Embark Travel Store is a curated online shopping experience for the global traveler. Visit them online to explore their collection of travel supplies and gifts but for now, we spoke with Mica Olinghouse, who alongside husband Jeff founded Embark, to talk about the importance of offering more than just a shopping site and what key pieces you should have at your wardrobe for a summer of travel.
House of Coco: What inspired the creation of Embark Travel Store?
Mica: The story of Embark Travel Store has been quite an adventurous journey! My husband (Jeff) and I recently launched a non-profit (charity) here in the United States, and we were researching creative ways to sustain our non-profit long-term. We are Christians, and we believe the greatest answers to complex issues or problems are found in the Bible and through prayer. So, last year we began to pray and ask God for strategic solutions to help us finance our fledgling non-profit. And that’s when the idea for Embark began to stir in our hearts. We realized we already had everything in our hands to create, design, and launch an online travel store that would eventually help fund what was truly in our hearts—the work of our non-profit!
Both my husband and I already own other businesses, and starting an additional online business didn’t seem too far out of reach. I think once a person has crossed that entrepreneurship threshold, adding more businesses to the plate just doesn’t seem that crazy anymore! I’m actually an editor by profession (my degree from the university is in Journalism/Mass Media Communications), and I lead a small team of media professionals through Millennial Media, a creative agency I founded in 2013. My husband is an independent contractor for a large travel agency based in New York, and he operates his own brand JSO Travel.
We started the initial incorporation process for our non-profit, New Life Metro Ministries International, in 2017. We then launched Embark Travel Store in 2018, and we just finished launching our second e-commerce store, Culture of Industry, in April 2019. Needless to say, our plates are overflowing with many adventurous undertakings, and we wouldn’t have it any other way! With all our experience and mobility, launching an online travel store seemed to be a great fit for our expertise and integrated well into our current responsibilities.
We loved the compact business model of e-commerce, I had the communications and media experience needed to build and market the store online, we both were well versed in customer service, I had previous experience in retail from my college days, my husband had more than two decades of professional knowledge in the travel industry, and we travel together extensively for my husband’s work. (I actually manage his brand’s online content.)
Thanks to both my husband’s 20-year tenure in the luxury travel industry and my background of growing up cross-culturally in Europe (I lived in both Sweden and France during my teen years)—a lifestyle of global travel is something we’re both extremely fluent in and enjoy doing together as husband and wife. Early last year while we were working on the registration process for our non-profit, the idea for Embark began to simmer and stir in our hearts until we finally knew it was the right step for us to implement at that time.
Throughout the past few years of traveling for Jeff’s business, we had noticed a lack of specialty travel stores in both the brick and mortar and online marketplaces. Since we are lifestyle travelers, designing an attractive travel brand, curating on-trend travel gifts and supplies online, and providing useful travel tips and advice through our blog was something we could easily incorporate into our already busy, nomadic life. We simply took what was already in our hands and multiplied it to help bring the joy of adventure to others.
HoC: As a brand you are more than just a shopping site. How important is aspiration, lifestyle, and experience for visitors to your online store?
Mica: The whole concept of travel is something that has captured people worldwide for generations. It holds the mystique of the unknown, the quest for adventure, and the hope to bring positive change to others. At Embark, we realize that when people are shopping for travel supplies and gifts, they are looking for more than just practical items. They are also planning for adventure, dreaming of exotic places, and anticipating the joy of helping other people along their journey. We felt it was important to incorporate all these ideas into our branding and function. We didn’t want to be just another e-commerce store where people could google an item and purchase it online; we wanted our site visitors to relish the experience of planning and dreaming for their travels. We hope that Embark inspires others to break out of their comfort zone and to gather enough courage to lose sight of the shore. The adventure of a lifetime awaits just on the other side of that one bold, courageous step!
HoC: Embark Travel Store encourages its shoppers to dream out loud. Why is that such an important concept to your brand?
Mica: People who never dream will rarely ever accomplish anything in life. While not all dreamers are doers, all doers are dreamers. Somewhere along the line, anyone who did something significant started with a dream. In order for people to take that one bold, courageous step, they have to move beyond their fear. They have to start seeing the positive things, the good things that can come from that one step of faith. In other words, they have to let their hearts dream about what they can do with their life if they’ll take that one step and embark on a journey beyond their borders. For some, it may mean taking a road trip to a city a few hours away; for others, it may mean booking an international flight for the very first time. For many, it may mean packing up all personal belongings and moving with the family to another part of the country. Regardless of what that step entails, people have to dream big enough to overcome the fear of the unknown. Travel is moving, and dreaming is essential to any type of forward movement.
