Ilse Valfré talks family, starting her brand, and social media

Ever since the Valfre phone cases we have been obsessed with the overall brand.  The illustrations are so unique and we feel like there is a personal connection.  Right after I moved to LA I knew I had to interview Valfre. Coming from Mexico and taking her brand from her bedroom to a million dollar business with many different product lines, we are so excited for her future.

Photography and interview: Lauren Engel


So you were born in Mexico right?
Yes, I was born in Mexico and I’ve been living in Los Angeles for the past five years. I like it, it’s really cool.

You’re from a very creative family – like your aunt, she’s into fashion also, right?
Ya – she started a brand back in the 70s or 80s. I always found that very inspiring. It made me really want to try fashion and the arts.

When you were growing up was art your number one thing?
I think I was always drawing. That was always my number one thing and comics I guess.


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Have your parents always been supportive of it?
Always. I feel very lucky and blessed to have parents who are very supportive of all my decisions. Obviously at times there were questionable if I was doing the right thing. They went with the flow. Yay!

Your dad is super stylish right and that influenced you a lot?
My dad was an actor in theatre and he became a writer and that’s what he did for the rest of his life. He was very stylish. He was into design and had a tailer to help all his designs come to life which is really cool.



When you were young did you always envision what you’re doing now with where you want to be? You’re living your dreams!
Ya – I am, but it hasn’t been an easy road. I feel blessed now that I look back now and everything was worth it. Sometimes you go through things and think why, but then I look back and like “oh I needed to go through that” to get here. It’s not always an easy path.

Did you study art?
No, I did not. When I finished high school the plan was for me to to go London and then my dad like a semester before I finished said I can’t afford it and my heart was broken. I was like “no”! He said, you should study something here in Tijuana because I grew up in Tijuana, and I was kind of like “oh I don’t want to”, I really want to go there and got a little depressed. It was very childish of me and then my mom told me why don’t you start working with children? You’re really good at that and just for a time before we can send you to London. So I went to Montessori school to become a preschool teacher and I really liked it. I finished the pre schooling teaching education and then I decided to do my blog and Valfre started.



But it didn’t really effect it, you’re super talented. Did you just practice over night?
I feel like education is absolutely important but in my case because I went that route, my thing was really to practice everyday until I found my style and something that I wanted to share with everybody. It took me years but it’s been fun.

So I read in a previous interview that your mom is super Christian. How has that influenced your designs, because your designs are quite free.
I think she doubts a little bit about them but obviously I’m almost thirty. I’m a grown woman now. My dad was very liberal and she was the opposite. I’m so thankful that I grew up with both. Thanks to my mum I have a lot of principles and morals. When I left home I thought that’s not me in a lot of ways. I think with my artwork I can be myself. It made me want to be myself more. It was very oh you can’t wear this kind of thing or you can’t make your hair this color so as soon as I left my home I was like I want to do all of it!



When you started your Tumblr did you know you wanted to go into product and clothing? Because I feel like a lot of illustrators just go down that route of just doing illustrations or selling prints. What made you think of doing your designs on cases and clothes?
I feel like now it’s starting to be the more easy thing that you can do online. You have Etsy and the Cartell and they are both very user friendly but before I sort of tried to gather a lot of readers and fans on my blog and fans. They were asking for t-shirts and stickers and I decided to do them. Then I started to do a special edition and I thought this could really be turned into a brand with my then boyfriend now husband.

Your husband is also an entrepreneur right?
Ya he’s been into music for a long time. He’s really good at doing art and business. I think it’s really rare because sometimes when people are really creative they don’t have that business side of them. He has both which is good. I lack a lot of the business side. We started the official brand together and this is going to be our first year with Valfre. When we met I was just doing my little thing printing t-shirts and prints.

What is it like having your family revolve around what you do? It’s kind of like a family run business right?
Yah definitely.



Were you ever scared of getting into it?
No. I feel more comfortable because when you have people who maybe don’t know you on the personal level it could be more difficult. When you do stuff related to art it becomes very close to you. I think that people who are creative are very sensitive. Not like cry babies but we get very attached to everything. You need somebody to understand you as a persona, you as a creator to bring this world to life. I think in our experience it has worked really well.



