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Whitney Geller is Co-founder and Partner of Whitman Emorson, a Toronto-based design studio focused on solving complex problems with a human touch. She is also Co-founder of Jems, a female-founded, body-safe condom and lube product line. Whitney has worked at the forefront of strategic design with global clients such as MTV, Coca-Cola, Oprah Winfrey, and the Mayo Clinic while at Bruce Mau Design.

Yasemin EmoryYasemin Emory is Co-founder and Partner of Whitman Emorson. It is a team of designers, strategists, writers, editors, and creative thinkers bound by the desire to produce thoughtful and responsive work. She is also Co-founder of Jems, built on the desire to naturalize sex and condom use and disrupt a toxic industry. Previously, Yasemin served as the Senior Director of CO-OP and Associate Art Director at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [00:15] Whitney Geller and Yasemin Emory share how they transformed their passion for design into a studio
  • [02:09] The fascinating backstory of Jems Condoms
  • [04:04] How Whitman Emorson’s culture of collaboration contributes to its unique approach to design projects
  • [06:21] The significance of nurturing and retaining talent in a creative business
  • [11:24] How Whitman Emorson established a solid leadership team to support the growth of Jems
  • [19:26] The innovative and omni-channel distribution approach that Whitney and Yasemin adopted for Jems
  • [23:40] The creative thought process behind Jems’ playful and disruptive design
  • [32:06] The challenges of promoting condoms in mainstream media amid potential censorship
  • [36:10] The evolution of Whitman Emorson from bootstrap to potential fundraising
  • [39:01] The importance of nonprofit partnerships in destigmatizing and promoting safer sex

In this episode…

Have you ever wondered how groundbreaking companies are born? Can an idea that challenges the status quo transform not only an industry, but perceptions as well?

Whitney Geller and Yasemin Emory unpack this notion by sharing their story of transitioning from leading the successful design agency Whitman Emorson to challenging stereotypes in the safer sex industry with their brand, Jems Condoms. The duo addresses the lack of representation and dated messaging in the existing market, combining their design prowess with a mission to make condom buying and use more approachable and stigma-free. By cultivating a collaborative studio culture and ambitious leadership at Whitman Emorson, they granted themselves the freedom to venture into the product space, driven by values and a desire to make an impact.

In this episode of Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz interviews Whitney Geller and Yasemin Emory, Co-founders of Whitman Emorson, about their entrepreneurial journey from running a creative agency to launching a safer sex brand. They share how they navigated the complexities of creating a start-up without compromising the integrity and success of their original agency, setting a culture that embraces a life-work balance, and tackling regulatory challenges in advertising condoms.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “Design can really change perception and change behavior.”
  • “Always make your company a safe place to leave or come back.”
  • “Sexual wellness is booming; it’s becoming much more mainstream.”
  • “Being supportive of change is important as well.”

Action Steps:

  1. Embrace new opportunities even if they fall outside of your current industry to expand your impact. Venturing into new fields can lead to groundbreaking change and address unmet market needs.
  2. Cultivate a collaborative and supportive workplace that values life-work balance. A nurturing environment can lead to increased creativity and staff retention, essential for any organization’s longevity.
  3. Utilize strategic and omni-channel distribution to reach a broader audience effectively. Exploring multiple distribution avenues can help meet customers’ needs and drive product success.
  4. Break down barriers and challenge norms with thoughtful and inclusive design. Good design can make products more accessible and resonate with a wider demographic, fostering inclusion.
  5. Seek valuable mentorship and network with industry experts to drive growth. Insights from experienced professionals can provide guidance and connections crucial for navigating new business ventures.

Sponsor for this episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:15

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz 0:22

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, founder of where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders. Today’s no different. I am excited to have Whitney and Yasemin and they have and And before I introduce both of you, I always like to point out other episodes, people should check out of the podcast. This is really an interesting story because a lot of amazing companies are birthed out of an agency. And so we will talk about their agency. We’ll talk about their other company Jems, which was birthed out of the agency. So some interesting interviews from the product side.

So there’s a lot of agency interviews, there’s a bunch of E-commerce interviews, I had Daniel from ReGrained Bars, they were actually going to different breweries taking the spent grain which they people were the bars and breweries were throwing out anyways. And they would make Nutritional Bars out of them. So that’s a really cool story, and a lot of respects. And on the bar front, the founder of one of the founders of RxBars I had on the podcast, and he talked about served from his kitchen and they sold to Kellogg, I think for $600 million. So it’s a pretty interesting story. And then I had the one of the founders of Quest Nutrition, who talked about his journey.

