Velveteen founder Laura Egloff about children’s fashion and how to build a brand
Kids, LIFESTYLE, Motherhood, People
Whilst chatting with Laura Egloff during one of the fairs back in June, we knew that we had to have her for a honest interview about being a business woman, a designer, mum and wife.
Laura is originally from California and lived in New York and London before moving to Hong Kong. Here she met her Swiss husband and settled down. The couple has two children, Alessandra and Gabriel.
She is the founder of luxury children’s fashion brand Velveteen that she runs together with her husband. Working 7 days a week and long hours, the family has two amazing Philipina helpers to support them with their daily life.
Laura grew up with an educator father and her mother was a teacher. Raising their children to travel, to thrive on the pursuit of knowledge and to never give up.
I love what I do and the people with whom I’m fortunate to work.
Luna: Please tell us when Velveteen was born and what led you to launch a children’s wear brand?
Laura: The brand was born when my life-long obsession with fashion design and my new found obsession with my first born child began to intertwine. As a designer, I began to work at making her clothes as beautiful and functional as I could. My frequent travel to India brought about an introduction to factories and local designers. They were so inspiring that my husband started pushing me to bring my notebook of sketches to life with my first collection. We officially launched Velveteen in 2013 when we showed the first Spring/ Summer 2014 collection at Playtime New York. I flew from Switzerland to India to pick up the samples the night before the show. And then flew directly to New York to iron the collection in my hotel room. It was crazy and stupid and a really fun memory.
Only for next summer you added a complete boys collection. Why did you decide to design for ‘girls only’ and also go into the luxury market in the beginning?
I started out life in women’s wear at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and my natural inclination is to design for women and girls. Designing for boys and men requires a very different focus on structure and fabric qualities that I continue to learn about every day. After we opened our first flagship store in Hong Kong, it became important for the brand to have a strong boys’ offering. And I was fortunate enough to find an incredibly talented menswear designer to help me take on the challenge. The Velveteen boys’ collection has exceeded all of my hopes and is positioned to get even better with each season.
What did you not expect before the start of Velveteen?
I don’t think I fully understood that building a brand is really hard work on every level. It takes an amount of dedication and time that can’t be over estimated and can never waiver. Being a great designer who cares deeply about every style you create is simply not enough to thrive in this business.
You have to be ready to weather the storms of people who break your trust, collections that don’t turn out as you envisioned, production problems that bring you to tears and financial stress that can make you want to walk away from it all.
On the other hand, all of the hard work is re-payed ten fold in the immense sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with every milestone we achieve.
How did you get people to notice your brand and buyers attention?
I believe the only way to do this is to have a really clear vision of what your brand is and not to waiver from it. Trust your instincts and stand your ground.
When you spend too much time watching what competitors are doing, you lose the time and focus needed to develop a really strong perspective of your own.
And your brand will start to disappear into the mass market abyss. Buyers and press are looking for designers who have a strong opinion and recognizable brand DNA. Some of them will be moved by your message and become loyal brand supporters, some of them won’t “get it” but they will still respect you.
Anyone starting a children’s wear brand today – what top tips can you give them on the way?
I would give them rather contradicting advice:
1. Make sure you fully understand the market and your position in it. Be clear about how you will differentiate yourself from the hundreds of key players that are already out there. And insure that you have the financing to withstand the 3-4 seasons it will take for anyone to notice you.
2. Don’t think too much about it. Just throw yourself in and learn to swim. If you over think it, you’ll think yourself right out of it…
3. I also feel very very strongly that being a great children’s designer requires a great love for children! The same way that great women’s designers are obsessed with the beauty of the feminine form. So make sure you understand what little people need and want from their clothes and make it your life’s work to give it to them.
The industry changed a lot over the last years. With the online world everything is much faster now. How do you keep up?
Social media has changed everything and it requires a constant flow of content and interaction that never existed before. It’s no longer enough to design gorgeous clothes, you need a really comprehensive digital marketing strategy from SEO support, digital marketing campaigns, influencer relationships and branding. We partner with stylists and photographers around the world who know us well and are amazing content providers for us.
Looking back – is there something you would do differently if you could start all over again?
Everything and nothing. I’ve learned so much with every stage Velveteen has gone through that I’m sure I would make a better start of it if I had it to do all again but then I also believe ignorant bliss is needed to allow art and design to flourish and emerge. If anything, I would have waited to start the business until my youngest child was a bit older. I would have spent more time with him as a baby and cherished every moment of his chubby little childhood.
Would you start all over again?
I definitely would start all over again but I would try to be more efficient and patient and perhaps take more time for myself and my family throughout the process.
You are from the US, married to a Swiss and living in Hong Kong. How much influence of this international life lies in your inspiration and designs?
Probably all of it on different levels. My creative aesthetic is very driven by my California coastal childhood. Living in Hong Kong has opened my life to constant travel and the idea that borders only exist at airports. Having an extended Swiss family has instilled a strong sense of quality, precision and love for the outdoors. All of this gets muddled up in my head as I design our collections and interact with our customers.
Of course we have to ask – being a mum, wife and business owner. How do you manage to do it all?
I’m not sure I do a great job of balancing these two responsibilities all the time. Some days I do a great job of being a mum and a less great job of running my company. Some days that mix is re-versed. That said, I could not manage any of it without the support I have at home from my husband and my two amazing helpers.
I know it’s taboo to discuss the fact that some of us are lucky to have additional help at home but I think it’s unfair to pretend I’m doing this all on my own.
I know that you added a women’s wear line but decided to keep it on hold for now. What happened?
Right now I’m being a better children’s designer than women’s designer. Our launch of the Laura Egloff collection was a dream come true for me, creatively, but I simply do not have enough time in each day to do everything well. And I’m not the kind of person who does things by small measure. I want LE to be a stand alone brand with a strong point of view. The intention was never to be a ‘mummy and me’ add on with only a few styles. And the fact is that doing things well takes a huge dedication of time and emotion for a designer.
Right now, Velveteen is at an important stage and requires my full attention. I’m looking forward to revisiting Laura Egloff with my fully devoted creative brain once I have more time.
Where do you take inspiration from?
Most of my design inspiration comes from women’s designers like Isabel Marant and Ulla Johnson. India is also amazingly inspiring to me. Each Velveteen collection is grounded in a particular place or theme from my life and then evolves into patterns and motifs from there. Growing up in Los Angeles, movies and cinema always provide pop culture references that creep into our themes through colour and editorial photography.
Last winter you opened your first own brick & mortar store in Hong Kong. How did you make that decision and how are things going?
Developing a strong retail distribution has always been the plan and this was an exciting first step. We’ve learned so much through the process and, as is always the case, came out so much better for it. It’s been an unbelievable amount of hard work by a dedicated team but the results are really amazing. It’s helping us create better collections, reach our customers directly and share our vision without a filter.
What is the biggest difference between parents shopping for their children in Asia, Europe and The USA?
European parents have access to incredible fashion at very affordable prices and believe that every child deserves to be well dressed and to build self confidence through dressing well. They enjoy giving their children beautiful clothes as long as the price and quality is correct.
Asian parents tend to see their children as a reflection of their own style and aren’t afraid to spend money on giving them an incredible wardrobe. They tend to be more influenced by brand names but are very open to discovering new brands that can deliver good quality and fashion forward design.
American shopping habits vary dramatically from East Coast to West Coast. Climate and attitude have a lot to do with this and it impacts the styles they choose as well as the budget they allocate to their children’s wardrobes. The West Coast is much more casual, in all things.
Thank you for your time Laura!