By Flora Tsapovsky
Motherhood is often a fertile ground for female entrepreneurship, but on many occasions, the business plans start rolling shortly after a maternity break. It’s not often that mothers of teenagers, deeply set in a professional environment, decide to do a 180 and turn their energy to fashion—teenage fashion, of all things.
Monika Rose and Marian Kwon, co-founders of Epic Sky, a Sausalito-based clothing brand for girls, are these mothers. Rose founded Kindred, a creative and branding agency in Sausalito, and Kwon joined the agency after a marketing career in children’s apparel and retail.
“We first met at a children’s carnival in West Marin about six years ago and immediately felt connected,” Rose recalls. “We kept running into each other and started talking about collaborating at the agency. Eventually Marian came on board and led strategy at Kindred.”
After the two women left their jobs at Kindred, they took to designing—clothes and empowering messages alike. The idea for Epic Sky started crystallizing as Rose and Kwon were thinking about marketing strategies for clients that included Pottery Barn, The North Face and Clif Bar, and it came to life through a lucky combination of circumstance, creativity and momentum. “Marian and I were at a final pitch for a multimillion dollar account,” Rose says, of working for Kindred. “The night before the last presentation we were sitting in a local restaurant, joking around and laughing about what the future may hold and what we were going to do if we lost the pitch.”
The universe then sent a sign—a 13-year-old boy walked into the restaurant, wearing a T-shirt with a slogan that read, ‘Your ego is not your amigo.’
“Our faces immediately lit up and we started talking about how we wish that girls his age could carry around so much confidence,” says Rose. The two joked that if they lost the pitch, they’d give up the agency life and start a company that supported girl empowerment. The pitch was indeed lost, and an opportunity to launch something new presented itself.
Rose has two daughters, ages 10 and 15, and Kwon has a daughter, 10. “As a professional woman and a mom of a 10-year-old daughter, I was concerned by the media landscape and its focus on external beauty and fame,” Kwon says. “I felt that there were few girl-positive outlets.”
Rose was dealing with similar worries. “When my oldest was trying to survive the hell of middle school and I was feeling powerless on how to reach her in a very difficult time, I kept thinking she needed to hear from her peers about their experiences,” she says. “I was really inspired to create a company that gives girls a voice and could help girls everywhere express themselves and find their own version of ‘epic.’”
Combining their experience in retail, branding and dealing with teenagers, Rose and Kwon founded Epic Sky in 2015. Sold exclusively online, the brand’s styles might resemble clothes found at other teenage-favorite retailers like Forever 21. But there’s a strategic difference: “We involve girls at every touchpoint,” stresses Rose. There’s a “Girl Advisory Committee,” which consults on the fashion essentials line, a collection designed by teenage girls and a website filled with authentic teenage voices. The stories of “Girl Designers” are also shared on the website, along with original text by “Girl Contributors.” “We work with teen writers, artists, musicians, videographers and photographers who speak out and share what matters to them most,” Kwon says. “Working with girls is amazing and inspiring. They are the heart of the brand.”
These voices come from all over the country, but most are based in the Bay Area; Antje Worring, 17, is a designer from Sausalito and founder of Karma Bikinis; she designs a line of swimsuits for Epic Sky. Ellie Toole from Mill Valley, 16, designs jewelry. Stella Rose, 15, is a fashion photographer from Sonoma. Julia Rose Kibben from San Francisco, 17, is a journalist who develops interviews and Op Ed pieces for the Epic Sky website. Jenny Assaf from San Francisco, 18, is about to start studies at Parsons School of Design in New York City; a three-in-one sweatshirt the future designer created will be included in Epic Sky’s fall collection. The list goes on and on. “Gen Z girls have a voice, and they want to express it,” Rose says. “We see them as millennials on steroids.”
Despite their online-only business model, Rose and Kwon make sure to stay in touch with the local community, too, through a series of pop-up sales. One was held at the 7 on Locust boutique in Mill Valley, with a little help from a colorful airstream trailer filled with clothes and accessories. Another pop-up, highlighting new T-shirts with messages by local teenage designers, is coming up on August 20 at Pottery Barn Teen in Mill Valley. One of the T-shirts sold on the Epic Sky website reads, ‘Epic. You’re looking at it.’ Sound overconfident? It’s just what a teenage girl in a constantly updated environment might need to hear.
Learn more about Epic Sky at Epicsky.co.