Caren Lettiere of Democracy Clothing Talks About Building a Brand

Caren Lettiere of Democracy Clothing Talks About Building a Brand

Wednesday, January 21 2015

Caren Lettiere is President of Democracy Clothing, the brand that she passionately created and launched in 2010. She says, “I represent the woman who Democracy is designing for; the modern woman who loves fashion, but got busy with life.”

Democracy is owned by the Kellwood Company, where Lettiere began working 12 years ago. She has proven to be a creative force with an entrepreneurial spirit for the company.

From Selling to Designing

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in political science, Lettiere embarked on her nontraditional career path to fashion. She began in sales, launching the Rampage brand and their modern missy sub-brand, CDC. Lettiere's ability to analyze sales and interpret those insights into fashion volume gave her a competitive edge as she transitioned into design and merchandising.

Lettiere was initially hired at Kellwood to create and launch a junior denim line called Jolt. She says:

Our unique market positioning in the junior casual bottoms category stemmed from Jolt’s feminine aesthetic. We had an eye for detail, utilized quality fabrics and our jeans offered an incredible fit. We wanted to enhance all body shapes, from 0 to 14.

Years later, as a consumer, Lettiere found herself frustrated with the denim market for her own demographic. Her expertise in the junior marketplace exposed her to the void in the women’s denim space. This was the impetus to create a modern missy brand. She took the Jolt formula and ran with it, coming to the aid of her contemporaries with Democracy Clothing.

Lettiere began creating jeans and was preparing for the upcoming launch when buyers began asking, “Which tops should customers wear with the bottoms?” After doing her due diligence on the retail floors, she decided that she couldn’t rely on other brands to complete the whole look that she thoughtfully envisioned. She says, ”I had baked a chocolate cake. I didn’t want someone else to frost it with lemon icing.”

Lettiere immediately changed gears to accommodate the situation. The Democracy denim line became a casual lifestyle brand with an entire collection. Lettiere added iconic looks reflecting her personal tastes and those of her peer group to designs in order to personify a California lifestyle. She says, “Denim has permeated our consciousness. It’s an acceptable and reliable anchor to a myriad of lifestyle needs.”

Democracy Clothing

Lettiere describes the Democracy customer:

Our customer is the woman who grew up with fashion, but got busy with life. She is a dynamic, multitasking and ageless woman. She is looking for someone to provide an approachable lifestyle vision to help curate her evolving personal style. Democracy is eclectic, and customers appreciate the refreshing California point of view.

Democracy’s role is to filter and interpret the emerging trends in a responsive way to the lifestyle demands of their customer. Lettiere says:

We approach our collection every month as if we are packing a suitcase for a week. We ask several questions: 

  • What is the weather?
  • What significant occasions occur this month?
  • What items is she still attached to in her closet?
  • What new pieces can help freshen up that look?

Our monthly goal is to figure out what the new emergent trends are and then deliver them to our customer.  

The Democracy Clothing design team goes through this process continuously so their customer looks like she has effortlessly put together her own fashion statement.

Market Distinction

Over the years, Democracy has honed their approach to the collection, experiencing retail success in all categories. However, Democracy’s true market distinction is in the way their bottoms fit. Lettiere says:

Most collections have to include bottoms, but often the bottoms don’t retail well. We are in a coveted position as a lifestyle collection because we have bottoms with an amazing fit. Once again, I’m very focused on style lines and details to enhance women’s shapes. Fit solutions have been the meteoric development for Democracy. We are not ashamed to say that women in this group might benefit from this type of engineering. While Democracy is a pioneer in servicing this space, the challenge has been that the marketplace doesn’t offer enough ‘like’ product to help the retailer attract this modern customer.  

To help capitalize on the opportunity to build a bigger footprint at retail, Kellwood recently hired Henry Thervil. He is an industry expert in the branded modern missy arena who partners with Lettiere to catapult the Democracy brand. Lettiere says:

We are looking to take the organic, word-of-mouth appeal of Democracy and bring it into consumer consciousness through social media, marketing and a broadened distribution. Our goal and expectation is to be the next big national casual lifestyle brand. We are devoted to this ageless woman and don’t want to put an expiration date on her. We define our customer by her vibrancy.

The Strength of Kellwood

Lettiere is the visionary behind Democracy, but she credits Kellwood as the strength behind its business foundation. The access to funding, R&D and various resources through the parent company offer the agility necessary within the fashion industry. Other perks such as an on-site photo studio and fulfillment center enable Democracy to support the increasing e-commerce demands of their retail partners.

Success at MAGIC

While Democracy already has a list of prestigious customers like Nordstrom, Dillards, Von Maur and Bon-Ton, Lettiere is most proud of the specialty store following that has been built from exhibiting at MAGIC. Lettiere says:

Democracy ClothingThe most exciting thing is that many of our buyers are women who personify our target audience. We love seeing the mother-daughter buying teams. They come to MAGIC to order for themselves personally as well as their stores. The insights that we get from these boutique owners are valuable in maintaining an intimate sense of what this modern woman wants from Democracy.

Enjoying the Ride

Lettiere says:

Now is the most rewarding time in my career because of the people around me. The synergy, support and freedom given to me by Kellwood to conceptualize a brand vision and have the resources to execute it are priceless. We have incredible partners in sales who share our vision and passion. Most importantly, I feel a deep connection to our end user. I will work tirelessly to make these women look and feel their best, and give them the freedom to choose to be their own muse.

If you are buying for this type of modern woman, be sure to stop by the Democracy Clothing booth at MAGIC. They would love to hear your thoughts on the evolving marketplace in your region.