Learning to Live Authentic with the founders of Vrai & Oro
“Be true to the way you are and live in a way that makes you feel good. Live in the moment in a way that makes the next even better.”
Vanessa Stofenmacher and Chelsea Nicholson, co-founders of Vrai & Oro
One of the thing that most excites me about leading The Single Diaries is that it has been an incredible way to get to connect with other entrepreneurial young women. The more time we spend growing the site, the more women we come across with inspiring stories to tell. From starting their own yoga practices to traveling the world volunteering to building their own companies, we have been able to use the site to tell some pretty amazing stories from our Single Girls. It is my hope that not only does our site help to spread the word about the work they are doing but also inspires you, our readers, to go after whatever it is that you are most passionate about. At the end of the day our mission is to help you be authentically you and to provide you with the advice to help you live the life you want to lead.
The latest Single Girls I had the pleasure of sitting down with have built a company around that same vision. Vanessa and Chelsea are the leading ladies behind the just-launched jewelry site Vrai & Oro. Their brand promise is to bring you fine jewelry without the markups but their purpose goes much deeper.
I sat down with these two to learn more about the lifestyle of authenticity they hope to inspire through their high-quality jewelry and to learn more about the journey that has led these two young women on a mission to disrupt the long-standing jewelry industry.
>>Jen: Let’s start off by learning a bit about each of you. You both call LA home now but where did you each grow up and what brought you both to the West coast?
Vanessa: I’m originally from upstate NY. I originally moved out to LA for school to study graphic design at the Otis College of Art and Design. That was almost 9 years ago.
Chelsea: I’m originally from Oregon, I have come to LA for many various reasons, but ultimately it’s just the place that feels most like home.
>>J: How did you two meet?
V: We actually met through Craigslist. We were both hunting for roommates and a place to live and found each other.
>>J: I have to say that I’ve met some fantastic roommates myself through Craigslist! Tell me about the journey that took you two from roommates to business partners. Was it something that you immediately knew you wanted to do together?
C: Hah, no it was definitely a journey vs. an immediate realization. I guess you could say the first step was when we decided to leave behind our lives in LA and move to Paris for a summer. Our lease was up and both of us were looking for a change.
V: And I had landed an internship at a design studio in Paris. The timing was right and it just seemed like an adventure that we couldn’t pass up. So we went.
>>J: Good for you two! That sounds incredible. Did the idea for Vrai & Oro come about while you were in Paris or was it something that developed once you returned to the states?
C: Paris was incredible and while it wasn’t what specifically spurred the idea for Vrai & Oro, I do think it was exactly what we needed at that time to reset the direction our lives were on.
V:When we came back I actually decided to open up my own design studio called Duk Design. At first it felt like the right step toward the creative freedom I was looking for but the work eventually became very static. A lot of clients were just looking for help with logo and website design and I really wanted to do work that was richer and more meaningful. After that, I transitioned into the jewelry space and I spent a lot of time working with jewelry manufactures and through that learned that jewelry is typically marked up 8-10x to the consumer. It was then that I started toying with the idea of starting my own jewelry company that did things differently. I wanted to build a brand that had a purpose and a lifestyle behind it.
C: At the time, I was taking a UX class with Vanessa. My degree was in a business but I have always been attracted to a creative life. The more Vanessa talked about the idea for this company the more I fell in love with it. I was really drawn to the creativity behind strategically building a brand.
>>J: What was it that inspired you to build want to build a company that was less focused on the product and more focused on the lifestyle around it?
V: Chelsea and I were both really excited about the direction we saw some of our favorite brands like Tom’s and Warby Parker going. They were building companies that were using their products to make positive changes in the world. We wanted to do the same.
>>J: What’s the lifestyle and mission you want to build around Vrai & Orio?
C: Our mantra is “Live Authentic”. We believe you should live in the moment in a way that makes the next even better. For us that means being true to the way you are and living in a way that makes you feel good.
V: The three values that we found the company on are quality, simplicity, and transparency. We feel like we’re living in a disposable culture that has lost sight of the value in well-made quality products. We don’t want to support the clutter. We want to support a simplified life.
C: We believe you should consciously curate the things that you buy because what you own is a reflection of who you are. Invest in things that last and wear them with confidence rather than feeling like you need to always buy something new and be someone new. We want you to be proud of who you are and how you live your life and feel like the products you buy are a reflection of that.
>> J: I really like that. Your mission for Vrai & Oro in many ways parallels our mission with The Single Diaries which is to help young better get to know stay true to themselves. In trying to build a brand rooted in such a strong mission, I’m curious about what kinds of reactions you received when you started Vrai & Oro.
V: I would say that overall it was very positive but that the reaction varied between different age groups. People in our generation really understand and support our philosophy and the energy around the brand. When we talk to our parents and there friends they have a hard time seeing it as more than a website that sells jewelry. They aren’t as comfortable with the idea that the product is just a means to drive forward the brand and the lifestyle.
>> J: It’s a really good point. I think our generation really embraces brands who connect to their personal values and beliefs. It’s clear that this is something you are both very passionate about. What is the most challenging thing about building something you care so much about?
C: I find that the biggest challenge is clearly communicating our message to the masses and having that message interpreted in the way I mean it. We’re taking a strong stance and we want it to be communicated in a positive way that doesn’t offend anyone. We want to say what we mean but we want to make sure our message is understood in the way that we mean. It can be difficult to attach feelings, emotion and lifestyle to a physical product.
>>J: Founding a company let alone sparking a social mission is definitely a big undertaking. We’re you ever scared that this wouldn’t work out?
C: I was more excited than scared. I couldn’t wait for the moment we went live! We’re excited to get real-life feedback to make the company better and grow.
V: Yeah I would say that a little bit of naivety has also helped us not to be scared. We really don’t know all the challenges we are going to face. Fear can hold you back. You just have to do it.
>>J: What advice would you offer to Single Girls interested in launching their own businesses?
V: Don’t be afraid to fail. It can keep you from doing anything. Everyone has failed. I’ve failed in so many things. Every single time it makes you stronger. You learn so much from it.
C: I would say just do it. You can theorize all you want. At the end of the day it’s how you execute your idea that matters.
Ready to check out Vrai & Oro? Pop on over to the site and receive $10 off your first purchase when you sign-up.
These ladies are also offering free shipping through Mother’s Day and have an exclusive Mother’s Day silver bracelet (only $40 with the sign-up promo!) that will be discontinued after May 11. Jewelry with a mission- we think mom will love it!
Originally published on May 5, 2014