A rolling wave of blonde hair, a vast landscape ahead that looks as if it could engulf her at any moment — suck her back into its center. It doesn’t though, there’s always a strength to her, rooting her feet on the rock she stands atop. Woodworker Aleksandra Zee may be known to you from her dreamy, golden hued virtual postcards, and entrancing works of art that will make you stop in your tracks mid-Instagram scroll. She’s not just her online representation though, as any woman she is thick with dynamics, journeys, insights. Fearlessly, she shares snippets of these with us through her captions — using the social media platform to as a way of saying “Hey! I’m in this with you.” — however today we get very real with the talented woman on her art, heartbreak, & how to deeply love yourself!
V: What was your first experience with woodworking? Was it love at first bandsaw?
AZ: My frist experience with woodworking was just a bit in college, making frames and things but nothing much. My first job out of college was at Anthropologie as a Display Artist and so much of it was learn as you go. When I fully started building things I fell in love! Working with wood, being in a shop, I knew it was what I wanted to do and instantly started planning how to make it on my own.
V: What were you doing before you were able to go full time with your creative passions?
AZ: I decided to leave Anthropologie after about three years and knew that for me, having a boss and working/making for someone else was not for me. I needed to make art for myself and put it out there. So I stated small, working as a waitress for just about three years as I built my business. Working days in my humble little shops and nights at a restaurant. I remember the day I quit waiting tables like it was yesterday. I was serving a few girlfriends some margaritas and they asked me why I was still working there, that I was so busy in the shop and didn’t need to keep the side hustle. So I set down their drinks and went up to my manager and told her I would rather be in my studio, and she said yes please go and come back if you ever need to. It felt amazing and scary and crazy and so freeing. It has been a little over three years since that moment and each day has gotten better and more amazing working for myself. It’s hard ass work, and it never stops, but there is nothing else I would rather do.
V: You are so wonderfully transparent about the journey a woman takes to come into her own via your social media. Did it ever scare you to be so open?
AZ: At first it was scary, the opinions of others would deeply effect me. When the negative came it would hurt and hold me back. It took a while to grow my thick skin and learn to meditated on the fact that others options of me don’t matter, and they never will. I am responsible for my own energy and my own confidence and happiness. None of that belongs to anyone else. Being committed to openness and vulnerability is something that is so important to me and loving myself though it is so important.
V: Let’s talk about self-love — what life experiences have forced you to come face-to-face with who you are as a woman, and who you want to be?
AZ: This is for sure a loaded question. There are so many experiences that have made me face myself with exactly who I am and who I want to continue to grow into. I grew up with a troubled mother, substance abuse consumed her life and outside of the care my father gave I helped raise my younger sister. That forced me to tap into my nurturing and fierce side at a super young age. Later in life I chose a career that is predominantly male and finding my strong and also feminine (which is powerful and not weak) voice. I felt like I was re-writing what it meant to be feminine for myself. That being a woman didn’t make me weaker but stronger, and promoting that strength in a non competitive and graceful way. About two years ago I lost my mother, and that was a huge face-to-face moment with myself. I needed to strip myself of everything I held onto, the thick skin that I let grow a little too thick and re-open myself to a life of pure vulnerability, not holding myself back because of fears, accepting every bit of who I am and the strength there is in being open.
V: What is the most painful part of your journey in self-study?
AZ: Growing pains happen because you are making new room for the growth that is happening within. A big part of dealing whit what hurts is self acceptance. That you control your happiness, your confidence, your state of mind. Rising above what breaks your heart and accepting that it takes time. Life is full of heartbreak and how you move though the muck is what gives you the information and wisdom to hurdle the next. It hurts to lose a love, lose a family member, have your business take an unexpected turn, but all of those things happen to show the path before you and the choice you have to hit the ground running. So for me, my heartbreaks and pain that I have lived though are maps and footprints in the path I have chosen, I wouldn’t change it, I love where I have been and where it is shaping me to move forward into.
V: I think every woman learns to be gentle with themselves in different ways — I do this thing where I literally talk to my body in times of stress or trauma. Is there a way you’ve learned to be gentle with yourself that helps you deal with trials of the everyday?
AZ: I do he same, I speak positivity to my body, acknowledge the air filling my lungs in each deep breath, wiggle my toes and feel my feet planted on the earth holding up my body. Finding completely presence within my mind and physical body, reminds me that I am alive, I need to check in, and care for myself. It is the easiest way to get my mind bad n track, those sick couple minutes of acknowledging yourself.
V: I’m so glad I’m not the only one that does that! How do you see yourself through your own eyes?
