CEO and co-founder of killer activewear brand Varley on the success of her business plus maternity leave as an entrepreneur
by Colleen Crivello
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Upon arriving at Lara’s beautiful LA home, I was greeted by the whole family – Lara’s parents were visiting from London and the house felt lively and warm. Gracious, sharp and down to business, Lara talks to us about the explosive growth of her brand, on managing her role as CEO while being a mum, the reality of maternity leave when you own your own business and why she swears by apple cider vinegar. @varley
You’ve seen tremendous growth over the last year – what do you attribute the success of Varley to?Lots of hard work, late nights, a huge self belief but also to my wonderful team. One of my mantra’s is to always surround myself with people who are better than I am. We’ve made some great hires over the last 12 months and have seen growth as a result.
What’s it like to be a female CEO?To be a female CEO of a growing company is exciting, scary but also hugely rewarding. I’m very proud of what I have accomplished, however I can’t take all the credit as I share the company with my husband Ben, and I’m very fortunate to have him by my side.
What are some challenges to being a CEO and a new mom?Being a mum and CEO is crazy. I mean it’s a struggle. It feels like cooking a roast dinner and having so many pans on the hob, I’m sure I’m going to burn something soon, or set something on fire. I constantly struggle with guilt of being around for my son, but also helping to drive my company forward and being present in the office. Some weeks it’s just too much – again that’s why I’m lucky to have my husband by my side.
Did you take a maternity leave? In London maternity leave is much greater than in the US – most women take at least 6months if not a year. For me however, that was virtually impossible as I was self employed plus we were in a pivotal moment with the business and there was simply no way that I could remove myself from the equation for 6months – Varley was moving so quickly and I knew that if I took my foot off the gas that I wouldn’t be able to pick it back up again. SO I went back to work 3 weeks after giving birth, plus I went into labor the night before we had a big photoshoot – the whole day that I was in labor I was approving photos that were coming in and my midwife kept looking at my mum with such confusion, like “what is she doing? She’s crazy.” Once the baby came, we almost immediately hooked up the computer to the TV in the hospital room to review all the photo selects. Therefore, I’m not sure I ever actually took a maternity leave. It was hard to go back to the office so soon after I had him and to some degree I feel like I missed out on some first-time-mum things, but the plus side is that I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule and now I make a point of spending every Friday morning alone with my son, it’s our special time.
What advice do you have for other women aiming to build a business?My advice would be, ‘be realistic’, it takes a couple of years of really hard graft and sacrifices to get established. You have to decide whether you’d be willing to make those sacrifices and also how best to manage your time.
Do you believe we’re really ever ready to do something – be it launch a business or have a baby? I certainly wasn’t ready to become a mum, and some days still feel like I’m not. Becoming a first time mum is an experience I can’t even put into words to non mums. I’m not going to lie it hit me hard. I didn’t think my life would change and it has changed beyond recognition. The business was a much more gradual process it was a slow burner so it allowed me time to grow and develop into my role.
So to answer the question I don’t think we can ever be 100% ready and prepared for anything, but I think you grow into new roles, just some quicker than others. Becoming a mum was a steep learning curve and one that I’m still on.
What’s the most rewarding part of growing/owning your own business? One of the most rewarding things about having my own business is the flexibility I have with my time. If my son is sick and I have to take him to the doctors, and I can organize my time so I can spend as much quality time with him as possible.
What’s the biggest struggle with growing/owning your own business?The biggest struggle is the constant worry. It’s 24/7, especially with an office in Europe as well. My emails and messages never stop and my husband and I find it very hard to switch off from work.
How big is the Varley team now? We have a team of 4 in London and we’re 12 in LA, plus we work with outside agencies for sales and PR. In London we have customer service, head of digital and a production person for Europe. It’s become increasingly important, since I’ve become a mum to have a London office that can deal with the PR and sales teams there, given the time difference from LA to London was virtually unmanageable for me to manage the growth via LA as we’re just so far behind with the time and vice versa. They would want answers first thing in the morning and it was middle of the night for us in LA or I’d be doing my calls with London when they wanted to go home. For awhile, I’d be doing these conference calls with the phone on speaker and my son in the bath and at some point it just didn’t make sense.
What do you think was a pivotable moment in your brand – the tipping point? It was a catalog of events that lined up just so. The first being our launch collection was picked up by Bandier and immediately set us apart from a lot of the other brands that were coming up at the same time. Secondly, we have a few Victoria Secret models that regularly wear our stuff plus the Kardashians, both of which give great exposure to the brand. Lastly, when I was pregnant we took on a sales agent that had been the head of sales at WildFox for 8 years and then opened her own agency. She contacted me and at the time I was doing sales in-house but after our first meeting I decided to go with her. She’s done a phenomenal job with the brand and our partnership has been a really successful.
What’s the best business advice you were ever given? My father- in-law once wrote a business book titled ‘ When In Doubt Be Nice’ ..I think this is the best bit of advice and one that applies to all areas of life.
When do you feel like the best version of yourself?When I’m running. I love to run. It makes me feel free.
What do you think makes a good leader? Do you think those same qualities can apply to being a mom?I think a good leader is someone who listens and has patience. This defiantly applies to being a good mum.
Do you think it’s important for women and mothers to take time for self-care?Self care is so important for women and mothers, how are we suppose to perform if we aren’t looking and feeling ourselves.
Your top beauty or wellness secret? Apple cider vinegar every morning. It keeps my gut healthy, my skin clear and my eyes bright. I drink it in the morning straight with a splash of lemon, in a shot glass. When I don’t do it for a few days if I’m traveling, I really notice the difference.
Regardless of how busy you get, what is a nonnegotiable when it comes to your wellness/self-care? I don’t really have time for facials anymore… so instead I do face masks at home.
Every women should own?A great sports bra.
Your daily uniform?Jeans, white t shirt, blazer
How did you meet your husband and how did he propose?I met my husband at a running club in London training for the London Marathon, for me it was love at first sight, I said to myself that night ‘I’m going to marry that man, and I did!! Needless to say I beat him in the London Marathon. We are very competitive with one another. He proposed to me in the same park whilst walking the dog, on a cold foggy October morning. The dog was chasing deer and my husband was running after him whilst trying to hide the ring in his pocket. It was all very comical but also perfect. It really was one of the happiest days of my life.
What makes you feel sexy?My husband.
Words you live by?Comparison is the death of happiness
How has the transition to LA from London been? What do you love and what do you miss? The transition has been tough with a toddler. I LOVE the weather, the food, the people. I MISS family, roast dinners and pubs.What’s your favorite way to exercise?I love to run and have done so since I was 10 years old.
What does a typical day of eating look like for you?I wake up and have a shot of apple cider vinegar, I then make myself a matcha latte with coconut milk, breakfast is apple chicken sausages and greens or a berry protein smoothie using vegan protein powder whizzed up in my Vitamix. Lunch is usually homemade chicken soup, and then dinner is fish vegetables and sweet potatoes. I like to snack on fresh coconut, berries, apples.
I’m trying to avoid eggs, sugar, caffeine and alcohol at the moment. However I do love a cheeky tequila now and again after a long day.
Do you notice a difference by not eating eggs, sugar, caffeine and alcohol? Less bloating. Before I started doing it I was tired all the time and I felt like my digestive system wasn’t functioning very well even though I was eating a healthy balanced die. By cutting out those allergens I feel less inflamed and my stomach is flatter, my concentration is better, I’m less tired. Overall it’s really helped me.
Leave us with one tip, be it about love, life, motherhood or career? When the going gets tough keep your chin up and keep smiling. I think this applies to all areas of life.