BRIDGET BROWN AND her photographer husband, Nick, understand the joys, frustrations, opportunities and challenges faced by entrepreneurs and brands offering sustainably and ethically made products. The couple has deep and broad experience in these categories, getting their start by building and selling uber-successful Bella Bridesmaids (BB). Next they launched the luxe, vegan, cruelty-free, American-made handbag and accessory brand Filbert.
The Browns make their business decisions just as they make their life choices — upholding strongly felt values and pursuing personal passions.
All of this means the Browns are ideally suited to make meaningful impact with their recently launched third business, Advisory Guild, which works with primarily female-owned brands looking for growth strategies or to solve problems.
“Advisory Guild is approachable business consulting for creative entrepreneurs,” says Bridget, a petite sandy brunette with mesmerizing blue eyes, in an interview in our Sausalito office. “We’re like an on-demand CEO or board. We’ve been through all the highs, lows and struggles.”
A sassy Southerner at heart, Bridget grew up and graduated from college and law school in Mississippi, then moved to San Francisco, where she met Nick, a Brit from North Yorkshire. They both come from entrepreneurial families: her mother owned a school supplies business; his family manufactures fire engines. In 2000, the couple founded BB in Cow Hollow.
“Basically, we sold cocktail dresses moonlighting as bridesmaids’ dresses,” Bridget declares with a big grin. “Our timing was perfect.” Before BB, no one offered such chic options. “After only a few months, we were receiving phone calls from brides all over the U.S.” They eventually expanded to 43 locations, then sold to a mother-daughter team in Chicago.
In and in 2016 they launched Filbert, at a price point well below Stella McCartney, the other main “luxe” vegan accessories provider at the time.
Bridget candidly admits to Filbert’s challenges, including difficulty meeting a long list of beneficial social-impact criteria while using small-batch manufacturers in the USA. “There isn’t the same commitment to craftsmanship here as there is in Italy,” she says. “We’ve already tried 10 manufacturers.” But they aren’t giving up either. By the end of summer, the Browns hope to have launched a new, simpler line — made from U.S.-produced denim, canvas and organic cotton. “This will be more on trend with lifestyles now too.”
The Browns recently rejiggered their own home life: Now they spend more time in Tahoe, where Nick also works as a ski instructor, and commute frequently back to their boat in Sausalito. With Bridget’s sisters and nieces growing up in Marin, they don’t want to miss dance recitals, birthdays and other extended-family moments. In this era of teleconferencing, they otherwise could grow their advisory business and e-commerce retail site from wherever they chose.
Bridget observes that many female entrepreneurs differ from their male counterparts. “Female entrepreneurs crave community and connection — and they ask for help more.” Advisory Guild is designed to provide a safe and empowering arena for that. Without advertising or even a company website, the company has already attracted clients from the wellness, bridal, conscious clothing and other product-based businesses.
All signs currently point to rapid growth for the advisory concept. But no matter what the future brings, Bridget and Nick are committed to navigating it by being as helpful as possible to others, using processes that make the world better, and living life fully.
The San Francisco Bay Area is many things, but synonymous with fashion it is not. While cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles have distinct footholds in the apparel field, the design we’re more often affiliated with involves iPhones and other devices. But it makes sense that the Silicon Valley ethos of sustainability and streamlining would bleed into local clothing culture. In the Bay Area, e-commerce — especially in direct-to-consumer brands and the secondhand market — is what’s making a splash. From Everlane, which makes apparel and shoes from recycled materials in ethical factories, to The RealReal, which sells luxury consignment online, here are some local clothing brands making a positive impact.
Susan B. Noyes is the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of Make It Better Media Group, as well as the Founder of Make It Better Foundation’s Philanthropy Awards. A mother of six, former Sidley Austin labor lawyer and U.S. Congressional Aide, passionate philanthropist, and intuitive connector, she has served on boards for the Poetry Foundation, Harvard University Graduate School of Education Visiting Committee, American Red Cross, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Annenberg Challenge, Chicago Public Education Fund, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New Trier High School District 203, and her beloved Kenilworth Union Church. But most of all, she enjoys writing and serving others by creating virtuous circles that amplify social impact.