AZ: When I look in the mirror I see strength, I see grace and I see growth. I am always changing, and allowing for that growth is acceptance. I meet myself with an open heart.
V: If you could send one message to young women everywhere what would it be?
AZ: Be fearlessly yourself. No one is you, YOU are you. There is strength in being a woman that should never hold you back from doing exactly what you want to.
You have to be assured that someone heading an online community that’s taking over the nooks of the internet where cool-girls hang is a visionary in her own right. Founder of Lisa Says Gah, Lisa William’s, seems to have the skill to anticipate those girls’ needs before that Sonya Rikyel dress is even a conceptual blip — a skill saved for many of the greatest leaders of the fashion industry.
Lisa Says Gah is so much more than an online store, in Lisa’s own words it’s “a space” — one that implements sartorial and cerebral freedom. We snagged a few thoughts from Lisa herself — and weaseled our way into her gorgeous SF apartment — on all things business, and style badassery — along with her favorite pieces for fall.
Tell us what made you want to return to San Francisco, and launch an online shop?
I launched Lisa Says Gah in early 2015 after moving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I started with an inspirational blog, now called “Look”. I then began reaching out to independent designers that were carving their own path. I took it a step further with interviews, to connect the consumer with the product. I started Lisa Says Gah because I wanted to create a space that went beyond just “shop” — I wanted a shop that used fashion to build a community of creative, insightful women. The point is that “Gah” is anything you want it to be. To me, it derives from interest and excitement of the unknown or undiscovered.
Lisa Says Gah has also excelled in creating content that goes hand in hand with the vision, and brands you carry. Why was it important to you to have a story telling portion?
We produce an eclectic interview series that highlights the varied career paths of successful women in the industry. It’s my hope that these features shed light on the often mysterious path to achievement in the creative community and encourage all women to make empowered moves in life — no matter the area.
The collection of designers that you stock are a wonderful range from what we usually see out there. How do you go about choosing these labels?
From all corners! We have found new brands through Instagram, Pinterest, showrooms that we already work with, and the handful of designers who’ve reached out to us. We’ve also introduced vintage to the shop that we source locally in San Francisco.
Prior to Lisa Says Gah, you were a buyer at Nastygal, what life-long career lessons did you pluck from this highly-coveted position?
With just under four years at Nasty Gal, I became more skilled, confident, and trusting of my work and self. I learned to speak up and ask for what I wanted — whether that be a pay raise or pitching a design collaboration.
What do you hope you are bringing your followers and customers through your shop, and social media? What message do you hope they take away?
Let’s talk about your personal style: where do you gain inspiration for your own sartorial choices?
I’m inspired by our designers and muses each week, by the girls in the office and people I meet from traveling. I’m open and curious to fashion’s constant change and evolution — it keeps surprising me and keeps me motivated.
What were some of the most difficult parts of getting Lisa Says Gah off the ground? Some surprisingly good aspects?
Finically it’s risky, and it’s a challenge to do it alone. The press we’ve received has been a happy surprise.
Have you ever been the recipient of bad jewelry? It can be a painful exchange you’re not soon to forget. If gone unsolved, one can find themselves with a disgraced box of beaded things, when you’re so clearly a gem girl. That’s where TOVE.co comes in — co-founded by Nic Guerra-Mondragon and Jenna Schreck (a couple themselves), the concept eliminates the possibility of mishap by guiding the giver through the online shopping process, a questionnaire (what your lady friend’s preferences may be, minimalist, bohemian, and such), eliminating the chance of going awry. It’s simple, and genius — we no longer have to fear those little boxes. Naturally, Vérité couldn’t wait to get the background from the couple themselves, on everything from bad jewelry, to co-existing in business without disturbing the romance.
Vérité: What was the striking moment when you realized you had to pull the trigger on Tove?
Jenna: I had this idea for on-demand jewelry gifts, you know for all the times the boyfriend / fiance / husband f***-ed up and forgot the anniversary or other special occasion. I wanted to create a solution for that. With jewelry being such an old school industry, it took a few months of ideation to figure out where to start.
Nic: Jenna and I had been conceptualizing TOVE and reworking the idea for months. We couldn’t stop talking about it. Finally one day Jenna told me she was going to quit her job to start TOVE, and I was like, “Okay, I guess this is happening”
V: I feel like guys have a lot of pressure when making the decision when it comes to fine jewelry. Nic, what previously about shopping for jewelry for your S/O inspired your interest in this project?
