Now, her iconic clutches are carried by street style stars and celebrities the world over, but before Los Angeles–based bag designer Clare Vivier's eponymous Clare V. line became the behemoth that it now is, she was working solo in her home, trying to build her own business and get it off the ground.
After starting her business in 2003 by making bags at home while raising her newborn son, Vivier took five years to build it out, finally officially launching in 2008. Seven years later, she has four brick-and-mortar locations in the L.A. area and is sold online at e-commerce sites from Revolve to Yoox.
"It’s always tricky when you start off by yourself, because you don’t really know if it’s ever going to work," Vivier told us of her humble beginnings. "There is that feeling of you never know if it’s going to work—you just have to keep going. It’s kind of a blind faith, and it’s hard to have."
Vivier shared with us her tried-and-true tips for starting your own handbag line. Keep scrolling to hear what she has to say!
"Something I didn’t do that I wish I had is to go work for a bigger company," Vivier told us. "You get to see how these companies work and what the visions are. You get to see where your interest lies for real—production, operations, merchandising, design, PR, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with how companies work in general, get an internship—pack boxes, do whatever they ask you to do. I never did that, and I think that would have been very helpful. Anyone starting their own company, they should really intern with a bigger company, because it’s a great way to see how companies are run."
"There are not a lot of leather sewing factories in the U.S., but if you are aiming to produce domestically, which is what I set out to do, you have very limited capabilities in terms of skill levels and capacities for leather factories," Vivier revealed. "I found that out very quickly, because when I found my first factory in L.A., they priced out the prototype for me, and it was extremely expensive. I had piping and padding and too many pockets, all the bells and whistles for a single bag, and it just cost too much. That’s when I realized I need to go back to the drawing board, and I ended up going with something very simple that became my core design."
"When you’re starting out on your own and you don’t know if it’s going to work, what you need to do is just keep looking forward," Viver told us. "Don’t keep looking at what other people are doing—it’s very intimidating, and you think everyone else is very successful and more successful than you. You have a lot of inner demons that will keep telling you things. To make anything work, it just takes so much work and persistence. There’s really not a lot of other secrets to having a successful business."
"When I first started out, bags with hardware and adornment were really popular. But I was into really classic and simple design," Vivier said. "Someone told me not to worry about it, to produce what I want to produce, because one day my style of design will be popular. If young designers follow their own vision, they will make a place for themselves. If you really believe in it, then just keep believing in it and doing your thing, and hopefully one day it will catch on."
"When people are starting their companies, they get really overwhelmed by the big picture, and they get intimidated by problems they don’t have yet because they’re not really a company yet," Vivier told us. "Don’t worry about problems you don’t have yet—I’ve learned that over and over again. Keep thinking one day at a time—just make your product. Be a maker and get your product out there, instead of planning and planning and planning and thinking about how you can be better or what you can do."
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