I first interviewed the Veronica Beards about a year after they launched their brand (yes they are both named Veronica and married to brothers which means they are also family and have 8 children (!!) between them). Their first design was the Dickey jacket, an expertly tailored blazer that you can attach different “dickies” to, such as Irish knits, leather jackets, sweatshirt hoodies, to create a layered effect. Fast forward to 2017, their little jacket has exploded into full-blown collections sold at 300 stores (online included) and two eponymous boutiques in NYC. This month, they are launching their first denim line.
I can’t help comparing them to Diane Von Furstenberg, who also set out to make sexy, everyday designs for confidant women on the go. They’re on their way to becoming household names. Here they share the tipping point of their brand growth, why denim, and the business advice found in Kenny Loggins’ “The Gambler “. (So you can tell them apart: Veronica MB, mom of five, has brown hair, Veronica SB, mom of three, blonde.)
How do you approach designing your brand?
Veronica MB: There’s a secret sauce that exists with Veronica and me. We get our best work done when we’re together, collaborating and thinking about you and the girl who walks in our shoes every day and what she needs in her life. I’ve never worn a sociology hat more in business, which is just assessing the needs and wants of the customer. Everything else falls in line because of that. Fashion today is different from what it was 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. The girl who’s our age, 35 to 50, grew up in that era of the 80s and we all have in our mind these icons, but implementing that in today’s world is a challenge. It’s also so much fun.
What made you initially decide to partner together and create a fashion line?
Veronica SB: We’ve talked about tons of ideas over the years and we’re both in love with fashion but we came from two very different backgrounds, Veronica was in finance and I was in fashion. We had this idea, because we wanted a uniform. We talked about the iconic pieces of a woman’s wardrobe that she went back to over and over and the jacket was the first piece of that. So we found a production partner and factory and made a bunch of samples. We started in 2010 out of my apartment with a rack of jackets and we entered the market with 10 accounts, Saks being one of them, and our business was born.
To begin with something that’s a uniform, a piece that you wear again and again, is almost antithetical to how fashion works, and the idea that you need to constantly update your wardrobe and need new things all the time.
Veronica SB: I think the brands that have really stood the test of time have a signature item. We started this business as a business, we wanted to create something that had legs.
Veronica MB: The Dickey was also answering that. Girls can style it the way they want. At first, we didn’t even know the Dickey was going to take off, then a lot of our specialty stores called up and said, ‘I need more Dickeys because I’m selling them two to one.’ The concept that you can change it and it’s a one size, and there are new Dickeys each season, that’s the aspect of the now. It’s like an icon with a twist, it’s that extra dimension.
Your business has grown tremendously, what was your turning point?
Veronica SB: When we changed our positioning in 2014 and reduced our average price point by about 30%. It was a risk to take but it was a qualified risk because we knew that we would drive volume. And it was addressing our true customer. We would go to the designer floor [where Veronica Beard was in department stores], but the action was all on the contemporary floors. All the women that looked like us, who were our age, were all shopping contemporary.
Our retail partners got behind us in a big way and it took off. And we stood out, because [Veronica Beard] was something that was classic and cool at a time when there was a lot of model off duty look and edgier clothing [in contemporary]. Women were looking for pieces that were going stand the test of time, that they wouldn’t regret buying a year later.
Veronica MB: Plus we never changed our quality and we never will, that’s something we really stand by.
Now you have two stores. What do you want the customer experience to be when they go in?
Veronica SB: We want them to feel like individual little homes. It’s this Veronica Beard home you walk into and you want to sit there and have cocktails or chat with your girlfriend and stick around. Everything in the store is found, items that we source all over the country and it’s an eclectic mix. Environment tells you so much about a person, like when you walk into somebody’s home you understand them in such a different way than just meeting them for dinner at a restaurant, right? So Madison tells an uptown girl story, Soho tells a downtown girl story, and each store that we open over the next couple of years will do the same in that location.
How do you think they’ve changed your business? What have you learned from opening them?
