A Conversation With: Christine Callahan and Samantha Brody of Ella & Oak

We’re all about a memorable, easy and fun wedding gown-buying experience. After all, you want to feel amazing when you finally say yassss to the one!

Enter Ella & Oak, the e-commerce platform that’s revolutionizing the wedding dress buying experience for plus size brides-to-be. Ella & Oak allows brides to select from gorgeous, size-inclusive gowns to try on from the comfort of their own home.

We got to chat with the founders of Ella and Oak, Christine Callahan and Samantha Brody, to learn more about the unique mission behind Ella & Oak and why size inclusivity matters. Read more below!

Q: What is your background in the wedding industry (if any!), and what inspired you to launch Ella & Oak?

A: Actually – none! Christine threw the wedding of her dreams in Charleston, SC a few years ago and is always helping friends and family with their own wedding plans whenever she can – she loves this industry. She had such a horrible time with her own dress shopping experience that she has vowed to change this archaic industry for the better.

Sam has an extensive background in customer strategy and e-commerce. She was always looking for the right entrepreneurial opportunity and partner. Once she learned about the plan for Ella & Oak, and dove into customer interviews, she knew this was her calling to help brides find their dream gown. She left her corporate job and hasn’t looked back!

Ella means “goddess” in Hebrew and the Oak tree is a symbol of strength. Our name represents beauty & empowerment for all brides. We founded Ella & Oak because we want to help brides start their journey as a couple with their best foot forward. Our mission is to make all women feel beautiful and confident on their special day!

Photo:  Kate Benson  | Dress Left:  The Helene Gown  | Dress Right:  The Anne Gown

Photo: Kate Benson | Dress Left: The Helene Gown | Dress Right: The Anne Gown

Q: Give us a peek into what a day in the life of launching Ella & Oak and collaborating with other founders in the wedding apparel industry looks like. What are some of your favorite tasks, and what are some of the most challenging?

A: Each day we are talking with different women-led teams who are bringing amazing products and ideas to the table, and we keep learning from one another. We have joined a few amazing collectives and groups, and have even signed the F Project pledge. We feel that empowering women, even if it is just to make them feel beautiful and confident in a wedding gown, will do wonders for this world. Women and men! (We have some amazing male cheerleaders and advisors on our team). We are trying to innovate in the bridal industry to continuously improve the experience for brides who deserve the very best. We love working with and learning from those who are doing the same.

Some of our favorite tasks so far have been our photoshoots and branding! We partnered with two of the best photographers, Kate Benson and Amber Robinson, and we took over the Forest Hills venue in Raleigh with volunteer models and then the beautiful Historic Rice Mill Building in Charleston, SC with two of our favorite plus models in December. We have some stunning shots, but the best part was getting the feedback on the styles and quality of our dresses from our first women to wear them I may or may not have teared up once listening to their feedback. It was such a pleasure working with such talent and we are so excited to post some of the shots for our website and social over the coming months. Lisa Chron, a freelance designer, worked with us on our brand. She has such a knack for this and we loved working with her! She is talented and so communicative. The colors and look and feel that she developed are so stunning.

Some of the more challenging tasks are creating a modern, scalable business on a teeny tiny budget! We have not fundraised yet, outside of some wonderful contributions from family and our savings accounts, so it's been a whirlwind staying lean and still trying to create a brand that looks like we have a million bucks in the bank. But I would have to say that the most rewarding parts of building Ella & Oak would have to be speaking with our brides.

Knowing we are building something that is going to make a difference in someone's life, even just wedding dress shopping, really has been something that we look forward to each and every day. Hearing some of the stories woman have gone through is appalling, and after speaking with numerous past and future brides, we know we have built a platform where brides can feel beautiful and confident while buying this special dress!

We cater to brides who have thought or felt:

“I’m so done with the boutique visits where they’ve got like two dresses that’ll actually fit me and I hate both of them. It just seems so stupid that the wedding industry hasn’t figured out that the majority of us are chubby girls who just wanna look bomb and be in love.”

“Since I was a child I dreamed of my big day, with my perfect white gown. But, I am a plus size woman...Most shops carry a sample in a street size 6... so I have been dreading my appointment having to squish this tiny dress on.”

“I want to see different dresses and dresses that are made for curly girls. I love that these are made specifically for curvy women.”

“Finding the perfect dress is so important and could make or break the perfect wedding experience. I live in a very rural part of Alabama, so if I want options for dresses – especially plus size dresses – I have to travel over an hour to try on and figure out what I like.”

Q: When it comes to finding the perfect wedding dress, we know that brides want to find a dress that not only looks beautiful, but makes them feel beautiful. How does Ella & Oak personalize the wedding dress shopping experience for each bride? What sets Ella & Oak apart from traditional brick-and-mortar bridal boutiques?

A: Inclusivity and creating a unique and fun experience. We are working to make sure that our brand represents an inclusive group of women who are typically shut out of traditional retail shopping. Plus-size brides have limited options when it comes to shopping and we want to put a focus on this in the industry. We are offering gowns size 14 and up for women that typically have a very hard time finding even one style in stores, that they might consider for their dream gown! We have worked with our designers to make sure we are creating beautiful, trendy and classic gowns, that will make women of all sizes and body shapes feel beautiful and confident on her special day!

Our experience is also like no other. We are trading in the traditional way of shopping for a much more fun and convenient experience. Pick and choose what works for you, and we will send you those dresses to your home to try on either in private (for those that hate shopping in general or being on display) or grab some champagne and your closest girlfriends and have a good time with it. Take all the pictures you want, blast the music and twirl around in the gowns. We want you to love our dress and know what it is going to feel like at your own wedding. Don’t worry about booking appointments to salons that are only open on weekdays, or may only have two dress styles in your size - try-on what you want, in the comfort of your own home.

Q: What are your top tips for launching a successful bridal brand from the ground up?

A: Staying calm and building great relationships! Take your time to think things through, be diplomatic and take a deep breath every now and then. Things are going to inevitably go wrong – just pivot, learn and move forward!

Also, we are partnering with some amazing brands, photographers, influencers and more to get the word out, because our mission and brand is so unique we are gathering a tribe of some amazing people to help build it. We don’t know everything, but we certainly have a tribe of knowledgeable people that can help us as we grow.

Q: For other founders who may be juggling multiple roles as start-up business owners, what is your best advice for managing it all?

A: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help – you literally can never know it all. Surrounding yourself with good people will always get you to a better place, and always, always have a bottle of wine in the house.

Ready to try on your own box of gowns from Ella & Oak? Get on the waitlist on their website, and check out their beautiful line of frocks from designers like Elizabeth Dye, Rebecca Schoneveld and more. Also keep up with Ella & Oak on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest!