Emily Hikade: Founder & CEO of Petite Plume

Episode 338

Emily Hikade, Founder and CEO of Petite Plume, designs sleepwear fit for royalty—quite literally. Before Emily dreamt of the coziest sleep essentials, she lived a drastically different life focused on counterterrorism as a member of the CIA. And while Hikade certainly loved her position in the CIA, it took a near-death situation for her to completely reevaluate her life. We learn about Emily’s journey and the lessons that she has learned along the way throughout her career. Her wisdom and lessons are incredible. This is one inspiring episode that you won’t want to miss on this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everybody. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest. Here we have Emily Hikade, who is the founder and CEO of petite plume. And it is this incredible, incredible brand. If you’re not familiar with it, you have to get familiar with it. Emily is designing sleepwear fit for royalty, quite literally. She launched in 2015 and has been picked up by major retailers including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf, Goodman, J Crew, and obviously online too, but many, many, many, many, many beautiful pieces, and her collection. So before she dreamt of the coziest sleep essentials that you can even imagine, she lived a drastically different life for almost 15 years, she lived and worked around East Africa and the Middle East, focused on counterterrorism as a member of the CIA, so wild. And while Hikade certainly loved her position, and the CIA, it took a near death situation for her to completely reevaluate her life. So I can’t wait to speak with Emily about her journey, including all of her entrepreneurial experience to date, and building fatigue plumes. So very excited to have you here, Emily.

Emily Hikade 2:11
Thank you, Kara. I’m so excited to be here. I’m such a fan. And everything that you’ve done and achieved is really remarkable and inspirational.

Kara Goldin 2:19
Super, super thrilled. So let’s start by sharing so what is Petite plume? How do you describe it to people?

Emily Hikade 2:27
Petite pluma is classic, timeless luxury sleepwear. And we very proudly make it without chemicals, heirloom quality, something sort of reminiscent of a bygone era. It isn’t trendy, it’s much more, you know, it’s something that you can pass down something you will might have worn 50 years ago, 20 years ago, you know, when I was a little girl, my grandmother used to give us pajamas every Christmas, you know, the very classic night gowns with the ruffles and whatnot. And it seemed like that had gone out of style. And when I was looking at that for my own kids, you couldn’t find it. So that was the the inspiration right there.

Kara Goldin 3:07
That’s amazing. And so just while we’re on the topic, so what was the founding story? Like? What made you kind of think about I’m gonna go do sleepwear.

Emily Hikade 3:17
So you know, it was it was a very interesting career, obviously, that I had before. I was a specializing in counterterrorism, I would often travel away, I’d leave my little kids at home. And I would go to faraway places on operations. And it was one mission, I was on a plane in a storm. And the plane went out of control. And it started heading toward the water. And as it was spinning sideways, and the lights went out, and people were screaming, all I could see were the faces of my three little boys. And one of them wasn’t even a year old yet. And at that moment, I guess it’s what Oprah would call an aha moment. I realized I’ve given a lot for my country. And I think my kids needed me more. And at that time, I already had a list of business ideas and thought things I thought I could do if the time ever came to launch a business. Well, there’s never a right time to launch a business. Certainly not when you have a full time job and three little kids at home. But that was a wake up call that maybe there’s never a good time. So I launched petite Klum in the middle of all of that after the kids went to bed early in the morning, and just sort of started right away the journey. And it’s been quite the journey.

Kara Goldin 4:39
That’s wild. Did you have any connections with people who were actually doing the fabrics that you wanted and the process you wanted? Or how did you know about this?

Emily Hikade 4:50
Nothing, nothing. I had no connections. I hadn’t been in business school. I you know, I think I got on Alibaba and started looking at factories in various locations. I was looking at factories in India factories in Portugal factories, and I was requesting samples and price points. And what I didn’t realize early on was that you can’t so particular launch is a luxury children’s pajama company. And what I didn’t realize is that they have to be inherently flame retardant. There’s a law with the CPSC, that children’s pajamas have to be able to sustain a direct flame for three seconds without igniting. So 100% Cotton pajamas are illegal in the US without being dipped in chemicals. And you don’t have to put chemicals on the label, you just have to put the fabric and we were not going to use chemicals. We developed a fabric that is the highest quality cotton blended with an inherently flame retardant fiber, think of a tweaked wool. And we put that into production. The first facility that we developed it in was an actual fireman’s uniform facility, again, that they had the specialty in these materials. And then we perfected it to make it soft and breathable, and something that you would want to put your children in.

Kara Goldin 6:03
Wow. And when did you actually decide to go into adult?

