L.A. designers Emily Current and Meritt Elliott are extending their California-cozy retail footprint, opening their second The Great store today on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and putting in place an ambitious plan for growth over the next two years.
Located in a 1,200-square-foot 1910 Craftsman bungalow, The Great may be the prettiest retail store on the Venice, Calif., shopping thoroughfare. And it opens up an expanded view of what the six-year-old contemporary brand is becoming — offering men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, sleepwear, lifestyle and home goods, gifts, as well as a detached friends-and-family guest house, hinting at a possible future foray into hospitality, perhaps.
“It’s never been a retail store before,” said Current of the stand-alone house, a private residence until it was snapped up by Jake Mathews of 9 Mile Investments, who also owns the Waterfront Venice and Winston House. “They wanted somebody who would respect its bones,” she said, explaining how they preserved the original structure, oversize wooden shingles and large wood front door.
The designers, who met at UCLA and bonded over bell-bottoms, have been partners in fashion for nearly two decades, from red carpet styling, to launching their eponymous Current/Elliott boyfriend denim line with cofounder Serge Azria (which they left in 2012), to creating the casual Americana-focused The Great in 2015.
Sold through 200 retailers worldwide, and their two brand boutiques, The Great has also spun off a number of high-profile collaborations with Pottery Barn, The Honest Company and Goop — and has more to come this holiday season.
“We were dying to get back to shopping again, and back to a creative environment,” said Elliott of returning with another brick-and-mortar. “We discovered our sense of style and friendship running around town and looking in little stores, shopping together for vintage…discovering! So we know there is a value in that still, and we’re focusing on that.”
The co-chief executive officers are aiming to open 12 to 15 additional retail stores in key markets over the next two years, with total revenue forecasted to approach $100 million by the end of 2023. The next store will be at Sportsman’s Lodge on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley.
“For the first nine months of 2021, revenue is up almost 75 percent and profitability is up over 60 percent as compared to the same period year over year. For full-year 2021, revenue is projected to increase almost 100 percent year-over-year with profitability growing proportionally over the same period,” said Ryan Meyer, chief financial officer of The Great, which is self-funded and has 50 employees.
While a lot of California fashion may be associated with sand and surf, The Great is more lake and lodge, with a heavy dose of vintage Americana referencing national parks, varsity sports and cottage core romance (the latter being particularly competitive territory with fellow L.A. brands Doen and Christy Dawn, among others).
“Adventure, camping, mountains…we grew up with our dads wearing flannels and Levi’s that we stole, so we’re always wanting to revert back to that familiarity and comfort. And all those things we’ve been searching for in vintage stores all these years — always a leopard coat, always a 1940s floral, always a plaid, always the perfect T-shirt. Those codes haven’t changed,” said Current.
The designers opened the first retail space on Melrose Avenue in 2018. “We were pushing to open more stores before but COVID put a halt on that. But once we reopened, sales exceeded all expectations so we said let’s go,” said Current.
“We have a healthy wholesale business but we realized during the pandemic how much the customer wants to connect with the brand and that we needed to make sure we were articulating that, whether digitally or in a store,” said Elliott.
As they did for the Melrose interiors, they tapped designer Brigitte Romanek to outfit the Abbot Kinney bungalow’s original paneled wood walls and ceilings with vintage Italian lighting and brass clothing racks. An original fireplace is a centerpiece, and a hidden nook under the staircase is wallpapered to display the children’s offerings.
In the front and back rooms are the women’s collections, including the designers’ festive holiday log house plaid skirts, Alpine floral blouses, Fair Isle cardigans, and folkloric rose embroidered dresses, as well as The Great’s footwear line of boxcar boots, canyon moccasins and trooper boots.
The expanding men’s collection includes jersey knits, oversize lodge cardigans and vintage Mickey Mouse sweatshirts. (Other vintage items in the store include Converse high-tops, quilts and curated jewelry.)
The knits room displays drawers and shelves full of their rainbow-hued range of cropped, stadium or dropped-rise sweatpants, and boxy, shrunken or slouch sweatshirts, some of them plant-dyed.
A reimagined galley kitchen displays an assortment of homeware and apothecary items, with custom aprons, napkins, pottery and other tabletop from independent makers, including sage and rosemary candles from L.A.’s Flamingo Estate, modernist vases from L.A.-based Lucy Michel, butterfly teacups by Topanga Canyon’s Earth + Element, Turkish towels and vintage serving pieces.
The store is a holiday gifting bonanza, with cooking and design books, small accessories like “Flea Market Money” coin pouches,” tie-dye kits for kids, The Great’s made-in-L.A. linen napkins embroidered with “You Are Great,” bandanas and embroidered ballet flats.
There’s also a backyard garden for entertaining, and an upstairs loft for private fittings and trunk-shows.
Just before the pandemic lockdown hit, the designers launched their biggest sleepwear collection to date. And those soft goods, as well as their trademark sweats, helped the business thrive during the pandemic.
“Like everyone in the beginning, we were terrified, but then we quickly realized we could pivot and be resourceful. We didn’t have to lay anyone off,” said Current, who grew up in Davis, Calif.
“Everyone did a lot of different jobs. We converted our Melrose store into a shipping facility…because of the volume and growth we needed it. And so much of what we do is made in America, so we didn’t have big supply chain issues,” said Elliott, a native of Berkeley, Calif. (Eighty percent of the collection by volume is produced in L.A., which the designers say is always their first choice.)
Their diverse categories of lifestyle product (they make everything from denim to military-inspired twills and outerwear with a feminine twist, to cozy socks and caps, with prices from $20 to $550) has also helped fuel growth, they said.
“We’ve been categorically hedged since the beginning, with the collection, sweaters, shoes, so wherever it goes, we’re there and it doesn’t feel like a fake,” said Current. “And also we’re an omni business, we have retail, d-to-c, wholesale so the levers can push and pull.”
Now they’re looking to step into new categories, build their executive and marketing teams, and open “a lot of stores.”
“So much of the past few years have been about creating great product, and when people find it they’re there and they keep coming back, but we’re finally feeling in the position to build on that,” said Elliott of amping up the storytelling aspect of the brand.
“Well, I think we’ve been authentically sharing our journey rather than creating a narrative that is dreamy and not real. We’re not all barefoot with a basket of flowers. We believe in beautiful storytelling but we’re real women running around doing errands and walking our dogs,” said Elliott.
“Where we’re excited is that we’ve built a brand that you could be wearing head to toe and no one would know, and two people could shop the brand completely differently — really casual or really feminine,” said Elliott. “It feels really inclusive in that way.”