In this episode, Daniella Clarke talks about how she met, fell in love with, and ran away with her rockstar husband… Oh, and how she built a multi-million dollar brand from scratch with no business training!
Daniella Clarke is a fashion visionary with a rock ‘n roll background. She met, fell in love with, and married guitarist Gilby Clarke. Not long after that, they set off on tour with his band, Guns N’ Roses.
She was inspired to become a designer after people kept asking about her unique jeans! She launched a brand, Frankie B., & took the market by storm with her instantly-recognisable low-rise silhouette.
Her brand was built around LA’s free-thinking rocker-chick spirit, with one guiding design principle: when you turn around and look in the mirror, you want a good view!
Since then, her brand has been worn by Jennifer Lopez, Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Miley Cyrus, Kate Hudson, Megan Fox, Fergie, Katie Holmes, & Jessica Alba, to name just a few!
Did we mention that she’s also Lilach’s sister?!
What You’ll Hear
- [5:27] About Daniella Clarke and her background
- [17:05] Niching down
- [20:53] Standing on her own two feet
- [33:50] From humble beginnings to 1mil+
- [37:59] Play to your strengths
- [39:44] Managing a business & a child
- [44:00] About the money
- [46:03] The importance of partnerships
- [47:21] Life on the road
- [55:20] Where Daniella is today
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About Daniella Clarke and Her Background
In Daniella’s own words, “It’s kinda a wild story!” She’s always had an interest in fashion. Her mom got her a sewing machine when she was 12 years old, & she went to work on her mom’s clothing!
At the age of 16, Lilach & Daniella’s father was living in the US & she was living in South Africa. Daniella & her siblings went over to the US to see her dad for the summer holidays. They went walking around Hollywood Boulevard & a band was filming a video for MTV. It was exciting, so they stood around & watched for a bit.
Daniella noticed the guitarist standing on top of a convertible, ripped-up jeans, eyeliner, hair all over the place… And he saw her too. He sent the makeup artist over to call her & they hit it off right away.
She lied (!) and told him she was 23! They started dating & it got serious quite quickly. When it was time for her to go back to South Africa, she put her siblings on the plane & told them she wasn’t going back. She didn’t tell her parents, but just took off with Gilby!
He only found out how old she really was 6 years later when they went to get their marriage licence! When they arrived back from their honeymoon, there was a message on their answering machine from Slash, asking Gilby to audition for Guns N’ Roses.
Two weeks later, he joined the world’s biggest rock band. She joined him on tour & discovered that all these musicians had the freedom to just be who they are, which inspired her to do the same.
At this point, she saw some footage of Robert Plant in reeeeeally tight jeans, which made her start modifying her own jeans to make them lower & tighter. Gilby liked it & asked her to do the same for his. Then his friends wanted it done to theirs… Then her friends did too!
People would stop her in the streets & ask about her jeans. She was stopped at the mall by an actress, Lara Flynn Boyle, who commissioned a pair from her. At that point, a lightbulb went off in her head & she realised… She should start her own fashion line.
At that point, Daniella was doing a lot of style photography, which she believes contributed to getting her to this point. Between photography & her modelling experience, she understood lighting, angles, & aesthetics.
So before she even started her line, she knew how she wanted to market them & present them to the world.
Lilach points out that Daniella had stumbled upon a niche, which was unusual back then. She realised this, because what she was doing was filling a hole in the market. Accidentally, but still!
There were no low, sexy, tight jeans on the market at that point. The premium denim marketplace was dominated by Levis, Diesel, Earl, and others. But none of them made a low-cut pair or tighter-fitting pairs.
When her own home-made jeans started getting attention, she finally realised that she’d hit on something unique that other people might also want. At this point, she started doing market research, her target market, profitability, & competition.
She also began looking at stores with high visibility, stores that carried the latest fashions, and the kinds of people who shopped at these places. Although Daniella didn’t realise it at the time, she was laying the foundations for her business!
The brand that came later had a very grassroots beginning. It was important to Daniella that she didn’t use Gilby’s money or his clout to start—it was important to her to accomplish this on her own.
Standing On Her Own Two Feet
Daniella went from being in her parents’ house at the age of 16 to living & touring with Gilby. When it came to her jeans business, she had a drive to accomplish something on her own, something that was entirely hers, done on her own.
She had just done a modelling commercial for Snickers candy bars with Sean Hayes, which began bringing in some money in royalties here & there. She received a check for $5,000 & committed it to her denim project.
She then began doing research in earnest. Daniella scoured newspapers for things like pattern-makers, zipper companies, button companies, label companies, & so on. She began visiting fabric companies to look for denim that she liked & began reaching out to the original denim mills where the fabric came from.
At this point, she had decided to name her company after her daughter, Frankie B (B for Barry, after Lilach and Daniella’s father!). After her daughter was born, Daniella had a drive to build something that they could work on together someday.
Then she created her first batch of 30 pairs. She asked a photographer friend to do a photoshoot with her wearing just the jeans! She created a postcard out of those photos, sent them to her “hit list” of stores, & asked them to give her a call if they were interested.
And… She got nothing! She followed it up with a phone call but nobody was really interested. At this point, Daniella had an idea… Wear the jeans, walk into the stores, & ask to see the buyers.
