Mama Muses with Clare Vivier | handbag + accessories designer, Clare V.
I remember the first time I saw a Clare V bag sitting in the Mohawk General Store in Silver Lake. It was beautiful, classic and although I had never spent much money on myself I held that bag in my mind for a long time, waiting for the right moment to buy it. I read an article that Clare was opening her own store, and I’m pretty sure I was one of the first customers. At this point, I had purchased a small change purse and gifts for friends but I couldn’t wait to see a whole store with her line in it. It was stunning, and my husband bought me my very first Clare bag a “simple tote” with her signature stripe. I’m not sure if I was stalking Clare on Instagram or how it came about, but she messaged me one day to come to the warehouse so she could show me the spring collection. We met and talked about our families and I fangirled on her incredible business asking her a million questions.
Over the years, as her company has grown, she has made it a point to showcase her fellow entrepreneur friends and to raise awareness for Every Mother Counts (running marathons and half marathons every year all over the world), United We Dream (inviting them to come speak and educate her friends and peers on DACA and how we can help), The Downtown Women’s Center, partnering with TOMS to create a line where the proceeds would go to the Downtown Women’s Center, and the list goes on. She runs a company that women are proud to work for and she is an amazing, funny, intelligent and thoughtful human being. I’m so honored we were able to interview her for YZM because she is the definition of a Muse. | Sarah
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Saint Paul Minnesota.
How did you start your business?
I started my business by sewing bags myself. The original idea was to make a laptop bag for my cute computer because we had cute little Apple laptops back then, and there were no cute laptop bags. I sewed them myself and it was easy enough for me to do because I wasn't a terribly skilled seamstress, but I knew how to sew, so I started make little envelopes for my laptops.
When did you know you were onto something?
I kind of knew it early on because there were no cute laptop bags for girls like me who were stylish, working, travelling girls. I knew really early on that there was a hole in the market. I started my company, and then I got pregnant and had my son and I was completely derailed. I was being a mom and that really was very, very overwhelming to me. I had no idea what that was going to entail. Luckily, I had the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom for a couple years and I still had this dream.
What brought you back to it?
I still had this dream and felt really passionately about my bags. When my son started preschool at 3, I went immediately back to it. I had my half days while he was at school from 9:00 to 3:00 to start something. That’s a long day for preschool but it would pass like that! You've got to use those hours very quickly and that’s why I think moms are so efficient and amazing.
What was the first store where you sold your bags?
Mohawk General Store in Los Angeles.
Where do you love to travel to and where do you feel most inspired?
Probably France. My husband and I both have families very far away (in France and Minnesota), so our vacation time is basically spent with family, and I don't begrudge that at all because they're both lovely places to me. My husband’s family is in France and my family is in Minnesota. I especially love France because while it feels so foreign to me, over the last 20 years it has also become a second home. I feel very cozy there, and I think it's probably the place I feel most inspired. When I come back from France, I always have fresh ideas.
What plays the biggest role in how you plan out your collections?
It’s a lot about what we haven’t done before. The wonderful thing about having a bag collection, instead of a clothing line, is that you can have the greatest hits that you can keep bringing back. You don't have to change the whole thing unlike clothing where you really have to come up with a whole new collection every season, and one thing I love about accessories is that you keep the greatest hits going for as long as they're selling. So now it just becomes a question of what don't we have, or what is the problem we aren’t proposing a solution for.
What’s your favorite Clare V. piece that you guys have right now?
I really like these lady like handbags we have now, and I love downsizing because I don't think we need to have huge bags. We have a few new styles right now – we have the chou chou, which is this really cute wristlet with a top handle that is like a little dumpling and literally means little puff pastry in French and we have another one called the le box bag which is a lady like frame top handle bag. I think I was really inspired by the Crown when it comes to these lady like hand bags. We also have this really cute work bag call bruno which is a very small work bag that can hold your 11 inch computer and all your essentials and you can go to work with that instead of a huge bag.
I’ve always wanted to ask, when did you first come up with the idea of your iconic stripe for your bags?
Very early on. I started with the laptop bag and when I finally found my first factory in LA, whom we still work with today, I didn't know how to do things like print on bags, so I would bring the canvas to the factory, they would cut out the pattern, I would take the cut pattern home with me to paint it, and I would bring it back to them to sew. I was literally measuring it out with rulers at my house and hand painting them with first neon, and then red and blue stripes. They had a preppy tennis club aesthetic, but for some reason I was really attracted to the neon stripe juxtaposed with neutral. It just made it pop and felt fresh instead of obnoxious. Eventually I learned I could silk screen instead of hand-paint everything. I found out I could bring it down to South Central to this guy who was silk screening stripes on bags in his garage. His name was Al and he was so cute and sweet. He was a dad and he had this really cozy set up silk screening bags in his garage and we had a good relationship for a while.
