Last week we had an awesome night out with Christiane Lemieux, the founder of DwellStudio, and got the lowdown on all things Dwell, from how getting started right up to what it's been like to work with Target over the past two years. Thanks to everyone who came down to the Knoll Showroom, as well as to Knoll for hosting us and September Wines for keeping us well lubricated. Head below for the recap...
This month I had the pleasure not only of introducing Christiane, but also of letting everyone in the audience know that one of them was going to leave with a brand new DwellStudio bedding set. This is something new we're doing and we collected a ton of names in the Dwell bowl, and Christiane pulled one name at the end of the evening. We'll do this each month from now on.
I jumped right in by asking Christiane how she started and fired away at her for almost forty five minutes before taking questions.
Christiane came from Ottawa, enrolled as a student at Parsons in the mid 90's and headed into the fashion business upon graduation, working for Isaac Mizrahi and The Gap before switching to home decor when she took a job as design director for Portico Home.
• Surprise! She originally wanted to go into fashion, but felt far more comfortable pursuing her future in home decor.
After gaining tons of experience and good connections in the home category, she launched Dwell Home Furnishings in 1999, by hashing out a line of modern bedding designs in her studio (taping the designs up to the windows because she didn't have money for a light box) and taking a booth at ICFF. She had manufacturers lined up from her days at Portico, and she only started making product when she got the orders.
• Knowing manufacturers helped her secure better terms, so she didn't need to any investment capital to get things made.
Christiane grew the business from very modest beginnings and found help in her two business partners, one of whom became her husband, Joshua Young, and the other, Jennifer Chused, who worked for a year without salary before the company could afford her. They both started in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
&bulll; Bedding made good sense because shipping was easier and avoided any breakage loss.
Since then, Christiane has grown DwellStudio significantly, moving into baby products, home textiles and developing a business with Target as well as white labeling her designs to a handful of other companies, such as Crate & Barrel. She's never raised money and bootstrapped the whole thing, but had great timing in growing along with the rise in the modern bedding category and the general rise in the country's interest in design.
Christiane also found the time to have two children in the last few years. Her tip on doing this while having your own business? Live near work (short commute!) and find great childcare help at home. She also said that it really made a difference to love your work, which she does, and having to fly for business only four days after giving birth to her second child was not pleasant but preferable (to her) to not working or working for someone else.
• On having children and running your own company: have a short commute and great childcare
Of the questions that were asked:
• ICFF was good for her in making a debut, but she now prefers the Gift Show much more. The folks there are in more of a buying mentality.
• She doesn't worry too much about being ripped off or copycatted - not that it doesn't bother her, but it's too expensive to police. She tries to keep her designs moving.
The conversation was lively and the questions were too, and I wish that I could record it all here. After over an hour, we broke for shmoozing and Christiane stayed with her husband and team until after 9pm talking with the crowd.
Thanks to our wine sponsor!
• What: AT's New York Design Meetup
• Members: 976 and growing