Meet internationally renowned designer Lea Farah, a graduate from the prestigous Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts to now founder of the elusive bridal accessory boutique brand Centimes Bourgeois. Centimes Bourgeois is more than just a bridal accessory boutique; it is home to more than a 100 signature pieces. Each and every precious Centimes Bourgeois piece is entirely handmade using the finest pearls, making grand use of timeless Swarovski rhinestones, gemstones and diamonds. So as it goes, we find out how Lea went from trying to bring her designs to life in the back of her 4×4 to now catering to all tastes and occasions worldwide.
Hey Léa, can you introduce yourself to us?
Hello there, I’m Léa Farah. I’m known for my brand Centimes Bourgeois. It’s a line of bridal accessories, namely headpieces; crowns, tiaras, hair accessories- you name it.
Can you take us through your journey as to how you arrived at where you are now?
It’s really a long story. Let me just go over the important bits. I graduated from ALBA (Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts) with a Bachelor in Interior Design. Soon after that, I noticed my interest in jewelry. It was a very particular type of jewelry- hair jewelry. I went to London where I got a Master’s Degree in Jewelry Design from the University of Central St. Martins. During that time, I was also taking classes in Gemology at the Gemological Institute of America.
Soon enough, I came back to my home country already planning to share my newly-earned knowledge with the world. One headpiece after the other, one bride at a time, I started my journey.
What are a typical 24 hours like for you?
During the wedding season? Every 24 hours is like 48 hours.
Can you tell us how you launched Centimes Bourgeois?
I launched Centimes alone, from the back of my 4×4 trying to bring my designs to life. Hand-twisting and hand soldering with crystals all over my backseat.
What was the incentive behind it?
Back then I was just a dreamy college student with a lot of projects, and I got carried away with a few of them.
Currently, you sell online via your own channel, but what other platforms are you using to gain exposure and fulfill bigger distribution orders?
We’re in the process of launching our online store- We can’t wait! We rely on social media. Plenty of brides who place orders do so because they’ve seen us on Instagram.
What does your company structure look like?
It looks a lot like a straight line, as we don’t believe in hierarchy. We all strive to make CB better and put our brides at the heart of our work.
As you continue to grow, what important factors did you consider when looking at the scalability of your business model?
I started alone. I was the designer, the craftsman, the secretary, the driver.This allowed me to cut on cost and experience first-hand what this company needed. Soon after that, when the business became lucrative, I was able to afford help. Thankfully, I’ve met the right people and now I have all the help I can possibly need. Our growth curve is impressive, but it wouldn’t be so if we didn’t get our hands dirty every day.
My team’s motto is, learn it to earn it. We’re plumbers, drivers, designers, writers, social media experts, photographers- and the like!
Where can you see yourself within the next 3-5 years?
I won’t say crowning the Queen of Spain but perhaps somewhere along those lines.
How are you planning to expand Centimes Bourgeois Headpieces?
Centimes has had a pulse of its own ever since it started. Planning is important, but listening to the market needs and to my brides gets me there faster. Centimes has partnered up with a few designers, and resellers. I get requests every day, and the door is always open for those who know how to do business.
Can you tell us what areas you have struggled in professionally as an entrepreneur?
Sadly, and though many a time I’ve had the privilege of having someone hold the door open for me in reality. It just hasn’t happened figuratively. It’s been a long way, and a young female entrepreneur has to kick the door open to make it. So, I lifted my dress and did exactly that.
Have you ever had any mentor? If so how has this benefitted you to grow?
Indeed, my first mentor was one of my college professors. He saw the entrepreneur in me and encouraged me to take my designs for a spin on other people’s heads. Whenever I faced a real obstacle, we’d have long phone calls and bottomless cups of tea. I’m still quite grateful. He’s a visionary man, and his support meant the world to me.
What outlets do use to market Centimes Bourgeois Headpieces?
Strangely, we don’t do much marketing. Our social media accounts and word of mouth have got us this far. We don’t believe in promoting posts, so that we can always say that we made it “this” far organically. We’re barely 5 years old and we already have return customers.
Which methods are you using to build your own network?
