Written by: Grace Schrobilgen
Images and designs by: Shelby Stebler
As cousins Shelby Stebler (UT Austin sophomore) and Sophie Hollis (Wake Forest University sophomore) laid on a beach three years ago, complaining about their cell phones constantly falling out of their too-small pockets, they had no idea it would evolve into a business venture-turned-political statement.
Their company, Ellis Bell, is currently in the process of becoming a full-fledged business founded on the ideal of promoting gender equality, starting with the size of clothing pockets made for the practical, modern woman.
According to their mission statement, “[They] hope to grant women autonomy with clothing that is both inventive and refined by empowering them to hold their own (stuff).”
Stebler and Hollis’ dream became a reality when they were awarded Wake Forest’s Deacon Springboard grant in February. This money is awarded to students with business startup ideas to aid them in getting their projects off the ground. Competition for the grant occurs in stages, so Hollis will be competing in DeacTank (Wake Forest’s version of the TV show Shark Tank) later this month in an attempt to earn even more startup money from investors.
The pair, a journalism major and an English major, have also learned countless business skills in a very short period of time, which has earned them funding and will inevitably contribute to the company’s future success.
After wearing one of their prototypes for a day, I can honestly say that the clothes work. Stebler and Hollis are incredibly stylish people, so I had no doubt the skirt they were going to have me wear would be aesthetically pleasing. What I wasn’t sure about was whether having large pockets would make a difference in my daily life or if I would feel empowered. The floral, ballet-style skirt was adorable, yet the pockets were somehow large enough to hold my phone, phone charger, wallet– and even a snack.
And let me tell you, it was handy. I didn’t have to worry about leaving my wallet sitting on a table somewhere. I also went the whole day without having one of those mini heart attacks we all get when we don’t know where our phone is because –– get this — the phone was in my pocket. Shocking!
During our interview, Stebler emphatically stated that Ellis Bell is an “unapologetically feminist company,” and they especially love learning about powerful women in history. In fact, the name of the company, Ellis Bell, was a pseudonym that Emily Brontë wrote under when she was afraid people wouldn’t take her work seriously if they knew she was a woman.
Stebler also did extensive research into the history of “pocket discrimination.” In the past, women and slaves’ clothes did not have pockets because it was deemed unnecessary. They never went out without the company of a man and therefore didn’t have the need to carry their own belongings. Since this is no longer the case, the contrast in functionality between men and women’s clothing is outdated. Ellis Bell is determined to bring the fashion world up to speed.
In light of recent political events, Stebler and Hollis have felt even more motivated to empower those around them and are determined to give back to the community as soon as is feasibly possible.
Once their clothes become profitable, they plan to form a scholarship to help women gain access to education.
Both women firmly believe that the ability to defend one’s individual rights stems from education, and they want everyone to know that they deserve to feel in control of their own lives, despite everything happening in the world right now.
“If anyone perceives themselves to be threatened, they deserve the chance to be empowered,” Stebler said. “Two college students can’t make that big of a difference, so we’re just trying to aid the feminist cause in the best way we know how.”