So she dressed up & headed to a huge department store. Not even 2 feet into the door, she was stopped by a sales girl to ask about her jeans. She mentioned that she made them herself & the girl recognised her as the one who had sent the postcard. Two minutes later she had a meeting with the buyer… Who thought the jeans were way too low!
She happened to have a few pairs in her car, so he agreed to let her bring them in & let the sales girls try them on. When the sales girls got wildly excited about them, he agreed to give them a shot.
From Humble Beginnings to 1mil+
The week after selling her first 30 pairs to the buyer, he called her and said “We sold out over the weekend, we need another 50 pairs.” Daniella was shocked! She went out & bought more fabric, Gilby cleared a space for her in the garage to work from, & she started producing more.
She was doing everything herself… And she’d also graduated from jeans to other items of denim clothing. One day she got a call from a friend, who informed her that Jennifer Lopez was wearing Daniella’s jumpsuit on her new album cover.
That led to a call from Saturday Night Live, who wanted more jumpsuits for a skit involving Jennifer Lopez & other cast members. Her first year did about $50,000 in sales, just from placements in local boutiques.
The second year, once her brand became known, she’d hit 1.5 million dollars, which is when she finally decided she needed to hire some people to help her! Year 3 hit over $6 million & it just kept going from there. At this point, she had a full staff making jeans for her while she ran the business end of things.
Play To Your Strengths
Daniella is idea-driven & product-driven. She knows that these are her strengths, but she also knew that she wasn’t good at building a company infrastructure & handling employees. Financial & legal stuff also wasn’t her strong suit, so one of the things she did right was hiring people who were smarter than her at these things!
Her advice: understand what you’re good at & what you’re not good at, & don’t let your ego get in the way. Hire people that are really smart to do the things you can’t. As things go, educate yourself so you can do your job even better.
Managing a Business & a Child
Daniella says she was young & had a lot of energy! At the time her business was taking off, her daughter was around 4 years old. When Gilby was home, they’d work together. She’d go to preschool in the morning & Daniella would quickly run through emails, do some work, & finish up by 1pm so she could run back and pick her up.
Then she’d head back to the office, put Disney movies on for Frankie or let her colour in, & continue working while keeping an eye on her. It’s a juggling act! Then she’d come home, cook dinner, bathe Frankie, spend time with Gilby, & she was trying to work out in between everything!
It was tough. As a woman, it’s difficult to look good, feel good, be healthy, be a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend, & a good business woman all at the same time!
Guilt became a normal feeling. At work, she felt guilty for not being with her daughter. When she was with her daughter, she felt guilty for not being with her husband. She felt like she wasn’t giving enough attention to anything or anyone.
Being present in the moment became a challenge. How to be present in the conversation with a friend without her mind obsessing over work, or being with her husband without worrying about her daughter, and so on.
About the Money
Daniella didn’t start out doing this for the money, but at some point she realised how important the money was. She knew Gilby’s career would end at some point, and he’d already moved on from Guns N’ Roses.
But she also knew that one day she wanted to travel, have another home, secure their daughter’s future, save for college, & so on. At the same time, she started noticing that people didn’t even know her name—most people thought she was called Frankie!
The Importance of Partnerships
Daniella realised that her and Gilby’s partnership was strong as their careers levelled each other out like a seesaw. When she had low moments, he saw them through. When he had low moments, she saw them through.
That’s when she understood what a partnership really was. When he was on stage, she was on the road with him & cheering him on. When she was gaining popularity, he cheered her on.
Life On the Road
There were high & lows of being on the road. Daniella recalls it being really intense but a lot of fun. She recalls the chances to do incredible things & spend time with incredible people.
They shared a private plane with Bruce Springsteen, had a private chef, masseuses, police escorts… If they wanted to see a movie, the theatre was emptied out for them. She even recalls visiting the Eiffel Tower with Lenny Kravitz, visiting Gianni Versace’s design studio, & being offered private showings everywhere!
Daniella understood that she was really privileged to have this life. She tried to savour every moment because she knew this was something special. At the same time, life was sometimes so hectic she didn’t even get to see the sights at the place she was!
She knew it was insane, but also that it would end at some point. She also felt sometimes that it was so unreal, that she just wanted to be treated like a normal person. Daniella also acknowledges that depression & exhaustion are part of this kind of life—low lows & very high highs.
She also jokes about keeping Gilby grounded when he would come home from tours—making sure he takes out the trash, changes the lightbulbs, changes his daughter’s diapers, & doesn’t expect everything to be done for him!
Where Daniella is Today
Daniella sold Frankie B years ago, and now co-owns an activewear brand called Solow. She designs their apparel & they’re busy preparing for a new launch! You can check them out at https://shopsolow.com/.
She’s also done various TV shows, including being a guest judge on America’s Top Model and Rock of Love Charm School with Bret Michaels, where she got to work with Sharon Osborne.
She currently has a podcast with Barbaranne Wylde, wife of guitarist Zakk Wylde. They realised that they spoke a lot about trying to stay young & healthy, procedures & supplements, & she knew that other women might be interested in the topic too.
Other topics they cover include business, ageing, sex, menopause, kids, & being married to musicians! Nothing is off the table. Check it out – it’s called Honest AF! You can also follow her on Instagram, @daniellaclarkestyle!