Liz Thayer is no stranger to legacy. As the founder of sewing and design studio, Claflin, Thayer & Co., she has carried on the same name that her great-grandfather first established in 1830. Back then, the company was a boot and shoe manufacturer based out of New York City. Now, you can find the brand creating timeless staples out of Berkeley and quickly popularizing voluminous lips everywhere.
When did you start your company?
I started Claflin, Thayer & Co. in 2009 as a hobby. I was working full-time as a shoe and accessories designer for a big corporate retailer, but felt a disconnect designing for such a large company. I spent most of my time in front of a computer or in sales meetings. I missed the hands-on connection of making things, but I did learn a lot about business and how to think strategically about retail. My focus was always more in the creative realm, but working in retail corporations really sparked my interest in the business and operations side of things.
Claflin, Thayer & Co. was originally founded in New York City in 1830. What is it like to carry on the name of such an established brand?
People sometimes have a hard time pronouncing the name Claflin, Thayer & Co. and I'm aware that complicated names are never a good thing when branding your business. But, it was the obvious and only choice for me. My dad's great-great-grandfather started the original Claflin, Thayer & Co. in 1830 as a boot and shoe manufacturer in what is now Tribeca. The business was a family affair for over a hundred years until it closed down under my great-grandfather's management during the Great Depression. I think it's neat that I have fallen into the same work, so resurrecting the family name seemed like a given to me.
Where did the idea for your "Lips Bag" originate?
My good friend Joylne has a beautiful, sultry pout and always wears red lipstick. I was directly inspired by her when I first designed the lips bag. The "Addicted to Love" video by Robert Palmer and the famous 80's red plastic lips telephone were also inspiring. I wanted to make cosmetic pouches as gifts, and lips seemed like the perfect shape to hold lipstick and makeup. They are fun and quirky but also practical. I want everything I make to captivate the customer. There are so many bags on the market, and I really try to design things that have more of a soul and can make an emotional connection with the customer.
How do you think living in California, specifically Berkeley, influences the work that you create?
I grew up in Berkeley and have settled back here as an adult. I lived and worked in New York for a while, which was so fun and inspiring, but almost overwhelming at times. There were so many designers, artists, photographers, etc. working there and it's very competitive. When I moved back to Berkeley, I really fell into my own groove. I find I'm much more inspired working without so much fashion industry around me when I can just do my own thing. The quality of life is so good here - weather, food, and nature. I'm a happier person here, and that increases my motivation to work.
How did this collaboration come about?
Alexis of Local Eclectic reached out with the idea of doing a mini-version of the lips bag, inspired by the need for a cute travel jewelry pouch. She had been using a little square fabric bag, but dreamed of something more chic. I loved this idea and we went to work right away on making it happen. I love working with like-minded companies to create special bags tailored to their specific markets.
Was it more challenging to work on a smaller scale? If so, how did you navigate that process?
There were a few challenges. I made some samples first to work them out before doing the production run. When you shrink a shaped pattern down, every stitch has to be just right. If any of the sewing is off, the shape can get distorted very quickly. The leather was also a tad thicker than what I normally use, which made turning the bags a bit trickier.
How do you spend your free time?
I like to go on weekend road trips and adventures, go to the beach and river, garden, pick fruit in the summer, draw, go thrifting, cook out in the yard, and hang with my friends and family, of course.
What do you do to achieve work / life balance?
This is always challenging. I have to make a point to carve out time for myself. I love taking classes. I just took a three-part class on Botanical Beauty where I learned about making natural skin care produts. Learning about something new keeps me inspired and excited. I am making a big point to get on a regular exercise routine again, because I know my brain works so much better when I am regularly active.
What words of wisdom do you have for someone interested in pursuing their own business?
Start saving money. Take care of any bad credit. Talk to business owners and find out what their challenges were. Take a business class! Write a business plan. I took a business class and it really helped me think strategically about what I need to do for my business. It's very empowering to take control and educate yourself on how to run a business successfully. Don't be afraid to ask for help!
What's next for your brand?
Big things! Until very recently, I've had a full-time job and run Claflin, Thayer & Co. on the side, but I've made the decision to do my business full-time. It's been something I've wanted to do for a long time, but it's hard to leave that stability. I got to a point where I decided that the time is either now or never. I'm moving into a newly expanded workspace and will be spending a lot more time focusing on my business this summer. I'm excited to have new products, more website updates, and new wholesale accounts. Wish me luck!