If you live in New York or Los Angeles, chances are you’re familiar with the store Creatures of Comfort. Nestled in the heart of SoHo on Mulberry Street in NYC and on Melsore Avenue in LA, Creatures of Comfort is exactly a dreamy emporium of smart, beautiful, and, yes, comfortable (mostly) clothing, shoes, and accessories. But there’s more. The woman behind these bi-coastal retail havens, Jade Lai, goes above and beyond the average duties of a store owner. She has a background in architecture which is immediately evident in the design and layout of her stores. She also designs an in-house brand called, you guessed it, Creatures of Comfort, who’s AW12 collection had the best dotty prints and sleek trousers we’ve seen in a while. We caught up with Lai to hear about her inspirations, dreams, and the practical realities of owning a store and designing a line.
Fashionista: What was the inspiration behind starting your own brand? Jade Lai: It seemed like the most direct way to realize my visions.
Before Creatures of Comfort, what did you do? I did interior design, since I strudied architecture, and I also did my own stationery line for a little bit on the side.
Did you have any previous design experience? I was trained as an architect.
How does that training affect your design process or inspiration? Architecture is really an all encompassing field; it teaches you all the design theory that’s relevant in all different design disciplines. Architects have to think about what sort of materials to apply for certain space for an experience, so that could certainly tie into fashion and clothing. Personally, I really the work of like Elvira Sica, he’s an Argentine architect. He’s geometric, he’s a modernist, and there’s just a kind of formality to everything. Everything is visual, like you have to be in the space to understand it. He’s inspirational to me.
What inspires your designs? Mostly, colors and textures. I can get really inspired by architecture, textiles and nature. I like to imagine the aftermath of design, how it functions in the world.
What’s a typical workday like for you? I am at my studio daily from roughly 10-8, designing or catching up with emails. I would say I travel for work 3 months out of the year as well.
How does your workday differ between the work that you do as the owner of Creatures of Comfort versus designing the line? When I first opened the store, I was more like a shopkeeper. I think for the first two years I had the store I was basically there five to six days a week, manning the register, selling to customers, and then I’d go on buying trips, meet designers, and whatnot. I still go on buying trips and meet designers, but I’m more hands off as far as running the store. I spend a lot of time spending time just working in my head rather than with people. That’s the major difference: it’s less social.
Can you talk about the traveling aspect of your business? You own two stores on different coasts and are constanly meeting clients in far-away places. I go to Paris twice a year to the fabric fairs after fashion week, and I travel to LA now because some of our production has moved to LA. We’re starting to do some knitwear research in Hong Kong, so I’ve been going looking into knitting factories there. Then I try to take two trips out of the year, I call them work trips, but they are really my inspiration trip for the next season. Every year I try to go to a place where I’ve never been before.
Where have you been that has really stood out to you? Last year I went to Greece, and the year before I went to Vietnam and Morocco, so every year is really different. I really want to go back to Morocco, actually. There are so many pigments there, textiles for rugs, all these tiles and ceramics–-it’s amazing there! You can find so much inspiration in Morocco.
What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced? I opened up the New York store around the same time that I debuted the first full Creatures of Comfort collection. While it was an incredibly exciting time, both posed unforeseen obstacles and there was a lot of strategic maneuvering and missed sleep that had to happen in order for deadlines to be hit and things to turn out the way I had envisioned them.
What’s the biggest risk that you’ve taken business-wise? As I run two stores and a clothing line, I am constantly having to make quick decisions, which sometimes are just based on my gut feeling. That seems a bit risky, if you ask me.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job? That someone other than me appreciates that the brand exists!
Who is your dream customer, living, dead, or imaginary? We have really awesome people patron us, so I will say I have my dream customers already.
What do you see in store for you brand in the future? Let’s just say that you’re going to see us popping up a lot more places in the next year…