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Sunday, Mar 3, 2024

“Made in the Valley” a Moniker for Local Venture

In the era of mass produced, impersonal gifts stamped “Made in China”, Gail Lara is banking on the hunger for meaning that she says is rife in the current market, to catapult her new business venture. Her company Made in the Valley, which started in September 2008, sells a compilation of unique locally made goods produced by Valley women entrepreneurs. The products include custom made jewelry, organic skincare, tea, chocolates, perfume and T-shirts. Ten percent of all sales from the company’s catalogue and website will go to selected charities, infusing these products with additional value. “People are hungry for anything that has value, anything that has meaning,” Lara said at a recent meeting with some of the women entrepreneurs in Porter Ranch. “If you’re going to buy anything right now, you’re going to look for unique products that hold their value.” Made in the Valley, Lara said, also seeks to be an incubator of sorts, nurturing, guiding and supporting women entrepreneurs in their goal of growing their businesses. For this the women meet regularly to discuss business plans and forge relationships that have proven mutually beneficial. On a recent Wednesday, Lara and a group of women gathered around the kitchen table where Susan Kushnatsian makes her line of organic lotion bars, lip balms, facial treatments and moisturizers, right in her home. Some of the products of Kushnatsian’s ‘Bee Gorgeous Organics’ will be among the exclusive selection of gifts offered in the Made in the Valley catalog, which will begin circulating in the coming weeks. Already, Kushnatsian’s products, under the Made in the Valley umbrella, have made significant inroads as far afield as the White House. In June, Bee Gorgeous skin care products were delivered to the First Family in the Made in the Valley signature blue and brown Hawaiian themed bag. A few celebrity clients as well as a handful of high end spas, who now order her products, have begun boosting her business. “This is really a support network,” said Kushnatsian, who lacked the confidence and know-how to expand her home based business before meeting Lara last year. Through Made in the Valley, she has met other women in the healthcare industry and been able to exchange valuable business tips. “We help each other out. It’s hard to keep motivated especially when working out of your home.” Sheri Varela, who designs what she calls “self-esteem t-shirts” with positive messages through her company Sheri Baby T-Shirts, said Made in the Valley is all about camaraderie. “This is a comfortable open forum to discuss our businesses; it’s a warm, noncompetitive environment,” she said. Varela has also benefitted from this alliance of women entrepreneurs, learning to overcome fears through shared experiences and learning about everything from patenting to trade marking her shirts. Jennifer Hardaway, owner of KLEAN Bath & Body, designed two exclusive fragrances to be offered in the upcoming Made in the Valley catalog: Aloha Ginger Tea and Blue Hawaii. “We’ve also made friends,” she said, referring to the connections the women of Made in The Valley have developed with each other. Starting locally Initially, Made in the Valley will focus on reaching customers in the San Fernando Valley, said Lara. By next year she hopes to expand the concept to other areas like Santa Barbara and San Diego, finding products from local women entrepreneurs in those areas to sell in her catalog. Ultimately, the goal is to make the Made in the Valley logo a seal of approval – a recognized and coveted sign of value – for those products that are unique and locally made; those products that are about “sharing things made with care and love”. “Everybody has gifts and once you discover how to share them, that’s your purpose,” Lara said. Made in The Valley “is all about heart,” She added. Both Lara and her daughter Richelle L. Esqueda will also sell their own unique locally made products in the Made in the Valley Catalog. Lara will promote her Fabric Gift Wrap program, which aims to reduce waste by encouraging the use of creative and reusable fabric gift wrapping. Her daughter will sell a family designed product called “The Thinking Spot” which seeks to aide in administering discipline for children “that is both consistent and functional”. The idea for The Thinking Spot, Esqueda said, was inspired by her brother who was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, and came as a result of the many years of research and patience it took to understand the world through his eyes. A natural progression Made in the Valley is a culmination of Lara’s many professional experiences in the retail industry, she said. Born in Lompoc, Lara was raised in the San Fernando Valley and later lived for more than 20 years in Hawaii. There, she worked in the retail industry as a buyer and later as a sales and purchasing manager for Liberty House, the island’s major retailer. Back in the San Fernando Valley, she launched her own wholesale and retail business in 2004, importing merchandise from Hawaii, before coming up with the concept for Made in the Valley. “Working for corporate companies it became clear that I had hit the glass ceiling,” she said. “I always said I wanted to do something, start my own business. Then one day it came to me. What I wanted to do was help other women with their own businesses.” Apart from Made in The Valley, Lara also leads mentoring meetings every month at the Valley Economic Development Center, as a way to support other local women entrepreneurs.

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