At All the Pretty Birds, we are concerned about the crisis in the fashion industry during this time of uncertainty. Throughout this new series, Fashion After COVID-19, we want to follow up with independent fashion designers, some you may have previously seen featured in our Designer Spotlight series. We look forward to sharing their unique points of view about how this will affect fashion and, by extension, their brand, in the long run. Many businesses have shut down, and small businesses are the most vulnerable, so it’s essential to show up and support independent brands; however, we are able.
The Tale of 2020: As Told by Clare V
As we celebrate a unique holiday season, we spoke with Clare Vivier, founder of the Clare V accessories brand. Clare V defines how to turn a passion into a business and further expresses the convictions engrained in her to combat social injustice from within her industry. Since its creation, the brand has offered a selection of bags and accessories for everyday life that are both chic and practical. Nothing is left to chance. Leather pouches in vivid colors or leopard, monogrammed purses from Clare Vivier’s collection are made to revive an outfit, adding flare that is often missing from the typical winter wardrobe. Vivier navigated this year like many designers, facing the challenges of the pandemic amidst social uproar against systemic injustice. In this feature we cover both realities, highlighting Clare V’s part in taking accountable steps towards change awaiting fashion after Covid-19.
Introducing Clare Vivier
An individual who got her start by sewing bags with her own hands is now the designer at the head of a flourishing company in line with her convictions. Products are manufactured in LA, allowing Clare V to keep an eye on her production and therefore remain as flexible as possible. We are delighted to share with you Pretty Birds our conversation discussing how the company stayed afloat during the pandemic and navigated the rough waters of business amidst the waves of pursuing social justice.
Image of Clare Vivier by Katrina Dickson
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: When it comes to accessories, Clare V’s approach seems very practical. You focus on everyday pieces while adding style. Does the fact that you had another life as a journalist play into how you perceive accessories?
Clare Vivier: The first thing I designed was a laptop bag because I worked as a journalist for French TV and couldn’t find one that was cute that I liked. The design came about as a necessity, and I’ve always tried to bring practicality in what we make. I want to design beautiful things for women that bring joy into their lives. I also hope that the Clare V. in their lives are pieces they can use every single day.
AWK: Clare V specializes in monogramming, beautiful colors, and basics. Your brand is effortlessly chic and very French. When it comes to fashion, where do you find inspiration? How do you stay in tune with your aesthetic as a designer?
CV: Usually, I get a great deal of my inspiration through travel. This year has obviously been quite different, but from various cultures to artwork, my trips tend to be a trove that I can mine for future collections. I also live on the Eastside of Los Angeles, which is so ripe with color and texture. I will find beautiful street signs or graphics or street art that can inspire shapes and some of our hand-drawn graphics.
Violet Cloud Tie-Dye – Image courtesy of Clare V
AWK: You’ve collaborated with Melissa McCarthy, Mike D from the Beastie Boys, Anthropologie, Garrett Leight, etc. What are they looking for in partnering with Clare V? What do you focus on in these collaborations?
CV: When it comes to collaborations and partnerships, it usually comes down to a gut feeling. It’s always a person or brand that I admire and someone I can’t wait to work with. We still think about the audience and customer. We think about whether our customers align or whether we can introduce our respective customers to our own distinct brands. Gaining new fans is always so rewarding.
AWK: No one envisioned the magnitude of the crisis we are in right now. What were your biggest challenges? What were the first decisions taken within the company to save jobs?
CV: Good question, because it was my primary concern: how to save jobs? I, and my president Molly Leonetti, (and our senior team) had to think on our feet in a way none of us could have ever anticipated. We were fortunate in that everything is local for us – our manufacturing and our fulfillment. We shipped out everything we could as quickly as we could to fulfill those wholesale and our e-commerce orders without issue. As soon as our factory was allowed to reopen safely, we quickly pivoted to making masks with our remnants and then chose to locally up-cycle fabrics. Also, we kicked up our apparel production to satisfy what our customers were looking for in the moment, which proved to be a great decision as bags became more of a secondary purchase.
Bisous Face Masks – Image courtesy of Clare V
Our team took it in stride. We had to adjust to a new way of doing business (especially when we had to keep up on every local ordinance for the stores opening, closing, capacity issues, etc.). We had to find new ways to keep all of our customers engaged, and our team has been great at it.
AWK: During a crisis, we tend to focus on what is wrong and rarely the opportunities. What have you decided to focus on?
CV: We’ve refocused on our efficiencies and what we’re good at. We’ve also re-evaluated what has been beneficial to our business, and we’ve doubled down on those items. We’ve had time to get a pretty good sense of what our customer still wants, and thankfully we’re in a position even to provide it.
