Emily Ratajkowski’s Unstoppable Body of Work

by Eddie Roche

Don’t let that body fool you—Emily Ratajkowski is here to work. The model/actress/entrepreneur is taking the fashion world by storm with her hugely successful line, Inamorata. Thanks to her almost 24 million Instagram followers, the swimsuit and body line has been selling out—and this is just the start.

Emily Ratajkowski with Actress Judith Light

Have you always been the type of person who is able to juggle so many projects?
I was the kid who was in ballet class, acting class, soccer, all that stuff, theater, everything. It was just always in my nature to spread myself somewhat thin. My worry used to be that I was a jack of all trades and master of none, but I’ve kind of erased that and I really embrace the fact that I’m able to do multiple things.

How did the idea of Inamorata come about?
It really started with me doing a lot of licensing deals. I grew up in Southern California. I love bikinis, that’s important to say. I grew up on a beach. I’ve always had a giant collection of suits. I’ve also always been interested in fashion. I was in third grade drawing my teacher’s wedding dress when I found out she was getting married. But as an adult, it really came to me through doing all these licensing deals, and also targeted ads through Instagram or with campaigns and realizing, “Oh, wow, I’m being hired to collaborate with these brands for my creative direction. I feel like I could do this just as well if not better than what they’re doing. I want to give it a shot!”

Who did you turn to for advice?
I talked to a lot of my friends who have their own brands. I’m between L.A. and New York. A lot of my friends work in the industry and have smaller brands, and then I just worked super hard to find a factory. Our factory is in L.A., almost all our stuff is in L.A. I brought on my best friend [Kat Mendenhall], who worked in luxury manufacturing for 10 years. She has come on to handle the back end, and I continue to be the designer and creative director and all that other good stuff.

EmRata shot by Zoey Grossman

Zac Posen is a friend of yours. Did you talk to him about the business?
Zac and I come from similar positions, where we didn’t have a dad who built and sold companies or someone who was really there to be like, “Okay, this is what you do on the business front.” We come from a creative background; both of our dads are painters. He told me about his own experience and about having so much excitement around your brand or identity and needing to be able to understand and balance that out and maintain as much control as possible. Zac and I talked about how if you want your business to last a long time, you need to have control and ownership.

What’s in your background that makes you able to do all this so naturally?
I went to UCLA for art, so I have always been a pretty good craftsman. I design everything. Everything for me is taken from inspiration. Then I literally just have a notebook where I sketch out [the looks] and work with the factories to build the samples. Then we really just go from there.

Tell us about the name Inamorata. Why did you decide to call it that?
I definitely didn’t want to name it EmRata because I want the brand to exist without me and sort of be its own thing. As much as I’m so grateful for all my fans who have come over to Inamorata, I definitely want it to grow into its own company separately from my own identity. But I liked the idea of having something that alluded to EmRata and my name. When I was thinking of things I loved, I thought “Inamorata” because it means female muse or siren, and I like the idea that a woman is her own muse and her own siren.

(Boo George)

What have been the biggest challenges in getting this company going?
What we have had to work the hardest on is production, because we have such an amazing customer acquisition cost and rate. We have all these new customers coming all the time who want new products. Our goal is to have lots of new products, whether it be body, which is the lingerie, ready-to-wear category, or swim, which is released every two and a half weeks. Having this sort of infrastructure for a company that’s really in its infancy helps us meet the demands of our consumers. That has been the toughest part; basically, finding a factory that could keep up with us.

Who are some of the people you look up to who have made the leap from modeling to something else?
Kathy Ireland is amazing. She’s so smart. In some ways, I’ve modeled my business after her, which is to start with something really simple, earn your customers’ trust, fill your customer base, and use your name to do so. She started with socks, which was really brilliant. Everyone thought she was crazy, but she actually was so amazingly smart because it was a basic thing. She knew once she could sell socks, she could sell anything. Our first year, we had only six styles of swim, so in some ways I feel like we have modeled ourselves a little bit after what she did.

The DNA model wearing a look from her own line.

How do you want to see the business grow?
I think we’ll continue to expand into lingerie and ready-to-wear; right now, we call that category body. Our bike shorts are one of our best-selling products, even over swim. It’s a great staple, and people know that we make good ones and you can wear them all the time. For us, it’s really about continuing to build our customers. One thing that makes our business special is that we have this amazing ability to acquire customers with such low prices and at such a high rate. It’s really what they want, and that’s the key thing for us. As much as we love swim and we want to continue to do that, there are just so many other things that people want. They want ready-to-wear, they want accessories, and we plan to take on all that.

How many people are working for you now?
It’s me and my best friend. Then we have a full-time employee and a couple of interns. In our office, it’s about four people, so we’re really, really small.

How involved are you in the day-to-day?
My friend Kat [Mendenhall] deals with making sure everything is coming from the factory on time, and we have the pick and pack and all that, but when you have a company this small, all hands are on deck. So I’m kind of doing everything.

Your shoot with photographer Zoey Grossman is beautiful.
That was my first time working with her. She is super, super amazing. We like working with female photographers, and we try to do that as much as possible. What’s really fun about Inamorata is every two and a half weeks we are dropping a new collection, whether it’s swim or body, so we have a lot of opportunity. Everything is about our content. We get to go to photographers and be like, “Listen, this is what we need to do, this is the general idea, what do you think?” We actually pulled up these fun, sort of ’70s and ’80s images that I had saved on my mood board, so it kind of worked out perfectly. A lot of that ’80s inspiration has been floating around, but nobody has really done it well.

Emily Ratajkowski(firstVIEW)

Do you think you’ll sell in stores?
I really don’t see a reason at this point for us to move to wholesale. For us, [the direct-to-consumer model] has been incredible and successful, so there just isn’t a reason, but eventually we would like to do something.

What’s the best part of this project?
It’s so creative and fun. I am an actress and a model, so I’m used to being hired and brought along in the later stages of a project. This is an experience where I get to control everything from start to finish.

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