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From work wives to co-authors

When Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur met as college undergrads in 2002, their friendship was instant. After graduating from the University of Chicago, they both moved to New York City, in their words “armed with plans to take over the magazine world (Erica) and the art world (Claire).” In 2010, an email, in which Mazur sought Cerulo’s feedback on a cover letter, turned into a lengthy chain that ultimately planted the seed for a business that satisfied both their professional and personal passions. The idea was to create an online marketplace that sold limited-edition pieces from emerging fashion designers paired with stories about the makers themselves. “We wanted to introduce a mentality of collecting, not just consuming, and to expose our audience to the thrill that comes with connecting on a human level to the work, and the story of a designer,” they explain. That summer, they quit their jobs, and the website Of a Kind was born.

Nine years later, following a number of collaborations with designers of all kinds, they’ve written a book: Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses. It’s a guide to starting a company with friends, inspired by their own partnership and infused with stories of other “work wives” including lawyers, entrepreneurs, and more.

Furthermore talked to Cerulo and Mazur about the triumphs and challenges of writing the book, maintaining professional boundaries, and more.

Why did you decide to bring other women’s stories into the book?

Erica Cerulo: We knew from the beginning that we wanted to shine a light on other women that had female partnerships like this. Part of it was a curiosity: How much does our experience reflect what other people have experienced? How much are these partnerships similar or different to ours? When we started interviewing people, we realized how much in common these relationships had even if the day-to-day was different.

How did you find them?

Claire Mazur: It was really a mix of everything imaginable from [reaching out to] people we knew socially and had admired for years to cold-emailing and Googling.
EC: Once we started doing the research and keeping our eyes peeled, there were so many work wives everywhere, including [in] the shows we watch like The Bold Type, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Glow...When we started looking for work wives, it was hard not to spot them everywhere.

In the book you talk about how social media and friendship can make professional relationships murky. Can you say more?

CM: What we were referencing in the book is that we had a really specific situation where we were very close friends and we were inviting the first members [of Of a Kind] into our homes. There were no obvious boundaries at first and we didn’t attempt to enforce any. It quickly became apparent that wasn’t going to work.
EC: Our eager interns were showing up at my apartment when I was getting out of the shower, and we had to ask them to go get a coffee while we were getting ready. Now that we have an office and a different environment, we can choose to share and not share certain things, which establishes boundaries. We’ve both had experiences where we shared [intimate] stuff with the team. I had [a family situation] that involved an illness and I had to take meetings and calls that were torturous. It was important that [our employees] understood that that was a presence in my life. Claire shared the news of her pregnancy earlier than usual with the team because she knew it would impact their lives and didn’t want to feel like she was keeping something from them.

Speaking of motherhood, there's a chapter in the book dedicated to the topic.

EC: We learned a lot in writing and interviewing for that chapter. I’ve known for a long time that I didn’t want kids and that Claire did. Learning to navigate that was challenging. We wondered how it would affect our relationship—would it feel like our paths were splitting? Seeing other women [making these same, differing choices] and knowing we weren’t the first people to tackle this empowered us. In that chapter, Amanda [Hesser] and Merrill [Stubbs, founders of website Food52] talked about Merrill’s first pregnancy. Amanda would send her weekly updates with only the high-level recap of what was happening, no day-to-day stuff. We took that advice to shape our own thinking about what it would be like when Claire was out [on maternity leave.] We decided I would go to her house twice a week and catch up on big picture stuff so that when she came back to the office it would be easier to understand and so she wouldn’t feel so far removed. It’s also been really helpful for me that she’s in the loop and that I still have a sounding board—something I’ve gotten really comfortable with and reliant on over the last nine years that we’ve worked together.
CM: Erica understanding what my life looks like at home has been so key when she’s scheduling meetings and when we are making decisions and prioritizing. I love work and I really wanted to stay in the loop, but in general, it’s often a huge challenge for women to come back to work because they’re navigating balancing a new child and work and don’t know what’s been happening while they were away. Friendship, accountability, and obligation is what the future evolution of family leave should be. There should be a plan in place for reintegration so everyone feels great about it.

How do you empower each other and your team?

CM: The most empowering thing we do is to give each other space to be our real selves. We don’t feel like we have to cut some part of our personalities out of our working relationship. That’s what’s so wonderful about allowing friendship into the business and working space. The most empowering thing is to be able to come into the office and say to Erica ‘I feel off today because of something going on at home.’ To me, that empowers me to be myself and it’s empowering for Erica not to have to [wonder if] I am just over working together, when it’s something else entirely.

Can you each tell us a bit about your fitness routines?

CM: In 2008, I made the decision to get off the antidepressants I’d been on for a really long time. I came up with the idea that part of my cycling off them would be starting to work out regularly. I was not an athletic person at all, so running seemed like the obvious choice. I knew I could do it gradually and didn’t need a gym or equipment. It helped me to handle depression and anxiety and changed my life. Every morning, I usually run three miles or more. As I’ve gotten older, the physical benefits have become more important to me too, but the mental health benefits have been what kept me committed to it.
EC: I’ve gotten into Pilates and yoga in the last few years and I do some combination of those two things three to four times a week.

What about wellness?

CM: We see a management coach together once a week. To me, that’s become my therapy stand-in. We say that it’s one-third management coach, one-third marriage counselor, and one-third therapist. It’s a really important part of our mental health regime.
EC: We’re also both enthusiastic home cooks. We put emphasis on that as a meditative practice to eat healthy.

What are some of your favorite pieces on Of a Kind right now?

EC: We just released new apparel from Mijeong Park that everyone is super into right now.
CM: Let me just open my shopping list. It definitely includes the Mijeong Park line and there are a bunch of pieces from Emerson Fry that I have my eye on—especially the tops that are breastfeeding-friendly.

Congratulations on all the recent excitements!

Both: Thank you!