Lara Mead, Founder of VARLEY
Tucked away in beautiful Los Angeles, we had the pleasure of meeting London born and raised, Lara Mead— the co-founder of the highly coveted VARLEY. The CEO and new mum opened up her home to chat about her young, yet resoundingly mighty (we're talking 600 retailers including Bergdorf, Bandier and Saks, as well as London's Harrods) athletic-wear company. She and her husband, who co-founded the line after an inspiring trip to Santa Monica, have blended the cosmopolitan energy of their London roots with the effervescence of California. Flash forward four years, and Lara is juggling the growth of running an international company (they are based both in London and LA), raising her bebé, and squeezing some self-care time in along the way.
Can you share your journey to starting VARLEY?
My husband and I started VARLEY a couple of years ago. We were on one of our very first holidays together in Santa Monica when the idea came to us to start an active / lifestyle brand. We went back to London and put the wheels in motion. At the time Ben was working in finance and I was working as a TV agent, but our dream was to spend our working lives together, build a brand we are both proud of and that would also allow us to travel.
Where did you get your training from? Were you a designer before VARLEY? Did you have a mentor?
Neither of us have traditional design training, however, that has never been an issue, we have always surrounded ourselves with a talented team of people who bring our vision to market. Mentor-wise, I’m very fortunate that my father-in-law is Peter Mead, founder of advertising giants Abbott Mead Vickers. He wrote a business book called “When In Doubt, Be Nice”. It’s well worth a read for all business owners.
How are you involved in the different aspects of your brand?
In the early days I did everything from designing, to packing orders, to marketing and PR, and even cleaning the office! These days we are a much bigger team with offices in London and LA. I’m now purely responsible for overseeing the content and marketing departments and still all aspects of PR. I also still have a hand in design, but it’s now a much bigger operation.
How have things changed since owning your own business as well as becoming a new mom?
Shit got serious! I feel more pressure than ever now to make VARLEY a huge success. I want my kids to be proud of what we have achieved, but the juggle is so real! However, I’m much more efficient than I use to be because I now only have so many working hours in the day. I try to be home by 4:30pm everyday so that I can spend quality time with my son, Wilfred, and have dinner together as a family, which is extremely important to me. This means I have a lot to cram into a working day, and after Wilfred goes to bed I often jump back on my laptop to finish off work. I use to be quite selfish with my time and spend lot of it on self care and training. There is now little time for this, but I try and set aside a couple of hours a week to have a body scrub and my nails done.
Has the relationship with yourself and your body changed since becoming a mom and running an active/lifestyle brand?
My body has certainly changed over the years, I’ve gone from being a serious athlete, training 7 days a week and running around 25 miles a week, to being a young professional in London with little time to work out, to being married and becoming a mother. Not to mention, moving to another country and living in a health and fitness hub. It would be hard for my body not to have changed over the years and my relationship with it has changed along the way. Since having a baby, I have a whole new appreciation for the female body and what it’s designed to do. My focus now is maintaining my body’s healthy functions as opposed to it being about winning races or having a six pack.
What are you favorite forms of self-care? Any rituals or treatments you swear by?
I love having a bath. Soaking in hot water is very therapeutic for me, and I LOVE oils, soaks, salts and mix it up depending on my mood. I’m also a big fan of Korean spas, and regularly get a Korean scrub at Tikkun Spa in Santa Monica.
How has it been living in LA versus living in England both personally and professionally?
I love both and need to have both in my live. We still have an office in London and I deal with business in the UK daily, but I miss the traditions of London. I miss roast dinners with family and friends on a Sunday and cosy evenings in front of the fire. I miss cold crisp winter runs! However, I have replaced that all with winter days spent on the beach and long evening walks along the Santa Monica coastline. I also love how forward thinking LA is in terms of health and wellness and I’m enjoying tapping into all it has to offer.
What’s an average day in the life for you?
