Woman To Watch :: Erika Neumayer Ehrat

Erika Neumayer Ehrat Not Your Oma's Dirndl, Woman To Watch

Erika Neumayer Ehrat is the founder and designer of Rare Dirndl, a Chicago-based manufacturer and retailer of dirndls and accessories. A dirndl is the dress that you would wear to a German events such as Oktoberfest. It is popular in southern Germany, parts of Switzerland and Austria. Erika was a member of a German dance group from age 4 to 24 and wore dirndl during performances. She and a friend from her dance group both loved performing in dirndl but wanted more variety for other German events. 

In 2010, Erika started Rare Dirndl, and in 2013, she moved the business to its current location in Chicago. Rare Dirndl sells online, by appointment at the studio, and as a vendor at German Fest in Milwaukee. Erika still lives in Chicago with her husband, two kids, and is now participates in the same dance group with her husband. Keep reading to learn how she operates such a unique and successful business.

 

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How did you get to where you are today?

Coffee and tenacity.

 

What do you think has helped you the most with your success?

The support of my family, friends, and the German community. Whether it’s brainstorming ideas, helping me at a vendor booth, or listening to me vent when I’ve had a bad day… their support has been crucial to the success of Rare Dirndl.

That being said, my ability to make tweaks and quick changes has also been vital for my business over the years. I’ve never been afraid to try something new, try something that’s never been done in my market, or stop doing something that’s not working.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you have overcome in order to achieve your goals?

Learning to let go.

When I started Rare Dirndl, I was a one-woman show. I made all the patterns. I was sewing all of the dresses, blouses, and aprons. I was doing all of the marketing, all of the writing. I was doing all of the shipping and packaging. I did everything.

First, I learned to let go of the patterning, then the sewing, and then slowly I understood that not only were there other people who were capable of doing the work… some could do it even better.

Now I work with a team of over 10 subcontractors that create, market, and deliver my products possibly better than I ever could.

Erika Neumayer Ehrat, Woman To Watch Feature

 

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the small but mighty community I’ve fostered that supports Rare Dirndl. Whenever I feel like I’m not making a difference because I’m “just making dirndls for a living”, someone will post in our Facebook group about how they “never thought they could wear a Dirndl” but thanks to our inclusive designs, whether it be style or size, made them feel so happy and connected to the heritage. Knowing my work is bringing so many people joy and inspiring people to learn more about their own heritage is the BEST.

 

What are three pieces of advice you could give to our readers?

1 – Don’t be afraid to change a system or tradition to make it work for you. Try something… if it doesn’t work, tweak it or change it. I love the way I plan my content and calendar, but it took years of testing and changing to get to where I am now.

2 – Find other business owners outside of your own niche to bounce ideas off of, chat with, and learn from. Some of the best and most innovative ideas for Rare Dirndl came from people outside of the retail industry. Shout out to my pals at Being Boss!

3 – Tiered goals. I like to use the ‘Good, Better, Best’ method for setting goals. That way I can be realistic, optimistic, and motivated to push harder… without setting myself up for disappointment.

 

You inspire us, but what/who are YOU inspired by?

My grandparents constantly inspire me. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents migrated to the United States from former Yugoslavia in the 1950s. When they moved here, they managed to create thriving friendships, families, and businesses with what little they had. Creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit definitely run in the family and remembering what they went through and the sacrifices they made for our family is my biggest inspiration.

 

How do you reward yourself when you’ve reached a goal or after a hard day of work?

A good German beer, a Starbucks order the next morning, or a piece of jewelry for bigger accomplishments I want to remember.

 

What is one sassy saying or quote that inspires you? Why?

“Perfect is good but done is better.” This is a phrase my business coach and mentor Jane Hamill says, and I think about it often. I don’t consider myself a perfectionist anymore, but I used to be. This held me back from getting stuff done and moving the needle forward. Now I shoot for 80% good because that’s good enough for a type A, overachiever. 

Erika Neumayer Ehrat Interview

 

Why is inclusivity important in a business like yours?

Inclusivity is one of the core values of Rare Dirndl. We strive to make every person feel like they can purchase a Rare Dirndl, no matter their age, size, gender, or ethnicity. We believe that you don’t need to be German to enjoy wearing a dirndl or participate in festivities, such as Oktoberfest.

We have refined our plus size Dirndl pattern, and are happy to say that we have the widest size range of any dirndl manufacturer in the US. We also have make-to-order designs that can be made to the wearer’s specific measurements.

 

How do you benefit from niche marketing?

Well… my product is extremely niche… like the most nichey of the niches. One might argue that all my marketing is niche marketing. That being said, my creativity thrives when I have parameters to work within. Having such a specialty product allows me to stand out among my competitors… for doing something as wild as making Instagram reels or having a TikTok account.

I’ve chosen 2 customers who are my ideal. One is part of the German community, talks with her grandparents in a mix of German and English, has German grocery items in her pantry and has a dirndl closet. The other is going to Oktoberfest and needs a dirndl that fits her personality and makes her feel special. She bought one on Amazon and hates the quality and doesn’t want to see someone with the same one at the Wiesn’. By talking directly to either of these women in my marketing, I’m able to attract the people who want what I have and can afford to pay for it.

 

How do you balance work and home life with kids?

I currently work 20 to 30 hours a week, which helps with the “balance”. For me, trying to get work done while the kids are home, playing, constantly asking for things, and in my personal space only builds resentment, frustration, and anger. I learned very quickly that I can only mix the two when absolutely necessary. I try my best to separate the two, so when I’m home with the kids, I’m fully present with them and when I’m working, I bust out the work as efficiently as possible.

Having the kids around also has helped me become less of a workaholic.

 

Follow Erika and her business journey on Facebook and Instagram!

@raredirndl

facebook.com/raredirndl

Paige Trendell
Paige Trendell

Paige Trendell is a high school intern at Sass Magazine. You can find her appreciating nature, crocheting, or reading a book. She hopes to go to college, major in journalism, and maybe even make it to the Washington Post!

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