Do you ever feel like you need work time then family time? Or is it merged.
It’s like everything. We have two kids. I divide my work like kids, work, kids and then I put them to bed at night and then work. I think women or humans in general we have that ability to adapt to whatever situation. I feel like I honestly was never going to have kids but here I am! Two kids later! I love it, I love it. It’s challenging but it’s really cool.

Do you think your kids have inspired some designs or the way you view art?
Yes. My son especially he has a very unique taste in things that he gets into. It’s kind of dark but I like it and get a lot of inspiration from that. For example he loves Halloween so it’s Halloween in our house everyday, whole year long. I find him very inspiring.



Was is surprising to see people tattoo your designs?
I remember Valfre became really popular  in Brazil before the US. Brazilian girls were sending me photos like oh I did this, do you mind? I was like no, please, I feel honored. I always feel like it’s very flattering. It’s a commitment and they’re very detailed. They’re pretty cool girls and I feel really honored. I’m just like oh I wish I can give you a cyber hug.

What would you say was the key moments of how your brand blossomed?
I think it was kind of a word of mouth. Girls telling their friends and their friends to their other friends. That’s how it spread. Then obviously influencers nowadays are pretty important for brands to grow.



How did you learn about the whole social media aspect?
On the go. I started getting into the internet when I was 18. I wasn’t that into it before. Now there are a lot of things to keep up with. There are a lot of apps, things and slangs that I feel like I should learn. Google is the Bible now.

Did you have a mentor or someone that you looked up to?
Yes, my husband. He’s someone who I really admire. He’s been in the business longer than me so he’s very wise. Also when I started, Doe from Lime Crime she was very helpful. She gave me a lot of advice and she believed in the brand. She was super sweet. Then other friends too, maybe people who were not in the fashion business but they started something from the bottom up. From everybody. I like asking questions. I think it’ important.



Where did you get the confidence to quit your teaching job to do this?
I really wanted to travel. When you’re young you’re really naive and you think everything is going to be really easy. Which it is when you put your whole self into it. But if I would do it now I probably wouldn’t do it because of how the world really works with rent and everything. I think it was my naiveness and innocence. But I love that. I always felt like oh if it doesn’t work out I can go back and do this. I think it should be like that. I think everybody should try what they have in mind. Whats the worse thing you can do? Just go back to what you were doing. There’re nothing wrong with that.

You’re parents are still supportive because you moved back in with them right?
They were kind of bummed. They were like are you sure. It took me two years to move out of their house after that.



What did you start out with?
T-shirts and stickers were the first products I did. You know, it worked out. And then with time I noticed that the people who liked my work really wanted to look like the characters in a way. They died their hair, they did the star freckles. Then we thought we should do the apparel that the characters are wearing and bring them to life. It’s a very talented team working with us and they’re amazing. We decided to bring it to life and that’s how we evolved into the brand. We don’t have a lot of product with artwork in it really. We found that we became more popular when we turned the dresses the girls were wearing into real life. To me it also makes sense because when I was really young. I wanted everything Barbie had. And then I thought maybe us women never get over that phase. For example Boys Tears the phone case that was our first popular phone case. All the characters in the drawings drink from them. From there we started doing the dresses and phone cases as part of the artwork.

I think you mentioned previously you wanted to do some animation or cartoon show?
We are right now focusing on growing the business to the next level. Once that happens I want to do more film and cartoons since I really like doing comic books. I want Valfre to be this own kept secret. Like when you found a band that isn’t very mainstream. I always want to keep it like that, very niche like a little community of people who really like it andwith similar ideas, wearing our stuff. We have very different kind of women and it’s a very cool community.



You’re super inspired by Japan, how did that come about? And you want to have a store there?
We actually have a really good distribution and want to do a pop up shop in October. I actually love the Japanese culture because of their fashion, personality and in life in general. I’m very inspired by Japan because of the comic books and Sailor Moon. When I was very young I kind of would draw my favorite cartoon. Anime was kind of one of my big inspos too.

What do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as a nice person. Nice, and just a cool gal I guess (laughs).