Words by Kara Becker
Kara Becker talks to Laura Hall and Gillian Rose Kern, founders of For Love & Lemons. As themes of individuality and confidence unravel in their talk, photographer Ina Lekiewicz tells a story of femininity and romance through breathtaking visuals for the brand’s special feature.
I’ve heard you’ve been in business since 1996. I love the story with the lemonade stand. Have you always wanted to have your own business? Was it something you both equally wanted or did one of you have to push and convince the other?
Yes! Our very first “business” was our lemonade stand. We were really dedicated to it. Every weekend we would sell different flavors of lemonade, as well as other crafts that we made. We were only 11 years old, so this was all just an experiment for us. We were both interested in making our own money that we could save up and spend on things we wanted. So it was thrilling to both of us when we started to sell things that we created on our own. We always had this mentality together.
Do you remember the exact moment you decided to start your own brand?
We were both finishing up internships in Australia, we had no money, our rent was due, and we were feeling a little lost. We had tons of ideas though. We used to sit on our apartment rooftop sketching in our spare time, making “dream business plans”. One day, we decided we didn’t have much to lose, and that maybe we should try to build something on our own. We found tickets back to the US where we could work as waitresses and save up money and turn our sketches and business ideas into a company.
You were raised in Wyoming but you both moved for a short period of time to Australia. How much did the Australian aesthetic impact on the vision of your brand?
Living in Australia really opened our eyes to fashion in a different way. At that time, bodysuits were really big and wearing sheer dresses with a cute peek of lingerie underneath. That was not really seen in the US at that time. We just loved that concept because we felt that there was so much to do with that. All the little delicate layers of beautiful garments that never get to see the light of day, that could be seen in a tasteful
Your brand is based in LA. How was it to go back to Wyoming to make a campaign there?
Our brand is based in LA, but our hearts will always be in Wyoming. We love the city of L.A. and all that it has to offer, but nothing will beat the beautiful mountains, wild life, hiking, fresh air, farmers markets, and outdoor activities that Jackson has. It was honestly the best photoshoot we’ve ever produced. Everyone was so relaxed, it didn’t feel like work at all. The whole team was all smiles as we photographed the model on ranches with little furry friends and played by the river to shoot the swimwear. There was lots of dancing, swimming in fresh spring water, delicious home-cooked meals…..and then the photoshoot on the side haha. All of our friends and family offered to help, so most of the props used were authentic and owned by people we knew.
What are your memories from growing up in Wyoming?
Being outside! We were always skiing, hiking, inner-tubing down the river, having camping parties. The community in Jackson does not take for granted the beauty that surrounds them. Everything you do in Jackson involves the outdoors. Something we miss so much.
We believe we do our best work when we’re happy, healthy and inspired. That’s why we invest in our team of fierce women! From offering flexible vacations and full health benefits” – can be read on your website. How important is it to you to uplift other women and to give your employees these kind of benefits? It’s not always an obvious move, especially in the US.
We believe that a person needs to be mentally and physically happy to be able to be successful and creative in their jobs, so we think it’s important to be able to trust our employees. If they say they need to go on a vacation to clear their minds, then we trust that that is what they need in order to be successful within their roles. This world moves at such a fast pace, so I think it’s important to take time for yourself when you need it, listen to your own needs and don’t push yourself into a place that won’t benefit anyone. We are all in this wild ride of life together, so we just want to offer support where we can, and not make it super stressful. Work shouldn’t be stress all the time – it should be enjoyable, and creative, and you should feel the desire to be motivated. So we hope to get that out of our employees by being more flexible with them.
Is it true that even at the beginning girls were sleeping in their cars to line up first thing in themorning to attend your event? What did it mean to you?
Yes it is true! It still shocks us today. Every time we have a sample sale, we always say “do you think people will show up?” and the next day, sure enough, there are dedicated girls who got their spot in line the night before. It amazes us every time. It makes us feel that we are doing this for a reason and that people really do appreciate what we are creating. Sometimes you forget that when you are in the grind everyday.
This world moves at such a fast pace, so I think it’s important to take time for yourself when you need it, listen to your own needs and don’t push yourself into a place that won’t benefit anyone.
Your designs are very romantic, feminine but also quite girly. What inspires you the most?