I wake at about 5am every morning without having to set an alarm. The first thing I do is drink some beauty water, collect my thoughts and make a ginger and lemon tea. Next step is coffee…I put a pot of coffee on for myself and my husband which I blend with cinnamon, homemade almond milk, coconut oil and some adaptogens depending on my mood. I drink this in bed whilst catching up on all my emails from Europe and the night before. When my son wakes at around 6:30AM he gets my full concentration, we play, watch cartoons and have breakfast together. After he goes to school I head to a pilates class (currently obsessed with Speir Pilates and Erika Bloom in West LA) and then into the office. Mornings in the office are for meetings and catching up on emails. If I don’t have a lunch meeting I head down to Erewhon in Venice to grab some lunch. I love their tuna collard green wrap. I take a moment to enjoy my lunch and gather my thoughts. Often my afternoon is consumed with meetings out and about LA. My working day ends at 5pm when my little boy gets dropped off at my office, we then head home, cook dinner together and try and enjoy our evenings as a family. As soon as my son heads of to sleep, I take my dog for an hour long walk whilst listening to podcasts. This is my meditation time. I then take a nice long bath, make myself a cup of tea, and watch a movie with my husband. On a Friday night we have a babysitter and we head out for date night, it’s very important to have this time away from home life and the office.
In such a saturated market, how do you make VARLEY stand out among the rest?
We don’t compromise quality for design. What makes VARLEY stand out is that we seamlessly blend together latest fabric and technology innovations with contemporary design inspired by both Los Angeles and London. Our approach to design is rather technical; we look at the performance side of activewear, latest innovations and advanced technologies. Essentially we are all about quality, quality and quality! We pride ourselves on using some of the best fabrics on the market in styles and prints that people want to wear today, tomorrow and after a few seasons.
What are the more unglamorous sides of being an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome those walls and challenges?
Getting up a 5am!! Always being on call and never switching off.
What's next for VARLEY?
SKIN by VARLEY launches in March, after almost a year of developing and perfecting it and I'm so excited for everyone to be able to get their hands on it. It has made such a difference in my skin! We use cutting edge (and plant-derived!) ingredients to protect, support and repair the skin on a cellular level and deliver long term benefits. There are 7 products from eye cream, body cream, and our hero product which is the Illuminating Shield. It protects against pollution, UV rays, and HEV rays or blue light-all in one product. The modern woman is so busy and is exposed to so much blue light, HEV rays, from always being online and on our phones. So this product is a game changer. The Ultra Rich Cleansing balm is great to wash with before you workout, which has many benefits. The packaging is super chic and minimal so it's easy to throw in your gym bag but also pretty enough to be displayed out on your counter. I may be biased but I think it is gorgeous.
You own and run your company with your husband, how does that dynamic work and what are some challenges and highlights you face working with your partner?
I work with my best friend, I consider myself very lucky. I chose to marry the man so of course I’d want to have him on my team! However, it’s hard to leave work at the office….we have had to ban laptops from the bedroom recently! I’d also say that we are either very high or very low stressed in our house.
Can you share any life lessons that you’ve learned as a mother that have you helped you as an entrepreneur? And vice versa?
Organization is key! Always be prepared for every eventuality. Take the highs with the low, and remind yourself that everything is a moment in time and doesn’t last forever. I often have to remind myself of this when Wilfred is going through a stage of not sleeping or when we are on a long haul flight together. I treasure every moment..Wilfred is growing up so quickly I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy the moment.
My father in law often tells me a story about when his children were growing up. They use to ask him to play football with them every Saturday morning. He spent years telling them he had too much paperwork to get through, and then one day came when they didn't ask anymore because they grew up and moved away. He often reminds me that no matter how busy business is, I need to treasure the little moments and live for today, not for tomorrow. I think this helps with work as it reminds me to seize the day rather than always planning for the future. Finally, don’t compare yourself to others. This is something I've learned as a mother. You can’t compare your child to others, you’re on your own journey together and the same is to be said with business.
What has been one of the high points/ "made it" moments with your company thus far?
For me personally it was when we landed Harrods as an account. As a little girl my mum used to take us to London to visit Harrods. I always remember putting a dress on for the occasion and being blown away by the opulence and elegance of the store. It was a world away from where I was from. To have my own brand in Harrods is a real honor.
What is something about being a CEO of a company that no one could've prepared you for?
The pressure...you can never leave work at work, it’s consuming!
Do you have any advice for women looking to start and run their own business?
Be prepared to make sacrifices. I have made so many sacrifices to make VARLEY a success. I have moved countries, moved away from friends and family, missed out on spending time with my son and his friends and other mums. You have to accept that it’s hard to have it all and that something in your life has to give to make room.
What do you want your legacy to be? What is the mark you want to leave this world?
As a founder of a hugely successful active/lifestyle brand but most importantly as a supportive and loving wife of Ben and the best-est mummy I can possibly be to Wilfred.