In February of 2015, Akola Founder & CEO, Brittany Merrill Underwood, was awarded the "Leg Up" award from Spanx. In May, the Founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely, pressed pause on her busy schedule and made time to talk with Brittany. A short, 15-minute conversation outlined the groundwork for success and inspired Brittany to make a very large impact through Akola.
Photography by Alex Wolf
Sara Blakely launched Spanx in 2000. During Brittany and Sara's phone call, Sara shared that the best thing you can do is build your brand out of story telling and focus on the "why" behind the business. She learned that the answer is always "no" in department stores, so she creatively broke rules. Her passion for entrepreneurship and belief that she could prove that her brand was impactful lead to her great, widespread success. Sara ended the brief conversation with Brittany by encouraging her to aim high and get into Neiman Marcus by saying "You can't tell the women's story without telling your story. You want to inspire women to do what you have done. Never second guess yourself."
Brittany hung up the phone and had her mind made up. Akola was going to launch as a brand in Neiman Marcus.
Fast forward to Fall of 2015 when Hedda Gioia Dowd, Dallas restaurateur, heard Brittany share her journey with Akola at an event and was so moved by the Akola story that she introduced Brittany to Karen Katz, CEO of Neiman Marcus, who shares a very similar passion for women's empowerment. Brittany met with Karen in January and shared how Akola's entire production process, raw materials, assembly and distribution process empower women to become agents of transformation in their families and communities. She also shared that as a non-profit, Akola reinvests 100% back into its social mission. Excitement grew and the two discussed how they could leverage the Akola model to support a living wage for women to effectively transform the lives of disadvantaged families in the United States. A few months later, Akola presented a line of elevated designs to Neiman Marcus and Karen Katz announced that Akola would be launching in all Neiman Marcus locations across the country and online, making Akola the first Full Impact Brand to launch in the luxury space! Amazing. Within three weeks of confirming the collection, Akola was able to offer work opportunity, equip, and train over 100 women in the United States!
Tonight, Akola is celebrating the second official launch party at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta, GA. The Sara Blakely Foundation and Spanx are sponsoring the event. Brittany and Sara, both Atlanta natives, will be in attendance. Brittany and the Akola team are so excited to celebrate the success of Akola alongside Sara Blakely and the Spanx team and hope to inspire many more to be agents of transformation in their every day life!