We are always inspired by vintage corsets and slips, victorian dresses and bustiers, especially all of the work that went into those vintage garments. We love getting vintage pieces and deconstructing them and using some of those techniques on the outside of garments. Sometimes the inner parts of that garment are prettier than the outside! We will also give the designers fun design homework – like watching old movies to pull inspo from. Sometimes just sitting and listening to music outside with a cup of coffee and a sketch pad is the best inspo. It really comes from types of places and moods, but ultimately we know that it will always come from an angelic, feminine place.
You’ve gathered 3 million people on the For love & Lemons Instagram account. How important is this way of communicating with clients?
SO important! It actually makes us quite nervous sometimes, as you really need to make sure your messages are true to your brand. When we first started, we would just post a collection of whimsical images of our dresses, and now it is much more than that. You need to connect with your community. They rely on you to provide unique content that will keep them tuning back in. We know that when we post something there, it’s the quickest way to get a message out to our customer, as that is where she looks to for shopping and inspiration.
What is your absolute bestseller?
There are a few of them that tie like the Temecula Maxi Dress and the Faye Underwire Bra (there are many versions of this bra that we’ve carried through the years). The Lulu Dress was one of our first hits. I think if we tallied it all up, this would be the absolute top seller.
What is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur? What was most challenging?
Everything and everyone relies on you and the decisions you make, so that can have its pressures. I also find it challenging to find balance running the business and finding time to keep creative. Our jobs have changed tremendously over the years. At first we had more time to design and be creative, and now that we have more employees, our jobs have turned into HR and Management, yearly calendars, production management, and business plans. So balancing the two has been the most challenging, because remaining creative and keeping the collections fresh and exciting every season is ultimately the most important (and fun)!
Is it hard to be in business with your best friend? I assume it’s wonderful as you trust each other endlessly, but are there any hard parts in your work–private life balance?
G: We have had the best luck in building a business together and being best friends at the same time. We understand each other well, and know how to navigate each other’s personalities. We don’t have a passive aggressive relationship, we are both interested in solving problems and moving forward. So we truly are the ying and yang to each other. The funniest part about it, is that we will hang out after work and on the weekends! We try not to talk about work much and focus more on relaxing and hanging with our kiddos. But I don’t think there is a time when we have been sick of each other (knock on wood).
L: Yes, we are lucky to have (and always had) the best relationship. I think since we’ve known each other so long we just get each other and know how to navigate our business relationship! And when we hang out outside of work, which is a lot, we try to leave work at the office. Doesn’t always happen but we do try so we can keep some sort of balance.
At the end of last year you’ve launched a collection with Victoria’s Secret. That’s huge! How did you react when VS reached out to you?
We were honestly very excited and bewildered. We were not sure what they wanted from us, but after we met with them several times, and realized that they really did want to work with us, we were thrilled! We have so many ideas but we have never been able to achieve them all through our own line, so being able to make more of those come to reality through this collaboration has been so amazing. They have been very supportive of giving us all the creative freedom, and that was the most important thing to us.
What are you most proud of?
G: The fact that we have been running this company for 10 years and remained best friends, is something I feel very proud of. (oh and of course when Beyonce wears something – that always excites us more than anything).
L: Where For Love and Lemons is today, and everyone that has been involved along the way!
Can you share any advice for young entrepreneurs? Maybe something you’ve learned? Or something that surprised you?
G: I am still learning everyday, but here’s a bit of advice for those just starting out: make sure you know what your brand voice is, what story you are trying to tell, and stick to that. There are so many brands out there now that are doing similar things, but what makes them stand out is that unique voice and vision that they have. So make sure you know what that is, and that your consumer knows what that is. What comes from your heart and soul is what will guide you through this process.
L: Your day to day is never going to be the same and be open to that. As an entrepreneur problems, issues, questions pop up all day long that you have to answer too which can be hard because you’ll have a mile long list of to-dos of your own. Learning time management is super important as your business continues to grow.
On a more serious note, times are not the easiest right now. How are you managing your brand during a global pandemic? How much did it change for you?
We are still taking it day by day. It has been pretty tough for us as a business because we sell a lot of our products to retail stores (which are all closed right now). But we are extremely proud of our team, who are all working from home, and how they have adapted to these changes. I actually feel like we communicate more now than ever before. Between the many zoom chats, and the fun and interesting ideas they have come up with for marketing and branding, I couldn’t be more proud of them. Even though we are facing struggles right now, we are hopeful that we will come out of this stronger and more connected than before.