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Monday, June 11, 2012

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Claire Theobald, President of Beatrix New York Our Coverage Sponsored by Folkmanis® Puppets

Claire Theobald

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Claire Theobald is President of Beatrix New York, a New York City-based company devoted to creating cool, contemporary stuff for kids. Although born and raised in Darien, Connecticut, Claire has been a Manhattanite for 24 years. She lives in a loft in Greenwich Village with her 11 year-old twins, Alex and Juliane, who help keep her finger on the pulse of children’s fashion trends.

Beatrix New York was founded in 2007. Armed with a B.A. in Architecture from Columbia University and an M., Architecture & M.F.A. in Graphic Design from Yale, Claire has had a lifelong interest in fashion. Thus, when shopping for her children’s first day of kindergarten, Claire felt hugely disappointed by the limited range of options for children’s backpacks. She ended up with Hello Kitty and Pokemon, but knew there had to be more parents like her, who yearned for sophisticated design and higher quality accessories for their children. She teamed up with her business partner, Creative Director, Marcus Woolcott, and initially produced just three toddler size backpacks with designs of a pig, dinosaur and penguin. The two took the bags to a trade show, ENK Children’s Club, at New York’s Jacob Javits Center to test the market. They were delighted by the positive feedback and quickly rolled out more styles. Additionally, they transformed the designs from animals to characters, who live together in a magical world called the Maakun Forest. There dinosaurs, owls, whales and ladybugs co-exist with talking ice-cream cones and flying robots.

Five years later, Beatrix now sells to high-end retailers in 30 states and 32 countries around the world including Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus. Their products combine a childlike love of whimsy and imagination with a grown-up sense of modern design and style. The company has expanded from backpacks to include lunch boxes, water bottles, luggage and stuffed toys. The next product category scheduled to make its debut: ipad cases. Beatrix New York products have been photographed on the children of celebrity parents including our own Piper: 
 Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Meg Ryan, Halle Berry, Liv Tyler, Tobey Maguire, Ashlee Simpson and Britney Spears. Additionally, Beatrix receives regular attention in print and online media, including the likes of O Magazine (which named Beatrix wheelie bags as the best children’s luggage), Vogue Bambini, People, Us Weekly and Harper’s Bazaar Japan.

Claire enjoys traveling, cooking, studying Italian, exercising, fundraising for schools she has attended and spending time with friends and family. She has also expressed interest in helping other entrepreneurs, especially women. Claire actually founded her company after staying home with her children their first five years of life. Her children were born at just 26 weeks gestation and with a 1 ½ pound birth weight and faced many health and development challenges in their early years. Once they stabilized and were about to start elementary school, Claire was pleased to find a successful way to re-enter the workforce after the five-year hiatus.  We are so pleased to present Claire Theobald as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Claire for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How did your own childhood affect your brand?
Claire Theobald: 
I wouldn't say that my childhood affected my brand directly. More accurately, my childhood made me not afraid of becoming an entrepreneur in a creative field. As a kid, I entered (and, sometimes I think to myself, strangely enough won) quite a few contests, everything from creating a birthday card for the Green Giant to designing a poster for the Great American Smoke-Out to writing an essay about colonial life for the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) to cooking at a national contest in Seventeen Magazine. I was lucky in that my parents always encouraged me to enter these contests. Winning built up a certain level of self-confidence and tolerance for risk.

What were your favorite childhood brands as a child and why?
My favorite childhood brand was Peanuts. I remember having a Snoopy sleeping blanket as well as both Snoopy and Woodstock stuffed animals. I was thrilled every time a Charlie Brown special played on television; some of those specials I am sure I saw a good twenty times. I was drawn into the nuanced and occasionally even complex world of the Peanuts characters. Also, I was a huge fan of the quality of Steiff toys, though my collection was limited to a few animals my parents picked up in Germany.

