Getting Inside the Head of Lunya Founder Ashley Merrill
If you haven't heard of Lunya yet, you'll be hearing more about them soon. This brand has created clothing that's been missing from your wardrobe: comfortable, versatile yet stylish clothing that you can wear to bed AND to brunch. Ashley Merrill is the founder of this brand, and coincidentally, a fellow UCLA Anderson MBA grad. Ready to get inside her head and hear more about her journey and sources of inspiration? Read on.
Many entrepreneurs faced a defining challenge in their journey to success - a time when they had to take a chance or a leap of faith. Does this ring true for you at all?
I think this is true for the entire entrepreneurial experience. I never get to a place where I feel like "there, now I understand everything", I'm constantly hitting forks in the road and leaning on my team, network, industry insights and then ultimately making a jump. I will say the first two years were the most challenging. It's the part where you are pushing the ball up the hill and here is no momentum to benefit from. I remember every day I would wake up questioning myself. "Am I delusional to do this?" "Will people like it?" Every day was just putting one foot in front of the other and probably my ego keeping me from backing out. I'm grateful I didn't.
"I never get to a place where I feel like 'there, now I understand everything', I'm constantly hitting forks in the road and leaning on my team, network and industry insights and then ultimately making a jump."
How many prototypes/iterations did you have to go through before you knew you had the perfect "first Lunya piece"?
As I mentioned, the first two years were the most challenging. I had a lofty mission; to make the best sleepwear in the world, which requires sleepwear that makes the wearer feel like their most comfortable and confident self. For me this means impeccable craftsmanship, design and boundary pushing fabric technology. Did I mention that I knew nothing about making clothes? Yeah I jumped in with the vision of where I wanted to be and had zero experience so it was a painful learning process. I probably did 10 rounds of samples per style for the first collection. I got to a place where I felt like I would buy it and with that I landed on my first collection. We have come a LONG way from the pieces we started with but you have to start somewhere. I'm grateful for this painful journey for two reasons, one, because now I understand a lot about making clothes and two, I appreciate the hell out of people who know what they are doing.
Describe your creative/design process at Lunya.
We start with unmet needs for our customer. We think about each woman in terms of her wants from a body standpoint and from a use case standpoint. We approach each piece one by one, this in itself is a pretty big departure from the rest of fashion, and we layer on trends, seasonal concerns, quality needs, etc. We hand a long laundry list to a designer and they come up with lots of rough sketches for us to talk through. We then source or develop and test fabric. Once we start to hone in on fabric and design we begin sampling. When we sample I actually sample on myself versus a fit model. This is kind of an atypical thing but because I care about how people feel in the garment and ultimately how well it works for sleeping, I have to put it on my body to make decisions. Have you ever put something on and just felt horrible in it even though it technically fit? Most people can relate to that experience but you need to put something on to see if it's doing that. When it starts to pass my test we put the other girls in the office in it. Event though we would all typically wear the same size we have different bodies. And since someone is buying this online and can't try it on first I want to make sure it looks good on lots of different proportions. After all this, we sleep in it and if it passes this test then we go to production.
What's inspiring you these days? Where do you go or what do you read for inspiration?
The trend we're hoping to set is about being confidently comfortable, so we tend to look at the girls in the office, ladies around town, chat with our customers and check out some Instagram fashionistas. We're not in high fashion so we aren't trying to be the fashion forward trailblazers. We are being innovative by adapting and elevating the things you love outside the home with sleep aware design, superior construction, and life altering fabric. We don't feel like we need to try to hard to be a cool fashion company, cool is always the most comfortable and confident person in the room. We just enable her to be the person she is when she is out on the town as she is when she is home.
"We are being innovative by adapting and elevating the things you love outside the home"
Tell me about some of your personal goals for this year.
I'm working on trying to be a well rounded person and a good mom. I feel incredibly lucky to have been given opportunity in this life and I feel a responsibility to offer that to other people. I am passionate about women and girls issues in particular and am working with a number of organizations to try to share that opportunity. On the mom side of the equation I am trying to make sure I am there for my kids even though I'm spread pretty thin. Mom guilt is a thing I grapple with constantly. From what I hear of other working moms its a common feeling but I always worry that I'm not around enough. I'm not sure if I'll ever be at peace with this but I'm trying and I guess that is all anyone can do.
Tell me about some of your goals for Lunya this year.
[UPDATE: Lunya is moved into their new Santa Monica HQ We have big plans for Lunya this year. We are opening a 5,000 HQ in Santa Monica in about a month (you can follow along on the instagram journey, we are doing some R&D on some game changing fabric, we are growing the team and we are growing the company!!!
Describe the current "culture" at Lunya.
With Lunya what you see is what you get. We are a work hard play hard group of women (and a couple of awesome guys!) making clothes for other women like us. As a startup we are a small team of 10 who know everything about each other, have an awesome sense of humor and keep it real with one another. We can buckle down and crank out work or drink rose with the best of them.
What are your plans for growing your team? What skills/backgrounds are you hoping to add to your bench for the upcoming year?
We just added a bunch of people to the team because we are staffing up for the growth we plan to have. I'm hoping to slow on hiring until the end of next year.
What are some of your favorite brands and why?
I love Brother Vellies, Thinx, and Arcona because Im a fan of the products they make as well as a fan of what they stand for. I think as a consumer you have power in choosing where you spend your money and, for the most part, I try to wield that power thoughtfully.
Finally, has there ever been talk of expanding beyond women, to kids, men or even home?
Sure. I think expansion is something we see tremendous potential for but at the same I think focus is the name of the game. The broader you get, the less specific story you can tell and thus your product is destined to resonate less strongly with your intended audience. So that said we have a lot of women to reach before we plan to branch out.