Leather has been a major part of Liz Thayer’s life since even before she was born. Her great-grandfather managed the family boot manufacturing company in Manhattan in the late 1880’s and despite the fact that the business closed at the height of the Great Depression, the legacy left such an impression on the designer that she followed in her ancestors’ footsteps — literally — by working in the same industry.
After designing footwear and accessories for other big brands, Liz forged her own path in 2009 by starting a leather goods line that she named after the former family business. Claflin, Thayer & Co. offers locally made pouches, bags, and outerwear that are carried by beloved retailers including Love Adorned and Ali Golden. Then last year Thayer opened her own sweet little shop in Oakland’s shopping hub, Temescal Alley, that stocked her brand as well as other indie favorites like Hansel From Basel, Noto Botanics, and Thief And Bandit.
What she’s created with both her brand and her brick-and-mortar inspired us to find out the story behind how Claflin, Thayer & Co. came to be, as well as the important retail trend she’s seeing locally, and where you’ll find her on a day off.
You previously worked for some big fashion brands. What made you realize you wanted to start a smaller, more personal venture?
All of my previous jobs have kind of led up to doing my own thing, something I've always considered but that felt too risky. I finally just hit a point where I knew it could endlessly be a side project, but I'd never realize its full potential unless it became my focus. I left my full-time job towards the end of 2017 and opened the Temescal shop in December.
How did you settle on what products to create with your brand?
I knew I wanted to create a business doing what I enjoy and making the things that felt special to me. I love leather for the way in which it evolves and gets more beautiful with wear. It has so much character and I want that to show in each piece I make. I get the most satisfaction making things that are functional and have a purpose, which is why outerwear and bags really appeal to me. The jackets are designed around classic styles that will never feel outdated. They are built-to-last, meant to be worn hard and broken-in, and will only get better with age. I like to keep things from feeling too serious, though, so I also make things like the lips bag design, which always makes people happy.
I love leather for the way in which it evolves and gets more beautiful with wear.
What do you love about working in and having a physical retail space in Oakland?
Having a retail space is an amazing way to get direct feedback daily. I watch people try jackets on, review fit, listen to their needs, see what they are buying and what they aren't. That way I can react quickly based on the feedback I get. Since I make much of what's in shop and do the sewing right there, I can share the process with customers, which makes them feel more connected to the product. It's also really wonderful to be surrounded by the other creative businesses in the Temescal Alley. Many are owned by powerhouse ladies that have taken their talents and built successful and sustainable businesses. It's very motivating to be in their company and I feel well supported here.
What trends are you seeing coming out of Oakland right now?
I think more than any particular trend, I'm noticing a rise in activism and an increase in community involvement due to the current political state. People are feeling more empowered than ever before to celebrate differences and diversity and that trickles down to everything from food to fashion. Oakland is a good place to be, and I'm happy to be part of it.
Fill in the blank:
On a day off, the first thing I want to do is _______.
Go to a beach or river.
My favorite accessory is ______.
My party trick is _______.