What are your favorite childhood brands as an adult and why? 
I think J. Crew does a fabulous job with their kids' line, Crewcuts. I am sure my kids wear at least one item of Crewcuts every day. I love the combination of classic styling with a modern edge. For something a little more rock and roll, Appaman does a great job, especially with tees. I am also very drawn to Imoga, a girl's line, which combines simple silhouettes with edgy materials.

What do you know now about building a brand that you wish you new the day you started your company?
When we first started, our look was a bit hodgepodge. Sales started to build once we started to define our look as brand. I wish we had found our vision a little earlier.

What future products do you hope to launch in addition to ipad cases?
We would love to create books and games based on the Maakun Forest creatures. Bedding and children's home accessories are high on the list for us as well. 

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My father, Tom Theobald, who instilled in me a healthy competitive streak balanced by a strong awareness of ethics and fairness.

What are you proudest of and why?
I am proudest of my two children, who were born severely premature and faced major developmental delays their first 4-5 years of life, but were just accepted into an honors program at one of Manhattan's best public middle schools.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Gosh, I feel pretty blessed already to have found something I love doing so much. Continuing to grow Beatrix could keep me happy for a long time.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
Oprah Magazine named our wheelie bag "best children's luggage" and our products were featured in the Vogue Bambini fashion show during Children's Fashion week.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
In my living room!

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Bergdorf Goodman and My Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (both for the occasional treats).

What is your favorite drink?
Dirty Martini with vodka. 

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
To be honest, while I love to attend cultural events and have dinner with friends, I am not a big fan of cocktail parties.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Without a doubt, Eleven Madison Park. Every dish served there is a work of art presented in an incredibly romantic setting.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
Augusten Burroughs' "Magical Thinking." I'll never forget his essay about dealing with a mouse in his bathtub. I have faced a couple of mice in my day, so I can appreciate Burrough's tough fight.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
Kate Middleton, a lovely young woman whose wardrobe just gets more and more fabulous. Being a princess for a day seems like just the right amount of time.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
A no-kill animal shelter. My various cats and dogs have been a steady source of joy over my lifetime.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
I have to make a plug here for Roberto Ritcher at Hanson Fitness. He has worked with me since 1998 and, in my humble opinion, is the best trainer in NYC. How many trainers can make you laugh hysterically while doing 200 sit-ups?

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Zigzag along 7th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A from Luke's Lobster to People's Pops to Porchetta to Butter Lane Cupcakes to My Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (see above).

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Gloria Steinem. I am able to take so much for granted on a day-to-day basis because of her efforts. I find Gloria Steinem especially fascinating because she was able to make these inroads in a much less evolved era while herself being knockout gorgeous.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
My children and I never tire of visiting the Cooper-Hewitt. Additionally, their drop-in family programs are top-notch.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
It may seem small but I aim to treat others as I would like to be treated myself and to give a smile to those I see without one. Additionally, I do fundraising for schools I have attended and give to charities I believe in, one in particular being the Wildlife Conservation Society.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
I think New York is underrated by outsiders for its family friendliness. There is an infinite list of activities and cultural institutions for children to take advantage of, plus the city has made incredible strides in developing green space over the past 10-15 years. 
Not often, but once in a while, do I find the value of being in New York on a cost basis to be overrated. For example, my relatives visiting from Kansas City recently stopped for lunch at a well-known Italian restaurant in midtown. The waiter told them that the salad special was white asparagus but didn't offer a price. When the bill arrived, my relatives learned that five spears of asparagus had set them back $50. Those types of stories make me a bit unnerved.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
I love Peachy Rabbits. I look forward to seeing many more bunny designs (additionally, this column has also lead me to the realization that Peachy and I graduated from the same high school, Miss Porter's School)!

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
Clearly I have been missing out on something special here! Hill Country has been on my list of "must try" restaurants so now I have further motivation for a visit.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
We at Beatrix thrive on customer interaction, so please feel free to contact us anytime with any comments or questions. Customer service is vital to us.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Via email at

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