Episode #1282 Vanessa Stofenmacher: How Vrai and Oro is Creating the New Classic

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Vanessa and Jenna discuss what it looks like when a startup truly lives by their values, why you have to embrace both sides of transparency, and how the team designs jewelry to be a vessel for our personal beliefs. 


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Vanessa Stofenmacher

Co-founder and Creative Director at Vrai and Oro View Full Profile

Insights from Vanessa

On Timeless Design 

  • “Our designs are a vessel for you to translate your values. We don’t want to define your style. We want to blend in with who you are and what you stand for.” 
  • “Design isn't something you can put into words. It’s something you feel. It’s about being in person and making that gut call. We pay attention to the tiny details that are often overlooked. It's about seeing things in slow motion and knowing when to pause.” 

On Building a Team that Obsesses Over the Details 

  • “We look for team members who share the same mentality and value system as us. Skillset comes second. I am a huge believer that people can learn skills over time. You can’t teach someone to have the same values as you.” 
  • “Being in a startup is about testing and changing as you go. Things are never going to be perfect. We embrace that. Release your best possible product and believe in it. It’s about being flexible, agile, and open to reimagining or replacing products. Nothing is permanent. ” 

On the Creative Process 

  • “My favorite part of the design process is the best and worst part; When things are really uncomfortable and you are super overwhelmed because you can’t formulate all of the thoughts running through your head. You have to feel that because it’s part of the process. We shouldn’t try to avoid it. It’s the time right before your idea comes to you, when you just want to give up, but you remind yourself that there is a seed of something special in the madness.” 

On Designing a Brand that Transcends Products

  • “I never think of myself as a jewelry designer. Jewelry is a form of communication. We are grounded in our values of quality, simplicity, and transparency. Jewelry is an outlet for us to connect people with that cultural shift and celebrate our shared beliefs." 

On Living Your Values

  • “Being transparent as a business is like being vulnerable as a person. If we are transparent with our community they feel comfortable opening up and being vulnerable too.” 
  • “Especially with transparency, when it comes down to the nitty gritty, you have to embrace both sides. I always tell our team that everything is open book. They can see anything they want to learn about, anytime."
  • "We are always transparent with our customers telling them what our margins are. We get a lot of backlash from that because people think as a business we should keep things private. We decided to be transparent about our prices and let everyone know that we are moving towards a standard 60% margin across the board. We would never just spring that on anyone. We wanted to explain the reasoning behind it. It’s not because we want to make more money. It is because we want to create a sustainable business. We are learning as we grow. To hire more people, move into a bigger space, and hold more inventory we have to have more sustainable margins. We treat our customers as the very intelligent people they are. One of the things that bothers me most is when people say you should market to consumers like they are unintelligent. That drives me crazy because we are all intelligent people and we all understand the concepts. We just have to be trusted to explain them the right way. We are open, explain things to people, and know that some won’t resonate with it because it’s a new concept. Once they spend more time with it, they come around.” 
  • “We are all very committed to pushing the boundaries when it comes to transparency. The more uncomfortable it feels the better.” 
  • “Everything you read in business books is that you have to take one for the team, always have your game face on and be positive because everyone reads your energy and reacts accordingly. I have found that being vulnerable with my team allows us all to be on the same team. When I am vulnerable as a founder, they rally behind me and support our vision even more...When I was going through a hard time, they really came together and took it on themselves to take a lot of work off my plate. It was really touching to see. We all do that for each other. We are all in this together. We all have to be at our best to achieve our goal. We are all going to have off days or even off seasons. Our team is about helping each other, stepping in and doing whatever needs to be done. It’s really special when we are all here at 7 at night quality controlling because we know it needs to get done.”  

On Bootstrapping 

  • “Bootstrapping was a no brainer for me. Startups were the new craze when we launched. I was watching all of these companies go out and fundraise from day one because they thought they needed money to start a company. For me, money was a distraction for the business. I thought it was crazy that all of these companies were raising money before they had proof of concept. It was really about testing our idea, starting small, and not trying to create fantasies about what our company was going to be because we were focused on raising money instead of on creating a product that people love."
  • "A lot of people use money as a crutch or an excuse that they can’t do something because they don’t have the capital. We had $8,000 for everything; Our website, inventory, photography. There was no room for excuses. We had to figure out a way to do it all…We photoshopped colors on the site and modeled everything ourselves. We only had one product of each design because we had no inventory. When orders came in, our manufacturer was able to produce them in a two or three day turnaround time so essentially we were made to order our first year. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without our original manufacturer. It is really important to get out there, talk to people, and create connections. Our manufacturer was probably the sixth or eighth person we talked to. It definitely wasn’t the first person we met who was willing to take a chance on us. You can't give up." 

 On the Do’s and Don’ts of Manufacturing 

  • "Every time we go and meet with a manufacturer we always make sure that we have a manufacturing contract. Even though our designs are simple we have to be confident that no one is producing them for other people. We have seen it first hand. Every single word in a contract is so important. You have to understand it yourself before you sign it and go into an agreement."

On Owning the Process 

  • “We talked to our customers, shipped packages, and worked at our manufacturing facility. We really got to know what each process took and what customers were looking for every step of the way. When the team grew, we had empathy for the challenges people faced and were able to give suggestions and tips because we had been there and felt it ourselves. I wouldn’t take that back for anything. During the holiday season our first year, we used to run to the post office as they were closing the doors. They would close the little metal gates every night and we would beg them to take our packages. It was a race to the post office every day at 5:30 before they closed. We got to know them and they always helped us. I shipped every package the first year and a half."    

On Vrai and Oro's Evolution

  • "We are a startup so we take everything one step at a time. We can’t plan too far in advance because things change. Planning too far ahead can end up being an ineffective use of time. We have become more of a last minute company, not by choice, but because that's the reality of being a startup. Giving ourselves the room to be flexibility and the ability to change is empowering." 
  • "Startups are about taking challenges that feel really daunting and turning them into opportunities."

On Life as a Founder 

  • "I am learning to go from being a creator to a creative director. The definition is different for everyone. For me, it is taking a step back from the day to day creation to seeing the vision as a whole and translating it, not just visually, but throughout the entire team to make sure we are all on the same page." 
  • "My greatest growing experience has been understanding who I am as a person and what drives me. For me, it’s about my routines. I would be lost without them. It’s about understanding that as an introverted person I get my energy from myself. I have to have time by myself to create and be inspired. It’s about accepting who I am. A lot of people thought I was really shy when I was growing up. I didn’t have 100 friends. I had a few close friends. I always felt like I was missing something and had to change. As I have grown, I embrace those sides of me. I have removed some people from my life who haven’t added anything. You always think that you need to have all of these friends and be so popular but really it’s about finding the people who truly want to be around you for who you are, not to get something from you. Being happy with having fewer amounts of people, but really good, trusted people around you is important." 
  • "I switch off doing yoga and running in the mornings. For me, it is like a metaphor for running a company. When you are running, you need to have the drive to push yourself forward. When you are doing yoga, you are taking a step back, reflecting, and being okay with where you are. It’s about finding a balance of pushing forward and accepting where you are in the moment."
  • “Decluttering your home and life helps declutter your mind and relationships. Everything becomes more clear. From work to home is all one thing. It blends together seamlessly."