Emily Current and Meritt Elliott know a thing or two about rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.
The best friends, who founded the label the Great, have made their mark in L.A.'s fashion industry as stylists, designers and brand builders. During their freshman year at UCLA in 1995, they bonded over their shared love of tomboy style and vintage denim (“My earliest memory is getting in our cars with coffee and going thrifting,” Elliott says).
For Women’s History Month, they teamed with Cotton Inc. to offer a limited-edition cotton-denim jumpsuit ($350, thisisthegreat.com; rosiereborn.com) inspired by Rosie the Riveter, the denim-clad World War II poster girl for women joining the wartime workforce.
The jumpsuit features a swatch of denim from 1940s-era Rosie jumpsuits sewn below the collar and pays homage to women continuing to break barriers in the workplace more than 75 years later. “It’s no secret that we’ve always been awe-inspired by fearless women who do great things and create history — from ranchers to welders to artists to astronauts,” Current says.
In the new “Rosie Reborn” advertising campaign, she and Elliott appear with a list of women who have excelled in traditionally male-dominated fields: Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant, architecture thought-leader Julia Gamolina, soccer star and Olympic gold medalist Carli Lloyd and metal sculptor Barbara Parsons, a.k.a. Barbie the Welder.
Despite L.A.'s male-dominated denim houses, Current and Elliott started denim brand Current/Elliott in 2008 and pioneered the beloved boyfriend jean. After accepting a private equity buyout in 2012 — the same year they were inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America — the pair channeled their love for denim into a Rizzoli coffee table tome, “A Denim Story: Inspirations from Bellbottoms to Boyfriends.”
On the heels of a well received capsule collection of handbags with Kate Spade New York in 2011, Current and Elliott released their first collection with Pottery Barn Teen in 2013. The collaboration was so successful that it evolved into an ongoing partnership that includes the Pottery Barn Kids and main Pottery Barn lines.
Five years ago, they launched the Great, which was born of their love of vintage Americana and a desire to have a brand that aligned with their values. The line started with women’s ready-to-wear before expanding into denim, shoes, sleepwear, children’s and, most recently, the Great Man, which offers super-soft boxy tees and college sweatshirts.
“We’re a female-founded company led by women and for women,” Elliott says. “We’ve navigated our careers through our strong belief in female empowerment and female entrepreneurship.” Case in point: More than 80% of the Great’s employees are female. “We’ve always prioritized hiring and mentoring women in the workplace,” she says.
At the Great’s bricks-and-mortar, which bowed on Melrose Avenue two years ago, brand bestsellers (think college sweatshirts, airy cotton tops and dresses, army pants and denim) are next to handpicked vintage pieces and wares from female-founded brands. That includes candles, soaps, room sprays and smudge sticks by home goods and gifts line Catherine Rising, herbalist-formulated teas and skin care by Mother Mountain Herbals and honey-based balms, tinctures and soaps from Taos Bee, a sustainable apiary from Arroyo Seco, N.M.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for the women who believed in us from the beginning,” Current says. “This industry can be isolating and hyper-competitive. In reality, there’s room for all of us to succeed, and having other women rooting for you makes all the difference.”
To that end, Current and Elliott envisioned the Great’s flagship (designed in collaboration with L.A.-based interiors whiz Brigette Romanek) not only as a retail experience, but also a place where women could gather and share ideas.
“Our friendship developed in shopping and finding things,” Elliott says. “We wanted a place where girlfriends could come together and hang out, and that’s why we’re surrounded by coffee and good restaurants too. We really love the spirit of shopping and friendship.” Located a stone’s throw from Urth Caffe, the boutique also boasts a dreamy outdoor patio suited for daytime events and candlelit dinners at night.
Current and Elliott have already held several events in the space, including a Valentine’s Day pop-up by Makers Mess, a CFDA Female Founders Series talk and a four-week shop-in-shop with San Francisco-based, female-founded tableware brand Year and Day.
The duo are also part of the West Coast efforts of the Female Founder Collective, which was started by designer Rebecca Minkoff in New York as a way to support female-driven businesses. Current and Elliott were the hosts for a dinner with Minkoff celebrating 30 female founders and entrepreneurs.
“What I admire most in Emily and Meritt is their kind spirit and their willingness to go above and beyond to support women,” Minkoff says. “They walk the walk and talk the talk.” That Current and Elliott are entrenched in the female founder community in L.A., “we couldn’t have partnered with a better duo,” Minkoff says.
Current and Elliott place equal importance on building up the next generation. (Current has two children, ages 4 and 6; Elliott has three, ages 3, 6 and 14.) In 2018, the friends debuted Emily + Meritt, an e-commerce spot offering soft knits, accessories and paper goods at an accessible price point.
“We like to say it’s the younger sister,” Current says. “It’s who we were when we were shopping at thrift stores with coffees. It’s young at heart and it’s still dreaming. You’re smart and intelligent and looking to do great things with your life.”
Featuring graphic tees and sweatshirts, the younger line also includes playful hair accessories and sunglasses as well as calendars and planners in collaboration with At-A-Glance.
Thinking back, Elliott recalls the duo’s collection of notebooks, which chronicled their paths to success, and the list they created about how to start a business.
“I think I actually still have it,” Elliott says. “That’s how we organize our life [and] figure things out. This is how girls become bosses.”
Current adds: “We make it a priority for our daughters to know that we wake up, and every day we go to work because we’re trying to do something important and impactful. We work with our best friends, and we elevate each other — and we elevate everyone around us. We hope that they do that one day too.”
The Great, 8575 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (424) 302-0558, thisisthegreat.com