Bridget Brown and her husband Nick know how to run a successful business. In fact, when Bridget saw a gap in the bridesmaid dress market, she opened Bella Bridesmaid, a chic, modern bridesmaid dress boutique founded in San Francisco. In 5 years, she and Nick grew the franchise to 43 stores nationwide. When they decided to sell Bella Bridesmaid in 2012, they knew they would eventually start another business, but it wasn’t until a documentary and a personal need surfaced that Filbert was born.
Documentary Turned Mission
Heidi: Can you talk a little bit about your personal drive to start Filbert?
Bridget: I sold Bella Bridesmaid in 2012, and we took some time off to travel and decompress. During this time I watched the documentary Vegucated, and that was it. I realized I could no longer claim to be such a huge animal lover and eat meat. I felt that my love for animals didn’t reconcile with the fact that I ate animal products. The very next day I moved to a vegan lifestyle.
We had also started to talk about what we were going to do next after selling Bella Bridesmaid. We’ve always tried to be conscious consumers. We try to buy domestically and to shop locally when we can. So, the idea of making a product domestically really appealed to us, but we didn’t know what that product was.
It was Nick who finally said, “Now that you are vegan you’ve been thinking more about your clothes”. I needed to replace certain items, such as, shoes and handbags with vegan alternatives. I found it difficult to find exactly what I wanted in a handbag like a crossbody that converts to a clutch, and a big sturdy tote with a laptop compartment. When we started, I had about 4 designs in mind. That’s where Filbert began.
Business & Marriage
Heidi: How do you and Nick divide business roles, and more importantly, how do you separate business from personal?
Bridget: It’s really all we know. I started Bella literally the month that we met. We don’t have kids, so our businesses have always kind of been our children. For us, it’s really enjoyable.
Even with Bella, at the height of the business when we had 43 stores and a lot of weight on our shoulders we still enjoyed talking about the business, digging in, and unpacking different issues. We also love to travel, so I think the travel keeps it interesting as well.
I think the key is having different sets of skills. Nick is fantastic about getting down to the nitty gritty of research. I would say “I want solid brass hardware”, and down the rabbit hole he went until he found a solid brass hardware manufacturer, 4th generation, on the East Coast! That’s his skillset.
Designing vs. Resale
Heidi: With Bella Bridesmaid you were a retailer, carrying different designers of bridesmaid dresses. Now you are the designer, does that change the emotional connection to the business?
Bridget: When designing our products, we are basically making a product that I want. But, there’s more pressure. With Bella I was trusting another designer and thought that people would like their designs.
When it’s your own product there is a higher standard. You start to question yourself. Will people like it? Do I have good taste? Is this something people will want? And if they don’t like it, you take it more personally. So, in that sense there is more of a personal connection.
I think also, anytime you start a business based on something you personally want, or something that’s happened in your life, it’s different. I didn’t start Bella Bridesmaid because I needed a bridesmaid dress, I started Bella because I saw a gap in the market. I was catering to what the market needed. This was a whole different thing. I was making a vegan handbag because I needed a vegan handbag.
Finding Inspiration Around the World
Heidi: Where do you get your inspiration?
Bridget: I think about the bags that I want and what I want to carry every day. Or when I go to grab a certain bag, I think about what it has or doesn’t have. What void am I looking to fill?
Aside from that, I honestly don’t feel like my brain works unless I’m traveling and seeing something different. Travel for me is a huge one. And taking in everything around you – the colors, the way people dress, etc. Travel is probably the biggest source of inspiration.
Bridget’s Favorite Brands
Heidi: Do you have a favorite sustainable brand or designer?
Bridget: Oh my gosh, yes…. I have so many! Amour Vert is a San Francisco based company focusing on eco and sustainably made clothing with a French feel. Everything is made in their San Francisco factories.
In terms of shopping locally, I love Amy Kuschel. She makes everything in her San Francisco studio. Great everyday basics and she only comes out with a few styles each season.
And Vesta, a new vegan clothing line based in the Bay Area. The owner Kendall is a long time vegan and started a curated collection of lovely pieces all made in the US from eco fabrics.
Heidi: Do you have a fashion pet peeve?
Bridget: Not a pet peeve per se, but I think women feel like they need to dress for a trend instead of what feels comfortable on their body. When you dress for what makes you feel good, you automatically look and feel better!