The online marketplace Etsy.com has been a godsend for young fashion designers, but it can also be a career ghetto for artistic types who don’t know how to turn their DIY passion into a sustainable business.
Clare Herron knows that lesson well. A four-year-old Etsy shop has given her a solid foundation on which to build her brand, the eco-lingerie label Clare Bare, and a good-size customer base that is eager to follow her.
Herron has been a “one-woman army” since launching Clare Bare in 2008 but this year will be looking at outsourced manufacturing in order to allow her to accept larger orders. (She’s also looking for a patternmaking intern, which sounds like a great gig for a future BYT!)
Clare Bare’s story is a familiar one, but it stands out for a couple of reasons: Herron’s commitment to sustainable fashion, which both influences her style choices and gives her a clearly defined market niche; and a growing catalogue that builds on her most popular pieces while introducing new concepts to a welcoming audience.
Herron got her early training at Parsons School of Design in NYC, but found little acceptance for her environmental values (specifically, after listening to Tim Gunn lecture students about using fur in their designs). As a result, she switched her major to Integrated Design, taking classes based on sustainability and collaboration with other design fields.
From her home in Williamsburg, Herron began working on her own designs using upcycled fabrics scrounged from used clothing shops and recreating patterns she found in vintage clothing. An early Etsy shop gave her a leg up — and the confidence to launch Clare Bare in 2008.
Clare Bare is probably best known for its lovely scrunched cotton bloomers embellished with satin rosettes (photo below), and its heart boyshorts — two girly pieces that have made a Clare Bare a favorite on Valentine’s Day.
More recently, Herron has found success with a line of silky organic bamboo jersey rompers and intimates in black and white color-blocked patterns — comfortable daywear pieces that aren’t just for special occasions or date night!
Now, can Clare Bare embrace its success and stake out a position at the forefront of the eco-fashion revolution? This is definitely a label to watch as 2011 unfolds!
Below you’ll find Herron’s responses to our Bright Young Things questionnaire and more photos from her design catalogue. The image below is from one of her sketchbooks, showing some exciting new designs in the works.
How long have you been in business?
I’ve been designing Clare Bare pieces ever since I graduated Parsons in 2006, but made it official in 2008.
Were you profitable in 2010?
Yes I was. I had a really great Valentine’s & holiday season in 2010.
How many people are employed by your label?
I am a one-woman army at the moment, but I employ help during the busy seasons.
What plans do you have for new products/collections in 2011?
I’ve been researching eco-friendly dyes to play around a little more with color. I would really love to work with fluorescent colors, but it is very difficult to create unnatural colors with natural materials, so that may have to wait. I can say for sure that I will be working on two bikinis, a new bodysuit, crop tops, and limited edition artist print textiles.
How do you hope/plan to grow your business in 2011?
I’m looking into manufacturing a little bit more this year because I’m planning on attending trade shows and taking larger orders. I’m also on the hunt for investors and grants that can help me take the next step with my business.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in launching your label?
The biggest challenge for me has been taking the plunge and committing to Clare Bare full-time. I take freelance design jobs and work as a mural/mosaic artist outside of Clare Bare, but other creative projects that I work on are very demanding of my time and energy and cut into my sewing time, so it’s been very hard to update my collection this year.
What is your most popular design or product?
I have a few that are tied: my bamboo jersey romper, criss-cross bralette, and boyshorts. I’ve also noticed a strange phenomenon — almost every order that is send to Australia is a garter belt. I’m surprised at how consistent this has been!
Business-wise, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my ability to multitask. I’ve been doing this by myself for so long, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Sometimes I’m torn between thinking that I’m doing something really remarkable or that it’s just something that people say. Either way I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t something that I was truly passionate about and I definitely believe it’s my calling, so I feel really proud when people recognize all that I’ve been able to achieve by myself.
How will you define success for yourself?
I’ll feel successful when I can find a balance between the design and the business aspect of Clare Bare. I think it’s really great that I have such a loyal customer base, but I would really love to push the envelope a little more for them as far as design is concerned. I know that the only way this will happen is if I can delegate responsibilities to other people so that I can focus more on the brand concept and development than the production of my pieces.
Anything else people should know about you?
I used to play classical piano, guitar, mandolin and cello, and I also used to be a figure skater. If I had more free time I would travel and paint a lot more, but for now I work from my beautiful home studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I drink coffee all day and listen to NPR. I love horror movies and my favorite color is gray.