“My strategy is definitely slow and steady,” says Clare Vivier, Founder and CEO of Clare V. the CA-made luxury leather handbags, apparel and footwear line that has a definitive California cool imbued with a French timelessness. “But to be an entrepreneur you have to trust your instincts.”
In bright red socks and silver shoes, carrying a matching vibrant red leather drawstring pouch, Clare is her brand through-and-through.
“The thing I strive for— and I think I hit, thankfully, is making a product that feels special and makes people feel confident to buy something on their own without having to subscribe to a trend.”
Clare first made waves on the fashion scene in 2007 after asking herself the simple question: “Why don’t we have cute work bags and laptop bags for women?" So was born La Tropezienne, a single vegetable-tanned leather tote, the first to hit her blog and website. So was born Clare V., a company started in her home where Clare and her earliest first employee, Jocelyn, were hand-sewing bags while learning the ins and outs of wholesale and e-commerce.
By 2012, she had done $2 million in sales and was still self-funded. She took everything one day at a time, something she says is still her absolute motto. “I was self-funded, and didn’t have family money to put in, so every dollar I earned I put back into the business.”
The brand is now on the cusp on turning ten. A double-digit feat.
“I own five stores now,” she says, the fifth of which just opened in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and the first still selling and sitting strong on a lovely corner in Los Angeles' Silverlake neighborhood. “A lot of people are scared of owning retail stores, but I’m excited by that. A common thread among entrepreneurs is the desire to take a risk.
In the beginning she was entirely self-funded. “I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision, but every dollar we made I put back into the business.” She liked having “complete autonomy and producing locally,”-- a part of the Clare V. story that is extremely important to her.
When she first started she had little experience in the fashion grind world or in production. “When I knew I could no longer sew the bags myself, I thought, ‘I don’t know anything about production in China or India, and I’ve never been to those places.’” Nor did she have money to travel and scope it out. So her solution was the alternative right in front of her: produce in L.A.
Every place she went— from where she bought her leather to where she purchased the bags' hardware— she would ask questions about production, eventually falling upon her first factory, one of five local L.A. factories she still uses today.
“There are many things I love about this company. I do what I love. I get to design. I love that I am creating jobs for people in the community— meaning our factories are growing because of us and they are creating jobs in Los Angeles county.”
As for hiring practices and expanding? When the company was smaller she was hiring friends, and friends of friends; people who could do the job. “We all can be scrappy and smart, if we’re willing to put in the work,” she says, “but at this point I’m looking to hire people who are qualified who also fit into the culture of the company."
Adding, “I never realized how important it is when you have a growing company to keep transmitting the beliefs, ethics, and aesthetics— everything that went into making this company. As you grow, so does the potential for that message to get watered down. You really have to find creative ways to transport that message and you need to transmit the message of the company loud and clear to everyone that’s hired."
Part of conveying the message to the team supporting her from the studio in Atwater Village (and beyond) is the open-floor plan of the office. There are leather samples to the back right, bright light that shines through west-facing windows, and an easy, relaxed feel to the space. Which is something Clare says her newest employees keep telling her reflects the aesthetics of the company. "We're no-nonsense," she says, "but we don't take ourselves too seriously."
Hers is an open-door policy. She also shares her office space with three other women: Lizzie Swift, Art Director, Colleen Englestein, Director of Product Development, and Greta Heichemer, Design Director. Something we’ve seen from many successful CEOs.
“So I’m interrupted 900 times a day,” she says, “which, I love. But when outsiders, or say, my sister comes to visit me at the studio, she’ll say ‘I don’t know how the hell you get anything done, you are interrupted every five minutes.’”
People wander in and out, but Clare recognizes this as her employees really wanting her input— information she's happy to share because it means they have an real interest in the brand and understanding her vision.
Even when she was legally required to rebrand from Clare Vivier to Clare V., the through-line of the company helped her ride that wave— the logo may have had to change but the meat of the company was still, undeniably Clare.
“It’s not a 'label' that’s going to make you feel good. It’s looking at something and knowing, 'this is going to be beautiful, for me.'”
That’s what she strives for when creating her product— something that feels special while imbuing the wearer with confidence. With five stores, five factories, and no plan to slow down, she's looking to forward to "having more retail stores, growing our e-commerce presence, and telling our stories in more places."
Consider us ready to listen. (And wear.)
Arianna Schioldager is Create & Cultivate's editorial director. You can find her on IG @ariannawrotethis and more about her on this site she never updateswww.ariannawrotethis.com
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