Posted by United Goods on September 25, 2017
Following is the full interview we did with Elizabeth Geisler of Cocoon. Part of it ran in our monthly email, United Update, which is sent to subscribers around the 26th of each month. To join the mailing list, enter your email address in the field near the bottom of each page of our website.
We were first introduced to the impeccable work of Elizabeth Geisler, CEO/Creative Director of Cocoon, when Christy was working with MNfashion. The women's luxury outerwear designer, 30, now lives in San Francisco, and just launched a new Fall line.
Hey Elizabeth! Tell us about you.
I grew up in Excelsior, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got my Bachelor of Science in Apparel Design from the University of Delaware. I began my path toward a creative career at a young age. It’s a funny story, actually. I was playing shortstop in T-ball, and my coach yelled out to me, asking me to scoot over. My response was, “Hang on, I’m drawing a rainbow in the sand!” My parents enrolled me in some art classes almost immediately. As I grew up my interest in fashion became stronger through my relationship with my grandmother, a former fashion model. Finally, after a home economics class where I learned the art of making pajama pants, I knew I’d found what I wanted to do with my life: become a fashion designer. I was lucky to have found this passion so young because I was able to dive into learning how to sew and design from a young age, and it steered me straight into fashion school.
During college, I interned for designer Isaac Mizrahi in New York City. It was fantastic. I got to do proper couture runway fashion and work at New York Fashion Week. I also had a chance to study and intern in Paris with Elie Saab.
I happened to graduate at the height of the most recent recession, so finding work as a fashion designer in NYC was very challenging. Looking back now, that was such a blessing because it sent me down a very unique path where I got to learn so many aspects of this industry. At first, I bounced around doing various internships in bridal and runway, while simultaneously working as a retail stylist at Ann Taylor. Then, I landed a role as a Production Coordinator at a company called Mott 50, a startup at the time that specializes in sun-protective clothing. It was a great opportunity to work in design, marketing, production, sales, and more. I got to see so many aspects of what it was like to have a new company. While I was there I was inspired to launch my own brand, Cocoon.
On a personal note, I live in San Francisco, California, with my boyfriend James. We have a 3-year-old Goldendoodle named Harry Winston.
When did you start Cocoon, and how did it start?
I officially started Cocoon as a business in 2011 while living in NYC. I was working for another company part-time, and was making coats and capes myself, sending them back to my mom in Minnesota for her to sell to her friends. I had met this woman, Cindy, with a small factory in NYC while working at Mott 50, and I approached her to see if she would take me on as a customer and produce my line in small quantities. She agreed. Cindy is really the reason I was able to get started and stay in business all this time—she’s the backbone of Cocoon. When I moved back to Minneapolis in 2012 I made the decision to grow Cocoon and make it my full-time career.
How did you come up with the name, and what does it mean to your business?
While the business of Cocoon began in 2011, I came up with the name and concept in 2009 while I was in design school at the University of Delaware. It was the concept for my senior thesis project. I made this coat that we all called “the cocoon of warmth”…and the rest is history. I try to think back to that cozy coat when I design everything now. I ask myself if it lives up to the name before I move forward on the design.
What makes the work of Cocoon different than the work of other designers?
One key thing is that I use my mom as my inspiration and, more importantly, as my fit model. One of the things that inspired this line is when she would tell me how annoying it was that cool, modern brands were fit on these stick-figure young models, so they didn’t fit her right. I asked around and this rang true for so many women. Most importantly, she was the target customer, [someone with] way more disposable income to spend on a cashmere coat than the 20-somethings [other designers] were targeting with their fits. So our fit is much more realistic to our customer base.
Have you always had an interest in fashion?
Yes. My love for fashion began with my grandmother. She was a fashion model in the ’40s and ’50s and then went on to become a fashion-show coordinator. She saved all of her old gowns and hats, and I would play dress-up in her closet all day long.
What's the best part about what you do?
I absolutely love seeing a woman try on one of my pieces and witnessing that spark, that twinkle in her eye where she feels amazing. I also love hearing stories about her wearing it everywhere and getting compliments. It’s the best feeling to know you added some joy to somebody’s life.
What's the most challenging?
I want to be able to reach more people. I think that’s the hardest part about starting a fashion line—the barrier to entry into the market is really tough. Getting stores to choose your brand in a Fall buy over an established brand is very hard to do. I’m lucky though; I have such a strong customer base that recommends the brand to their friends, and they keep coming back season after season and buying more pieces. It’s fantastic.
How can United nation help you with that challenge?
Keep spreading the word to friends and store owners. Like, comment, and share on social media, and forward my emails to others.
What are your goals for the next couple years?
I’ve always hoped I could add more concepts, more lines in various price points.
What are you working on at the moment?
The Fall line is launching any day now, so I’m hard at work on that. I’m also working on some fun holiday pieces, and a few things for the Winter season as well.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a creative all along. Being a fashion designer was my destiny from a very early age.
What do you think we'd be surprised to learn about you?
1. I’m a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan. Football is a huge part of my life.
2. I hate to admit this, but I actually spend more time in workout clothes than true “fashion.” Since I work from home, my outfits aren’t the cutest.
3. Deep down, I’m a nerd. I love learning! I’m so happy I worked so hard at my education; I feel like I got everything out of it that I possibly could have, and I’m really proud of that.
4. Eating is my all-time favorite activity. I fell in love with cooking because I love eating so much. It was the easiest way I could think of to be able to eat whatever I was craving on any given day.
5. I cried when Oprah announced she was ending her show. One of my biggest goals growing up was to get on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
I'm a shoe-aholic. What's a favorite pair you’ve owned?
Me too! I have the most amazing pair of Christian Louboutin strappy nude heels with a chevron strap pattern that I got for my senior thesis fashion show. They are bad ass! They have a roughly 6-inch heel so I don’t wear them very often, but between the amazing memory of why I got them and how cool they are, they are by far my favorite pair.
What else would you like to add?
Buy from brands you believe in. If you connect with a story or a company, you’re going to wear that piece over and over and feel good about it.