N: I wanted to buy Jenna a really nice pair of pearl earrings for her birthday last year. I spent a lot of time researching before deciding what I wanted. After spending a few hours online, I figured out that I wanted to buy White South Sea Pearls.
I asked my Mom and Grandmothers where I should go to find them. They pointed me to the nearby department stores, and the experience was awful. None of the sales people knew where their pearls came from or if they were freshwater or saltwater. They were terrible at helping me pick out a style, and really pushy. I was disappointed with the experience and left.
Once I got back, I started looking frantically online for a store that could help me find what I was looking for. I was on my phone and I found that all of the websites had terrible mobile interfaces. From that point on I realized that there lied an opportunity as none of the existing players know how to speak to millennials or have any idea what they are doing on mobile web. V: How did you go about finding the brands you wanted to work with?
J: Instagram! I spend countless hours sifting through fine jewelry related hashtags with a fine toothed comb. There are a lot of “jewelry designers” out there — if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, take a look at this.
V: You are a couple working together, what is it like mixing romance with your profession in a start-up environment?
J: Hah! Funny question. I over analyze everything, so was obviously terrified to mix my two “lives” together. Right before I got up the courage to leave my 9-5, we had a run in the Modcloth duo (now husband and wife, Susan and Eric). Listening to their story and learning how they balance their relationship and business, both now and in their early days, soothed my anxiety enough to take the plunge. It’s a constant balancing act, just like everything else in life.
N: It has its ups and downs, but overall It’s great! Jenna and I both share the same goals in life, so ultimately we are aligned and on the same team. It makes conflict resolution easy.
V: You both left your full-time positions to pursue this, what would you tell other creatives who would like to do the same about the realistic lifestyle of a founder?
J: Make sure you like what you are doing and the person you are doing it with. It will be your life. Being an entrepreneur, while fun, does not mean you “make your own hours,” it means all of your hours are available to work on what you’re currently pushing forward!
N: I didn’t leave my job. I still have it. I work on TOVE in the mornings and evenings until late. My suggestion to founders is to think really carefully about the idea and co-founders they settle on. You pay a huge premium and make a considerable sacrifice to work on a startup. Make sure you choose the right idea and people otherwise you are wasting your time. V: What have been some unexpected surprises you’ve faced during this project?
N: So far I think everything has played out to expectation. We are pretty realistic with ourselves and like to plan everything out. With that comes serious questioning of the work that we are doing and analyzing the outcomes. Overall I think our expectations have been met.
V: Three books that have changed your life? (maybe three each? If that’s too many split it?)
J: The Alchemist changed my outlook on life forever, the perfect book anytime you’re feeling stuck. Do Cool Shit by Miki Agrawal. There are a lot of these types of books out there, but this has yet to be my favorite. As a sufferer of food allergies, she also gets major bonus points in my book for founding a pizza chain that has GF + DF / vegan options. Everything Is Perfect When You’re A Liar by Kelly Oxford. Laugh out loud funny, no further explanation needed.
N: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
V: Do you both find that you have a work uniform? What are some pieces that make getting ready easier?
J: Working from home can kill your stylistic efforts. On gloomy SF mornings / afternoons you can often find me in my robe. That said, having a routine to get ready is definitely a game changer when it comes to productivity. When routine kicks in, if it’s not all black, it’s usually some kind of neutral colored shirt (I’ve been into collars lately), a soft lounge pant (see similar here) or cut-offs if it’s nice (though Nic hates them with a passion). A good leather jacket is usually in the mix to throw on top with a warm scarf to feel pulled together to run errands / frequent coffee bar down the street.
N: No not really. I just throw on whatever I see and put together an outfit in one minute.
V: How do you hope to change the fine jewelry market for the better through TOVE?
J: That’s a loaded Q! Nic?
N: I want to put out all of the shitty jewelry companies, that ruin the earth and don’t know how to leverage technology, out of business. That would be better for the environment, and for customers. There is so much room for improvement on all fronts. Especially for the clueless guys out there that need a guiding hand from someone who is not going to take advantage of them.
J: More on the clueless guy front — I hope to add a women’s portal to the site in the future. It will aid our men’s shopping experience and allow for our lady visitors to get more involved with the product we carry. Stay tuned!
