Lauren Fennema, Confidants

Lauren is helping other women cut through overwhelming online clutter via Confidants- a new shopping experience that presents vetted brands and stories. From badass founders and motivated mamas to self-care specialists and adventurers, she’s been collecting inspiring stories and product faves from a great group of ladies. Retail Atelier sat down with her recently to learn about how she’s leveraging her previous experience in brand partnerships to build her new ecommerce venture.

Every brand I carry has a story, if I wouldn’t buy it… I wouldn’t want to sell it

Retail Atelier: Hi Lauren! Can you explain what inspired you to build Confidants?

Lauren: I love this question. The inspiration behind Confidants is a story that evolved over the years, but came into focus over the last 10 months. I spent the last 4-5 years scouting brands and building partnerships at Huckberry, an ecommerce destination for guys. After working with so many incredible brands, I craved the same curated, storytelling experience for women. That was my jumping off point. I was craving a destination that helped me discover high-quality, accessible brands that had soul and perspective, but that were also attainable.

Retail Atelier: How did you prepare to build this business?

Lauren: After leaving my job last fall, I went on a month-long road trip to decompress from startup life and rediscover what inspired me. I found that very few retailers, magazines, brands, etc. knew how to speak to me. I felt siloed, like I was only encouraged to be one type of woman, i.e. feminine, sexy, tomboy, professional. I knew that I wanted to celebrate my layered life and the many roles I play in a week or hobbies I enjoy in a season. I was confident that other women would feel similarly.

Retail Atelier: Describe Confidants, how have you translated your vision into a consumer experience?

Lauren: We know women are confident, creative, adaptable, badass, and beautiful. Living a multi-faceted life means they need a place to discover everything from their next power outfit to a pair of adventure proof boots. We sift through all the overwhelming online clutter to bring the freshest brands and stories to women in a curated online experience, like a department store but way cooler.

Retail Atelier: Your reach goes beyond digital, I know you’ve been hosting some wonderful offline experiences in San Francisco too!

Lauren: Because discovery is at the core of what we do, we can throw some pretty awesome events and pop ups. Seeing products in person is always inspiring, and with our brands, we’re aiming to help you express yourself and feel empowered to explore new styles, rituals, hobbies, etc. Besides moving product, we also want to bring people together. We’ve had 3 events from July to September where we have partnered with other local vendors like Verve Wine and The Floral Times, each one buzzing with energy. From these events, I’ve heard stories of women collaborating with each other, reaching out for dinner, creative brainstorms, freelancing, etc. I’m excited to build an offline presence as powerful as our online potential.

Retail Atelier: What are the main differences between what men and women need from a curated ecommerce experience?

Lauren: When it comes to the difference between male and female consumption, a few things come to mind: 1) Women care more about lifestyle fit - how does it fit into their day or special moment? 2) Men care more about usability - we tended to focus more on function and the versatility of the product at Huckberry. Women tend to shop with an aspiration or emotion in mind, they care about lifestyle as much as functionality. Thus, at Confidants, I look for products that will get my customers emotionally invested. Every brand I carry has a story, if I wouldn’t buy it… I wouldn’t want to sell it.

Retail Atelier: What are some brand partners that you felt a deep connection to and decided to partner with for launch?

Lauren: There is a really long list. I not only want to curate high-quality, inspiring products, but I also hope to be a destination that promotes the most women-led brands. Someday, I hope to be the biggest retailer promoting women-led brands.

  • Nisolo is a footwear and accessories brand that I’ve loved for years, based out of Nashville.  Their footwear and accessories collections are stunning, and very well made. From materials to craftsmanship, the design is exceptional and versatile. They do an incredible job keeping price points accessible, delivering high value for the customer. But more importantly, they are leading the way in fair trade, going above and beyond to build their own factories in Peru and Mexico that exceed regulations. One highlight I loved recently from their reports- women in particular have felt significant impact, reporting an annual income increase of 173% since joining Nisolo compared to previous employment. That’s the type of brand I want to invest in, and the type of brand I know my customers will love, if they find it. Nisolo is also co-founded by a woman.

  • Julia Szendrei is a talented jewelry maker and artist. She’s got a passion for color theory and gemstones, incorporating opals, lapis, labradorite, rose quartz, and more into everyday styles you can afford. I’ve worked with her for years and watched her work evolve- it’s inspiring.

  • Norden out of CA is a husband-wife duo who design goods that bring warmth into any space. I personally love their candles, made with all natural wax (coconut, apricot) that burns for 60-80 hours in scents like Big Sur (fresh eucalyptus, pine) and Hanalei (coconut, beach vibes). I’ve been a fan for years and have also watched their brand evolve into a full-blown home goods treasure trove.

Retail Atelier: Why did you decide to index on ecommerce as your primary retail channel?

Lauren: Great question. Ecommerce is the most adaptable way to launch a new brand. Ecommerce is also where all the money is going, as billions of dollars move online over the next 3-5 years. You may think ecommerce is old news, but when you look at consumer spending, we’re just getting started. Digital is also where my customer is. Building a seamless, interactive brand means we need to be where you are - available to purchase from your phone, on social platforms, here to text or chat if you have a customer service issue.

More practically, Ecommerce also has its advantages behind-the-scenes when it comes to inventory management, making it a smart place to start. Brick and mortar or a physical space is still top of mind, but as a bootstrapped company (for now), those dreams are a couple years away.

Retail Atelier: Who is part of your founding team? Do you also have a team of confidants that you’ve called upon?

Lauren: Technically on paper, I’m a solo founder and own 100% of my company. That said, I would not be here without the many contributions of talented friends, past colleagues, and a bay area community I’m grateful to call on. Designsake Studio is my partner for creative direction and branding, Danielle Bentz of Gal Collective graciously hosted my first popup, and Madison Kahn is my editorial consultant and constant source of inspiration. The Assembly is like my second home, packed with talented women, a few of which have volunteered their time and minds to this project. What I love about building a company for women is the community- there have been many women entrepreneurs and leaders behind the start of Confidants.

Retail Atelier: So exciting! Happy to hear that other women have been helping you get started. When do you launch and how can the rest of us get involved?

Lauren: We just had our launch party, and stay tuned for upcoming events this fall. For November, we’re hoping to collaborate with a few other women-led business on an evening of connecting (and shopping). I'll also be co-hosting a pop-up shop @ Vita in Rockridge, Sat 11/17, 1-5 pm. In addition, we will be hosting a holiday pop-up shop and party in early December. Hope to see you there!