Made in Tribeca: Emilia George

Elle Wang was pregnant with her first child and working full-time at the UN when, in that necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention model, she decided to launch a maternity clothing line. It was absolutely a leap. But despite the arrival of a second child on March 11, 2020, and a global pandemic shutdown two days later, she has powered through, and Emilia George is on a clear path in what entrepreneurs like to call the “white space.”

“I had to go to corporate events and wasn’t going to wear a floral maxi dress. I needed clothes that were comfortable but also flexible in terms of style,” she said. “Maternity wear had a bad name. People say, ‘You can only wear them for nine months,’ but let’s be honest, we all have clothes we only wear for nine months or only wear a few times. It was my aspiration to give maternity wear a good name.”

She spent months while pregnant with George (now 2) working on the corporate plans, then used her maternity leave to work on designs. By then she realized the clothing had to be built for postpartum as well, with technical specs for nursing. That extended the life of the garment as well. The company launched in December 2019. (By the way, she has a gorgeous robe that would make the best gift…)

Now in her seventh year of running a partnerships program at the UN — working with member states and the private sector on innovation and gender equality programs — she finds she’s applied a lot of entrepreneurial skills in that role as well, so running a company was not such a leap after all. (She still has not quit her day job.)

“I don’t care much about conforming to the existing ways people do things,” she said.

Elle immigrated here from China as an international student in 2007 (she became a citizen last month!) to get her master’s in public policy at Pepperdine. After a year-long gig at the UN, she moved to DC for a PhD in public policy at George Mason. But she registered on all the dating sites as a New Yorker.

“I would take the bus or train to New York for the weekend just for dates,” she recalls. “I didn’t even bother to do anything long-term in DC — I knew I wanted to come back here.”

She and her husband were living in Long Island City when she started the company; they moved to Tribeca during the pandemic to a space that allowed for an office. “Tribeca was just such a fantasy ever since I came to New York. And I always wanted to try loft living since I started the business — we wanted this live/work space and Tribeca has lots of options.”

Of course there’s a pandemic angle here: when the US border closed, she had her fabrics stuck in factories in China where they were emerging from lockdown and ready to work, so she pivoted to masks. She and her team produced tens of thousands for customers and made donations to childcare centers for essential workers; she then won a federal contract to provide 120,000 masks for the NIH. (That’s Fauci, of course, wearing one of them, below, at a senate hearing.)

And in her spare time she started a fund to help other “mompreneurs” get their ideas off the ground. Her first investment was in Markid, a baby products buy/sell platform that is the brainchild of a Battery Park City parent. And the next will be Ova, a home fertility test company.

Emilia George’s mission has also evolved to include sustainability: that means using certified fabrics like cupro and Tencel, creating less waste (“Don’t over produce — it’s better to let the product sell out.”) and pursuing best practices at the supplier level, both here and in China. She inspects all her factories in person and makes sure they certify that they are following minimum wage laws.

“My colleagues at the UN told me they would hold me accountable,” she says. “All these things are fundamentally important to me because of my background. Something with a social impact is always important to me.”


1 Comment

  1. Congratulations Elle!

    And thanks Pam for this lovely profile of another Tribeca small business owner!