Let’s hit the rewind button, to a time when fashion was redefined at polar oppositions. In 1988, Anna Wintour (all hail) swooped her cloak over Vogue spreading a tangible layer of alluring gloss through the pages of the monthly print. Her first cover? The glorious Michaela Becru in mom jeans and a bedazzled Lacroix jacket. It’s fair to say this set the tone for the decade ahead. Soon, it was 1990, and Tom Ford claimed his place as Women’s Wear Designer at the traditional house of Gucci. His muse for this erotic adventure in fashion was to be Carine Roitfeld. Gucci flared from buttoned up Italian predictability to looks dripping with sexy-undertones, thigh-high boots got the go-ahead to be the everyday — glamour had arrived. The year 1993 was welcomed with Marc Jacobs’ break out grunge collection, street style had infiltrated the runway. The gaps had finally filled, lines blurred. High-fashion craved to dip its toes in the clothes of the people, and vice versa. This is the very essence of our editorial The Rewind.
Our stylist, Britt Moore, shares her inspiration for bringing The Rewind to life: “This editorial was initially inspired by 90s’ minimalism and the influences of Tom Ford’s glorious reign at Gucci. I wanted to implement a romanticized take on our favorite decade and reminisce on the ‘chic parts’ of that time in fashion. I added a bit of texture to make it ‘so 2016’.”
So, how does one implement the Naomi Campbell, the Kate Moss cool-girl creature into her wardrobe? A good place to start would be with Vérité’s slip dress shopping guide. Better yet, don’t be afraid to stay true to your own minimal ways, while accessorizing with chokers that make statements, strapped heels to take to the streets, and slicked hair that sums it all up.
“I feel like we are trying to chip away at wedding pressures being bullshit.” Christy Baird, founder of LOHO Bride tells us over a glass of rosé. We hardly hesitate to pry on her plans to shake up the bridal world. Thing is, the Vérité woman believes in true love, life altering love. However, like anything else she does, she’s the type who shies away from the daunting swarm of the mainstream. It wasn’t until we got wind of LOHO Bride — LOHO being an acronym for League Of Her Own — that we too could envision beaded gowns, and fresh flower crowns. We’ve since followed LOHO’s adventures as a one of a kind wedding retail experience, all the way to its latest endeavor in Los Angeles. LOHO has freshly set up shop with a dreamy locale on Melrose, continuing to service the most swoon-worthy of brides. Read on to see why we are crushing on Christy Baird, and LOHO Bride, as she paves her path as a business woman, while supporting others to come along for the celebration, and diffusing a few big day jitters along the way.
VÉRITÉ: Where did the concept of LOHO stem from?
CHRISTY BAIRD: I’d been to a ton of weddings and when I was 24, I went to nine weddings in one year. So I went to all these gorgeous weddings all over the world, and the brides were all absolutely gorgeous, but I had trouble connecting what I was seeing to my personal fashion taste. I could never wear a princess dress. I became curious about it because it consumed so much of my year. I did a lot of research and there really weren’t a lot of stores catering to the cool girl. It was all very sweet, very fairy-tale, everything was pink. I was worried it was too niche, but once it started taking off, girl after girl would come in and I would think ‘I want to be friends with her”. Which is so cool because me and my friends were the inspiration. So many girls would say, ‘I don’t know what I would have done. It made me so uncomfortable’ or ‘I got anxiety before dress shopping and you were the one place that put that to ease.’
V: How did you get started on a brick and mortar space in America’s most expensive city?
CB: I worked in tech for a while to put some money aside, and then I got a small business loan through the SBA. Did a pop-up before I even got that loan, kind of testing the demographic. It was crazy successful, and then I was able to show our lenders the results from the pop-up which was really beneficial. Throwing a pop-up was the smartest thing I could have done without knowing it was, because it gave us a proven track record. It was great to be the face for the SBA because in San Francisco especially, everyone wants investors — it’s the buzzword of San Francisco living in the startup bubble. I think people relate that to fashion, but it should be cool to not have investors, especially for a small business like us. You don’t have to answer to anybody, you’re in control. It just feels a little bit more rewarding too. I never in a million years thought that I would be in bridal but it’s been a really cool thing to shake up you know?
V: Do you find that the market is just hugely different between SF and LA?
CB: Yea, I think women are more likely to spend on fashion down here because it holds more value to them. It’s not that one has more money than the other, but out of principle I think a lot of San Francisco girls would rather put budget it into a down payment for a house, or travel. They don’t care about brand names they just want it to be cool. I respect both, but the fact that in month we’ve already sold a handful of second dresses in LA for the price of what a San Francisco bride would pay for their one dress shows the difference.
V: We also love that LOHO features these real women via social media to open the community. It gives a very non-bridal person a good jolt of inspiration of what the alternative can look like!
