You might know Emily Roggenburk because you’ve seen her aerial photos of the Cavs Championship parade, you are one of her 14,000 Instagram followers, or you have seen her clothing designs around Cleveland (Cleveland AF, anyone?). I'd been looking forward to meeting her for some time because I knew her from all of the above. I enjoyed taking a peek into who Emily Roggenburk is outside of social media. Read on to learn about how she found her start, defines success, and looks to the future.
Haley Mills: Tell me about how you started out and how Emily Roggenburk, the brand, came to be.
Emily Roggenburk: Well, I’m actually not from Cleveland. I’m from Indiana originally, and moved to Cleveland for my first job out of college, which was at American Greetings. That was back in 2011. When I moved here I was excited to be in Cleveland and pretty quickly found that it had a lot more to offer then what I originally anticipated. I worked at American Greetings for five years and I really liked it - I had a great job and a great team. After a while at American Greetings, I decided I’d like to have a more creative outlet for myself on the side, so I decided to dabble in photography. I started doing photos for some family and friends. While I was starting this side business, it was right before the Cavs were in the playoffs and eventually went to the finals, and then finally they won the NBA championship back in 2016. When they won I wanted to find a way to capture that joy that was being felt throughout the city. So on the day of the parade, I went up in a helicopter and took photos of the city with all of the crowds below. That night I created more of a print product business, versus doing service photography. I decided to sell prints and frames of my work, instead of continuing to provide photography as a service for clients. Then, over the last couple of years, we’ve kind of (myself and my husband) just been trying to think of other things that Clevelanders would like. We gained a Cleveland fan base following the parade and all of the photos from that day. Once the parade was over, for like six months I would say, it went really well and then we were like ok what’s next? What can we get into? So we started doing a lot of apparel. Obviously, I do apparel for other locations now, and I do Girl Power apparel and I’ve just recently started doing one-of-a-kind apparel where I thrift and then upcycle it. It’s kind of turned into a bunch of different things but that's a really brief synopsis.
HM: This is what you do full time, correct?
ER: Yes. Shortly after the Cavs parade, I left American Greetings to pursue this full-time.
HM: My next question was going to be: what was your original mission, but I think you kind of hit on that. How has that changed for you from where you started?
ER: So when I first started, I’ll be honest, everything happened so quickly that I didn’t sit down and write a mission statement. I went probably six months after the Cavs parade to a bunch of different shows and pop up events, and I was talking to people and trying to tell them what I was doing now and what I had already done. It kind of just came up naturally through conversations (like this one) where I was describing my parade photos, and my business, to potential customers and why I loved what I do. The thing that kept coming up was the Cavs parade day. Every time I’ve been really excited about something, it’s been about people putting aside their differences, getting excited, and coming together for a greater purpose. So that kind of stuck. Now, I try to just bring that celebratory, inclusive environment into all of my products. Whether it's the photos that specifically encompass that day, or the girl power apparel that I do and things like that. It’s uplifting others and trying to put aside our differences so everyone just comes together for a greater purpose, for something bigger than themselves.
HM: Are you still doing some of the photography as well?
ER: I haven't done as much in a while but I have some plans for a couple of new things. It’s kind of taken a little bit of a back seat while I do apparel but I’m hoping to do at least a couple more things in the near future.
HM: How do you define success? Do you feel that you are successful?
ER: Hmmm, that’s a good question. I think it definitely has different meanings for different people. It’s all about what motivates you, in my opinion. I guess to me if you're able to do the things that bring you passion and motivate you every day then that is success. So, if you are motivated by money and you are doing something that is bringing you a lot of money then you probably think you’re successful. For me, what motivates me is change and excitement and being able to control my own schedule and make new products and communicate with people. So all of those things, the fact that I get to do that every day, I think I would say that is success for me.
HM: What drives you to keep growing your business or stick with it when you are having a rough day?
ER: What drives me to keep going is the mission I have created through my business, and the fact that I am so passionate about fulfilling that mission. I would say just that idea of having this thing that I really value and am so passionate about and I feel so lucky to be doing are kind of the things that motivate me to want to keep pursuing it in the future. What keeps me going day-to-day, on the days where it’s really hard, or I don't know if people are going to like something that I put out into the world, or I just had a tough day for whatever reason, is usually more the customer-facing side of the business. Customers coming to me and telling me that they love their shirt or that they follow me on Instagram* or something like that. Sometimes I’ll have people that are like, “Oh, I’ve never met you, but I wanted to say that you are inspiring to me” and obviously that's something that on those really really tough days is what gets me through, I’d say.
*Note: the cashier at Mojo’s (where we met) recognized Emily and mentioned she followed her on Instagram, which I found super fun.
HM: I was looking forward to meeting and interviewing you because I’ve followed you for so long and I’ve never run into or have seen you anywhere in person. What I am trying to do is interview people that my followers might not know, and also people that my followers do know but don’t feel like they’ve really fully met.
ER: I feel like this Cleveland creative community is super supportive and it’s big and vast, but it’s also kind of small. Once you know one person you kind of know everybody. It's funny that we haven’t crossed paths yet.
HM: I love everyone I’ve met so far because, and sometimes I don’t want the question to become repetitive but I like to ask anyway, what is your favorite part about owning a small business in Cleveland, and the answer is always the community and the support from the community and even other business owners.
ER: I think just being around people that are inspiring to you and inspiring to others probably makes us better in the long run.
ER: So whether you think what you are doing is small, how long have you been doing this?
HM: Since May.
