Women in Business: Q&A with Christiane Lemieux, founder of DwellStudio

DwellStudio was born as Dwell Home Furnishings, in 1999. Founder and Creative Director Christiane Lemieux, a veteran of the worlds of fashion and home retail, wanted to offer the discerning customer a range of vibrant and modern textile designs.
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DwellStudio was born as Dwell Home Furnishings, in 1999. Founder and Creative Director Christiane Lemieux, a veteran of the worlds of fashion and home retail, wanted to offer the discerning customer a range of vibrant and modern textile designs. Soon after, Lemieux was joined by Jennifer Chused, now Partner and VP of Sales, and Joshua Young, Lemieux's husband as well as the company's President and CEO.

The company quickly gained a devoted following and established itself as the most innovative brand in the bedding market. Thus, the collection grew - eventually encompassing everything from furniture to baby and kids accessories. Marked by a signature use of color and a sincere commitment to the highest quality, the DwellStudio name is synonymous with adventurous design and impeccable construction.

In November 2007, the company was reborn as DwellStudio, an overarching brand to unite the various lines focused on bedding, baby, children and tabletop. Now a decade on, the company continues to evolve, pushing the boundaries aesthetically and tackling new design challenges each and every season, though it remains one of the most trusted names in the home market.

DwellStudio was recently acquired by Wayfair.com.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I think that as a leader I am constantly evolving. I started out as the reluctant leader. The thing about being a Founder is you are thrown into all kinds of situations you can't anticipate. I was never going to run a company until I did. I quickly learned that the people that worked for me were as inspiring, if not more, than the product we designed. My next shift was when I had children. I really believe that that made me a much better leader. It made me look at my role and responsibility in a different way. I started to fundamentally understand and value helping people grow and evolve as employees and people. Today with my new role at Wayfair.com, I am challenged in a new way. I am merging two corporate cultures in our New York office with new employees and transplants from Boston. I am excited to learn from our Boston team and to take the best from two amazing companies.

How has your previous employment experience aided DwellStudio?

My employment past is pretty varied - but all in the design world. When I graduated from Parsons, my first job was at Isaac Mizrahi in New York doing design and textiles. It was very inspiring because I got to deal with the best suppliers in the world. I then chose to go to The Gap. Mickey Drexler was running it and it was such an inspiring place to work. I learned process, design and production in a world-class way. I was then offered a job developing product at Portico - arguably one of the first design-centric independent stores. At Portico I was thrown into everything from packaging design to sourcing. I learned the Home Design business and was hooked. When I saw my designs resonate with customers, I left and started DwellStudio.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I just can't make perfect balance work right now. I think we should all aspire to have it all. I just think it's hard to have it all at once. Right now I focus on the parts of my life that are the priority - my family and the business. I will get a hobby, join a gym and sleep later.

What have the highlights and challenges been founding DwellStudio?

It has been some kind of Journey.... I don't have a business background so I have learned it all on the job - which was a challenge. When I started the business, I did not even know what a PO was and had no business plan. Fast forward 10 years and I negotiated a very complicated Asset Purchase with Wayfair.com. I have learned so many things about myself from the mundane - I actually like math - to revelations -I enjoy the business aspects of the business as much as the design. The constant learning is my absolute favorite part of being an entrepreneur. I am so excited to dig in at Wayfair.com and learn from their amazing team.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to establish their own business?

Starting your own business is clearly a risky, costly and time consuming endeavor. I think it is wise to mitigate some of this by having some experience in the type of business you are starting - even if it's as an intern. I would also advise having some kind of a business plan - even if it's loose. I never did this and had to learn a lot the hard way. You can pivot along the way but at least you will have an idea of where the initials dollars are going and what you can reasonably expect. I think the single most important thing is the passion. If you are not extremely passionate about your business it is going to be hard to muster the drive to really get it going and succeed.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I have been running this company for 10 plus years - so I don't have a lot of insight into what other organizations look like. We have an almost women-only office in New York, so we have never had a typical work environment. The women in my office are amazing self-starters who voice their opinions all the time and also help and understand each other. If someone has to go home because of something like a childcare issue, we just cover for each other naturally. I think because we all have young children- we have created a very nurturing and supportive environment. With the Wayfair.com integration - we have 2 men in the office now. It will be interesting to see how our culture shapes them. It would make an interesting case study.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

I think it's important. Sheryl has given a name and context to the issue and I think she has made women really reconsider their place in the work world. It's huge.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Absolutely - I have had some amazing mentors along the way from Donna Karan at Parsons to Deborah Needleman during my first book. These groundbreaking women have shown me that anything is possible. I think when you have a mentor that makes you feel that way - it becomes a reality. I have also met some amazing people who have reached out to me for help. It is a great feeling to help someone get a business off the ground. Being a mentor to startups in the design space has become a passion of mine.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I am in awe of anyone who makes a go to at starting a business - big or small. In my world there are some amazing women entrepreneurs. So many come to mind but Martha always comes up as the gold standard. She is exceptional because she is responsible not only for a massively successful business and brand but she created an identifiable aesthetic movement.

What are your hopes for the future of DwellStudio, particularly following the acquisition by Wayfair.com?

I think the future for DwellStudio and Wayfair.com is limitless. This is the perfect marriage between design, tech and logistics. I think together we can create the next generation of home retailing. With our design and product development capabilities and Wayfair's back end technology, flawless customer service and innovative thinking we are poised to really disrupt the industry and offer the customer something new and fabulous.

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