CB: From start to finish, to see it come full circle, it definitely becomes very emotional. To think I made her happy in a world that kind of makes her uncomfortable is crazy rewarding. Most girls come to us and they say, ‘I just feel weird that I’m even a bride’. I always say I started LOHO for the bride that never dreamed of getting married, but then if you do, where do you go? I think of our brides being elevated from their normal life, but still them. I often see women go from ‘oh, this is me everyday’, to ‘I’m Cinderella overnight’ – where did that come from? That isn’t you. That doesn’t make sense to me because I feel that fashion is such a reflection of yourself and your wedding gown shouldn’t be any different.
V: What’s your favorite part of the everyday of LOHO?
CB: The coolest thing is that I’m studying women everyday, and studying the dynamics with their moms, sisters, and friends. Now days, even the partner can be present during fittings. I’m understanding how women think of this day, which is really fascinating. All in all though, nothing’s better than having a bride come in, feeling an electric connection with her, and then finding a dress that makes her feel like a million bucks. It’s a high I’ll never be able to explain.
V: What do you think has shifted your perspective the most from working with these women?
CB: I’ve become more sympathetic to women, especially in regards to the pressures we deal with — whether pressures they put on themselves or I’ll hear moms talking about ‘oh, when you lose weight’, and you just want to shake them and say ‘shut up, she’s gorgeous!’ I’ve learned a lot about shaping a body, which has actually even helped me in my everyday. It’s something that I thought I knew better, but when you’re looking at gowns going on, you learn a lot about what shapes you, what shows off your face the best, what makes your waist look the tiniest. Being able to speak about that has been really empowering. I mostly say sympathetic though because the wedding industry has quite literally created the “bridezilla” — I hate even saying that word. We have to spend X amount of dollars and have this type of table setting and be this dress size by this date. It’s exhausting. Through LOHO, I hope we can slowly chip away the B.S. and help our brides remember what it’s all about — a rare connection you share with someone. How you celebrate that is up to you and no one should place judgement on that. V: How do you tailor each LOHO experience to its individual bride?
CB: We do a questionnaire for each bride: what her favorite music is, who her style icon is… So we have her favorite music playing, we already know what her vibe is, and then we feel her out within the first couple minutes. I’d like to think I’ve gotten really good at tailoring an experience to each bride. Every girl that walks through gets a different experience based on what we think she wants. Many times we’re hugging our brides by the end of the appointment. Honestly, weddings create anxiety and I always tell our stylists our goal is to break that down. It should be an exciting thing. Why are women freaking out for a year before they get married?
V: How do you de-stress after a long day working with your brides?
CB: What’s been helping me de-stress lately is more centered around how I start my day. When I workout first thing and get that alone time with my mind and body, I’m a lot more present with my brides and my work; my energy gets ahead of me instead of slugging behind me. This is a somewhat new thing for me and I’ve already felt a huge difference.
V: What can you tell others that are hoping to venture out and begin their own businesses and creative endeavors?
CB: I would tell girls to believe in their own mind and give whatever you’re trying to do time to mature. It’s terrifying to put yourself out there, to hope with everything in your body that people will connect to what you’re doing. It’s easier to compare and admire other brands or people for what they’ve done and want to be at the same point as them. But, what really connects is something originally yours…and that sure as hell doesn’t come overnight. If you think that, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I met one of my favorite designers Rosa from Cortana (who we carry) last year and while gushing over her branding and designs she told me, “Don’t want what I have, it’s taken me over 10 years to build this. Enjoy the process of growing your brand, of finding it’s voice. You’ll get there bit by bit and you’ll appreciate the journey of it.” I will always hold that moment of clarity with me. It has reminded me to take a step back, appreciate those mini victories, learn from the many mistakes made, and really, truly enjoy this story that I’m writing for myself.
V: What are three books that have changed your life?
CB: Pablo Neruda “Love Poems” – I was in love for the first time in college and this book made me fall in love with words on a page. Romance overload!
Mark Lesser “Less” – Book about accomplishing more by doing less. I remember highlighting so many pages in this book during a time when I felt very overwhelmed by work/life balance.
V: What’s on the horizon for LOHO?
CB: I really want to open an online store that’s super curated for ready-to-wear, bridal gifts, even bridesmaids gifts — that aren’t cheesy, aren’t tacky, just the go-to for that. But I’d still like to keep the essence of the gowns being fitted with us in-store.
V: Finally the money question: working with brides every day you must have now given it a bit of thought. What’s your dream wedding?
CB: I imagine myself doing a super intimate destination wedding somewhere sentimental to me and my man, then throwing a raging party at home. After seeing so many brides kill themselves over guest lists and way too many details, I kind of have my mind set on a clean, simplistic wedding. Nothing with too many frills!