Talking Social Impact with Clare Vivier of Clare V.
- Written By:Julia McVeigh
Over the last decade or so, designer Clare Vivier of Clare V. has built a veritable empire creating accessories that are a unique amalgam of playful, functional and modern. They’re also innately covetable. I can attest: As a young woman who entered the workforce as the financial crisis of 2008 took hold, I saved for months for one of her Foldover Clutches. Crafted from ultra-soft leather and featuring the brand’s signature stripe down the center, I proudly saw it as an emblem of my newly-minted adulthood and (very humble) professional growth.
At that time, I was unaware of the manufacturing practices that produced my coveted bag; in fact, I possessed very little knowledge of the business practices that informed the creations of my favorite fashion brands. Much has changed as the years have transpired—I, along with many consumers, have become far more attuned to concepts like sustainability and social impact and often shop with these values in mind.
It turns out, my 23-year-old self was a savvy shopper in this regard: Clare V. has been rooted in ethical business practices since its inception. Bearing this in mind, I spoke with Vivier recently on the subjects of sustainability, domestic manufacturing and how social impact figures into her business. Read on!
In a world of “China made,” your products are produced domestically. Can you discuss why you work this way?
We produce about 90% of our products in the County of Los Angeles. It was the way that I started the company and I can’t claim that it was my sole priority or intention. It was really out of necessity. I was not in the fashion industry when I began, nor did I really have funding, so going to a place like Italy and finding factories was really outside of my realm of possibility. Luckily, I knew there was a manufacturing history in Los Angeles, so I just went to fabric stores and asked around until I finally fell upon my first factory.
We’ve since grown to use about five different factories in Los Angeles. The thing that I'm most proud of is that we are creating jobs in our community. By working this way, we’re also less of a burden on our environment, especially when you think of the carbon footprint of products that are made overseas. So that's also another point of pride. Lastly, we’re proud that because our employees work domestically, they enjoy ethical labor practices. I see that every day when I visit them.
Generally, are you finding that your customer is asking more about your manufacturing practices or is interested in the idea of social impact?
Oh yeah, so much more than when I first started! I remember early on, I had a celebrity that came to buy a bag; I didn't have labels then, so I used to use a monogram machine to stamp out “Clare Vivier California” on my products. This person said, “Oh, maybe you shouldn’t put California on it.” The inference being that something made in California was inferior to something made in Italy.
I didn't stop putting “California” on the bags. But do I remember thinking, “Okay, people think luxury handbags are made in Italy and not in the United States.” It’s incredible how attitudes have changed so dramatically over the last several years.
Now when I tell people we are a brand from Los Angeles and everything is made in California, they’re like, “Wow. That’s really interesting.” You can tell people are so much more conscious about local production and I credit the local food movement, in part. I think it imparted this sense of enlightenment, almost: The idea that we should eat locally-grown things has transferred to the notion that supporting domestic businesses is a great thing. It creates jobs locally, it’s good for the environment… people care a lot more about these things today.
Let’s talk more about social impact—over the years, Clare V. has been involved with a variety of organizations and movements that align with your brand values. Can you elaborate?
We’ve worked with several organizations over the past five years or so: Every Mother Counts, Planned Parenthood, Everytown for Gun Safety and the ACLU. I approach all of our collaborations from the standpoint of the company and not so much personally. I personally could be a lot more political than I am with my own company, but I take into consideration that I'm employing a lot of people and I want to create a brand that resonates with a very broad base of people and not just people with one political point of view.
Now having said that, I feel like we do stand behind issues that some people do think are “political.” I tend to think of them as human issues. Generally, we are interested in issues that broadly affect women, as we are a 95% woman-run company. I’m also interested in causes that affect mothers and children, as I'm a mother and I have a lot of mothers who work here.
We also tend to do a lot of collaborations in Los Angeles—both with the entertainment industry and other businesses here. For example, last year we collaborated with the shoe company TOMS, which is also based in Los Angeles and has a give-back component associated with their products. Given that we’re two Los Angeles companies, we contributed a large portion of our proceeds to the Downtown Women’s Center, which is a Los Angeles-based center that helps to both feed and shelter homeless women in the area.
Shifting gears to end things: What’s next for Clare V.? Anything new on the horizon?
Well, we’re about to head into the busiest season of the year! We have a men’s collaboration coming out soon; it’s the second time we're collaborating with a guy to do a men’s collaboration. The first was with Mike D from the Beastie boys; this one’s for Holiday and it is with the actor Adam Scott. It’s a small men’s collection that we will debut in our stores for Holiday.
We also have just signed a lease to open a permanent Chicago store—which was originally a pop-up—so we're redoing that location to make it an actual permanent store. We'll be doing some fun activations there!