And then on the agency front, there’s been a number of them. Kevin Harrigan, from Spinutech. He’s had an agency since 1995. So he talked about that kind of the evolution of his business and the space in general and Duncan Alney is kind of an interesting one of Firebelly marketing. They have a great podcast where they help food and beverage companies with social and so check those out many more on This episode is brought to you by Rise25. At Rise25 we help businesses give to and connect to their dream relationships. How do we do that we actually help you run your podcast, we’re an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast.

We do the strategy, the accountability, the full execution. Whitney and Yasemin, we call ourselves the magic elves that work in the background and make it look easy for the host so they can create great content and amazing relationships and just focus on running their business. For me, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships, and I found no better way over the past decade to profile the people in companies I most admire and share the world with their work in. So if you’ve thought about podcasting, you should if you have questions go to to learn more. So I’m excited to introduce Whitman Emorson.

They founded by Whitney and Yasemin a longtime friends, creative collaborators, and they founded in New York in 2011. And their entrepreneurial self-starters, they are driven by the idea that design should support a multiplicity of voices and set out to create a studio to pursue projects of value and their desire to produce good work and create meaning in the world kind of underpins the studio’s approach and their collaborative culture, which we’ll talk about. And in 2021 they launched out of all things the safer sex brand Jems, I was gonna say some dad dumped dad joke that was birthed out of jobs where they were using Jems at the time of the birth because Jems anyways, Jems is, my daughter’s hate my dad jokes Jems is a female-founded body safe, condom and lube, it actually has ditch toxic stereotypes, harmful ingredients, and effort to change the way young folks feel about safer sex and how condoms are seen and sold. Thank you both for joining me.

Yasemin Emory 4:02

Happy to be here.

Jeremy Weisz 4:04

It’s such an interesting story. Because a lot of cool companies are birthed out of agencies and including like MailChimp, I know there’s a bunch of others. So we’ll talk about how that came about. But just for a second talk about Whitman Emorson for a second in what you do there.

Whitney Geller 4:23

Yeah, absolutely. So Whitman Emorson really started, Yasemin and I know each other from undergrad who degrees at McGill. And we both did traditional political science, international development. So when we ended up in master’s programs in design and then working in design, there wasn’t a lot of people that we knew from our backgrounds ended up in design. So I was working for a company called Bruce Mau Design and they do a lot of strategic work, really interesting work for companies, from everything from branding, but really helping the way that they look and shape the values and institutional knowledge of a company everything.

And Yasemin was working for Martha Stewart at the time and the books division. And we started taking on some side pro bono projects. And what we found was that we just had a different way of approaching these products, whether it was from sort of our more traditional academic background, whether it was the fact that we were females, because back in 2011, there wasn’t a lot of female led design studios. And whatever that was, we felt like we had something different and a different way to go about design. And that was when we started talking about more seriously doing projects, and we launched our studio Whitman Emorson. The name is always a funny one people ask about, it’s obviously a bit of my first name, but he asked me his last name.

And we love the fact that it sounded like a law firm, it was sort of a pseudonym. Yeah, and I mean, it was really to do with this idea too, that we thought design could take you anywhere. So we never want it to be something with the word design. Like we never knew what we were going to do. But it’s kind of the reason why Jems isn’t actually that far from what we had initially conceived back in 2011.

Jeremy Weisz 6:10

Yasemin, talk about maybe the first milestone, from a client perspective for Whitman Emorson.

Yasemin Emory 6:21

Absolutely, I think, for us, we were literally just the two of us from the beginning. And we shared a desk. And that’s how we started working. And so we had to really Garner trust with our clients. And that often meant starting out really small. And so there’s a real estate company, Toronto base that we started working with, and we started with their financial reports. It was a pretty small project that we took on, but was also we’re excited to nerd out on making a financial report looks visually exciting. And we poured our heart and soul into it. And it ended up garnering a lot of trust within the company. And they started understanding how we approach design, what our intention was to do.

And something as simple as a financial report, how do you make it communicate beyond what it is, which is just financial tables? How do you allow it to speak to the company, its values and what it’s trying to do beyond the bottom line. And that allowed us to build a really strong strategic relationship with this company, to the point where we’ve been agency of record for the last over 10 years. And there’s very little that the company will put out without us touching it. And so that felt like a real milestone to sort of grow with a client in that way. And that’s sort of our ideal working model with clients to this day.

Jeremy Weisz 7:49

What did you learn from working with Martha Stewart company?

Yasemin Emory 7:55

Actually so much. I really enjoyed my time there, I found the group of people working at that company, when I was there were so multifaceted, so talented. And it also for our studio, we loved the idea of bringing in we always call them unicorns because we didn’t want people who were siloed you know, somebody who was just a designer, somebody who was just a copywriter, somebody who was just an account manager, we, again, you spoke to it, this idea of collaboration was so important to us. And we were a small and nimble company. And so the idea was, you come with ready to wear a lot of hats and to contribute. And if you have an idea of if you’re an account manager, and you have an idea for creating a product, we’re all ears.

