Lauren Conrad Shares How She Learned the Value in Saying No
With all due respect to Natasha Bedingfield and her earworm of a song, little of Lauren Conrad‘s future has ever been unwritten.
In fact, we’d argue the ending has been quite planned since the consummate California girl was about 8 years old. Because that was when the future fashion and lifestyle guru first floated the idea of creating clothes when she grew up.
“I happen to know because my parents nicely documented it,” the Lauren Conrad Co. founder told E! News in an exclusive interview. “Since the third grade, I’ve been telling everyone that I wanted to be a fashion designer. And I’m not quite sure what that came from, it was just what I decided I wanted to be.”
And that’s where her book began.
“The earliest memory I have is just making clothes for Barbie dolls,” she recalled. So when MTV came calling her senior year of high school—entranced by the idea of turning her friendship with Stephen Colletti into Laguna Beach‘s ultimate love triangle—dad Jim urged her to dive in.
“I remember him telling me that it would be a good opportunity just to meet some people knowing that entertainment and fashion are very much entwined,” she recalled of her father’s foresight. “So that seed was planted early on. It was my main motivation for doing the show.”
By the time she graduated from her Laguna spinoff The Hills in 2009—while studying at L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising—her dreams were so close she could almost taste them.
With her “very first line,” 2008’s short-lived Lauren Conrad Collection, “I jumped into it—and I actually would call that research because I was learning the whole time,” she reflected. “I was taking it all in and figuring things out as I went. Obviously made a lot of mistakes on my first round, but learned a lot of valuable lessons that I’m able to apply still today.”
Takeaway No. 1: The importance of finding the right partner.
Just a year later, Conrad teamed with midwest-based retailer Kohl’s (“They’ve been an amazing partner over the years”) to launch LC Lauren Conrad—the still-thriving brand having since expanded into children’s clothing (Little Co. by Lauren Conrad), accessories and home decor.
From there, the mom to 4-year-old Liam and 2-year-old Charlie (with husband William Tell) has filled every last blank page before her, branching into publishing (with books on fashion, beauty and entertaining in addition to her YA series), lifestyle (helming her namesake site LaurenConrad.com), retail (with her nonprofit fair trade shop The Little Market) and, most recently, beauty with her eponymous 2020 release.
Now, with her well-manicured fingers in so many areas of lifestyle, “It’s a good place to stand still,” Conrad reflected. “The brand is doing really well and I want the focus to continue in the direction that we’re going.”
But, in her chat with E! News, she took a peak into the rearview to appreciate where she’s been.
E! News: How were you hustling before MTV came around?
Lauren Conrad: I’ve had a job since I was, like, 12, which I’m not sure is completely legal. In Laguna, I worked at the Sawdust Festival, which is essentially a bunch of booths set up by local artists. And then I worked at Pageant of the Masters, which is also a funny Laguna thing where people cover themselves in paint and plaster and basically replicate famous pieces of art. And then I worked at a surf shop.
E!: On The Hills, you got your first taste in fashion as a Teen Vogue intern. What did you learn from that?
LC: Being able to see the process and the relationship between publications and fashion designers was really helpful. I also interned in a showroom for awhile and when I was in high school, I used to model at trade shows. As many areas as you can expose yourself to, I think it was really helpful in my understanding how it all came together.
E!: How nervous were you about being taken seriously when you made the leap from reality star to designer?
LC: Taking the step from reality television to developing a line was not as common back then. So there were more challenges. Nowadays it’s actually unusual if someone doesn’t try to do something. I remember my first meeting with my agent, I said, “I want to be a clothing designer.” And he was like, “Do you want to try acting?”
My first line, it was basically me and a co-designer and I was doing it all: Sourcing fabrics, in every meeting, in every fitting. I was the fit model. Starting out I had to do everything for myself and prove that I could create a line that would sell.
E!: You’ve now hit all the major areas of lifestyle. Was this the grand plan, or did each move build off the one the last?
LC: The latter. This was a brand that was built very slowly. I tried to be very thoughtful with each step that I took. I wouldn’t enter a category unless I felt like it made sense and that it felt organic. I said no to a lot of things, which was hard in the beginning. But I think it’s important to stick with what you know, what you’re interested in, what you’re passionate about, because if you care, you’re just going to end up with a better product.
E!: How are you able to oversee it all?
LC: I’ve learned to delegate. I didn’t used to do that so much and I’m also very involved to the point where I definitely annoy my teams. But I think once I became a mother, I learned the importance of delegating because you just can’t do everything. So if you surround yourself with people that you trust and get it, you’re able to responsibly continue to grow.
E!: What made you want to add The Little Market into the mix?
LC: One of my very best friends, Hannah Skvarla, had become a travel buddy of mine. She worked with Human Rights Watch for years and so she exposed me to a lot of human rights’ issues. I felt like I had been given a platform and I had used it to grow my career, but I felt like there was something more meaningful I could do. So we came up with the concept for The Little Market.
E!: And you wanted this to be more than just philanthropy—you wanted to be create opportunity.
LC: I feel like you’re going to find the most success when you’re filling a white space. And for me, I really liked purchasing artisan handmade goods, things that felt unique, things that I knew were also supporting an artisan somewhere. But I was having a difficult time finding items that I really liked. So the thing that we wanted to set us apart was our selection. We wanted to create a marketplace for people who wanted to make their purchases meaningful, but they didn’t want to sacrifice style or taste. So we wanted to find items we would want in our own homes.
E!: You’ve spent more than a decade building this brand. What is a piece of career advice you’ve received that stuck with you?
LC: There’s a lot of value in saying no to opportunities that don’t make sense for you. If your goal is to create a brand, it has to make sense, it has to tell a story. And it has to be somewhat consistent. So, being very thoughtful with your choices and the opportunities that you do take on is really important. It’s also being careful with who you partner with. You want to make sure that you’re being heard, you’re not just putting your name on something. You want to feel good about what you create.
E!: What gets a no from you?
LC: My agency brings me everything, so I say no on a weekly basis. And, honestly, at this moment, it has to be something so exciting to me just because I’ve learned to recognize when my plate is full and that it’s not productive to keep piling on. So in order for me to have a good balance and not be too stressed out and have enough time to be with my family, I only take opportunities now that I’m really excited about.
E!: I have to imagine if our team brings you everything…
LC: There’s some weird stuff in there, yeah. There’s a lot of emails that say, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”
E!: What advice would you give someone looking to become a designer or even an entrepreneur?
LC: Try and do things your own way, but make your decisions informed ones. Meaning, just because someone hasn’t done something a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t. And if you’re trying to replicate something that’s already out there, you’re not really filling any white space. You’re just creating more noise. You want to do things that will stand out, that will feel different, that are innovative. Doing your homework is important. Talk to as many people as possible. At least in the community I’m in, people are excited to share advice and help you out in the beginning.
Lauren Conrad and William Tell: Romance Rewind
E!: If you could go back and tell high school LC something, what would it be?
LC: I would tell my teenage self to be kinder to myself. I think most women need to hear that. I randomly last night came across an image of myself, maybe I was 19. And I’m in bathing suit, but, like, trying to cover up. And I remember just thinking, “That’s so wild. I looked great and I was so self-conscious. I wish I looked like that now!” I needed a pep talk.