Veronica MB: The data is staggering. The product that sells in store is very different from the product that sells online or in a department store. Also the locations are totally different. It’s such a study in who’s walking in and what is she looking for and how can we adapt to her? It’s an incredible learning experience on so many fronts.
Just like we’re doing well in wholesale and it’s a terrible retail market, we’re doing really well in retail as well and it’s like why? Trying to assess why we might be a phenomenon to girls right now is this million dollar question. And how do we keep that going?
It sounds like you’re planning on opening more stores:
Veronica SB: We are but each store is in a market we know it will succeed in. We’re not just throwing up stores all over the place. Each one too needs to feel special and really considered.
Can you say where your next one’s going to be?
Veronica SB: Not yet, but we’ll have two more in the next year.
Going back to the beginning, what was the easiest part of starting the company? What was the hardest?
Veronica SB: I think the easiest part was not knowing how intense this would be. Kind of being, we love to say, ‘happy stupid’ about it. We’re seven years in now and we’re 50 employees and opening stores. It’s the most thrilling thing and the most terrifying thing in the world. Now we’re responsible for all these amazing people that work for us and you can’t walk away from something you’re building.
I think the hardest thing was in the early days, living and breathing the collection out of my apartment. I think it was equally hard for both of us because Veronica had to be there and I had to live there.
Veronica MB: I think the easiest thing for me and the hardest thing was not knowing the rules. You go into something that you don’t know the rules of and you just try things. When somebody would say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t work,’ we thought, ‘Well, we’re going to make this work’.
When there’s two of you with the same name, both socially and in business we can both represent, that’s been something that’s been really easy. And it’s a challenge too because there are two of us, so there’s always two sign offs and two perspectives.
Veronica SB: Partnerships are hard.
Veronica MB: Partnerships are hard but they can be fabulous because when you look back you think, ‘That was brilliant,’ because the customer got it or the deal went through because of the two perspectives. We are family too, so that element gets thrown in there. I think over time it’s gotten only better.
Attribute that helps you succeed:
Veronica SB: I’m very decisive. To me things are black and white. I have a gut that I rely on, and I think that it gives me a lot of confidence. If it feels right I put a lot of energy behind it. That’s something that I learned to understand about myself. Decisiveness is really important because you waste time if you’re not.
Veronica MB: My whole life I’ve never gone with the crowd, I’ve always stood on my own. I take a lot of risks and people might look at me like I’m crazy, but I do it anyway because I’m almost gauging the response. My entire work life I’ve done that and it’s been successful for me. So I kind of thrive off that. It’s like all I want to do right now is scream even though everybody’s quiet.
Veronica SB: I love my mother’s generation because I think those women were really clear on their identity, their loves and passions. It didn’t have to mean that they were working, but there was passion that drove their personal style and interests, and they really cultivated that. Today we have less time to cultivate those things because we have so many little things distracting us. Even though things have become more convenient, you don’t stop and smell the roses. Being somebody who played bridge or read like crazy or gardened like crazy or traveled like crazy–whatever it was, those things made women really special and interesting.
Veronica MB: Steve Jobs. He wasn’t into the minutiae of things, he saw this big picture, he saw this revolution. I’m not saying we’re doing something that’s revolutionary in fashion necessarily but assessing the need, telling someone, ‘You’re gonna need this device. This device is going to infiltrate your daily life.’ He thought about how it looked and how it felt, he hired the best people to implement his idea. He had people’s attention.
One of my kids was just saying they hated some ad that’s out right now and I said, ‘Yeah but it got your attention, you’re talking about it. Whether you hate it or not, you know it.’ That is fascinating to me. It wasn’t about what Steve Jobs had, he wasn’t necessarily the best looking, and he wasn’t the smartest, but he had “it”. Getting that “it” … I’ll lose sleep forever finding out what that “it” is.
You just launched denim, what inspired the collection and why now?
Veronica SB: There’s nothing more American than a girl in jeans, a white t-shirt and a blazer. And we would come in every morning in someone else’s jeans, that really bothered us. We knew that it was just a matter of time before we launched jeans, but it’s a big undertaking and requires a lot of education and the right people. There’s so much that goes into the design and creation of one pair of jeans, it’s amazing. We have such a new-found appreciation for jeans.
