…it’s important to spend time with people and create a culture of “love and family” where each person feels like they are running their own business. Even if it’s a large team, you can make it feel small.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Faraut. Elizabeth is the Creative Director and CEO of La LOOP, an eyewear business that has a cult-brand following in the US, and in Europe and Asia. Over the last 20 years, Elizabeth has created a new category for optical retailers, and now the products are sold in over 1,000 stores across 28 countries. Elizabeth spent her childhood in Paris, and after college joined the editorial team at Figaro Madame. After relocating to New York, she worked for various high-end companies like Guerlain and GUESS Jeans where she opened up retail markets throughout Europe, Asia and South America and became Director of Licensing. Elizabeth’s passion for social justice and desire to strengthen women’s voices prompted her involvement with the Rape Treatment Center (“RTC”) at Santa Monica-UCLA Hospital where she now serves as President of the Board of Advisors. In addition, Elizabeth is on the board of Downtown Women’s Center. She also serves on the Los Angeles Committee for Human Rights Watch, and is a 2015 Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute and a member of the Global Leadership Action Network.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me! I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Paris in the 1970’s and 80s. As early as I can remember, my parents were engaged and interested in connecting with people. They had an
appreciation for art, design and how things were made, and surrounded themselves with people who cared about what was going on around them and focused on how to make their community a better place. I was also fortunate enough to grow up amongst really inspiring women who were focused on making things, and giving back to their communities. When I was 15 I interned for two women who were writing a book on women who decide to make career changes. I learned so much from them about the importance of asking questions, working hard and realizing that you can create your own path. All this to say, I’ve had the good fortune of a multitude of different experiences in diverse cultures and I’ve learned to listen and take in my surroundings. I think all of those things have led me to where I am today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We were featured in the Bergdorf Goodman holiday catalogue about 5 years into starting the business, and shortly after, we were approached by HSN. At the time, I felt like the product had really gotten somewhere, and for me, the end all be all was to be in the Bergdorf Goodman Catalogue, as it felt like a stamp of success. We had also been featured in the MoMA catalogue and I finally felt like we were being recognized by the people I valued in the industry. When HSN called to have us develop a line for them, I recognized that I didn’t want to pursue that business. It was a decision I never thought I would make, as scaling seemed to be a main business goal. However, in that moment, I learned that saying no to opportunities was even more important than scaling. It taught me to really think through decisions and go with my gut.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was at a gem show in Tucson, Arizona where we were buying material for La LOOP. We are always looking for different kinds and I found this lava rock from Afghanistan that I absolutely loved. The supplier only had a few left, but I was so drawn to it that I followed him and ended up in his van, driving to a location to get more. I was on a serious quest for this rock, because I was sure it was right. However, being in a van with a strange man chasing after a gem felt like something out of a movie, and he ended up getting pulled over by the police because he ran a red light. It was quite the experience, all for this one stone. It was a great story to share with our customers.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think La LOOP stands out because of the engineering. We have a patent on a fashion item, and typically luxury accessories don’t have a tech component. Function is usually associated with something black and leather, and not something beautifully designed. Our marriage of function and fashion is what makes the brand so unique.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
It’s the 20th anniversary of La LOOP and so we are launching a campaign called Looped In, which highlights people making positive changes in their communities and allows these individuals to become part of a network to meet mentors, get involved in other causes, and become inspired to continue on their mission. I think this will encourage people to give back and bring attention to some of the positive things going on around us.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Find your true north… what matters most to you. Spend time reflecting and talking to people. It’s really hard work, but so worth it. It took me 20 years of running my business to find this within myself and quite honestly, I am still on this journey. Once you identify what truly matters to you, write it down and keep it visible (by your desk, in your wallet, on your phone). It makes it easier to make decisions once you know what this is.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I think it’s important to spend time with people and create a culture of “love and family” where each person feels like they are running their own business. Even if it’s a large team, you can make it feel small.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Within the first couple of years of La LOOP, we met Robert Marc in New York. He was well-established in the eyewear industry as a prominent Madison Avenue retailer and high end eyewear manufacturer. I remember being at a tradeshow and him introducing me to other retailers. It was a very helpful gesture, and we were able to make more connections from his introduction.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our Looped In campaign is focused on celebrating people who engage and bring good to their communities. We have seen that as individuals, when you meet someone else who is doing good, you are more inclined to do good yourself. Our goal is to inspire more people around the world to “loop in” to their local communities.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Be a good listener, but trust your gut.
You really have to be fearless.
I believe that you have to listen to your customers.
You have to be able to start over.
You have to be able to laugh it off.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would want to do something that would strengthen women’s voices and make them feel connected and empowered. We are able to lift each other up and help make a difference, and it’s even more achievable if we invest in each other.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Over the last two decades, I have learned a lot and worked hard for the things that matter to me. I have recognized that being fearless and daring greatly isn’t always glamorous, but it has led me to have a great sense of purpose and in looking back, it’s made me feel like I’ve been true to my voice.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
LISA HOLTON, 55 President of Classroom, Inc., an organization that works to close the achievement gap for low-income adolescents
Lisa is a board member of the New York Women’s Foundation, where she has worked with community-based organizations devoted to economic and social justice for women and girls. She is a trustee of The Carle Museum and is on the advisory board of First Book. She speaks regularly about the intersection of literacy and technology.