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Meet Gresham Taylor of Clover in Irvine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gresham Taylor.

Gresham, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Dina and I both grew up in Southern California. Dina from Diamond Bar and I grew up in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles. We both had an interesting road to where we ended up. It felt like we both shared the same goals when we met. We were really trying hard to clean up some old residue from the past and get involved with something work-related that we would feel connected to. I took a job with a pretty large print/signage and display company helping with sales and Dina dove into school. I had no idea I would get what I got out of that company and I’m not sure if Dina thought she would be so focused on school and where that would lead.

The company I was with had a ton of nationwide locations and we’re really trying to figure out how to maximize large format color print equipment they had from merging with several companies. I immediately introduced them to the idea of focusing on fashion brands. About a year later, we were managing graphics for the trendiest fashion teams in the world. It was great. Dina, during that same time transferred from Jr. College to UC Irvine studying biology.

My first introduction into the store design world was working with Lucky Brands, Cotton On and American Apparel. I worked closely with their store design teams and noticed they were constantly re-producing fixture packages every few months, in addition to window sets every season. Sitting in those meetings, I started hearing teams discuss ways they could express themselves through materials and colors as opposed to telling their story through campaign graphics, draped across the store. There was also a ton of conversations about social programs and commitments to the environment and how they would like to use less paper.

After school Dina would help me find more brands and started to really get familiar with the industry I was working in. I approached my company with the idea of exploring ways to help brands with fixture and window packages—However, it wasn’t something they wanted to focus on. They were a public company and big changes are tough to green light in that space. I knew I wanted to shift my focus to helping teams with those types of projects. I felt the future of retail and fashion was going to make a huge shift and I definitely was not going to stay with a company I felt was behind the trend. So, I basically closed my eyes, held my breath and took a giant leap of faith, starting my own company, helping brands with the future of retail. I brought the head of production with me and we created an LLC.

We started out brokering print graphics and signage projects from our apartments. Dina and I lived in Irvine and our business Partner was in Westlake Village. We used several print companies In Southern California, in hopes we would eventually buy our own equipment in that department. Dina immediately wanted to play a big role in the company and at the time she managed print projects with my old business partner. I focused on sales and researching the world of fixture fabrication and how it all worked. I sold that capability from the start, even though we had no idea what we were doing in that space. A few large fashion teams came with me when we started the company— which gave us the luxury of exploring fabrication while still generating income. I think we were doing like 50K a month with print. I quickly met a few wood and metal teams and we started with small projects for clients.

One of the greatest gifts we received during those early years was the access we had to multiple processes and project management styles through teams we were outsourcing to. Coming from the print world, which is all about speed and volume, I noticed a need for that within the fabrication space. Fixture and Millwork fabrication is basically split into two categories; either you’re a mom and pop shop working on a few projects or a giant manufacturer working with high volumes. We felt both spaces still didn’t address the stress brands were experiencing trying to build out stores. Therefore, we focused on the in-between components we felt were missing. Questions that kept us constantly evolving were:

– Could we create an approachable, super polished, transparent fabrication/manufacturing/shop/studio that any visual team could utilize?

– Could we create a process where we could streamline a large volume of projects and still feel small and intimate?

– Could we still maintain high levels of communication and quality control when working on larger volumes?

These were questions that shaped our company culture and still to this day, we continue to fine tune.

One of our first clients Opening Ceremony played a giant part in our growth. We started helping them with small shop in shop installations. It was one of the first brands to explore experiential/instagramable moments within retail spaces. They felt like art gallery shows to us. Heather Neurburger who created the store designs for both NY and LA, took us in and through their team we began working with the coolest brands in fashion. Our first few projects with them were for Alexander Wang, Calvin Klein, Jeezy, Coach and Max Lamb. Being in those meetings and email threads introduced us to super creative teams dictating fashion trends. We would see how they exchanged information, how they made choices and how much they we’re obsessed with perfection. Perfection quickly became the next item our team focused on. It was the common denominator with all great teams thrived for.

We eventually bought our own equipment, leased a small space in Westlake Village, which grew into two small spaces, then three small spaces. One for wood, one for metal and one for print and signage. We we’re doing about a million a year in fabrication and about 100k in print. Dina who comes from a family of engineers immediately connected to fabrication and build projects while I started helping teams with designs. The first time Dina looked at plan sets she could see everything, without any training—-it was crazy. I immediately forced my partner to make her third partner and things started taking off. Dina is magical with managing fabrication, builds and quality control. I still focused on sales, reaching out to about 400 companies a year, begging them to give us a shot. Fast forward a couple of years, Dina and I eventually bought out our partner, lost and gained a ton of clients and moved our team and operations from Westlake Village to a large space in Irvine.

We finally put together a mission statement, which reads: We are an approachable, transparent design based manufacturing company that anyone can easily utilize. We felt and still feel, brands are intimidated by contractors, builders and fabricators, much like people are when they go to a mechanic for their car. So, we’ve worked super hard on making sure brands don’t have to experience anxiety when talking to your team. Manufacturing should be a fun process. There’s nothing like creating something and watching it come to life. That should be a special experience not an opportunity to hustle teams that are unfamiliar with the industry. Clients should feel empowered to work directly with factories and not rely on middle people who charge them for basically communicating.

We were lucky to have both experienced trauma growing up. That sort of beginning is something you have no control of. We were super lucky to have the people, the places and options we were born into. We both are really good about understanding that not everyone gets the right combination at the start—that allows them to develop strong intuitions.

Those early years allowed Dina and I to be comfortable with taking honest evaluations of who we were at all times. I guess it sort of helped us to make adjustments and to not personalize situations so much. We basically learned early that you have to make fast changes to get out of spaces that don’t feel good and that sometimes there are long game decisions that may not happen for a while. Visualizing a better road really helped us overcome challenges. This has been such a huge part of Clover’s culture. We just basically took techniques we used to survive in our personal journey and applied them to how we approach our business.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When we first started the company, we took on every project. We had no idea who we were. It was literally crazy town. I would reinvent our mission every week and I think I changed our website around everyday. At that time, we had to outsource to so many teams. Having to rely on multiple suppliers, fabricators and installers was a nightmare. Each with a different process and a different way of communicating (if at all). We lost so many clients.

I was going to say, putting together an amazing team was a big time struggle, however zebras attract zebras. If you have an un-polished process, generally you attract people a bit un-polished. I mean, hockey players don’t hang out with chess players.

Clover – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are a design based manufacturing company that helps brands and development teams design, fabricate and build a variety of physical spaces across the states. I execute design and sales, while Dina operates and runs fabrication and construction. The majority of our work includes helping fashion and beauty teams with store, wholesale and/or pop-up based projects—-we’re executing 20-30 projects a month. What separates us from other interior design teams is that we actually fabricate and build all interior design elements in-house utilizing millwork (wood), metal and print/signage equipment. We’re basically a turn key option brands can utilize for multiple project scopes.

We have an amazing diverse team here at Clover- we’re women owned, 80% minority employed company. Our team of project managers are also all women. Just to give you an idea of our diversity- our Director of Design and Director of Operations are two young, African American women, one of the founders is from Jordan, another project manager is Korean, another is from Iran, our shop foreman/lead builder is an 81 year old Romanian along with his son and nephew who are both from Romania. We often execute the building and installation components on sites which creates a really fun dynamic to watch when builders see this all girl, minority team take over. Even our clients are a bit stunned at first when they meet our team since our owners don’t market the company in any sort of way that would send that message.

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