Lara Mead, a London native living in Los Angeles, found inspiration for Varley, her line of contemporary athletic gear, while on vacation in Santa Monica, Calif. After years of nonstop work at a fast-paced talent agency, she and her husband, Ben, found the laid-back attitude of Southern California to be refreshing and transformative.
“We were dreading the thought of going back to our stressful careers," says Mead, whose son will be 2 in September. "We really wanted to create a brand together that we were both passionate about and allowed us to enjoy both work and our lives together."
With a professional soccer player as a father, athleticism is in Mead’s blood. She became involved in competitive running at an early age, and remembered how difficult she found it to find training clothes that were both functional and stylish.
“In Europe, there was very little variety available on the market, and it was impossible to find anything chic or different,” Mead says. With this inspiration in mind, she and her husband got to work building their brand and co-founded Varley, which officially launched two years ago. Just a few months later, their first child was born. “I basically had two babies in the same year,” Mead says.
The couple certainly has been busy. In just two years, Varley has arrived in more than 500 retail spaces across the country. Although the market has expanded since Mead’s competitive running years, Varley brings a unique perspective to the table, melding the easy attitude of California with an elegant European aesthetic. Mead and her husband co-design the collections, with innovation and design playing equally important roles. The distinctive prints and patented proprietary fabrics enhance every movement and set a new standard for contemporary performance apparel. Mead is based in Los Angeles, but splits her time between their London and LA offices.
Mead discusses how she has managed to build her brand and her family side by side.
As a mother as well as the founder of Varley, how do you make it all work?
It’s a struggle! My husband is incredibly helpful, and we tag in and out of both work and home—it’s a real team effort. We are a long way from our families, so we have a nanny to help us take care of our son, and she’s amazing. I try not to overthink it. There are millions of working mums out there who make it work, so I figure if they can do it, then I can too. I don’t think being a working mum makes me special, and it certainly doesn’t define me. It just means I have two full-time jobs, and I have to be good at juggling.
When did you first feel successful?
I don’t, really! Varley has been such an evolution and is still so new that I haven’t really had a moment to take stock. I had my son right after launching the company, so things have been crazy. For now, I’m focusing on the smaller victories, like getting picked up by new retailers or finishing designs for a new collection. I’m hoping within the next year or so I’ll be able to take a step back and feel successful about how much we’ve grown.
As a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you want to teach your kids about "girl power”?
My mum always encouraged me to compete with the boys at school—and I did! She also always told me to never allow being a woman define you. My father was a professional athlete and got me into competitive sports, and I never felt like less of an athlete just because I was a girl. You’re defined by more important things than your gender—things like accomplishments, beliefs and relationships. I hope to pass down these same values to my son.
MORE: No Sweat Beauty Tips
Has there been anything about creating Varley that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
The amount of time it takes for a brand to become established definitely surprised me. There are so many elements that go into building a brand and finding your audience and a lot of moving pieces along the way that have to fall into place. The sacrifices that are required in order to become successful also surprised me a bit. I knew there would be some sacrifice involved, of course, but building a successful brand from scratch takes a lot of work, which means you have less time for other things.
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and business owner to keep everything in balance?
I don’t socialize as much as I used to, and I don’t have nearly as much time to myself. I used to spend hours puttering around London, looking in shops, markets and galleries. These days are now long gone. Any time I get away from the business, I spend with my son.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
Have a plan, understand that it takes time and that sacrifices will have to be made along the way. Also, make sure to surround yourself with good mentors. For me, one of my most influential mentors was my boss back in London, while I was working for a talent agency. She was incredible at building and maintaining relationships and had a great mind for negotiation. At the time I thought she was a really tough boss, but now I appreciate her so much for what she taught me and the work ethic she instilled in me. I still go to her for professional advice to this day, and she is now the godmother to my son.
If you could have lunch with any business person/entrepreneur/nonprofit founder living or dead, who would it be and why?
My father-in-law. He’s the founder of the legendary advertising agency Abott Mead Vickers. My husband and I used to have lunch with him regularly in London, and I miss him so much. He’s a calming and inspiring influence on us, and he has always been a great supporter and mentor, both in our personal lives and out business endeavors.
Are there any new initiatives or products on the horizon for Varley?
We have a very exciting new category launch in the winter. I can’t talk about it yet, but keep an eye on our social media for more info coming soon!