It's hard to start a business in the Bay Area. And even harder to make it successful. We're inspired by the couples who have done it together and have decided to highlight them every week in our "Bay Area Power Couples" blog series.
Along with some of our other 2010 Style Council movers and shakers, married duo Brian Scheyer and Jill Giordano are at the front lines of smashing that nasty old stereotype of San Francisco not being a "fashion town" with their smart, ready-to-wear architectural line gr.dano. Read about their secret weapon for success (eachother) below.
How did you guys meet? How did gr.dano start?
We had both recently moved to San Francisco and met while working at an Interactive Advertising Agency during the dot-com boom in 1999. Brian was in the creative department and Jill was a media buyer. Jill eventually followed her life long aspiration of being a fashion designer and enrolled in the Fashion Design program at the Academy of Art University San Francisco. As an Art Director, Brian encouraged Jill to really develop her inspiration, palette and designs while she was in school. We realized we really worked well together and started designing and selling clothes like most upstart indie designers in the Bay Area, through local consignment shops and any event which we could show or sell our new line. The praise, feedback and press we received during that time made us realize we could really turn something we enjoyed doing together into a real business. So the day after Jill graduated, we started gr.dano.
Not a lot of couples are able to run a business together, much less a business in the pretty stressful, subjective world of fashion. How do you keep each other grounded?
We make it a priority that we are a couple first and business partners second. It is a very stressful industry and often times that line blurs, so if one of us gets stressed, upset or frustrated about something happening with gr.dano, it's important that the other of us is supportive and understanding even if they have the exact same emotions. And we drink.
What do you do to deflect criticism from the fashion world about your designs? How do you make each other feel better if you get a bad review?
Understanding that fashion is a matter of personal style and taste helps when we get feedback or criticism that we would rather not hear. But we believe in our aesthetic and what we are doing and won't change who we are because of a bad review. What we are designing now has evolved tremendously from when we first started and that is because we put ourselves out there for criticism taking both the positive and negative criticisms to heart.
We have had such great things happen to and said about us and gr.dano that when we do get a bad review it doesn't sting as badly. If those bad reviews start to outweigh the good... well let's just hope that doesn't happen.
Take me through the design process. Do you both do every step together, or is it more of an assembly line process? Is it different than it would be if you weren't a couple?
A new collection comes together very organically for us. Since every moment spent outside the studio is spent together, we are very much inside each other's head when it comes to the inspirations, color palette, fabric choices, direction for each new collection.
Once we decide to start the new collection the design process is very much a tag-team event for months until all of a sudden an entire collection appears. The rest of the business responsibilities are split by our individual talents and personality. Brian will deal directly with the stores and press as well as designing all the marketing collateral. Jill takes care of the finances, interns and vendor relations (Jill's first degree was in International Business as well as currently teaching at AAU).
What's the best thing about working with your spouse? The worst thing?
The best part of working with each other is the amount of time we get to spend together, it's time spent sharing and striving for the same dream. The worst thing is when the personal and business aspects of our relationship start to blur and we forget why we started gr.dano in the first place.
Do you have kids? Will you design clothes for your kids?
We do not have any kids. But we often catch ourselves talking about our latest collection the way we hear our friends talk about their children. They talk about the love, sacrifice, frustration, dreams for their children and show us their photos and we always smile knowingly. But we do have a few interns from AAU that over the years have become extremely close to us whom we consider our "fashion children". One of them even call's Brian her "Fashion Papa".
As for designing children's clothes, we have designed a few pieces but only as gifts for family and friends. Our focus is on Women's Ready-To-Wear right now but if the opportunity arrives, we will always be open to the option.
What's the worst fight you've had over your designs?
Any fight we have over design is usually based on the questions "Is it gr.dano?”. It's never about if it's a gorgeous design or not, it's usually more about whether it belongs in the collection. We each get very attached to certain pieces and the fights occur when one of us says it should be cut. FYI - Jill may be small but that girl can fight!
What do you do to get away from the business?
We've learned there is no getting away from the business, but when we want a distraction we often head up to our favorite wineries in Wine Country or we'll stay in a boutique hotel in The City and play tourist for a day or two.
Any advice for couples who are starting a business together, or already own one together?
Do it for the right reasons. Do it because you both have a dream and enjoy being together. Togetherness is the reward, everything else is just a bonus.