HoC: What do you think are some of the challenges of running an independent fashion online retail business in 2019?
Mica: I would say one of the biggest challenges we face in operating Embark Travel Store is finding and curating products that are both on-trend and practical. Sometimes in the travel industry, people are in a hurry and are just looking for basic travel supplies. We understand that. But we also understand that people who are truly planning and anticipating the adventure of travel want to take more time to shop for items that are both practical and personal. They’re looking for things that reflect their personality and that hold meaning to them for a particular trip. We want to break through the challenge of mediocrity and present travelers with practical and stylish solutions.
HoC: You have a really eclectic collection. How do you go about curating it?
Mica: We currently have an online marketplace of suppliers that we use for our products. However, because Jeff and I travel so much to all sorts of different places both Stateside and abroad, I’m always on the lookout for inspiration. I love to people watch! I’ll observe people in the airports, note what they’re wearing, how they’re traveling, what colors and style they are sporting. When we visit luxury properties for Jeff’s site inspections, I love to walk in the gift shops and take a peek at their shelves to see what they offer to their high-end guests.
When we’re in the city or on the beach, I tap into my journalism training and take note of the sights, sounds, textures, colors, and culture of each location. And of course, since my husband works in the luxury travel industry, I’m constantly exposed to what’s trending in destinations, hotels, and vendors. Then, when I’m ready to put together a product campaign for Embark, I’ll draw on all those pieces and places of inspiration, search for items with our online suppliers that would work well within that scope of style, and curate them for our store. Our goal is to follow each product campaign with a corresponding travel blog that showcases the inspiration behind that month’s campaign collection.
HoC: With summer approaching, what do you think is the key piece or key items House of Coco readers should be snapping up to make their holiday less stressful whilst staying on trend?
Mica: Versatile handbags and weekend bags. From personal experience, this is the one thing I’m always looking for—various sizes of handbags, smaller cosmetic and accessory pouches, and weekend bags. I think these items meet a wide range of needs for all sorts of travelers and can be used in a variety of ways. For example, a lady may need a shoulder bag big enough to fit her DSLR camera while she’s touring a new city, and then at night, she may want a discreet clutch for dinner out. It’s difficult to pack several changes of purses just for one trip, so it’s important to find one or two key pieces that are versatile enough for several outfits at a time.
Hoc: What piece of advice would you give to our readers who want to set up their own brand or business?
Mica: I get asked this question a lot, and I always answer with these three simple words: Identify, Cultivate, Execute. First, it’s critical to identify your gifts and talents before you ever get into any type of business. What are you good at? What’s your passion? What talents have you had since you were a kid? These are clues to the gifts God put inside you for a purpose. Secondly, cultivate those gifts and talents through education. Learn as much as you can, take classes, develop your skill set. Seek out mentors in your field and learn from them. Ask questions of those older than you. Read a ton! Finally, execute your gifts and talents through hands-on experience. Apply for internships, go over and beyond at work. Take on a new project you don’t feel fully ready for. Stretch yourself. Continue to build on your current strengths and add some new ones as you go. Eventually, you’ll find that through identification, cultivation, and execution, you will have developed a robust set of quality skills and experience that are valuable to many in the global marketplace.
HoC: What is the best piece of advice in setting up your own business?
Mica: My best advice comes from one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Proverbs 16:3 (The Amplified) says, “Commit your works to the Lord [submit and trust them to Him], And your plans will succeed [if you respond to His will and guidance].” In other words, pray and commit your business to the Lord, and you will succeed! Throughout my entrepreneurship journey, I’ve discovered that if I will commit my works to the Lord—including my businesses, my gifts, and my talents—He causes them to prosper and succeed. When I need insight and wisdom on certain business decisions, I pray and ask the Lord for guidance.
When my plate is full of balancing numerous entrepreneurship hats, a fledgling non-profit, virtual team members, client projects, a hefty travel schedule, and my personal life, I ask the Lord to give me wisdom on how to best use my time. When I need creative answers to complex problems, I always stop and seek God for His direction and strategy. And guess what? Prayer works every single time. Both my husband and I have lived our lives this way and we continue to remain committed to God in both our personal and professional lives. As a result, we’ve seen incredible favor, wisdom, and success on every single thing we’ve put our hands to. We’ve stayed committed to honoring Christ Jesus, being people of honesty and integrity, working diligently in our fields, and being a blessing to others. The fruit of this way of living and working has been nothing but overflowing peace and joy to us and our marriage—and it is the greatest secret I could ever share with those seeking to establish their own business!