Emily Hikade 6:07
A couple of years later, our customers actually reached out and said, Please, Your quality is so amazing. Would you please, you know, produce adult pajamas to which is so much easier. From that perspective. We do 100% Cotton, in our adult sleepwear across the board. And it’s you know, less sizing to the SKU number. When I think about it, we definitely went into the most difficult difficult sector of the market where everybody else was probably too smart to touch it. Because all of our kids pajamas, from our from six months all the way to age 14, which is 12 skews for every single set of kids pajamas. Whereas now when you introduce the adults, it’s five skews, and it’s 100% cotton with our kids, you have to test every bolt of fabric before it’s imported to ensure that it meets all of the CPSC standards. So yes, adults loved it. Um, now we actually sell more adults than we do kids wear. And our men’s pajamas have grown 800% In the last year. GQ call that the best men’s pajamas on the market. So it’s really taken off from that perspective as well.

Kara Goldin 7:11
How did you get the word out about petite plume? I guess you got it into a store. I’m so curious what the process was. So once you actually got some prototypes made and like, how did you get people you’ve got an amazing list of you know, who’s who that is wearing it? Did that just happen by accident? Or how share the process that you went through?

Emily Hikade 7:33
Yeah, so I think we’re very lucky because I think people have really cute kids. Yeah. And they like to take pictures of their horrible kids and little pajamas, matching what not? So I think from the start, it took off before I really even knew what Instagram was. So you know, I’m like, I launched the company from East Africa, where if you think it’s difficult to launch a company, try doing it from East Africa where you know, you get, we had an antenna shooting up from our house that brought us internet. And on a day when the wind blew extra hard. Suddenly, the internet would go down, or the internet would go down for a week because a ship had a ship’s anchor had cut the under under C cord, cable. And so all these different challenges, but I remember launching it was May 4 2015. And the site went live on Shopify. And it was like, okay, there it is. And I just thought people would find it. I think part of it was like, here we go. And we started to go out to the stores. And we were very lucky that one store in Cape Cod, said, Hey, I just found these kids pajamas. They’re really special. They’re very good quality. She told her the owner told a sales rep about it, who happened to be the sales rep in Atlanta for luxury children’s pajama clothing, and that sort of stuff. And then the first year, we were in over 200 stores. Wow, that’s amazing. That was a lucky turn of events. And then once you’re in the stores, people are buying them. They hadn’t heard of them. There’s a real discovery process. And then most importantly, people are taking pictures of their kids at the holidays matching. They’re posting them. I think people are much more eager to post pictures maybe of their kids than they are of themselves in the pajamas. On Okay, so we just started spreading like wildfire. And we got a real celebrity following right off the bat

Kara Goldin 9:23
almost immediately. That’s incredible. So prior to this, you touched on this, but you’re a CIA officer, how did you start that career? And did you always think like maybe one day you might be an entrepreneur?

Emily Hikade 9:36
No, no, I honestly think I said that was if you had told me 10 years ago that I would be CEO of a sleepwear company. I would not have believed you. I think I was in it for a long time. And it was exciting. I thought I think I was into make a difference. Yeah, I think I wanted to lead an impactful life. If and I think certainly after 911, you know, I think we had a really big mission, we really were working our tails off to try to protect America from any future threats. That was our number one priority. And I think a lot of us worked really long hours around the clock and really austere conditions to make that happen. And I think when you’re young, and you’re in your 20s, I think, you know, we’re invincible we have, you know, we’re fearless. And it sort of, I sort of continued that way. And I spoke four different languages fluently. And so it was something that was exciting. And we were moving countries every few years, and I was traveling around the world, and I was meeting with very interesting people, some of whom were dangerous. And it didn’t strike me, I think, until I started having children, where you realize that there is this vulnerability, especially when your plane is careening sideways, and you have three little people hoping that you’re going to come home that night. And that sort of brought it all home that I have done a lot in that area. And I started to think that there were other avenues to explore.

Kara Goldin 11:06
Yeah, I mean, it’s incredible to sort of imagine, is there anything that you took away from that experience as an agent to founding and leading a company?

Emily Hikade 11:17
I think that it’s interesting, because I think that success in one career often translate to success and another and I think resilience is absolutely critical in success in any career. And in life, I think relationships, I think hard work, and I think hustle, I think, absolutely, those are the keys to success and being a CIA officer. And it’s absolutely the keys to success and being the CEO. You know, it’s remarkable how much relationships can also impact your career in both areas. You know, whether it’s with who you’re meeting with, whether it’s you know, who you’re working with, it’s your team, who you’re setting yourself up with, is really setting yourself up for success as well.

