Women in Business Q&A: Bridget Brown, Founder, Filbert

08/25/2017 03:26 am ET

Bridget Brown is originally from Mississippi where she attended undergrad at Mississippi University for Women and received a B.A in English. She then attended law school where she received a J.D. at Mississippi College School of Law. Upon graduation in 1998, she moved to San Francisco and not long after launched Bella Bridesmaid. Bridget franchised the company in 2006, grew it to 43 stores across the U.S. and sold the company in 2012.

After taking some time off and spending a year in England and Europe traveling, Brown came up with the idea for Filbert. She moved to a vegan lifestyle a little over 4 years ago for compassionate reasons: her diet didn’t match with her beliefs that animals should be loved, not eaten. She found the dietary change was much easier than the fashion aspect of trying to find luxe, beautifully crafted, made in the USA handbags. Brown and her husband have spent the last 2 years sourcing the fabric, the hardware, the lining and finding a domestic factory to produce the goods. They think that ethical and luxury shouldn’t be mutually exclusive of each other and than things can always be made better. Filbert launched in March 2017 with a curated 4-piece collection of luxe cruelty-free bags.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I was fortunate to watch both of my parents start their own separate businesses at different points throughout my childhood. I think that when you grow up as a child of a small business owner, launching your own business intrinsically doesn’t seem as daunting.

I was also lucky to have a professor in law school that told me I didn’t have to practice traditional law with a law degree. It opened my eyes to a whole realm of possibilities.

Lastly, I’m the oldest of 4, and I think what my siblings would most likely call bossiness probably helped shape my entrepreneurial spirit!

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Filbert?

I never had a traditional 9-5, M-F job. After law school I moved from Mississippi to California and not long after met my husband Nick and we launched Bella Bridesmaid. I like to think that the fact that I didn’t have a traditional career helped me launch our first company faster, because I didn’t have anything to be afraid of! My husband Nick served as my sounding board/CEO. He’s got a rare trait of having both left brain and right brain characteristics: an incredibly analytical mind that tends to cut through ideas faster than I can, mixed with a great eye for simplistic design which has been hugely beneficial when designing bags for Filbert.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Filbert?

We are very newly launched, but I can tell you that creating a U.S. made product is hard. Very hard. The upside, however, is holding a prototype in your hand when you’ve worked so hard to source every single component from eco and/or U.S. based suppliers. Seeing it all come together is the best feeling.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

There’s a lot of stalls and dead-ends, and you need to be well funded, both in money and patience! Research as much as you can, and reach out to as many people as you can in your field. Ask a lot of questions and be relentless in finding out answers to questions that will enable to you to make a decision as to if you have an idea that will be successful.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

Sleep on it. All big decisions need to be slept on.

And trust your gut. Every bad decision I made was one I originally questioned.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

In my humble opinion, work/life always intersect when you’re a small business owner so it’s just a matter of accepting that there’s probably going to be some collisions (a lot of collisions), and you just gotta do the best you can. I think a lot of emphasis is put on achieving this whole work/life balance thing. And if you listen to any interviews with kick-ass female entrepreneurs, no-one’s got it figured out. Not even Gwyneth Paltrow. So maybe we just need to give ourselves a break?

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I met Amy Kuschel, a San Francisco based wedding dress designer (and now ready-to-wear designer) early on in my Bella days and 12 years later she is still someone I call on to talk things through and hash out ideas. I find that female business owners are very giving with their time and their knowledge. My advice to anyone starting out on their own is to never be afraid to reach out to someone that you admire and ask for a minute or two of their time!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I love what is happening in the ethical-luxe sector right now. So many amazing businesses are being launched that have risen out of personal experiences. Laura Way started a vegan watch company, Votch, after suffering from a condition called TSW (Topical Steroid Withdrawal) where her skin was literally falling off due to topical steroid overuse. When her leather strap broke on her watch, she felt it was wrong to replace it with a fabric that was made from the skins of animals, so she started a vegan leather watch company.

In the celeb-turned-entrepreneur world, Jessica Alba is a huge inspiration by creating a multi-million dollar company that stemmed from her concerns over what our everyday beauty products are made of and what toxins they contained. I think a big part of the fact that she’s been so successful is that she seems so approachable and dove into a field completely outside of her wheelhouse. It’s inspiring to watch her company grow and she has brought so much awareness to the issue of non-regulated toxins in health and household products.

What do you want Filbert to accomplish in the next year?

Right now we want to focus on building a vegan brand that is relatable and relevant and fills a void in the luxe vegan sector. I want to bring awareness to the idea that things can always be made better and we should all start paying attention to where our products come from and how they are made. And if someone visits our website or purchases a Filbert handbag and learns a little more about a vegan lifestyle and how easy it is to make the switch, then even better. There are lots of amazing options to replace your leather pieces with and it just feels good knowing that your bag was made without harming any animals. Kindness is definitely the way forward!

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