Kelley Lehner, , isn’t what you’d expect from a woman in the fashion industry. She isn’t about big city life or being decked out in the latest runway trends. In fact, the reason why she and her family now live in La Selva Beach was to get away.
“I was done with the big city life,” Lehner said having lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for years prior to moving to La Selva Beach.
So with that, Lehner and her husband, Bruno, packed up and moved to La Selva Beach. They had their son Nico and in 2003, Lehner founded Klub Nico.
“Nico was a baby,” Lehner said. “He was literally in my lap when I started the company. It was a challenge.”
Lehner then went on to discuss her decision to start a shoe company.
“I love shoes. They’re fun, useful and most women love them. Knowing I had Brazil to help me and their expertise really gave me the confidence to move forward,” Lehner said.
When asked about Lehner’s work with factories in Brazil, she explains that her experience having lived and worked there helped her decision to produce products there.
“Brazil’s No. 1 export is airplanes. Their No. 3 export is shoes,” Lehner said.
Lehner started the company without much knowledge of the fashion industry having working in marketing and market research before her decision to start Klub Nico.
“It’s a complex industry.” Lehner said. “I jumped in with no mentor. There’s a lot more to business than just coming up with cute shoes.”
But being located in such a small town hasn’t interfered with her wholesale shoe business. Lehner explains that she wanted to live in a small town for her family. Having lived in Rio for many years, she knew it’d be difficult to raise her children in a big city.
Lehner’s reason for starting her business in La Selva Beach specifically was because she was familiar with the area while growing up.
“I grew up in Carmel but my parents had a beach house here,” Lehner said.
The beautiful scenery too serves as an inspiration for the designs of Klub Nico.
“It’s very organic,” Lehner said. “Trends come from different silhouettes and color palettes but inspiration comes from life.”
This inspiration is then used to produce two collections a year—a Spring/Summer collection and Fall/Winter collection.
While thousands if not millions of shoes out on the market today, Lehner is confident in her designs at Klub Nico.
“The use of different materials and different leathers that are somewhat unexpected but could go really well together is what sets us apart,” Lehner said.
And often times, there are so many designs out on the market that are too extreme and outrageous for the everyday woman to wear. Lehner makes sure that Klub Nico is everything but that.
“At the end of the day, it has to be something that I would wear,” Lehner said of her designs.
Another important factor that Klub Nico focuses on is versatility. In this economy, it’s practically impossible for a woman to buy a new pair of shoes for every event in her life.
“A lot of our special-occasion shoes can go from day to evening,” Lehner said. “A silhouette that’s fun, fresh and contemporary but still classic can be kept in the closet for many years.”
Klub Nico focuses on unexpected combinations of leather and colors. They focus on quality pieces that will last.
During the beginning stages of Klub Nico, Lehner’s main goal was to become profitable. Now that she’s accomplished that, she’d love to grow her branded business and private label business. Eventually, she’d also like to get into retail as well.
Lehner takes care of all facets of the company from the business side to the fun designs that Klub Nico produces.
“Once you find your mode, it’s a lot easier to be inspired,” Lehner said.
Lehner’s inspiration for her current Spring 2012 collection comes from her travels to an old farm in Rio. The colors and textures she saw during her visit inspired much of her collection.
Klub Nico is available at 162 retailers nationwide including local boutiques Shoe Fetish, In Her Shoes and Toss Designs. The shoes are also available through Endless.com, Garnet Hill catalog and Sundance catalog. Locally, they're sold at .
Editor's note: This is one in a series about unique Watsonville businesses. Read more here.