Take Note: Bridget Brown Tells Us How She Grew Two Successful Businesses

As the original founder of a bridesmaid boutique and the current owner of a high-end lux-vegan bag line, Bridget Brown is no stranger to the passion of starting a business and the patience in growing it.

With the combination of her vegan-inspired lifestyle and her business experience, Bridget founded Filbert, a company with a mission to offer minimalistic handbags that are leather-free and made in the USA. Owning the company with her husband has allowed her to share her hope for an eco-friendly world and proves how a belief in one idea goes a long way. Here, she tells us her experience in running a company, her reason for going vegan, and her advice to anyone who is fighting for a cause.

 

Name: Bridget Brown
Age: 44
Location: Sausalito, CA
Current Title/Company: Founder, Filbert
Education: B.A. in English from Mississippi University for Women, J.D. from Mississippi College School of Law

 

What was your first job, and what was the most important lesson you learned from it?

 

During high school, I worked on the sales floor in womenswear at a local department store in my hometown. This was when my love affair with retail and working with the public began. I love everything about it (minus standing in heels all day!), from interacting with the customer and trying to understand their needs, to the fascinating relationship that women have with clothing and body image. I learned how to really tap into my listening skills and how important it is that the customer trusts you and feels like you’re on their team.

 

 

Prior to discovering your first company, Bella Bridesmaid, what is one piece of knowledge you wish you had known about owning your own business?

 

The roller coaster is probably something I wasn’t prepared for. There are so many highs and lows in small business ownership and you have to be able to ride it without getting too nauseous!

 

How did you begin Bella Bridesmaid and what experience surprised you the most from it?

 

After graduation from law school in 1998, I moved to San Francisco and started working as a retail manager for an upscale women’s clothing boutique. I came up with the idea for Bella after noticing that women were buying dresses off the rack for their wedding. That left them not only with something not entirely unique for their wedding but also without the ability to customize their dresses by color, style, fabric, and size. After researching the market and learning that there weren’t any bridesmaid-exclusive boutiques in the Bay Area, I took the plunge and opened our first space in a tiny 300 sq foot Victorian walk-up in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco. We had such a curated (read: small) selection of dresses, but gals were just thrilled to be able to find chic, modern, and wearable options, and they loved the one-on-one experience of the by-appointment atmosphere.

We grew fairly quickly, and organically… and after only a few months we were receiving phone calls from brides all over the U.S. asking “when are you going to open a Bella Bridesmaid in our city?!” So we opened an additional five stores across the U.S. and then realized that there HAD to be a better way to grow the company. We decided to franchise in the Fall of 2006, and from there we rapidly grew the company to 43 locations.

 

It’s amazing that you grew Bella Bridesmaid to 43 stores! What was the greatest challenge you came across as the company began to grow?

 

The greatest challenge was that I couldn’t clone myself. Ha! But honestly, not setting aside personal time was so hard for me as the company was growing. I took my role as the founder and franchisor extremely seriously, and I wanted to be everything to everybody at all times. So I worked a lot and long hours. I’m going to try to do better with carving out time to relax and reboot this time around!

 

In the end, why did you decide to sell Bella Bridesmaid and what was the determining factor in your decision?

 

After 12 years, we decided it was the right time to move on and hand the reigns over. It was a hard decision because Bella was near and dear to us, but we knew that there were other opportunities and adventures in life that we wanted to explore. We were lucky to have the new owners be existing franchisees and it felt like a natural transition.

 

 

Manufacturing a product is tough… it’s not impossible, but it’s not for the light of heart!

 

 

How did you incorporate your prior experience as a company owner when you founded your next company, Filbert?

 

We’re only a few months launched, but I can say that retail and e-commerce are two entirely different beasts! I think the biggest experience I brought with me was resourcefulness, patience, and dedication to a see a concept from ideation to completion. Filbert took us two years to set-up with the fabric sourcing, product development, and prototyping. Bella was probably less than six months. So we needed a lot of patience as we worked through finding the perfect factory and finalizing the designs. Manufacturing a product is tough… it’s not impossible, but it’s not for the light of heart!

 

Filbert is an eco-friendly company that sells high-end luxe vegan handbags. Can you tell us what this means and what the process is for how the handbags are made?

