Kelly McCombs wakes up at 4 a.m. every day.
The entrepreneur, who currently serves as Founder and CEO of ELIRA Apparel, begins her day with meditation, journaling and a trip into nature. In fact, it was that love of nature that led her to start the apparel company, which is helping women from all over the world have better experiences in nature – whether it’s for their work or leisure.
Currently based in the Seattle area, McCombs built a successful career in interior design and as an entrepreneur. Her mission is to empower women through her apparel and her business, as well as work toward sustainability and healing the planet. In entrepreneurship, she’s found purpose, freedom and empowerment. One of her main goals is to take those ideas and spread them to women everywhere through ELIRA – and she’s well on her way to doing that.
ELIRA offers specialized, patented pants for women who are often in nature. Its foundation is built on three fundamental ideas: freedom, empowerment and exploration – all of which closely mirror McCombs’ own journey into entrepreneurship and her career as a whole.
An entrepreneurial path
McCombs always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a drive to succeed. As a child, she would sell greeting cards door to door. After spending some time when she was younger working at a restaurant and later as a loan writer, she decided she wanted to work for herself and quickly got moving to make that dream a reality.
McCombs’ journey into entrepreneurship goes hand in hand with her background in product development and interior design. In 1999, she opened lifestyle stores that generated much press and garnered success. There, she provided customers with bedding and custom furniture and soon branched out to everything from lamps to loungewear. In addition to this experience, she did sculpting and even got into the Philadelphia Museum of Art Trade show..
Starting ELIRA Apparel
Throughout her life, McCombs spent a lot of time outdoors hiking, often with her dogs. It was at the end of a hike, one of her friends wondered to her, “ why they can put a man on the moon but they can’t make a pair of pants for women to squat and pee without their pants down around their knees and their butts sticking out. This sparked an idea for McCombs. She started developing prototypes and soon got a utility patent. She then began going to outdoor retailer shows in Utah and learned more about technical fabrics, fabrics that stretch, waterproofing, spandex and more.
“That was a whole new field for me,” she said. “I practically lived in the prototypes.”
As McCombs continued to work on the pants, she made different sizes for others to try and provide feedback on.
“It was a lot of fun getting the connections and finding the people who would be creating the prototypes,” she said. “It’s a process.”
Soon, ELIRA Apparel was born.
Currently, ELIRA offers two products with more on the way. There’s the Elira Explorer, which is a pair of multipurpose, multifunctional pants with a patented invisible two-way auto-locking zipper technology. The zipper zips all the way around from front to back, or back to front, to allow women to be discreet and free from the restrictions of traditional pants.
McCombs said she hears from customers on a consistent basis about how helpful the pants have been, and in some cases, they’ve been a lifesaver. She said they’re especially helpful for women working outdoors, including farmers, law enforcement, military and more.
The store also offers ELIRA panties, which part gently in the middle for squatting. Upcoming items will include a boxer brief and long underwear.
Lessons learned and overcoming hesitation
Throughout her many years as an entrepreneur, McCombs said she’s learned countless lessons. She feels her creativity and connection to nature make her a good entrepreneur, as well as her intuition and gut instincts.
“My focus was always the outdoors in design,” and I found my love for nature mixed in my interiors shined in my outdoor photoshoots. Now I’m doing it in apparel.”
When it comes to being an entrepreneur, McCombs said one of the main benefits is freedom and flexibility. She can set her own hours and work from anywhere, or take time for herself when she needs to instead of having to report back to somebody.
“I found it to be very liberating,” she said. “I have more flexibility to be working from home and I’m traveling more.”
However, along with the flexibility, there is also an increased sense of ownership. In entrepreneurship, it’s crucial to have a strong sense of inner drive and responsibility.
“Accountability is on you,” she said. “The drive is there. You push yourself to higher limits versus working for somebody.”
As far as what she believes people hesitate about when it comes to entrepreneurship, McCombs believes it’s fear that keeps people from pursuing that path – whether it’s financial instability or the fear of failure.
“In entrepreneurship, you have to figure out how you’re going to support yourself all the way around,” she said. “It’s a big step, but I’ve done it my whole life. You can tap into who you are more as a creative soul.”
McCombs said pivoting and bouncing back from a bump in the road is critical in the career of an entrepreneur.
“That’s the definition of an entrepreneur,” she said. “You fail a lot. I like to say pivot. You have to pivot to get to the next paycheck. You have to sit with yourself a lot.”
For McCombs, she said most of her setbacks have been tied to the economy and that is why it’s crucial to be flexible and resourceful. On some occasions, she would take odds and ends jobs that she didn’t necessarily have a high interest in so she could support herself and fund her business. She often found joy in helping others, and she felt that would open doors for her. At one point, she served as a caregiver.
“The information is out there,” she said. “Figure out how to connect with it.”
Providing excellent customer service
Excelling at customer service is a crucial part of a successful business, and for McCombs, it’s all about giving the customer what they want. In these current times of instant gratification, though, she also said it’s important to be honest and transparent.
“Be as open as you can possibly be,” she said. “You’re not going to make everyone happy.”
McCombs said managing expectations is key, especially in current times when they’re experiencing delays in the industry.
“Things are very on-demand now,” she said. “Customer service used to be more about listening and now it’s instant gratification. Be upfront and honest. It’s not always easy.”
Empowering women in business
Giving women a voice and empowering them has been a key priority for McCombs in her business. When it comes to why it’s important for her to spread this message, she said it’s mainly because women have been kept down for so long.
“We’re speaking up,” she said. “I want to empower women because women have so much power.”
McCombs said she has always felt it’s a double-edged sword living in a man’s world, and she is still dealing with it today. Overall, her view is that women are the healers of the planet and will effect some of the greatest changes to make it a better place.
“We need to stand behind each other and lift each other,” she said. “Women are going to make the change.”
Defining success, overcoming fears and looking toward the future
For many entrepreneurs, achieving success can look different. For McCombs, it means making a difference. This notion ties in directly with her company’s mission, which goes beyond just providing a product to a customer. Getting ELIRA going and the pants on the market was also success to her.
“I don’t define it as a dollar amount, but rather being part of the change,” she said.
For McCombs, overcoming fear plays an intricate role in having success in life and business. Getting past it is often the first step in achieving goals and acclaim.
“Fear is something that when you give it energy, you empower it and it has control over you,” she said. “It’s like a beast and it corners you. Fear keeps people from following their dreams.”
McCombs’ said the ability for her to write her own rules and interact with people has been her favorite part of being an entrepreneur. Her advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs is relatively simple.
“Listen to your heart and your soul,” she said. “Do what you want to do and think about what you want to be.”