Nicole Gibbons has always been acutely aware of her capacity to offer design advice beyond the confines of her interior design firm. “My goal has always been not just to start a design firm but to build a brand – to become known as an expert and be a go-to media personality in the home space,” says Gibbons, who started her design career as a blogger while working as global head of PR for Victoria’s Secret. Once she made the transition to design full time, she knew she had to be savvy about getting her name – and advice – out there. “I could only take on so many projects at a certain budget, so that meant only a few people could actually hire me, but I saw more opportunity to share my advice through media appearances,” she explains. Several morning show appearances, shelter magazine expert interviews, and a stint on House Made Simple on the Oprah Winfrey Network ensued. Now, Gibbons is applying that business savvy and democratic attitude toward home design to a new venture: a direct-to-consumer paint line.
Nicole Gibbons, interior designer and now founder and CEO of Clare.
Photo: Courtesy of Nicole Gibbons
“The old model to build a brand is to license your name,” says Gibbons of her decision to launch a start up rather than partner with a brand or design a capsule collection. “But now I think that landscape has changed so much that it’s harder to build a business like that. I saw the founders of Casper, Birchbox, Warby Parker starting these really innovative companies that created new ways of selling a product.”
With Clare, launching today, Gibbons hopes to do that for the paint world, by creating an accessible, direct-to-consumer offering that prioritizes ease of use and a simple, curated palette. And her role models mentioned above are no longer just sources of inspiration – many are either investors in the product or are backed by the same investors as Clare. Over the past year, Gibbons raised $2 million in funding from the likes of First Round Capital (a Warby Parker and HotelTonight backer), Imaginary (Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massinet’s fund), and Bullish (an investor in Casper, Peloton bikes, and Harry’s razors). Warby Parker’s Neil Blumenthal and Andy Katz-Mayfield, and Jeff Raider of Harry’s, are angel investors. “To be able to have these people as a resource is just incredible,” says Gibbons.
Walls painted in Wing It, left, and Views, right.
Photo: Courtesy of Clare
In its user experience, packaging, and collateral material, Clare feels fresh and young, not dissimilar to Casper. Gibbons worked with an illustrator to devise playful artwork for the site, and the paint cans and tools favor minimal packaging and sans-serif font. Of course, the packaging color was carefully considered, too: a soft yellow hue because “I think blue is overused in the startup space,” quips Gibbons.
As for the colors of the paint on offer, they’re limited to a 55-hue palette, culled down to prevent customers from feeling overwhelmed, and are offered in either eggshell or semigloss. “Most people aren’t lucky enough to be working with an interior designer who they can have make these choices for them, so when they have thousands of colors to choose from, it makes it really hard to find the perfect one,” says Gibbons, who tested more than 500 colors before making her selections. The final hues, in keeping with the brand’s playful feel, have cheeky, pop culture–inspired names, like Money Moves for a mint green that’s an ode to Cardi B, or Nairobi Blue, a subtle nod to Lupita Nyong’o’s iconic Oscars gown of a similar shade. Clare offers three shades of white: a blue-hued one, a warmer one, and one with no undertones. “We lead with color,” says Gibbons. “We leave out the technical terms because it’s color that makes it approachable, and that’s what most people are choosing.”
Avocado Toast, left, and Headspace, right.
Photo: Courtesy of Clare
For those who remain undecided after taking Clare’s online color quiz, the first three samples are free – and they come printed on a sticky-back paper that customers can peel and affix directly onto their walls. Though color comes first, Gibbons does take quality seriously, too. All Clare paint (which sells for $49 per gallon; $39 for primer and ceiling paint) is GreenGuard Gold–certified and non-VOC. The company also sells essential tools for painting, simplified so that “even if you’ve never held a paintbrush, these are really forgiving and they’ll help you get great results,” says Gibbons.
Gibbons is also committed to ensuring her relationship with the customer doesn’t end after the paint is dry. She’s also building out editorial on the site to provide the types of tips and advice on which she built her personal brand. And what about her design career? “Very quietly, about a year ago, I retired from being an interior designer,” says Gibbons, laughing. That said, she personally styled the photos on the Clare site, which put its colors in chic, inspiring context. Talk about translatable job skills.