nice to be able to leave work at work. That doesn't work – not for us, at least. We do our best, but a good portion of our pillow talk is spent discussing the business.
How do you separate business from family life?
I can't speak for everyone, but for us, our business is part of our family life. We carve out enough time to devote to our children, but we also drag them to the office and the warehouse from time to time. Everyone on our team of fifteen knows what's going on with our children because they see it happen firsthand. When we spend time out with our kids at restaurants or the park, we leave our phones in the car. As a couple, we have date night at least two times per month.
What the advantage of working with family? What's the biggest challenge?
In the world of business partners, there are usually two or more families that are affected when the spouse leaves. In our case, we have one family to worry about. Because we are husband and wife, the family dynamic supports the business partnership for time and flexibility.
The biggest challenge is emergencies with the children. When a child is sick, one of us – a head of the business – is out of commission.
How will the business adapt as time goes on?
We both agree that working with family is not something easily done, and it takes a great level of patience to see the good in it. So we're pretty set with the mix and do not want to incorporate any other family members into the business.
As far as generations go, we're happy to let our children learn about the business as they get older. Both of us agree that if the kids do help with the business, it will be because it's benefitting both the business and their development. No free rides.
What's the most important lesson you've learn from working together?
The most important lesson I've learned from Victoria is that it's the details that separate the novice from the professional.
Tips from Fashion Stork on Working with Your Spouse
- Play to respective strengths. Let each person focus on their strengths for the business to excel.
- Work through disagreements. Give yourself time to reflect to reach a solution that's best for the business.
- Lean on each other. You're not just business partners – you share a life together. Trust each other's decisions.
Check out previous posts in our Small Business Spotlight series for more small business stories and tips.