We wanted to create the perfect fitting pair of jeans. The pockets are the right place on your rear. We have skinny pockets on the inside made of this amazing fabric that like smooths out everything, holds it in. It’s the best thing you’ve ever worn in ten-inch rise jeans. Skinny jeans are never going to go away, so this first collection is mostly skinny jeans. There are five different styles.
Veronica MB: Then we have t-shirts and shirtings that we’re doing alongside of the jeans.
Veronica SB: And these broadcloth bodysuits, that are like the perfect fitting boyfriend shirt. And awesome cool jackets.
Your favorite jean style?
Veronica SB: Debbie Skinny Jean with button fly.
Veronica MB: Carolyn Baby Boot with the tuxedo stripe.
What has been your biggest success to date? What has been your biggest dud?
Veronica SB: So biggest success I think is staying in business for seven years. It’s been a really rocky retail environment for the last four years, and our business is growing in a time where a lot of businesses are shrinking. We’ve really stuck to our gut about what we stand for, what we mean, and what we deliver. You can’t read what the competition is doing or even your own press. You almost have to put blinders on and keep going forward, so that you don’t get distracted.
And I think for failures, what have been our failures? We’ve definitely had some but not like …
Veronica MB: We’ve had no major failures, this is why we are still in business. I think one of our biggest successes was waiting on the retail aspect because we had wanted a store very early on. It’s very enticing to get into retail, but we couldn’t afford Madison Avenue the first go round. We were thinking about little ideas elsewhere and it could have put us out of business if it was the wrong move. So I think our biggest success has been that organic build.
Another huge success was taking on our investors because even though we look back and we’re like ‘Damn! Could we have done this on our own?’ To be able to run something by these veterans and consider their input and get their blessing makes you so much more confident to throw money at something you’re trying, like the store.
Veronica SB: In this business you really have to practice temperance, you have to like Kenny Rogers song, “You Got to Know When to Hold ’em, Know When to Fold ’em”.
Veronica MB: The other pun is you have to “Stick to Your Knitting.” If we were like, ‘Oh should we do kids? Should we get into mens?’ We have to stay with what’s working. We know womenswear so well because we are her. We keep trying new things, and some are little successes, some are failures. We’re getting into shoes. Again we’re going to build it the same way we built the ready-to-wear, which is organically and see what works. You sort of double down where you’re successful.
Can you talk a little bit about VB Gives Back—why you started it and why it’s important to you? (This month’s charity is NBC contributor Jill Martin’s favorite cause, Garden of Dreams Foundation.)
Veronica SB: We’re all about women and want to constantly champion what women are doing. We feel blessed to have success. And it feels so good to give back when you’re receiving so much. About a year and a half ago we started to talk about this initiative, and Allison Aston, who’s been with us since the very beginning, took it on as her baby and every month we highlight a woman and her cause. Ten dollars from each sale during that month online goes to that cause. We’ve also linked it with events in store. There’s nothing greater than giving back, so it’s an important fiber in our DNA, and it’s something that we want to teach our kids.
Veronica MB: Veronica put it so well. We always talk about the thrill we get, and it never gets old, when you see somebody who is wearing Veronica Beard. It’s the same feeling to me when you touch someone’s life, that the smallest things can make a huge difference. And VB Gives Back started very small because we didn’t have many online orders, and it’s growing and we can be impactful with each of these causes. We’re so psyched to empower women.
Veronica and I are also on the road a lot, meeting women across the country, and that part of this business is not to be taken lightly. It’s so important and critical–to meet these women and see what they’re doing in their own communities, and truly how much good there is and how similar we all are. We’ve learned so much about all these causes through this too. It’s been one of the successes of our brand.
Veronica SB: That my kids are happy and fulfilled and that one day they get to feel the thrill of doing what they love.
Veronica MB: I have to second that. Jackie O always said, ‘You’re measured in life by how your kids turn out.’ We’re very happy people because we’re so fulfilled in business and in our personal lives. That’s everything. You want that for your kids, you want that for your family, for everybody.
