MARTINE ILANA // LA MER COLLECTIONS
Martine Ilana is the founder and president of La Mer Collections’ Timepieces. She has been designing La Mer Collections since 2001 and has grown its following to both domestic and international. After living and working as a designer and merchandiser in four major cities (Cape Town, New York, Boulder, and Los Angeles) in 2009 she re-launched La Mer Collections’ online store and website and created a customizable handcrafted watch DIY feature that embodies both the concept of a souvenir but remains true to the core company values of design inspired by the color of travel and art.
How did you come up with the concept behind La Mer Collections?
I founded La Mer Collections in 2001 just after I had taken a year to continue my design studies and travel overseas in Africa and Asia. I love souvenirs because once I’m back from any trip I can look at an object and dream about where I picked it up. I was so inspired by my time away that when I returned home, I wanted to design and create a line of watches that reminded me of my travels.
I could not find a watch that I wanted to wear that was both feminine and unique, so my goal was to create a beautifully designed watch that was durable and functional, but also that expressed my personality.
Once you knew you wanted to launch La Mer Collections what steps did you take to make that a reality?
The launch of La Mer was a slow and organic process. I never intended to have La Mer be my full-time job as I loved working with other brands and developing multiple products for different international markets. In 2006 when I was approached by Urban Outfitters to sell La Mer Collections on their site, the first thing I knew I needed was production help — I could not physically make hundreds of watches alone. I hired a leather company on Craigslist to help make the watch bands and then hired a few local LA jewelry designers to help with the chain and charm embellishments. This was my first step in turning La Mer into a larger, more stable design project.
The next big step was hiring a showroom to help me with sales outreach, and another major step was designing a beautiful website. Once those key parts of the business were in place I spent the next 5-6 years, for 12+ hours a day getting the company to a place where we have amazing customers, a strong product assortment that is received in multiple markets, and created team that hand-wraps every order that ships out.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Ask for help before it is too late.
Put something out into the market as a test, you may never be totally ready but customers will let you know what is or isn’t working within a few days.
Do you have a daily routine or certain rituals you do?
My days start around 6:15 am and I have to have lots of coffee! I am glued to my email from about 7 am to 11:30 am and because La Mer is an international brand I am working with time zones around the world. When I wake up I have answers from customers and factories in Asia, work with our East Coast contacts, and still have time to call South America and Europe. The end of my day always ends with a walk of my dog Frank Capers down to the beach.
What hardships/obstacles have you had along the way?
I believe that any business owner will agree that running a business has obstacles on the daily. The ones that stand out are:
Presenting La Mer Collections to buyers and having them understand our company vision and designs. Trying to enter the consumer product market can be difficult with a fashion watch collection that is very niche as we fall into contemporary clothing, gift, and surf/skate markets.
Creating a working environment that supports the company’s core values but also allows for growth.
Keeping our collection consistent worldwide. We want to ensure that all of our customers get the same quality and service.
What do you wish you would have known going into this? Continue reading…