When it comes to doing it all and still being able to maintain it while cool, calm and collected, we couldn’t have chosen a better person to interview for our Cover Story, Egreis Gjergjani. She does it all! She’s a wife, a mother, a creator, and an entrepreneur. She wears many hats and because she does it all she is able to showcase a lifestyle and career that may appear chaotic to many, but she’s made it so effortlessly. It was such an honor and pleasure to meet her during the New York Fashion Week Kids Shows this past season. I personally had followed her on Instagram before I embarked on a role in this industry 4 years ago, and was intrigued by how she captured fashion, lifestyle and her personal touch in a storytelling manner. I didn’t realize who she was until after our NYFW show when I put two-and-two together that “Stiletto Me Up,” the “Shoe Queen,” and Egreis Gjergjani owner of Itty Bitty Toes were the same person!!! Her passion for children’s fashion and her ways of making every child wearing her design and their parents feel as if they’re royalty, and all that matters at that moment is incredibly magical. So here are a few questions we asked her to get to know her better as the woman, the fashionista, the blogger, the designer, the entrepreneur, and most especially the Mom & Wife.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career as a designer?
It started when I was about 5 years old. I used to be absolutely fascinated with any itty bitty dress or shoe my parents would put on me. I was very, and I mean very particular about which pieces I wore each day. I drove my family nuts! Going to school every day was a hassle, but I was determined to style myself and pick my own outfits. I would often dream of going shopping and being able to choose anything I wanted, and that dream became a part of me as I got older. My interest in Fashion deepened when I lived in LA and was around it at all times. I knew I had to find my way in that WORLD somehow. And to this day, I still have a hard time believing that I am living my dream.
What made you choose children’s fashion?
When I got married and moved to Kansas City, I dedicated myself entirely to my new family. My husband and I were expecting our first child, and I really committed myself to that. For about two years or so I forgot about me. It was all about my husband and our baby. Then I got pregnant with my second child, back to back. And one day, in the midst of all the diaper changes and what seemed to be never-ending nursing sessions at the time, I decided I needed to find myself again. I’ve always been so driven and career oriented, and I could no longer recognize who I had become. So, I thought of my love for Fashion and that of being a mother, and I decided to combine the two together and create a beautiful line for children.
The designs you created are no doubt good enough, but who and which things were your inspiration while creating such amazing designs?
Thank you! I appreciate it. I have a fantastic team of very talented women that partake in designing our collections every season. In the beginning, it was all on me. But over the years, we have been so fortunate to grow and expand. I recently had a third child, a baby girl this time (yay), so it has helped me tremendously to have a team of designers that not only understand my vision so well, but have studied all of my past work and have found such creative ways to bring that same style and taste onto the new designs we have released. It is hard to truly focus when you are running around with 3 children under 5, but when I do get the chance to do so, I draw inspiration from vintage looks and photographs in the past. I love incorporating some of those unique details into our pieces. I especially like to design when we release limited edition pieces, usually dedicated to my children. For example, we are getting close to releasing our Ivy Greis Collection, to celebrate my daughter’s First Year of Birth.
What was your biggest fear when going out and starting your own children’s fashion line?
My biggest fear was how others would perceive it. What would the moms think? Are they going to like my designs? When I first started Itty Bitty Toes, couture for children was not as popular as it is today. Moms have been obsessed with dressing their little ones since the beginning of time, but there weren’t many brands that were offering such over the top, fancy pieces for little ones. I found quite a few companies that were catering more to the young teens or older girls, but not little tiny ones. And that’s the void I wanted to fill. I had just found out that I was having another boy when I was pregnant with my second child. My husband and I had decided on only two children, so we were essentially done having children (or so we thought). So, knowing that I wasn’t going to have a girl, and being such a girly girl at heart, I needed to get my fix. If I wasn’t given a chance to dress a daughter of mine, why not dress every little girl out there? And that is what sparked it all! But I knew NOTHING about children’s couture. All I knew was the pretty dresses in my head that I so desperately wanted to bring to life. I finally did it, but it was a lot of hard work, dedication, and yes, the absolute uncertainty that somehow this may fail and maybe others may not find these pieces as pretty as I had imagined.
What made you want to expand your business from just designing children’s clothing and shoes to now designing for women?
Ah! My new line, By Egreis. What an experience this has been, but truly such a dream! Itty Bitty Toes is my little baby; my fourth baby and I love it dearly. I’m involved day and night, and I breathe it every day. I just love children, and I have the best job in the world: the chance to put a smile on their face when they put my clothes and shoes on. But I’m also a woman that loves to dress up and rock a pair of heels any chance she gets. I have been told for years to start something of my own, in terms of a Women’s brand. I have a fantastic following on Instagram that is so sweet and so kind, and all of those women are so supportive and for years have been telling me to release my own clothing line. Now that my kids are getting a tad bit older, and Itty Bitty Toes has a great team that keeps it running, it has given me the time to focus on my own line for women. We haven’t launched just yet, but we are getting close to it!
What is your favorite part about being a designer?
I never really see myself as a designer. I think of it more as a creator. I like to create something out of nothing. My best ideas come when I’m dreaming. A few times I’ve woken up, running to grab a notepad so I can jot down what I had created in my dreams. I love the thrill of creating something new that makes people go “YES! I want that”. My favorite part of it all is making it come to life. I usually work with a sketch artist who can understand my concepts and turn them into a drawing. Though lately, I’ve been practicing quite a bit on my own so that I can get better. By Egreis has motivated me so much to do more of the sketches on my own. I’m learning, every day! Looking back in the last 3 years and seeing how much I’ve learned is such an amazing feeling and it is exciting to know that I have a long road ahead of experiences, trials, and errors to learn from. Growth. A beautiful thing.