Veronica SB: To not eat a bunch of sugar.
Veronica MB: To get a good night’s sleep. Because if I don’t get a good night’s sleep it’s over, my day is ruined.
Veronica SB: I love putting my kids to bed. It makes me feel like it’s okay that I was away from them all day at work. My middle son seems the most macho, but he is the sweetest most mushy guy in the group. And he needs snuggle time at night, he needs to sit there and chat.
I also think about being present. I think about ‘Oh my gosh, time is going by so quickly and the business is going by so quickly, the kids are growing up so quickly.’ To live in gratitude, to count your blessings and to be present as much as you can in this whirlwind of life is really, really important. And to work hard and play hard at the same time. You only live once, go after it.
Veronica MB: I like go with my daughter, she rides, and I watch the horses in the field, and have a cup of coffee. I treasure the hour in the morning with my cup of coffee. If I don’t have the right cup of coffee, my day is ruined. I need the sleep and then I need the awake part, and then I just need one hour alone.
How do you unplug?
Veronica MB: I like to be alone.
Veronica SB: I like to be alone too.
Veronica MB: I love to travel and get off the grid. I do that every year with the kids. We’re going to Mongolia in August. We did Tibet last year. I want them to see a completely different culture, see how other people live. I’m also a rider and if I didn’t have this job I would definitely be riding and training horses.
Veronica SB: My hidden talent is I’m a frustrated decorator. If somebody gave me the opportunity I would run to go decorate someone’s house in second.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret:
Veronica SB: Buying our house and moving out of the city to Locust Valley, NY. It was the greatest gift to give my kids and our marriage, and just again the unplugging. I love leaving the city, getting to the house and walking barefoot on the grass. It’s automatic unplug and recharge.
Veronica MB: I hate to talk about my car but we splurged and I got a G Wagon, and it’s the ugliest color, this olivey, green, brown, silver thing. But I live in it. My kids identify with it, because we all pile in, and I drive all over the city. I don’t go in a cab anymore. It’s a way of freedom you know?
Favorite small indulgence:
Veronica SB: Pedicures. And time alone in the bathroom, it’s like ‘Oh my god, if people would leave you alone in the bathroom you could get ready so much faster.’
Veronica MB: I know.
Veronica SB: It’s really annoying.
Veronica MB: So true. Seriously being alone is an indulgence.
Veronica SB: Yeah it is.
Veronica MB: In our lives.
Album currently on repeat:
Veronica SB: The new Lumineers.
Veronica MB: Coldplay.
Scent that brings back memories:
Veronica SB: My mother’s family is Cuban so Agua de Violetas is something that we always had. It’s a cologne that a lot of Cuban people wear, they would splash it on me as a kid, my mom would wear it. Whenever I smell that, it’s like I’m four years old in Florida with gardenias by my bed. It’s such a good smell to me, and gardenias too.
Veronica MB: I don’t know you guys, I was pregnant for 10 years and I still have so many smells that make me sick. I know we’re supposed to be talking about positive things. But I do love the smell of spices. I went to India when I was in my early twenties and the incense and the spices there are the most memorable smells. We keep taking these tumeric shots, and there’s a lot of tumeric in India, it brings me back.
Veronica SB: My grandmother’s bracelet which I got when I was 21. It’s a beautiful old gold bracelet with huge charms. She was a fashion designer before she had children. I feel so lucky to be the person who owns that, because she wore it every day.
Veronica MB: I have five Cartier Love bracelets from my five kids, and it’s so blatant and loud. But you know what? My kids feel proud that they’re on my wrist all the time. My kids are my lucky charms. Every one is perfect.
Favorite hour of the day:
Veronica SB: I actually love commuting, which is so crazy. It’s when I get things done and I can deal with work stuff on the way in and home stuff on the way out. It helps me to compartmentalize.
Veronica VB: I’m a moon child, I love the last hour before bed. I love reflecting at night, I love like talking to my kids, talking to my husband. It’s peaceful. I can never get my ass to bed because I want to stay up forever.