AWK: The use of the French language on your t-shirts and sweatshirts, “Justice pour les vies noires,” is the testimony that all violence against Black lives is universal. Why was it necessary to express it in a language other than English? In your opinion, what can Clare V do to spread the message about Anti-racism and support racial equality?
CV: I use French to avoid being too “on the nose” with our messages. Other people or brands can be obvious, and I respect that – we could have just made a sweatshirt that says “Black Lives Matter,” but it felt like perhaps there wasn’t a need for us to do that. I wanted to use the word “justice” because that is what we’re striving for. It is hard for any American to argue with that; it is in our Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all.” We want justice for black and brown people upon whom “injustice” has a long history in this country. “Justice Electrique” means electric justice (obviously), and “dans la rue” means in the street.
It might be a little too nuanced but what I was trying to get at is the energy that happened after the George Floyd killing, when all the people were in the streets protesting, and the energy that creates change. Also, it refers to the iPhone justice that is happening – meaning if people weren’t filming these atrocities with their phones, would there be any movement towards justice at all?
Justice Sweatshirt – Image courtesy of Clare V
AWK: Can you tell us more about the product itself?
CV: We chose Color of Change as the organization to give back to with this sweatshirt because of their work to fight injustices and their work to create a more human, less hostile world for Black people. This past year has been a very eye-opening wake-up call for so many of us. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can continue to do to educate myself and advocate for change. We’ve taken a number of steps as a business to be more inclusive and incorporated anti-racism training amongst our staff. I’m so excited to amplify the voices of brands of women of color by using my platform and my retail outlets.
AWK: We have seen on social media, many brands, including yours, inviting customers to vote. Why is social activism important to you? How will you continue to bring awareness to social justice issues at Clare V beyond this pandemic?
CV: I grew up in a very political family, and the importance of social justice was ingrained in me from an early age. We had partnerships with both I AM A VOTER and When We All Vote this year, creating products with proceeds that went back to each organization that worked to mobilize, empower, and enfranchise voters. I also got involved with the organization She Se Puede, working to get out the Latina/Latinx vote. I’m proud that I’ve been able to take a stand and speak my voice though I know it’s a tenuous position for many founders. In the end, we are female-founded and female-led, employing a very diverse mix of people. As a Mexican American, I’m happy to champion a more civil, just, and inclusive society.
At Clare V, we’ll continue to spread the messages that I think have resonated with so many of our customers. Our charitable partnerships drive so much of our brand awareness and bring so many customers to us. We’ll continue to curate the ones we currently work with and fold in additional causes that speak to us.
AWK: During this crisis, there is a desire to do more in terms of environmental responsibility. As an ethical fashion designer, how do you stay in tune with your values as a designer? What practices in your company reflect those values?
CV: This is an area where we are continuing to experiment and research. We have been able to make great strides by using scrap and leftover, recycled, or up-cycled materials. We have been able to dive deep into our stock to create a new product, which helps eliminate waste at nearly every step of the production process. We’ve also overhauled our packing materials to use significantly more earth-friendly, biodegradable materials and less plastic.
Le Zip Sac – Image courtesy of Clare V
AWK: We are entering into the Christmas season with the same uncertainty. What strategies are in place to ensure your customers continue to support a business like yours? How do you create gifts to keep the momentum going? What is the perfect Clare V gift for a Holiday unlike ever before?
CV: I think Clare V. is a unique brand, and I think what makes it unique is the real people behind it. We have our physical stores, which allow us to tell our story, but this year we haven’t been able to be in our stores very much for events and parties, so we’ve pivoted to telling our story through Covid-safe things like our Le Cute Show on Instagram. It’s a show where me and our design director, Greta Heichemer, talk about the new items each week and why we designed them and such. We also got into some new categories for the new home-bound world we live in, like a Clare V. puzzle and needlepoint with Loop Canvas of Clare V. prints. I would love to start a movement similar to the restaurant industry.
Let’s shout from the rooftops how important it is to support local retail in your neighborhoods, as well as to support independently-owned businesses. We don’t want the same old brick and mortar or eCommerce giants to be the only businesses standing when this is over. We’ve encouraged our customers to continue to shop from us by offering additional shipping options, more enhanced customer service, including online chat, curbside pickup, and safe in-store experiences.
Clare V Puzzle – Images courtesy of Clare V
AWK: What message do you want to convey or amplify to your clients when you encourage them to give gifts that give back? How do you think your social justice dedicated gifts will impact the Clare V community?
CV: It’s always an important time to give back, but after this painful year, it feels critical. I’m all for a two-for, meaning the customer gets to support a good cause by buying one of our give-back items, and they get a really cute product at the same time! I think [the social justice gifts] are yet another critical way for our customers to get involved and see what we stand for. Social justice has become such a driving focus for us this year that we wanted to find a way to dedicate additional resources to the causes, allowing us to do so.
Leading Image courtesy of Clare V