The coolest girl you know probably shops at Friends. Located off the Morgan L stop in the heart of Bushwick, this boutique fits right in with the artistic, hipster attitude of the neighborhood. What founders Emma Kadar-Penner and Mary Meyer are serving up is much more than just hype and hip trends, though - the foundation of their business is built on friendship, fun, community, and connection.
“We try to have it be really positive vibes here. Our staff are all super friendly, welcoming, and so nice. When people come in, they just love it here. They want to hang out, and sometimes even come in multiple times of day.”
In 2012, Emma and Mary set out to build something they couldn’t define yet, but that they knew needed to have a certain “j’ne sais quoi” - aka that special something. They started with just two racks of clothing, and as the Bushwick neighborhood grew around them, they expanded too. In addition to original clothing designs, curated vintage, and quirky accessories, they saw their home goods, self-care, and smoke & drink categories grow like crazy. Soon enough, they found that their little shop had evolved into a bonafide brand.
When asked about their secrets to success, Emma and Mary both laughed, looked at each other, and said “Our friendship - we have a very special relationship, so we’re very lucky.” The pair says that they couldn’t possibly (and wouldn’t want to) have built Friends without each other. Having someone to bounce ideas off of has been crucial for Emma and Mary. With decisions to make on the daily - decisions that don’t often have clear answers - the two rely heavily on each other.
“Our friendship was what inspired us to start Friends. It was just kind of a very organic thing that developed over time in a weird way - in a really positive way. For some reason we just have a good synergy. Over the years we’ve become closer, almost like sisters, and we finish each others’ sentences and all that stuff. Everything we do just kind of makes sense, I don’t really know why, but it’s very helpful. It’s a chemistry thing.”
In addition to each other, the Friends founders also have an entire community to lean on - a friend group that holds space for Emma and Mary to connect outside of work, and a network of other female creatives and entrepreneurs. In fact, these communities have played a big role in the success of Friends. When they first moved into the neighborhood, a fellow Brooklyn boutique owner told Emma and Mary to carry a product that would become the catalyst for one of their highest performing categories, and countless others helped them “skip the learning curve” when it came to things like buying, merchandising, and connecting with the right partners.
Even the well-trafficked location of Friends - on the ground floor of a building full of art galleries situated on a block full of graffiti and other local businesses - depends on community in order to thrive. If one of their most popular neighbors, like Roberta’s Pizza or the Brooklyn Natural Foods Store across the street, were to fail, Friends’ foot traffic would take a hit, too, and vice versa.
“Community and getting help from other people is so key. It would have been really hard to do this without the support we’ve received. So that’s actually big for us, we try to give back to people if they need help or advice, too. We try to be here for that because it’s always going to be a process, and community is just kind of a given for us.
I hope that aspiring entrepreneurs will look closely at the women behind Friends, and the friends behind them. In this age of social media and fast trends, it’s easy to see successful brands and to think that they are simply lucky, or that they just work really hard. Which is true in a lot of ways - hard work, location, and business smarts have all had a part to play in Emma & Mary’s achievements. But their enduring success has even more to do with honoring each other, their supporters, and their customers.
The ideas of friendship, community, and organic growth are the glue that holds Friends together, and that is the real secret behind this vibin’ shop that Brooklynites know and love.
Visit the Friends website & check out their store in Bushwick, Brooklyn!
About the author:
Faye Lessler is a California-born, Brooklyn-based freelance writer and founder of lifestyle blog, Sustaining Life. She enjoys writing mission-driven content while sipping black tea in a beam of sunshine.