Founder of Sporty & Rich, Emily Oberg has created a new icon in the casual wear space that has seen stratospheric growth. We spoke to the entrepreneur about dedication, design and what wellness really looks like
What do the first 30 mins of your day look like, your morning routine?
On a good day, I will meditate for 7 minutes in the morning, drink one liter of water and workout or go for a 30-minute walk in the sun to get some vitamin D.
What is at the heart of Sporty & Rich, the DNA?
Good design, simplicity within luxury, sport style and health.
The brand began as a moodboard – why were you anti-launching a brand from the outset and how did that change?
I didn’t want to launch a brand because it seemed so overwhelming and I didn’t believe in myself enough. I thought I wouldn’t be able to create a brand that people liked and bought, so I didn’t for years. Eventually, as the brand’s community grew, I saw the potential and said why not? Life is too short not to try to do anything and everything that you want to do.
How did you retail Sporty & Rich from the outset on your platform and was your platform retail-focused at the time?
We started with a pre-order model and everything was made to order. This allowed us to operate the brand without any capital and investors, I didn’t have much money at all at the time so developing a line and ordering a product that I wasn’t sure would sell wasn’t even an option for me. At the time the platform wasn’t retail-focused because we had never sold much before, just the four magazines and a couple of hoodies over the years.
You’ve worked for other entities prior to launching Sporty & Rich. What were the most valuable lessons you learned prior to going out on your own and what was the catalyst for this?
I learned how to be a team player and how to build with others around you. I’m a very independent person and I like being and working alone and relying only on myself. But when you work for a company there are so many other people to consider. I also learned that if you don’t love waking up everyday and doing something you’re passionate about, you will never ever win.
How did you know you were ready to make the leap and launch your own brand? Are you ever ready?
I didn’t, I just had someone who believed in me and the brand and decided to take the risk. I’m not a very fearful person, and I think this is one of the keys to being an entrepreneur. You can’t be scared of anything. If you fail, you fail and figure it out. If you win, great. It’s never the end of the world, you will always find a way if you have the drive and will to.
Have there been any moments where you’ve thought this would not work and if so, how did you overcome this?
Definitely. Last summer was difficult because the brand grew exponentially overnight. When Covid hit, we were nowhere near ready for the amount of order we received. We were a tiny tiny brand, operating with a team of three people and all working remotely. We didn’t have the right team in place, the right software, the right systems for anything. I really thought that might be it for us. Growth kills companies all the time when they’re not ready for it. Luckily, we figured it out and were able to make it work. I’m so proud of what we did when I look back, what we set up and were able to accomplish in weeks, takes most people months to do.
What was the reason for pausing the print magazine and do you feel that may ever be something you revive?
It was a lot of work and a lot of my own money and I didn’t really have time to do it anymore. It was a passion project that I started when I worked for Complex, and over time as I built the brand into something bigger, it wasn’t a priority anymore. We are actually working on a book, which will be ready this fall.
Wellness and health are something you are closely associated with both personally and through the brand. How do you approach your own wellness both physically and mentally to ensure you’re able to focus and drive the business forward?
I believe in doing what feels best for you. There is so much debate about the best diet, supplements, and the best workouts. It’s a lot of information and hard to decipher it all sometimes, so instead of following others I just do what feels best for me. I eat relatively healthy 80% of the time. But I love to indulge and enjoy. I don’t beat myself up for it and I live with the belief that life is too short to worry too much about anything. Eat fresh food, take supplements if you need them, get regular exercise, but most importantly focus on being happy and feeling good— whatever that means to you.
You have previously mentioned you work well alone. How large is your current team and how challenging has it been to find the right fit to hire?
My team is now ten people. I’m incredibly lucky to have such an amazing CEO who has helped the business grow more than I ever could on my own. Everyone on my team is dedicated and passionate about what we do, and they really believe in the vision and bigger picture. I think making people feel like they’re part of something greater is important, and helps give them a purpose.
What was the first role you hired for to support you?
My CEO David. He helped hire the rest of the team, implement new software, new factories, structure the business and he runs my wholesale business as well. He is really the most important part of the business and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am today.
You have created some incredible imagery in terms of shoots for Sporty & Rich. Do you conceive the concepts for these simultaneously to the collection?
When I design Sporty & Rich I always have the same type of girls in mind, the same overall aesthetic and it’s really all done through my point of view and what I like. When I’m designing I also think about how the campaign is going to look because it all goes hand in hand. For us, campaigns are so important and such a crucial part of our brand. I think the imagery is everything and a strong image is what makes the difference between a brand that sells and a brand that doesn’t.
Have you had any mentors along the way and if so, what has been the best advice they have imparted to you?
I’ve had a few mentors and I’m forever grateful to them for helping me get where I am today. The best advice I’ve heard is probably “advice is something you already know but need to hear from someone else.” It really just means that all the answers are within you and you need to be able to listen to your inner voice and follow your intuition. The right answer is usually the first one that comes to you.
How do the creative and commercial sides of the business work together and do you feel particularly drawn to one side of the business?
I handle all creative. I design, concept and do all of our campaigns and imagery, messaging and collaborations and ideas. The business side is handled by my CEO and his team, but I oversee all topline decisions as well. In order for me to do my job on the creative side, I need to know sales figures and what works vs. what doesn’t. I would say we work together pretty closely to accomplish our common goals. One can’t exist without the other.
What has been the biggest challenge since launching the brand? How did you overcome it?
Probably growing too fast and not being prepared.
Where do you stand in terms of investment? Would you advise entrepreneurs to avoid asking for investment at the outset of their business and is it important to remain in control?
I always say, take advice, not money. Own as much of your company for as long as you can. The whole point of starting a business and being an entrepreneur is that you are your own boss and don’t have to listen to anyone. Once you take a check, someone owns you. If you can do it without investment, then do that.
The last year was a time that saw brands change strategy. Have you had to pivot as a business?
We had to grow very quickly and become a real business. We weren’t set up like a real company, and I was kind of just doing it for fun and not taking things seriously. I’m lucky that I have close friends who are successful entrepreneurs and told me how to navigate our situation and give us advice. It’s important that you surround yourself with people who are better than you at what you do. I love learning from them and growing as a person and a business.
How has social media affected the business and which platform has been most useful?
Instagram has been the driving force in our business. Having a following myself has been helpful in getting the brand name out there and I’ve been able to promote it using my platform. Sporty & Rich started as an Instagram so we had built a following over the years, that was crucial in selling our product as we already had a community and audience in place.
Which is your favourite piece of Sporty & Rich to date and why?
I really love the shirting and boxer sets that we made this summer. It was a new category for us so I wasn’t sure how it would sell but it ended up doing great. I think if you do make a product you believe in and that’s well made, people will see that and it will resonate with them.
You’re based in LA – how did you find the house which is beautiful and what are the benefits to being based there?
My friend used to live in it and he left last year so I was able to take it from him. LA is the best, the weather, the lifestyle, being close to the beach, mountains, desert and sea is such a dream. It really feels like you’re on a permanent holiday.
This is The Icon issue – who or what to you is iconic?
I think that people who are truly themselves are iconic. In today’s world, it’s not easy to know who you are, there are so many distractions out there and social media makes us all confused as to who we are and what we like. We are now taught to follow others and want what they have, and build our lives based on theirs. In order to be successful and happy you need to have a strong sense of self and know who you are. You have to have a point of view and a mind of your own. To me this is iconic.