Cute LA had a chance to interview Raphael Guien of Ortu Leather. Located in the Fashion District of Los Angeles. It specializes in leather garmet production. He gave some invaluable knowledge on creating your own business, staying in top shape and being true to yourself. In addition, his passion and enthusiasm leap from his words. Enjoy!
// What's the inspiration behind Ortu leather?//
La Revolution francaise in L.A.! (laughs).
No, seriously... Well I think for one, growing up in Paris, early on, I was exposed to all kinds of fashion. There were lots of small underground boutiques, featuring local unknown designers and their creations. Designers were coming out with pretty edgy, sometimes provocative clothes. It was really special to witness all this creation, this risk taking. And I think that's how, early on, I got a taste for Fashion, "la mode" as we call it there.
I'm not a designer or anything but I think with Ortu leather, I wanted to recreate this sense of creative community. My vision was to build a leather contracting business that would serve and bring together an existing community of fashion minded designers and entrepreneurs, here in the Los Angeles Fashion District. And by bring together, I mean connecting the right people with the right project: whether it be a retailer for a fashion label, a showroom for a designer, or a costume maker for a movie studio. Of course, we weren't going to be the first leather garment production, we knew that. But, something I was big on, from the beginning, was to create this "lieu de vie," this place to gather, meet, create, exchange and make things happen. Not just some factory with a cash register! Every day, we meet the most interesting people here at Ortu and we feed off each other's creativity.
And today still, this is very important to us. It's part of our DNA! That's why, every now and then, you'll see us hold open house days for fashion schools, and I make it a point to answer every single student's question. I've always had respect for those who want to learn or create, it's a positive thing and I want to help them in any way I can. Also, leathercraft is a noble art. You can't just cheat and buy your way into it, you have to really hone your skills, and it takes time, like every good thing.
// How did you get started creating it? //
I think, from day one, we placed a focus on each other's strengths, and ran with it. As partners, Daniel, Frank and myself: we all bring diverse experience and specialties and complement each other really well.
For example, Frank has 25+ years of experience in the Fashion business, in Paris France first, then here in the Los Angeles Fashion District. He's collaborated with dozens of national fashion brands, launched his own labels and worked hand in hand with retailers like Barney's, Saks, Macy's, etc. He's been there through thick and thin and I think, better than anyone, he understands all the ingredients needed to launch a fashion line: production costs and logistics, showroom, trade shows, product placement, buzz and so on. That's where we stand out. We address what happens next: the "why", the "how" - We're not just here to make a sale, it's long term. That's why our partnerships typically last years.
Basically, we care and we love what we do. So, when you ask how we got started... In reality, we simply started with our passion and knowledge. A cutting edge leather jacket, a happy client getting a sale and recognition... Then the thing feeds on itself: reorders, referrals, word of mouth. I'm sorry there's really no secret sauce to reveal here! It just takes a ton of dedication, patience and hard work.
// What is the most difficult aspect of being entrepreneur? //
I know it will sound shallow to some, but I would say, first and foremost: always try to be profitable! I know that nowadays we're surrounded with billboards boasting the merits of such and such company that is donating a pair of shoes for each pair purchased, saving the world, lending to the community to create jobs, putting kids through school, etc. But these companies, no matter their message, their image, their brand. Behind the facade, the marketing. They have someone watching the numbers so they can stay in business. If your numbers aren't right, you will quickly run your business into the ground. I've seen it time and time again. It's never pretty. I think another hard thing to do is constantly asking yourself the question: are the products or services I am selling viable? And if the answer is no, be honest with yourself instead of digging yourself into a hole you won't get out of. You need to think things through and always try to gain perspective and visualize how you can bring each project to fruition.
And I'd like to go back to the patience I was talking about earlier. I think patience is something some entrepreneurs are missing nowadays when they're hoping their brand will go "viral" overnight or when they throw a lot of money on the latest technology gimmick, or the wrong celebrity endorsement. There are a lot of vulture companies out there, preying on small businesses marketing dollars and promising the impossible.
// What is the most rewarding aspect? //
Of course you don't go into business just to make money you usually have other bigger aspirations. The aspiration can be freedom, as it is in my case. I have big responsibilities and commitments of course, but I wake up feeling free. And that's the promise I made myself a few years back: to try and attain freedom. The freedom where you feel transcended. I don't believe in complaints or fatality. I remember coming to this country with $200 to my name. I tried and failed at many things and left countless jobs, unhappy and frustrated. But now, looking back, every experience had its value, and I know that it's possible!
Another pleasure I get is seeing other people's dreams and projects come to life every week. Often from the most basic idea: a drawing, a sketch on a piece of paper that becomes a leather jacket on a retailer's shelf. Seeing people around you living from their passion, making a living. It's a good feeling.
// Best advice for someone that wants to create their own business? //
For tips, I don't think I have any kind of magic potion so I usually like to keep it simple.
- Stay healthy! I believe in staying on top of your health, otherwise you will limit your potential. To me this means three things: exercise plus healthy food and sleep. I want to give the best of myself all day long and not just business wise. I need to handle the daily stress, make important decisions. I like to compare running a business with running a marathon: it's very long, demanding and you have to be as consistent as possible in your effort.
- Have a plan. It's that simple: every time I start my day, I take a piece of paper and write down what I want to achieve. As I complete each task, I feel good because I know I'm achieving. The feeling of achievement is very important to me mentally. It's a strong driver. Otherwise, because it's my business and nobody's on my back, it's so easy to fall in the trap of answering every email and taking care of small issues, when in reality there are much more important things I should address. And that's how before you know it, you've lost a day that could have been a productive one.
- Build strong relationships. I found out early on that you can't go at it alone. It's not just you on top of this mountain. And that's why, for many years, I have built strong friendships and partnerships with fellow business owners and professionals. We all help each other, one way or another, all the time. Plus business can come from unlikely places: I can't recount how many times I found myself doing business with a so called competitor. You need to keep an open mind so you can take advantage of opportunities.
I really believe in the theory that, especially in a place like L.A., everything you need is standing right in front of you, but you just don't see it. We all know a lot of people and by extension, we are already connected with the people that can push the right buttons and make things happen.
Well, before we finish, Tiffany, I want to really thank you for this interview, I enjoyed it very much and I hope that some readers will feel encouraged, get an idea, something, anything, from this!
What is a dream you have? Let me know in the comments!