There’s so much pressure for designers to come out with their greatest collection season after season. What advice would you give to young designers as yourself just starting out and hoping to make it in the industry?
I know I’m supposed to study my competition and follow the trends, etc. I know this, yet it’s something I have yet to do. I follow my heart, my taste, my instinct, and what inspires me. Everything I have released with Itty Bitty Toes and all that we are launching with By Egreis, is all a reflection of what I find lovely and pleasing to the eye. My advice would be not to worry so much about the pressure and the stress that comes from having to outdo yourself and others every time, but rather to dig deeper within you and get your creativity flowing. The rest will happen on its own. I’ve learned that people support people they like. So, if you put your all into your work, that love will show in all that you create, and people gravitate to that. Create what you love with passion.
How do you describe your personal style?
Fun, bold, at times risky. I take chances, don’t often play it safe. I like a classy look with a bit of a bad girl vibe.
What do you think about work ethics and what kind of ethics you believe in following while working with Fashion?
It is the key to success. The only key needed actually. If you don’t know how to design, you can learn. If you don’t know how to code a site, you can hire someone who can, etc. But you cannot learn how to be diligent and have an excellent work ethic to start a business from the ground up and make it successful. This is for any kind of business you want to start, not just fashion. Fashion makes it harder because it is so competitive, but that shouldn’t stop you. Competition is healthy. If you believe in you, and you are willing to work for it, then you will make it. Just never give up.
How do you want moms to feel when their children are wearing your designs?
I often ask my clients to record their little ones when they open their Itty Bitty Toes boxes. Borderline creepy, I know. But bless their hearts, they always send me the cutest little videos! We just did a gorgeous dress for Royalty Brown and a matching one for her mommy, and she sent us a video of her trying her dress on. We all about fall out of the chair at the office. I mean, that is literally a dream come true. A little girl is so happy to wear your dress that she is just parading around in it, looking at herself in the mirror, and smiling nonstop. Can you imagine the joy her mom feels looking at her? THAT is what I want for every mom to experience when we send them their Itty Bitty Toes box!
Tell us something about your background.
I’m a proud immigrant. Born and raised in Albania, I moved to the United States when I was in High School. I attended schools in both New Jersey and Massachusetts and then went to California to attend the University of Southern California. I lived there for almost a decade until I met my husband, then moved to Kansas City, which is where I reside now. I have a background in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. I have never taken any courses in Fashion. It is a passion I decided to cultivate on my own and every year I learn something new and get better at it.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
I would say my greatest strength is my determination. I never give up. If I make the decision to do something, I will do it, no matter how challenging it may be. My weakness, on the other hand, is that I’m exceptionally too hard on myself, and at times it makes it hard to appreciate all that has been accomplished when I’m always focusing on what hasn’t been achieved yet. I am working on bettering myself in that regard. I have found that it causes me a lot of stress.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 – 10 years?
I’ve always known I would be successful. Never really knew to do what exactly, but I knew that I would make it in something. My friends from college often joke about it because I would preach it to them daily. I am a big believer of the universe and the energy that we put out. What you give is what will manifest. If you believe that something will happen, it will happen. The universe will align its stars to make it happen for you. I have trained my mind to think positively and picture everything I ever want in life as if it already happened. 5-10 years from now I will have launched Itty Bitty Toes stores in major cities or countries, and By Egreis will become a known brand for Women.
How will you contribute the best to your company?
My best contribution is my authenticity. It is so essential to remain who you are through it all. Styles will change, fashion evolves, trends occur, and it’s important to keep up with them at all times, but my goal is to stay true to myself through all of the changes. The reason I believe my brand is successful is that it has character, personality, and a uniqueness to it that comes from within. My goal is to continue providing that to the brand and to my customers.
How comfortable are you working hands-on with models and other designers?
Extremely comfortable. I love connecting with people, and I live and breathe what I do. I am quite involved with our company now, from sketch to samples, to final product, to production, to photo shoots, runway shows, and all the way down to the sales on the phone, and comments on our social media pages. I want people to know who we are in. We have built some fantastic relationships with so many of our customers. We have attended weddings, birthdays, and significant events that they invited us to. It’s not just business, it’s relationship building. We are building one large and big family full of powerful, strong women and mothers.
How well do you manage stress?
It’s something I will continuously work on. It isn’t my strongest asset. I am very detail oriented and a perfectionist. So, the smallest little things can stress me out. I want everything to be perfect. I mean who doesn’t?! But with three small children, and a business that’s always GO GO GO, it does have its stressful moments. I was told yoga and meditation really helps! I have been meaning to give that a try.
How do you manage being a wife, mother of 3 beautiful children and your career as a fashion designer and business owner?
BALANCE that is the key. Understanding that you cannot be perfect at everything. Something will always give. So, every day I plan my day in the morning. I decide which area of my life needs my immediate attention and focus for the day. It is a big struggle because instinctively I want to be a perfect mother to my children, and a great wife to my husband. But it’s important to know that being a great mother is not always about spending every waking moment with them. It’s just as significant to lead by example and show them that their mother runs a business and is following her dreams and goals while providing others an opportunity to work in a place they love and pursue their dreams as well. I want them to grow up to be strong individuals who take charge of their life. Everything I do is for them. Some days we do nothing but fun activities, play, paint, go on outside “adventures,” and other days I’m at the office from 8am to 8pm, putting in work. I have managed to find the right balance between the two. I make it a point to take breaks every few weeks so that I can recharge myself and be a better woman, mother, and wife for my family and my business.