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March 19, 2010

In Business with Bestie

It's a tempting proposition, launching a company with your best friend. But experts warn that such ventures are notoriously fraught with danger. We asked our favorite fashion up-and-comers, Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai, the best friends behind edgy label Vena Cava, how they managed to pull it off.

vena cava designers lisa mayock and sophie buhai

Photo Credit: Georgie Nerheim

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MC: How long have you been friends?

SB: We're both from L.A., and about 10 years ago, a mutual friend introduced us just before we both left California for the Parsons School for Design in New York City. We became friends really fast — we'd spend our weekends thrift shopping together and altering clothes. It was all very natural.

MC: When did you decide to go into business together?

SB: At Parsons, they only pick 10 or 15 people to be in the senior show, and Lisa and I didn't get in. We were pretty bummed, so we ended up putting together our first collection that summer.

MC: Did you feel any trepidation about launching a line together?

LM: No, it was fun, and it was an organic extension of what we spent our weekends doing anyway. Plus, we didn't invest a lot of money, just the cost of fabric, invitations, and paint for the set. We never thought it would turn into a real business.

SB: People would tell us, "It's really tricky having a partner," but at the same time, you really need a partner for a start-up. You can't pay employees yet, and there's so much to be done. Combining efforts is a great way to start a company.

MC: Did your friendship ever get in the way of the business?

SB: It's hard to make time for our friendship because we're both obsessed with this one thing — Vena Cava. Being in business together is like a marriage, but without the sex. You need to make time for your relationship, make sure you're connecting outside of the work stuff.

MC: What are the benefits of working with your best friend?

SB: Fashion is a really cutthroat industry, and I don't know if I could handle it on my own. Also, when you need to take time off, knowing that your partner can cover for you is huge.

MC: What happens when you disagree about something?

LM: We disagree all the time!

SB: Mostly about small things, like if one of us thinks a garment should be 2 inches longer or shorter. We're pretty good about being, like, "If you really want it, fine." Sometimes we both feel strongly and have to duke it out. Eventually someone compromises. We don't yell or say mean things — that's not how we work.

MC: Any advice for friends considering going into business together?

SB: It's important to have the same goal in mind and be really honest about it. When partnerships don't work out, it's usually because the partners want different things and they're not being up front. We've always been really clear about where we're going and what we want.

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