Fredericks & Mae is a collection of beautifully designed and curated objects that prove form, function and fun can exist in equilibrium. Gabriel (Gabe) Cohen and Jolie Signorile began their design partnership as seniors at Oberlin College where, through good fortune, they landed in design studios next to each other. They collaborated on their senior thesis and have made the partnership a professional venture since 2007.
“Actually,” clarifies Gabe, “we just kind of grew from a ‘manic crafting duo’ into a design company.”
Starting with handmade goods, Fredericks & Mae’s works were initially sold wholesale to select shops and galleries. Their expanded line is now also available through their ecommerce site and a brick-and-mortar store in Brooklyn, NY.
All about gifts, for others and ourselves
Self-described as a “design studio reveling in the art of the gift,” Fredericks & Mae’s collection includes their own designs and items selected by Gabe and Jolie for their incredible craftsmanship and style. Like many of their own products, the objects often combine playfulness and functionality.
“In our earlier years, we made everything by hand out of our living room. Then, about six years ago, we realized we could really grow the business if we had some items produced out of house,” Gabe explains. “It also meant we could design items that are produced from materials or through processes that we otherwise didn’t have the expertise or equipment to use.”
Gabe adds, “Matches were the first item that we had produced out of house.”
A passion project grows into a thriving business
As a result of the outsourced production, Fredericks & Mae’s business significantly scaled up and the possibilities, as Jolie and Gabe saw them, were endless.
While expanding their products and reach was exciting, Gabe acknowledges that their happenstance approach to business – a venture built from love of design and joy in everyday life – sometimes worked against them.
He offers this insight to other entrepreneurs. “We didn’t actually have a business plan until about nine years into Fredericks & Mae. Instead, what we had was a lot of anxiety as the business grew. Having a plan in place, we found, was enormously relaxing. It articulates where you’re going and decision-making is easier, because you know how you want things to be down the road, not just a foot or two in front of you.”
In 2018, Jolie and Gabe moved the business out of the basement design studio that had served them for years to get a larger space, which included a storefront in Brooklyn. They also relocated their inventory from Brooklyn to Poughkeepsie – a cost-effective move that enabled them to increase stock, along with operational efficiencies.
Loans designed for efficiency, stability and growth
Jolie and Gabe worked with Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union to secure the duo’s first loan. Then, about a year ago and through the advice of their business coach, Holly Howard, Gabe and Jolie contacted Pursuit for another loan to help them grow the business further.
“Our goals were to consolidate our existing business debt and increase our inventory. Pursuit was highly recommended by Holly and it was absolutely the right advice for us,” says Gabe. “Pursuit came through with the funding, we’ve met our goals and the whole experience has been lovely. Our Pursuit team has been super-helpful and engaged and thoughtful about what they can offer us.”
In addition to funding, Jolie and Gabe have worked with Pursuit on brainstorming ways to further grow the business. Pursuit has also connected Fredericks & Mae with a marketing agency to perform an audit of the website and improve search strategy and other key elements for their growing online presence.
Gabe says, “When you have this kind of expertise on your side, it saves a lot of time and money on learning curves.”
Opportunities and challenges during and beyond the pandemic
Although outsourcing production freed the team up to focus on design and sales, more recently, it has presented some challenges in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Pursuit helped Fredericks & Mae secure an SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan so that their team – Jolie, Gabe and part-time staff at their fulfilment center and showroom – would be more financially secure during the business closings.
And when stay-at-home orders in New York meant that foot traffic to their shop dropped off completely, online orders skyrocketed.
Unfortunately, there was a downside.
“More than anything else,” says Gabe, “we’ve been impacted by supply-chain disruptions. We have several of our top-selling items produced overseas and with factories around the world shut down, we’ve run out of inventory. At this point, our spring shipments are running several months behind.”
He continues, saying, “While the shop is really important to us from a community-presence perspective, from a revenue-generating standpoint, it’s actually the smaller component of our business, so closing that for a while wasn’t the big hit. It’s the challenge of getting our inventory back up that’s the major issue, especially as our ecommerce site has really taken off. And resolving that is just a matter of time.”
And as factories resume production and the world starts to reopen, Fredericks & Mae will be ready to fill it with their amazing gifts, designed with joy.