Kara Goldin 12:03
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Emily Hikade 13:53
absolutely nailed it. It is you know, when you’re an entrepreneur, every morning, you wake up and you’re not sure what you’re going to meet that day, what challenges what’s going to happen. And I think that is especially true. When you’re also a CIA officer, you don’t know what is going to meet you on the other side of the door when you walk into a meeting or when you’re doing, you know certain aspects of the job. I think being able to think on your feet, being able to pivot being able to assess the situation and do risk management is absolutely critical in both careers.

Kara Goldin 14:24
When we were starting hint, people always said to me, we were not only starting a brand new company, but an entirely new category, which is called unsweetened flavored water. And so when we would talk to buyers, they would say you’re the only one doing this right now. I mean, if people really wanted it, wouldn’t the big guys do it? We were really focused on quality. We use real fruit in the product. There were lots of reasons why some of the big soda companies weren’t doing it and still aren’t doing it well. But when I look at sort of your category overall, you guys have such Beautiful products, beautiful designs as well as fabrics. What do you think about when you think about competition? I mean, do you worry about competition? Do you? What do you focus on?

Emily Hikade 15:11
You know, I think that I built this company to make sure that it is really special heirloom quality using real fabrics, real fibers. You know, I think that I’ve had my head down, really trying hard to figure out exactly where we’re going. And I think that’s something I’m really proud of. And I think when you look at the competition, a lot of the competition is using, you know, spandex or polyester or the blends. And that’s something we’re dedicated not to not doing. And I’m really proud of that. And it’s also we have these classic styles. Right now, we’re the leading company for family sleepwear in the country. So we do these classic styles that work for everyone, we’re, you know, for bridal parties, we can outfit the ring bearer and the, you know, all the way up to the mother of the bride, the father of the bride. So we sort of are that company that fits for the whole family, and in just in these classic styles. So I think we’ve sort of been lucky in that the results have really paid

Kara Goldin 16:12
off. Yeah, definitely, I found that, you know, when we did have competition, what was interesting is they may go try the competition, and then they come back to us, because we focused on what we were doing, and what we could control.

Emily Hikade 16:27
I think that if you’re just focused on doing the very best quality, and we’re in a good position that, you know, we are still 100% founder own, nobody’s pressuring us for more profit margins and cutting corners, I think that our single focus has been using yarn dyed fabric using all of these, you know, top of the line to you know, maximize the product, and we aren’t being pressured otherwise. And I think that’s also good. So we’ve just like you said we ever had down, we’re doing the very best quality we can. And I think that speaks volumes.

Kara Goldin 16:59
Huge. So what was the big surprise when you really started kind of trying to create this line, but also, you know, create your company, you’re obviously very intelligent, but intelligent people can start companies, but they may not know all the ins and outs of the businesses. But what was really surprising to you.

Emily Hikade 17:19
I think the surprising part to me was, I think when I started it, I thought that being an entrepreneur and running your own company would be less stressful than working with terrorists. Uh, huh. Interesting thing that when you look at that, when you look at the operational side of what I was doing before, it was very stressful with meetings or going on an operation. And then you would go back and you would write up what happened and tedious government style docs that, you know, you’re you were not as stressed when you were doing that, because the event itself was over. And I think that when you are the an entrepreneur, launching your own company, I think it’s every day, there’s a new twist every day, there’s a new challenge. Every day, there’s, you know, especially early on, I think you’re sprinting, you’re just starting a company, you know, you are responding to things that used to stress me out, maybe a nightgown came in, and it was three centimeters off, its measurements are four centimeters, and this isn’t what we ordered. You get into the company and you realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint, you know, challenges with fulfillment centers, challenges with financing. Growth takes capital. And I think that’s something that’s surprising, because for a long time, I wondered what I was doing wrong. Our company was growing, we were doubling every year. And there was no money. There was no money, was it where, you know, where does this happen? What am I doing so wrong? And I actually remember listening to the how I built this podcast by Kate Spade, and she was in the same thing, her curve first, bags were in Bergdorf and Barney’s and all of her credit cards were maxed out. And she said, What am I doing wrong. But as you know, as everyone knows, growth takes capital, if you are have a million dollars in revenue, and it takes you 500,000 To get there, and you walk away with 500. In theory, then if you’re going to have a company worth 2 million, you’re gonna need a million to get there. And you’re $500,000 short. So you’re already just scrambling and the company continues to grow. You know, what secret Am I missing? And so you have to go out and get bigger and bigger loans as the company gets bigger and bigger right off the bat.