 

When we created Filbert, the most important aspect to us was not using any animal based products, followed closely by domestic manufacturing and supporting local factories, and trying to find the most eco version of every component. It’s a tall order, but we worked tirelessly and asked a lot of questions about every component of the bag. We researched all types of metals for our bag hardware and decided that U.S. made solid brass was the most eco (and durable) metal to use. We sourced a U.S. made thread. Our linings are all Texas-grown, South Carolina-milled organic cotton. We ship all bags in organic cotton drawstring dustcovers (re-use factor: great for holding shoes or dirty laundry in your suitcase!), in 100% recycled boxes from Colorado based Eco-Enclose with no additional packaging inserts. To us, all of these thoughtful details are the definition of luxury.

 

What inspired you to choose a vegan lifestyle and how has it impacted you?

 

In 2012 shortly after we sold Bella Bridesmaid, we embarked on a U.S. road trip. During a stay in Mississippi to visit family, I watched the documentary Vegucated and moved to a vegan lifestyle the next day. I had no idea how horribly animals were treated in factory farming and being a huge animal lover, I couldn’t in good conscience continue to participate consuming meat and dairy. I truly believe that everyone should learn more about where their meat and dairy products come from and become more informed consumers. I think if documentaries like Vegucated and Forks Over Knives were required of everyone to watch, we’d have a much higher population of healthy vegans. I’m also very lucky to have a close friend who is a longtime vegan, and she helped me with the transition… which, by the way, is not difficult! It’s so easy to start small.

Being vegan has had a hugely positive impact on my health and mindset. Quite simply, living a vegan life is a more kind way to live. And who doesn’t want to participate in more kindness in the world?

 

 

Being vegan has had a hugely positive impact on my health and mindset. Quite simply, living a vegan life is a more kind way to live. And who doesn’t want to participate in more kindness in the world?

 

 

What do you wish more people knew about being vegan? How does this affect the general public?

 

I wish they knew how easy it is to make the change and how much better they will feel mentally, physically, and emotionally. There are so many great resources to help make the transition and it’s simpler than ever! The health benefits of moving to a plant-based diet are vast.

 

You passionately believe in an eco-friendly world. What advice would you give to others who strongly believe in a cause and want to do something about it?

 

Just start. I know that’s easier said than done, but whatever cause you are passionate about, start by doing one thing every week towards that goal. Start by cleaning out your closet and donating clothing, and then for every piece of clothing or accessories you buy in the future, make it a habit to get rid of two. Pare down your wardrobe. Buy better-made items and care for them so that they last longer. We don’t need a lot of things, just a few, well-made things!

 

 

What’s the best part about working with your significant other?

 

Everything! My husband Nick has a great business mind, and we complement each other well. Every win seems more satisfying when you’ve done it together and can celebrate it together. We are each other’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders. He’s also been taking sewing lessons to better understand the construction of the bags, and that alone just makes me love him even more!

 

How would you describe the style of Filbert and what makes it different from other eco-friendly companies?

 

First and foremost we’re a vegan company, but we’re a luxury vegan company. And luxury to us means that we know where the bags are made — that they are made in an ethical factory in the USA where the workers are treated well and paid fairly — and the bags are of the highest quality and craftsmanship. We believe that ethical and luxury aren’t mutually exclusive of each other and that things can always be made better.

 

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

 

I wish I had been more conscientious of the world around me when I was 21, so it would probably be to try looking inward less and look outward more. To ask more questions and be more curious.

 

 

…try looking inward less and look outward more.

 

 

Bridget Brown is The Everygirl…

 

Best way to spend a day off?
It would definitely involve a trip to the library, a long beach walk with Nick and Presley (our adorable rescue dog) and followed by Mexican food.

Favorite vegan cookbook/recipe blog/website?
Thug Kitchen. They are FUNNY.

Favorite holiday and why?
Christmas! But mainly for the movies and songs. (Serendipity and “Last Christmas” are my faves).

Best song to sing to in the car?
Anything Fleetwod Mac

If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be and why?
Stella McCartney. She’s created an incredible high-fashion brand that incorporates her lifestyle and beliefs of not using leather or fur. She’s a huge inspiration.

 

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