Democracy Clothing Founder Caren Lettiere on How She Creates Style Mavens, Not Fashion Victims

Plus her take on Diane Von Furstenburg, Martha Stewart, Adele, and Oprah.

Photo: Courtesy of Democracy Clothing
Photo: Courtesy of Democracy Clothing

Fueled by a drive to fill a glaring void in the marketplace for the unmet fashion needs of women like herself, along with her deep desire to keep up-to-date in flattering and age-appropriate clothing, Caren Lettiere created Democracy Clothing. Founded as a denim-based and casual lifestyle collection best known for its innovative "Ab" Solution jeans and pants with fit technology, Democracy embraces women of all shapes and sizes, providing them with confidence-building, modern clothing that fits their bodies (and wallets). Almost immediately before the pandemic, Democracy launched a shoppable e-commerce site to facilitate a closer connection to the label's loyal customers. Today, Lettiere is leading a dynamic team through a period of tremendous growth.

After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor's in Political Science, Lettiere embarked on her non-traditional career path into fashion. She began in sales at Rampage Clothing Company where she co-founded CDC and helped it become a leader in daytime, cocktail, and special occasion dresses. She then established the Trilogy Contemporary Sportswear division and, serving as President, held responsibilities in sales and design.

Prior, she joined Kellwood Apparel as President of XOXO to help assimilate the newly acquired brand into the company. After establishing Rewind/Jolt as a junior fashion industry leader, she identified a lack in the marketplace for the needs of women like herself who were frustrated at the inability to find on-trend clothing to fit their ever-changing body shapes. This, combined with her friends' consistent requests for style advice, caused her to embark on the idea that would evolve into Democracy Clothing. With this under-served consumer in mind, Democracy was born and founded on the principle of "Curve Equality" – which acknowledges that all body shapes are different, yet equal.

We caught up with Lettiere to learn more about her background, her daily routine, and more as part of our weekly '10 Questions' series where we explore L.A. through the eyes of its coolest citizens.

Tell us about your background?

I have always loved fashion. Although I worked in retail throughout my high school and college years in order to support my wardrobe, my path to brand-building was paved by a degree in political science. The analytical skills that I honed coupled with my creativity gave me the perspective to design via observation, which I channeled into white space opportunity. Democracy Clothing was created in order to fill a void that I experienced as a woman who grew up with fashion but then got busy with life. I knew what trends were in style but couldn't find them to fit my post-baby body and set out to create a casual lifestyle brand, anchored in denim that would flatter and fit all shapes and sizes.

Who were your role models growing up and who are they today?

I am so fortunate to have an inspirational role model in my own mother. She has always had an incredible joie de vivre that continues today. Her love for culture, theatre, travel, education, and reading is infectious and she taught me to appreciate those things from an early age. She raised three daughters and had the ability to always make us all feel unconditionally loved, embraced us for our uniqueness, as well as encouraged and supported each of us to chase our dreams. Having that as a foundation gave me the courage to take leaps of faith and to trust in my instincts. Most importantly, I learned that being present and involved with my family while pursuing my career goals is integral to my own fulfillment. 

Besides my mother, I'd have to say that Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey have had a tremendous impact on how I view the power of women and how much they can accomplish. Martha Stewart was really the first female entrepreneur who took "homemaking" to another level. She was able to parlay her expertise in cooking, cleaning, gardening, decorating and made it accessible, exciting and aspirational. Watching her become a mogul with a magazine, product lines and retail partners while following her passions was inspirational.

And of course, there is Oprah. Besides her incredible life journey, Oprah has demonstrated that it is possible to be your true, authentic self, connect meaningfully with your fans, and inspire millions with an honest message. She is a philanthropic powerhouse and a visionary. I love that she has traveled her path to success with the support of an incredible team, including her bestie by her side.

From a fashion perspective, I admire Diane Von Furstenburg. Although she didn't have a fashion background, she had impeccable style and was able to build an empire around a single silhouette – the wrap dress. She identified a need in fashion and did it simply and beautifully. She also managed to re-emerge later in life and expand upon her initial success. 

Do you listen to music or podcasts while working? If either, what are your jams or channels currently?

My favorite podcast is Guy Raz's "How I Built This." I love hearing about the different, yet similar journeys of the brand founders that he interviews. I attended his "How I Built This" Summit and I discovered that each speaker shared a common theme to their journey; they identified a problem that needed to be solved, and then set out to solve it – undeterred even if they didn't have the background or expertise in that area. Ultimately, it was their passion and drive that pushed them forward. I can identify with how their initial ignorance in their space turned out to be a blessing. Like many of those interviewed, had I realized how daunting some of the challenges on my path would be, I might not have persevered.

My musical tastes run the gambit from a good classic rock station filled with nostalgic bands like the Eagles and The Beatles to my favorite current musicians John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Adele

Other than running the business, what does your ideal day look like from waking up to falling asleep?

I am blessed to absolutely love what I do and I truly look forward to each day. I find that starting my day early with a good workout is the best way to have a productive day throughout. It energizes me both mentally and physically, and since Covid began, I've had the opportunity to take Zoom strength training courses with my daughter. That is something new for us and it enables us to start our day together and share time that we might not have otherwise. 

Of course, once the workout is over I love to savor my morning coffee while reading the paper. My ideal day includes visits with family and friends, popping into my favorite neighborhood stores, an afternoon manicure/pedicure or massage, and a yummy dinner out with my husband. 

Where are some of your top stops in L.A.?

Start out with the farmers market in Brentwood, then take a nice walk towards the beach in Santa Monica, where we can have brunch at Elephante's outdoor patio with spectacular views of the beach. From there, we embark on a curated boutique-shopping trip on Montana Ave (Femelle, Jill Roberts) before hitting PCH and heading up to Palisades Village (towne by elyse walker, Boca). Last, but not least, we venture onto Abbot Kinney in Venice (Heist). Dinner on the patio at Charcoal in Venice makes for the perfect day.

What about your brand are you most excited about in the next year or so?

I am most excited about seeing what an impact we have made as an industry leader in the inclusivity space. Democracy was literally founded on the principle of "Curve Equality." We have never assigned a value to size, only to a woman's right to be able to access good-fitting, fashionable clothes. Fashion is ageless and finding confidence-building clothes – especially jeans – has been life-changing. With the growth of our website and my appearances on HSN, I now have the ability to connect in real-time with our loyal followers. Hearing them share how good we have made them feel about themselves in our jeans is the ultimate gratification.

Who or what is your favorite fashion brand in L.A. that is doing something particularly beautiful, inspiring, or innovative with their craft?

Although there are brands that I admire for their unique style prism, like Burning Torch, I want to give a shout-out to Stitch Fix for their innovation. Stitch Fix has really made such an impact in equal access to fashion and style by eliminating the need to know where to shop or being geographically close to those stores.

You're sitting down with your 20-year-old and 80-year-old selves. What are those convos like?

I would say the single most important thing to tell my 20-year-old self is to follow your passion and believe in your ability to do whatever you set your mind to. Success is the intersection of passion, tenacity, and work ethic. It is a true collaboration of timing and faith. I find success to be the most fulfilling when it is achieved as a result of a shared experience. Like our families at home, the work family helps to shape your future and give purpose and joy to what you do.

To my 80-year-old self, I'd say never put an expiration stamp on your vitality or relevance. Age is just a landmark identifying the path of this continued journey. It does not define it nor restrict it. Do not lose your passion, sense of purpose, or confidence in your ability to continue to make an impact.

Walk us through how you derive your inspiration for your pieces.

Democracy is a casual lifestyle brand anchored in denim and known for feminine details, luxurious fabrics, and exceptional value. My goal is to filter and interpret current trends in an affordable and accessible way. I am constantly shopping and when I discover a new trend, I try it on to see if it authentically fits the Democracy brand. I road test these looks to evaluate if there are any style lines in the construction that can be improved upon to flatter a woman's shape. I want to curate looks that create style mavens, not fashion victims.

We begin each collection with prints in colors that inspire us and build around that premise. Each month's collection philosophy is based on the logic of how a woman thinks as if she were packing a suitcase for a trip. What is the weather like? What occasions am I dressing for? What am I loving in my closet that I know I plan to wear? By creating feminine pieces with flattering style lines, we can help our Democracy customers integrate our new collection into their existing wardrobe.

Which fashion trends are you happy to see fade away and which are you happy to see more of?

Honestly, the fashion trend that I am happiest to see fade away is the industry dictating to women what is in and what is out. I am so glad to see the emergence of so many different fits and leg shapes in denim being worn at the same time. Women who are fans of skinny jeans can have the confidence to continue to wear them and not feel compelled to adopt rigid "mom" jeans. That being said, I am loving this new utilitarian styling; think carpenter pants fabricated in both denim and non-denim. I'm also a big fan of yummy cozy fuzzy textured shackets.

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