Kara Goldin 19:31
Yeah, definitely. Well, and I think that is the story of every entrepreneur and all different categories. I think it’s it’s so so true. I mean, it’s way more expensive than you ever thought it was going to be to build and takes a lot longer than I think anybody ever thinks to do what you want to do. So yeah,

Emily Hikade 19:53
it felt a little lonely. I’m watching it from Africa and I didn’t know anybody else running their own company. I thought it felt like it As the only one going through some of these challenges, and I remember going to the first trade show in New York, I went to the one at the Javits Center, the en que children’s show. And it was amazing because the contacts that I made the people who were going through the same struggles, the same processes. And that opened like a light when a light bulb went off on that one, because I didn’t have to do it all myself, I started talking to people I started learning, I started asking questions, saying, you know, how do we do this? Finding out from others? What really, you know, depending on what the problem was, to make sure that I can either learn from it and not do the same thing, or go down the same path or make the same mistakes that others had made? Yeah, definitely. So we’ll get to looking at Yeah, I think there’s a real gift to listening. Sorry, I don’t know. But I think that so another takeaway from the former career is that it is so much about asking the right questions, listening, learning, instead of having to go down that path yourself.

Kara Goldin 20:55
Yeah. And I think that the asking questions and listening and learning aspect is so key when you’re trying to do something different in an industry and actually change things up. Because I went in thinking that hiring people who were experienced that had been in this industry before, they are going to be my magic bullet to be able to grow. And I think that, you know, thinking differently, really take somebody who has a different lens that is obviously smart, but has a different lens, and who was willing to ask the questions and not be the most knowledgeable person in the room. And to your point, also, it can be lonely, right? Because maybe you weren’t used to being that person in your previous life. You know, when I was jumping from the tech industry into the beverage industry, I knew nothing. I didn’t even know how to produce this product at all. And I think it was, it was very humbling. But also I sort of loved it. But you know, nobody knew who I was. And they just were like, okay, she’s asking a lot of crazy questions that if she actually knew this industry, maybe she wouldn’t be but I was a quick study. And I know you are, as well. So but I love, love, love your story so much. So if people have ideas for products, what kind of words of advice would you say if they’re thinking about, you know, maybe they’ve got an idea for a company. And you know, they’re just too nervous to actually start it. They’re like, I don’t know where to begin, like, what would be sort of your words of wisdom?

Emily Hikade 22:31
I would absolutely tell them that there is never the right time. There’s never the perfect time to start a company who has you know that that perfect moment where I somebody once told me early on, they said I was doing it 100% Wrong, that I should have gone to trade shows, I should have done all of that. But I think what is accurate, who somebody said that an entrepreneur is someone that jumps off a cliff and builds the plane on the way down. And I do believe that’s true, because you see a gap, you’re running toward it. The goal, I didn’t have time to start going to trade shows I had small children, I had a full time job I had, there was so much life happening, but I started it and even if it was only a few hours a day, when I could, it started and then it started to pick up and it started to pick up to a point where then I could, you know, resign from my day job and just focus full time on the company. And I think that’s, you know, something even if it’s just starting with an hour a day, start researching your idea start trademarking it. I think every little bit you do, I mean, the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, I think until you take that step.

Kara Goldin 23:41
Yeah. Absolutely. So, last question, best advice that you’ve ever received best advice

Emily Hikade 23:48
I’ve ever received? You know, recently, I was reflecting on some of the last 10 years and I think the best advice I received was, doesn’t matter what you’re doing doesn’t matter how busy you are, doesn’t matter if you’re going in six different directions I would recommend or my advice is slow down and enjoy the journey. You know, I think that for me, oftentimes, I remember thinking, if I can just make it through this assignment, if I can just wait until the summer, if I can just do this next goal. Everybody’s moving toward that goal. And the meantime, you know, there’s that moment in time that you only get once and I think there’s something really remarkable about stopping to enjoy the journey along the way.

Kara Goldin 24:29
I love it. Well, thank you so much, Emily, I loved all your insights and wisdom. And we’ll have in the show notes exactly where to get petite bloom and learn more about Emily as well. But I really appreciate your time this morning.

Emily Hikade 24:45
Thank you so much, Kara.

Kara Goldin 24:46
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. Please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode. Just a reminder that can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin and if you want to hear more about my journey I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey and I want to talk to you about we are here every Monday we like to talk about Friday. Thanks everyone for latest she’d have a great restaurant about we are good, successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening