Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Designer(s) on the Rise: Vrai & Oro's Vanessa Stofenmacher and Chelsea Nicholson

"I hate jewelry," says no fashion-forward girl ever. Whether you're rocking an arm party on the daily or peering into your local jeweler's window every so often, there's something undeniably glamourous about some serious bling. And contrary to popular belief, diamonds aren't a girl's only best friend. We love sapphire, topaz, tanzanite-- amongst a slew of other precious and semi-precious stones-- and bare (yet sleek) metals. But what's a gal to do when tracking down an exquisite trinket at an affordable price feels like mission impossible? Enter Vrai & Oro: affordable, sustainable and undeniably chic. In this installment of Designer(s) on the Rise, co-founders Vanessa Stofenmacher and Chelsea Nicholson talk jewelry, business and what's in store for the budding jewelry brand.

The Trendologist: Congratulations on the wonderful line! What was your inspiration behind Vrai & Oro?

Vanessa Stofenmacher and Chelsea Nicholson: We have always been hugely inspired by companies that have shifted the way we see retail and e-commerce, such as Warby Parker and Everlane, even before Vrai &  Oro.  It is such an exciting time to be a part of the movement happening in e-commerce. We ourselves wanted well-branded, well-designed, high quality jewelry, but were discouraged by the price tags. So we set out to create an option for people to invest in luxury pieces that will last, while making the prices as attainable as possible by selling online only without the retail markups.

TT: What makes Vrai & Oro stand out is the ethical responsibility the brand takes on as well as the affordable price points. Can you elaborate on how these two aspects are possible?

VS & CN:  Being in Los Angeles, we are able to oversee where the pieces are manufactured, negotiate our costs, hold minimal inventory and have extremely fast turnaround times.  Our direct to consumer model reduces middlemen and eliminates the wholesale to retail markups, allowing us to focus on high-quality goods that are sustainable and last.

TT: Did you face any challenges by committing to a high-grade, yet affordable, line? How did you overcome these challenges?

VS & CN:  One of the biggest challenges we face is selling direct to consumers as we don’t have the support and outreach of retail brands that help market and sell products. This has been a challenge because it limits our network and audience,  but it has also been a blessing because it's forced us to be more creative in our marketing efforts and also given us insight into each of our customers in order to learn what is working for them and what’s not.

14K Gold Circle Necklace, $135

TT: Where did the name Vrai & Oro come from?

VS & CN: Vrai means truth in French, and Oro means gold in Spanish.  A few years ago , we moved to Paris together for a summer largely and are inspired by French design and culture [to this day].  Now that we live in L.A., we are surrounded by Spanish influence as well, so we wanted to incorporate that aspect.  The words themselves-- truth and gold-- embody the essence of our company: we are dedicated to transparency and using high quality materials that last.

TT: Playing favorites is nearly impossible, but what is one piece from your latest collection that Trendologist readers MUST have in their jewelry boxes?

VS & CN: Our solitaire diamond necklace is our most popular piece for a good reason. It’s such a classic staple that can be worn [daily] and it goes with everything. It layers beautifully with other designs.

14K White Gold Diamond Line Drop Earrings, $495
TT: What did you both do before founding Vrai & Oro?

VS & CN: Vanessa studied graphic design and communication arts at OTIS College of Art & Design. After graduating, she traveled to Paris with Chelsea and worked at the [emerging] design and marketing firm, CrazyBaby. After returning to the States, she founded a graphic design studio, Duk Design, where she designed websites and brand identities for startups and small businesses. Continuously furthering her education in technology and design, Vanessa (along with Chelsea) studied UX design at General Assembly. Upon completion, they planned and launched Vrai & Oro. 

Chelsea has always had a passion for business, fashion and creative marketing. After her first year of studying at the University of British Columbia, she moved to L.A. to launch a philanthropic clothing company, Elise Elizabeth.  After a year of running the company, she passed along the business in order to pursue travels and finish her degree. After spending time in various countries around the globe, she completed her degree in business and marketing at the University of Oregon. Chelsea then moved back to L.A. and continued her education in user experience design through General Assembly. As the course came to an end, Vrai & Oro began.

TT: As a design duo, what is it like to work so closely with another person in an industry that is fueled by creativity?

VS & CN: We’re both very creative in different ways, which works to our advantage. Chelsea is very creative in business and marketing while Vanessa is creative in branding and visual design. We both share ideas on every subject, but we have mutual respect for each other's talents so ultimately we trust each other to make the best decisions in our respective roles as creatives.

14K Rose Gold Double Stacked Diamond Line Ring, $295

TT: Where do you see the brand in five years?

VS & CN: We plan to continue growing quickly and, in the near future, hope to increase our in-person experiences [with] pop-up shops and showrooms.

TT: What is your advice for emerging designers?

VS & CN: Get involved in relevant networks and communities. We didn’t have any connections going into this business, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without the connections that we’ve made during our first year. Attending events, lectures and classes as well as reaching out and following up with key figures in our industry has been extremely helpful for us. We would recommend all emerging designers and startups to do the same.

Can't get enough of Vrai & Oro? Follow the brand on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest

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