ER: So you’ve been doing this for less than a year. So if you think its small now, know that things grow quickly. If you’re passionate about it then I think going and meeting with other people that inspire you will only help you to grow. People are very willing to give their support and their advice, often with nothing in return, which I think is super nice and very generous, but also it's very unique to Cleveland.
HM: How has it been having the storefront* so far?
ER: Really good. We just did our grand opening last week and that was super fun and exciting. It was everything that I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be fun and exciting, and to get people into the shop, but also just get to network and talk with these people who have been supporting me for so long, often with having never met me. It was almost a way to give back to them a little bit and throw them a party. Even though we did the grand opening in January, we did actually open back in December. We opened for two weekends in December and we did so well in those two weekends that it kind of put us ahead of schedule for a lot of things. I think opening early, even though things weren’t quite completely worked out, we just kind of wanted to have a place during the holidays for people to go and I’m so glad we did. I got to see a lot of people just during those couple of weeks too, which was really nice. So it been really great so far.
*Emily’s storefront in located in Crocker Park next to Urban Outfitters.
HM: You are just open on the weekends, correct? Saturdays and Sundays?
ER: Yep. I might do add a couple of weekdays here and there. I’m going to try during the summer to open it a little bit more when it’s nice outside. You know, if people maybe are taking a Friday off to just be out and about, I might be there on Fridays during the summer. Today, I went there and I worked earlier this morning in the shop so if people wanted to come in they could. But for now, it's just the weekends.
HM: Where do you keep your inventory and do the screen-printing?
ER: I actually do direct-to-garment printing which is just a little different than screen printing. It uses a printer that basically looks like a big computer printer, on a larger scale. We used to do everything out of our house before I was the one who was actually printing our shirts. For the first six months when we would create t-shirts, we would order them from another company and eventually decided to bring the production in house. So, we had to move into a little warehouse space which luckily is right down the road from where we live. It's right in Westlake, it's just a small little corner of a warehouse that my husband’s family owns and they let us use. So that's where the equipment and extra inventory is.
HM: Are you the one who does all of the day-to-day operations?
ER: I am, mostly. For a while, it was just me but last June or July I was able to hire someone part-time. Her name is Courtney and she’s recently out of college (she went to CCAD) and she does a lot of my printing now. So if I have orders to fill or a wholesale order that needs to be printed, she comes in 1-2 days a week and will do some of the printing, which has been a huge help.
HM: I bet it was exciting to finally be at the point where you could hire somebody.
ER: Yes! I kept thinking there's no way I can hire someone, I don’t have the money or no one is going to want to work part-time, someone would want to do a full-time kind of thing. I was so lucky she was one of the first people I found and she's super talented in many other ways besides printing. She's a great illustrator and just a very talented artist in general. She has been great and it was very exciting to find her.
HM: What is your next big project?
ER: The big thing we are trying to promote right now is the custom shop that we just launched. So, because of the type of printing I do we’re able to do pretty much everything on demand. A lot of companies will print all at once so it’s more cost effective and stock up on their inventory whereas our printer, as I mentioned, is a little bit different than screen printing and we can print most of our orders on demand. Because of that, we were able to make the custom shop, which allows people to basically design whatever they want and I just manipulate a quick file, switch it in the printer and then I can print that for them. That's the big thing we came out with that we will be pushing this year. I also really want to expand into other Midwest cities and start offering some apparel for some of those cities that have been very loyal to me even if they're not directly in Cleveland. I’m from Indiana so I’d like to expand a little bit for Indiana. Columbus I think would be a great one, I think they have a somewhat similar creative market there that seems close-knit and supportive and so I’d really like to do that as well.
HM: Where is your favorite place to have brunch in Cleveland?
ER: I have a couple. My favorite little local spot, I would say, is Lucky’s Café in Tremont. Tremont was the first city I lived in when I moved to Cleveland, and Lucky’s was one of the first brunch spots I went to and it’s just amazing. Have you had their biscuits and gravy? Everything there is so good, but that's my favorite.
HM: Where is your favorite place to be in Cleveland?
ER: That's a good question. I think Tremont, just like, anywhere in Tremont. Like I said, that was where I first lived when I moved here and I first explored with my family. It just feels like my neighborhood. There's a little spot right at the end of one of the drives where you can see the whole city. Anywhere in Tremont, walking around with my coffee and my dog, is my favorite.
HM: What is your favorite Cleveland sports team?
ER: I think I probably would’ve used to say the Cavs but it’s gotta be the Browns now, my husband and I love the Browns so much. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a huge Cleveland sports fan before I met him, but my husband is like the biggest sports fan ever. He just wanted to watch all of the games all of the time so now I am pretty obsessed with the Browns. I watched them even when they weren’t good and now that they are getting good it’s so exciting. I feel like they are Cleveland’s team.
HM: Is there anything else you’d like for TCBL readers to know about you or your brand?
ER: I feel like I say this all of the time on Instagram and it's probably cliche to say, but the number one thing I want to convey is just how grateful I am. I definitely never ever forget that I wouldn't be in this spot and able to do the things that I love without them supporting me over the last several years. Whether it was at an event that was indoors and crazy and hard to get around at, or outside and really hot and you couldn’t walk around without sweating everywhere. There's a lot of people who originally didn’t know anything about my brand and would talk to me and hear the story and I was very appreciative of that and now there are people that will come and seek me out specifically. It's an equal appreciation and even though sometimes people will say, “Oh, I follow you on Instagram,” I never think , “Oh my gosh yeah, I’ve heard that,” I still always think or say , “Oh my gosh, thank you, that's so cool”, like who would’ve thought! (and I can vouch for her there!) It’s the best feeling ever and I’m just so appreciative. So even though that's cliche I feel like it can't be reiterated enough.