That was very much the spirit of Martha Stewart as well, I just found it was a place where there was an abundance of creative thinking, and no one was ever siloed, it was a place to share ideas and to let creativity sort of grow and grow. And I think for me, I’ve just always been so inspired by Martha Stewart’s ability to launch an incredibly successful career over the age of 50. And so, even Whitney and I are technically older founders, when it comes to Jems, we’re often at founders events with founders that are much younger than us. But I think there’s really something to a second life and creating a company once you’ve sort of you’re building off of a previous career. And that’s sort of what I draw from Martha Stewart as well.

Jeremy Weisz 9:36

Whitney, on the agency side what has worked, you gave your first client and in real estate, what’s worked over the years to get more clients from the agency side?

Whitney Geller 9:50

I mean, certainly to this day, referral is the number one way that we get clients. We have always from the beginning just we said we have to do everything the best whether it be an email comes in, just respond right away, when you’re writing an email always don’t have spelling errors. When you have deadlines, we’ve always set timelines. So even just sort of the administrative stuff, and then on the design end, we’ve always worked from this place of just think that it’s the first time it’s ever happened. So don’t think about how you have to do it, think about what you could do it.

So often clients would come to us with a budget, or they would say, you know, we have this thing, and with this magazine, and we’re spending X on it, it’s a promotional thing. And we would think, hmm, I wonder if I had those x dollars? If we did this, would that be something you know, nobody’s ever done in this industry before? But would it garner you different eyes, different attention. And so we’ve always been able to be sort of just really nimble and thoughtful, we think of design as a tool box, which is just a way to use different ideas. And I think that’s been really successful for us. And I think that that is essentially what ends up referring us from client to client.

Jeremy Weisz 11:02

What about the hiring process? What does that look like? Because obviously, culture is important, the collaboration is important. And also, you’ve put a leadership team and a team in place so that you can actually focus on work on Jems Condoms too. So what is the hiring process look like?

Yasemin Emory 11:24

It’s a really good question. And it’s so important to us. So being a small team, when we are hiring, I would say more than 50% of what we’re looking for is a general fit in terms of culture. There’s certainly a type of personality that thrives in our studio, and it’s a self-starter, somebody that’s willing to take risks and initiate ideas on their own without too much coaching. But ultimately, when they when we create a safe environment for creativity, and that, of course, is that culture piece of welcoming ideas, being open to collaborating and sharing ideas. That’s really what we want to make sure is never damaged with new hires. And so, truly, that’s what ends up getting, I think, we make sure all team members get a sense of potential hire, and whether or not there’s a fit there, because we really want to keep the dynamic that we have in studio intact.

Whitney Geller 12:36

I think also too, sorry, I was just gonna say, I think we always wanted to build a studio where we wanted to work. So I think even from the early days, when sort of mental health and live life balance wasn’t really such a topic of conversation, it was really a focus for us, we really believed people couldn’t be creative, if they were grinding all hours of the day at work, we wanted people to travel, we wanted people to see their families, we wanted it to be a place that we could raise our kids and work and not be harmonious. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 13:05

Talk about that for a second. What did you infuse that attracted the talent, but allowed people to have a great place to work. For instance, I’m looking at your bio page here. And let’s take Hannah, for example. I mean, she’s worked at Netflix, or worked with the collaborative brands like Netflix, FIFA, Gallo Wines, Procter and Gamble. So these people are very experienced, and they could probably work in a lot of places. So what were the things that you infused in like you were saying some examples that allowed you to attract that top talent?

Yasemin Emory 13:42

Yeah, in Hannah’s case, it’s actually an interesting case. So Hannah joined our team when she was recently graduated from university. And I think we worked with her closely and in new areas, she was on the account management side and she, you know, sort of cut her teeth at Whitman Emorson, she did end up moving to another company, getting, as you just mentioned, some really great experience with some incredible clients, and I think ended up back at Whitman Emorson, because a few things. One, I think we were able…

Jeremy Weisz 13:43

So she went somewhere, and then came back. That’s right. Okay.

Yasemin Emory 13:50

That’s right. And so what we were able, I think what we could offer to Hannah was an opportunity to grow and evolve. And we see Hannah playing a very large role in the company over I mean, she already has a, she’s our Business Director, but we see her growing with the company over time. So she’s able to assume a new leadership position, but also I think she’s able to, she’s recently married, she has a dog, she’s able to kind of and grow in that part of her life in our studio in a really safe and positive way as well. And that’s again, like Whitney said, that’s just what we’ve always wanted to offer to our teammates, because that’s what we were looking for as well as we kind of evolved as humans.

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