Can you talk more about manufacturing locally?
When I started, I didn't have any experience with a fashion company so I didn't know anything about producing overseas. It all seemed very, very daunting to me to produce anything in China or Italy or India. I was sewing everything myself and knew there was a fashion industry here in Los Angeles so I just started going to fabric and hardware stores. I would be at one store and ask them, “where can I buy leather?” I would find out where to buy leather then I would ask each store I went to for more information. It was just all about just asking, and at one point I asked a leather vendor where I could buy hardware. They sent me to a place called Ohio Hardware. This place was way out in the valley and I am pretty sure they only sold to vendors, not individuals, but they sold me the things I needed and I asked them if they knew where I could get bags sewn. They sent me to my first factory. The factory was really cool because they sewed bags but they did a lot of stuff for the yacht and boating industry of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara making yacht covers and such. They made preppy and weird old 80’s-like boat bags, and I was in heaven. We still work with them, and as we got busier, we realized we needed more factories. We eventually expanded to four more here in LA, and it's cool because now we realize that different factories have specialties: some people are really good at totes and some are good at small leather goods, etc, so it is great to utilize all their different abilities.
How do you stay organized and find balance?
I'm not really that organized but I do have an assistant who I rely a lot on to help. A big part of my philosophy is to know what you're good at and what you're not good at. Maybe I offer myself some solace that a lot of creative people aren’t that organized. I am very thankful for my assistant.
What does self care look like for you?
First, my self-care looks like my home life. I have a lovely husband, son, and step-son to come home to. I love coming home to them. They’re solid and such good people and all of that is very grounding to me and offers me a lot of solace, especially while traveling as much as I do. It is also spending time with my girlfriends. I have very strong bonds with them. I see them a lot and it is important to me to talk to them often,
What advice do you have for mom entrepreneurs just starting out?
I think it's the same advice that I would give it any entrepreneur. I think as moms, we are particularly hard on ourselves, and my first advice is to not look around at what other women and moms are doing. Just keep looking ahead and focus on whatever your vision and your idea for a business is. Stop thinking about how other people are doing it. If you want to start a baby food company, but you feel like everyone else is already, don't get distracted! Your idea or company is going to be different and you might be the person who succeeds. I remember back when I was starting my bag line, I felt intimidated by those people and those lines, but so many of those lines don’t exist anymore. It’s been so many years since I have even thought of that, and my biggest thing is to stop being so self-critical and just like believe in your idea and just go forward.
What are you watching?
"I love watching anything (not too cheesy) with a love story - my most recent binge was Love Is on Own Network.
What are you reading?
Well, I have a book club and we just finished The Mother’s and The Power. Now we're about to read James Baldwin’s, Giovanni's Room. I'm excited to read some classics, and after that we're going to read Mary McCarthy’s, The Group, which is about a group of girlfriends, mainly in New York City, in the 50’s. I’m excited to read that.
I have a fan question. What was the very first bag that you put French writing on?
I think it was one of our big canvas totes, and it said "tout va bien.” We’re always inspired by french films and there’s a Godard film called Tout Va Bien. I didn’t realize that at the time, but I wanted it to give a positive message and it fit really well.
How did you get started with your activism work?
I come from a very leftist and activist family. They're really smart and progressive. My father passed away, but my mom is still alive. They were like educators and good role models, teaching me to be aware and think about the greater good and the bigger community. Once my company started to do well enough where we could give back, it was really a watershed moment for me. We became a profitable company and were able to start to think about how we can give back and what we can do to be more involved with the community so that's when I met Kelly Turlington, who's Christy's sister, through mutual friends and learned about Every Mother Counts. I'm a mom and my sister is a labor and delivery nurse, so this organization really struck a chord with me. It was our first organization that we were able to give back to, and we created this tote that says.
At this point, we’ve given back over $50,000 and we're just going to keep going. I’m very aware of owning a business and not wanting to alienate customers. I also employ a lot of people and I want to look out for everyone's greater good, so I don't want to be extremely militant. When it comes to the activism reflected at our company, I want to do it in the most mindful way that I can so that I can let people know that these are the things that we stand for. I certainly hope that we can have this broad audience and keep growing as a company, we are brand after all.