To celebrate International Women's Day, we sat down with Erika Togashi, founder and creative director of SEPTEMBER. We discussed her story - the inspiration for building her brand, the women who have inspired her, and her biggest win as a female business owner.
TL: How and when did you start surfing?
ERIKA: I started surfing right after college when I moved to Santa Barbara, CA and worked for Patagonia. The Patagonia culture encouraged everyone to go for a quick paddle at lunch, however, I was a complete novice and had no idea what I was doing so I usually ended up floundering around at C Street or Miramar. A few years later, I spent a good amount of time in Sayulita, Mexico and was able to start progressing in my surf abilities. However, by then I was living in San Francisco and quickly realized that I am a fair weather surfer who does not like wetsuits. Whenever I made progress in my surf abilities in Mexico, I lost it because I never surfed in SF. Before I moved to Bali, I probably had not touched a surfboard in five years.
I have always wanted to be able to surf, so when I left J. Crew and New York City, my goal was to become a better surfer. So, I picked up and went on a six-week surf trip to Sri Lanka and Bali with the sole purpose of improving my surf skills. Long story short, I would say my surfing really began when I moved to Bali seven years ago.
TL: Can you tell me about any women who have impacted or influenced your career?
ERIKA: This is a tough question because so many women have influenced me throughout my life and career. My mother has been a huge influence in my life. She has always followed her heart and gut even if that meant going against the societal norms of her generation. That perseverance has definitely been passed on to me.
Two women who have really impacted my career are Maria Huang and Violetta Villacorta (Vio). They were two senior designers at Patagonia who took me under their wing, supporting and mentoring me during the formative years of my career. When most people in the industry were telling me that I needed to have a design degree if I wanted to pursue being a designer, Maria and Vio believed in me and gave me the confidence to pursue my goal as a designer despite not having formal a formal design degree.
Costa Rica 2020
TL: How has it been starting a company as a woman? Have there been any unexpected surprises?
ERIKA: To be completely honest, I never gave my gender much thought when I started SEPTEMBER. Knock on wood, I have not faced any major road blocks or hurdles that I felt were a result of being a woman. That said, there have been times when I felt like I needed to speak a little louder or be a little more firm in order to get my point across in a room filled with men...
I feel very fortunate to have the relationships I have developed with numerous women since SEPTEMBER launched. I am a designer by trade and do not have a business or marketing degree, so there have been times when I felt overwhelmed and almost frozen when faced with big business decisions. During these times, I have been lucky to have many female mentors to support and guide me. I am thankful for those who have been incredibly generous with their time and experiences and look forward to doing the same with the next generation of female business owners.
TL: Advice for the younger generation of women who want to want to start a company?
ERIKA: My two pieces of advise are:
1) Have a clear vision and stick to it.
2) Don't be afraid to ask questions. People are always eager to share their experiences and there is no shame or embarrassment in asking for help.
TL: Biggest win as a woman?
ERIKA: My proudest moment since SEPTEMBER launched was when SEPTEMBER won Title Nine's Mover's & Makers Pitchfest in 2020. Title Nine has created a half-mentorship, half-competition to support and bring female entrepreneurs together. They want to encourage women to lead, risk and own their position in a male-dominated industry so I am incredibly honored that SEPTEMBER was chosen as one of the winners amongst a very talented group of women entrepreneurs.
Being recognized for creating a company that is focused on ethical labor practices and sustainable materials in a world where it is easy to compromise on those areas validated my vision and goal. Being part of a cohort of women who are helping to shape the future is unbelievable and is an opportunity that will be ongoing.
TF: How do the SEPTEMBER customers inspire you?
ERIKA: The genuineness of each and every customer I have had the opportunity to meet with, talk to, and email with, has been an inspiration. Each customer has been eager to share their individual experience's and reasons for supporting SEPTEMBER and I leave each interaction feeling even more committed to our mission. I am honored to have women from all walks of life and age ranges (16 to 65+) support what I'm building and continue to strive to create a brand and product that appeals to everyone.