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Inspiring Stories, Inspiring People

Raili Clasen, designer / entrepreneur

Raili Clasen, designer / entrepreneur

She made a name for herself in California’s surf industry, blazing trails at Quiksilver and launching Roxy with wild success. A VP at Paul Frank before starting Alice Supply Co., Raili Clasen recently moved beyond fashion design–and into home design. Flipping houses gave her an outlet for testing her skills, and now she has a roster of clients and the energy of a kid who just rode the perfect wave.

PPF: When you were little, what did you tell people you wanted to be when you grew up?

RC: OK don’t laugh, but I dreampt about selling nylons in a high-end department store. I used to go with my grammy to the fancy department stores, and the ladies who worked the nylon counter were always so glamorous and charming. The way they put their hands in the nylons to show the hue was almost an art form back then.

PPF: How long did that dream last?

RC: Not long, thankfully!

PPF: What was your first real job?

RC: Flight attendent for United Airlines–a nylon sales lady in the sky.

PPF: And what is your current job?

RC: My current business in interior design grew organically from remodeling my own homes, and helping friends and family with extreme makeovers of theirs. I have always obsessed over great interiors with a shot of whimsy. Interiors were a natural evolution from designing housewares for Alice Supply Co.

PPF:  You weren’t formally trained to be a designer. Can you tell me a little bit about the evolution of your career?

RC: I had a longstanding career in the fashion industry in sales, which was amazing financially. When I was pioneering the Roxy line for Quiksilver, I was spending just as much time with the design team as I was with accounts. I finally had the opportunity to leave my post as VP Sales for Paul Frank, so I dug out my two big files I’d been stuffing. One was design ideas, and the other was volunteer ideas for kids in the court system. I started Alice with my friend Maria, and also trained to be a CASA volunteer. That’s a court appointed special advocate. After we decided to license Alice, I put my house on the Newport Harbor home tour, made up some business cards and poof, started my design business with a hotel and three home projects.

PPF: Let’s start with your first career, if I may. What was it like to be living in California and working in the surf industry at its peak? Was it difficult to be a woman in that industry?

RC: Legendary. Business was growing so fast and furiously that I don’t think anyone had a chance to breathe. A woman going up along the men’s reps created a friendly rivalry, until I started making more than the boys–then it was not-so-friendly rivalry. I had a blast creating that brand and watching the women’s surf culture come alive.

PPF: Tell me what it was like to work at Roxy. What was your role there, and how did you help shape that brand?

RC: Amazing! Quiksilver hired me from a marketing job at Raisins swimwear to handle Roxy sales in Southern California. By the time I started, the other two reps in the U.S. had quit, so they said, “Ummm, you now have USA as your territory.” They were a fabulous company to work for, and the executives there were like my personal cheerleaders as this brand was ready to erupt.

PPF: Speaking of cheerleaders, was there a particular mentor, or a person who influenced your career in an unforgettable way?

RC: Yes! If I had to thank all the people that really, really, gave me a chance, I’d be pulled off the podium giving the acceptance speech, like at the Academy Awards.

PPF: I have long been a fan of Alice Supply. You figured out a way to make everything from a hammer to a plunger look good. Love the union jack tool box. I could go on. Can you tell me the story behind Alice Supply Co.?

RC: I had joined Paul Frank as their VP of sales and after five years, I hit a wall and needed a change. A big change. I told everyone I was taking a year off and 48 hours later, we decided to launch Alice. For a few years prior to leaving Paul Frank, five friends and I would regularly get together and brainstorm ideas for a new business. We all came from Quiksilver, and with our combined strengths—which covered design, merchandising, and production—we thought we made a good group to start a business. We all loved the idea of a print-based business…swimwear, bedding, textiles…and then one of the gals, Dana, said to the group, “I just want a cute broom that I can leave out in my house.” Well, three of the girls dismissed that comment, and Maria and I about jumped out of our skin with excitement. “That’s it!” I think at that point our brains went into overdrive, and we dove in head first. Along with brooms, we decided to make other cleaning supplies including hoses, buckets, plungers, you name it. Eighteen months later we launched at the New York International Gift Fair and immediately had a business attracting our favorite tastemakers. Our biggest hurdle was manufacturing. We had no strength in this area and were low priority for the factories we used. Our prices were extremely high, and eventually we needed to find a good home for our brand we built. We are currently shopping potential partnerships who can maximize our opportunities to grow.

PPF: Why Alice?

RC: Once we went crazy over the concept of creating hip housewares, we needed the perfect name. I thought of the most famous housekeeper on Brady Bunch, Alice. Her cheerful personality and starched white apron resonated with Maria and me, who had grown up watching the show. It certainly shows how much households have changed since then! We also knew we didn’t want to be limited to just cleaning tools, so we added “Supply Co.” After all, ping pong paddles and hot pink trophies are a staple in our line.

PPF: Speaking of staples. I have seen your closet—I took a look when we shot your house. Even your staples make such a statement. When you welcomed our photo crew at the door, I immediately thought, “This woman’s got style.” How do you define it?

RC: Oh my gosh, I so don’t take the serious fashion thing to heart. I love to have fun with clothes, but you won’t find many designer duds in there, except my really cool designer vintage scarves my hubby gave me. If my outfit looks too boring, I throw a pink belt on it.

PPF:  Did working in the fashion industry in various capacities make you more interested in interior design? How did you get so into decorating?

RC: Being in sales afforded me the luxury of buying and selling houses during the crazy real estate boom. We had a blast buying a few post and beam modern houses and cleaning them up and selling them. Everyone was a real estate flipper at that time. I miss those days. I have been interested in interior design since I was 12. You should have seen my room back in the ’80s! I didn’t have a dime after college, but that’s when the real creativity came out. Those design projects were some of my best.

PPF: You have had so many successes in your career. What has been the lowest point in your career?

RC: There were a lot in the surf industry—over-estimating what I could do caused some disappointment over the years. I definitely call those times teaching moments.

PPF:  What has been the highest point so far?

RC: I basically do not even know. I loved every step of the way, and I am so excited for this new chapter, I could scream.

PPF: What is essential to help you do your best work?

RC: A staff, which I do not have. I hate billing, accounting and filing.

PPF: Describe your version of the perfect day.

RC: Business or pleasure?

PPF: Maybe both.

RC: Business: Design ideas flooding the brain, and everything coming together. Pleasure: Family tennis.

PPF: What or who most inspires you and why?

RC: Really kind people. Kindness overrules smart, happy and rich. No one talks about your money at your funeral.

PPF:  What job could you never, ever do, no matter how broke you were?

RC: Surgeon

PPF: When have you been most daring in your life?

RC: Oh, that is private but it involved confronting someone very, very close to me not knowing how the outcome would go.

PPF:  When have you been most afraid?

RC: See my last answer.

PPF: What is the best advice you ever got?

RC: Be your husband’s girlfriend.

PPF: What’s on your bedside table right now?

RC: iPad, reading glasses, Carmex

PPF: What’s the trip you keep talking about taking one day?

RC: Africa

PPF: First concert you ever went to?

RC: Donny Osmond with my mom and brother

PPF: Best concert you ever went to?

RC: Carole King

PPF: Song that would be the title track to the soundtrack of your life?

RC: “I Feel the Earth Move” … Carole King again

PPF: Best meal you ever had?

RC: Anything I don’t make.

PPF: What are you really good at that might surprise a lot of people?

RC: The running man

PPF: If you could interview someone and ask him/her these questions, who would it be?

RC: Carole King

One Comment

  1. When I grow up I want to be Raili! AWESOME!!!!

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