To me it’s pretty simple; connect with people who share a similar vision, create win/win situations and think well of people! I’m approachable, and I think – whether in business or outside of it – connecting with others is a fundamental need.
What do you believe are the common misconceptions about being a retail entrepreneur?
What most people fail to understand is how extremely delicate creating a brand could be. The brand has to stand out, have its own identity and excite a particular emotion. Clients are not just buying the headpiece; they are buying Centimes Bourgeois. Every message, every post, every package and every design have to complete that initial impression which has been projected. You cannot break character, and that is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of being an entrepreneur.
Another misconception is that once a company has become well-known, the workload lessens. In truth, the more renown the brand, the harder one has to work to prevent others from copying it. These fast-followers will feed off of your hard work and – without any respect for intellectual property – attempt to reproduce your own designs. Fortunately, to this date, Centimes has avoided being the victim of piracy, but we discover a new attempt every other day.
What would you like to see changed for millennials in business?
I wish it were easier for startups. Though social media and technology have made plenty of things more accessible to everyone, it is quite challenging for startups to make it in a world filled with such renown brands. It makes me quite happy that people are steering away from conventional career paths, and I hope they will continue to do so.
What is the best piece of advice you have received to date?
When you’re a young entrepreneur and your business exceeds your expectations, things escalate quickly. Chances are, your business’s infrastructure is not ready to take on this load so you’re constantly obsessing over every last detail.
One of my college friends had traveled to Lebanon to see me, and I was showing them around the atelier when someone accidentally spilled thinner over a headpiece that had to be dispatched that same day. I couldn’t believe it, we had spent more than 8 hours putting that piece together earlier that day.
I didn’t notice I had trouble breathing until my friend took my hand, sat me down, and said, “Repeat after me”. That day, she taught me the Serenity Prayer –
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Since then, I recite this prayer every time things get too complicated.
How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life?
Luckily, I have a great team that I can trust. This allows me to go on vacations from time to time, and this is how I recharge to come back and do it all over again.
What was the highlight of your career so far?
I am a rather emotional individual, so when you ask about the highlight of my career, it’s not going to be that I was featured here or there.One of my brides came to me one day with a special request. She wanted to restore her mother’s headpiece. The piece was ancient and reconstructing it meant looking for gems that were used more than 50 years ago. It was a challenge, but we did it. On the day of her wedding, the bride came out wearing the headpiece her mother wore on her own wedding some decades ago. I was invited to and attended the wedding. That moment was so emotionally charged, the mother was crying, the bride was crying, and I felt overwhelmed and blessed to have been part of the reason for someone else’s tears of joy. This incident was the highlight of my career.
What gives you ultimate career satisfaction?
A woman’s wedding day is a day that she will remember for most of her life. To know that I am part of such a big day makes me feel like my work has substantial value. I often act as a fashion consultant, and that gives me great pleasure; to feel that I have made someone’s life easier by sharing my expertise.
Which other leading entrepreneurs and pioneering game changers do you also admire and why?
Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, is one of the people I look up to and identify with. Of course, she has her own story, and I have mine, but somehow, we started off the same way; I from the back of my car, and she from her small apartment.
Richard Branson’s, the founder of Virgin, his worldview inspires me. Also, both Blakely and Branson have carried out plenty of charity work; they’ve given back a lot to the community that got them to where they are. And I think that’s something quite admirable. Oprah Winfrey is yet another inspiring figure…
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
‘Shoe Dog: A Memoire.’ It’s so inspiring and so well-written. It will lift you up and put you down; keep you at the edge of your seat. I never thought that Phil Knight would be such an interesting figure. You need to read the book to understand what I am talking about.
How do you measure your own terms of success?
For me, success is being able to go home at the end of the day knowing that I have spread happiness around me. Success is not just having a productive day but also knowing that no obstacle was able to stand in my way.
Lastly, what is next for you and Centimes Bourgeois Headpieces?
As we’ve mentioned before, we’re in the process of launching our online store. So that’s next within the near future. After that, we’re moving to our new location in Dbayeh where we will be able to cater to brides with even higher standards. Soon after, we’re planning to launch two new collections: Centimes Bourgeois – Ready to wear & Centimes Bourgeois – Privé which will be an upscale of the collection we have right now.