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She Slays: How Riane Garfin is changing the world of local watchmaking

By KAREN AVERION PANGAN Published Mar 31, 2021 3:40 pm Updated Mar 31, 2021 10:09 pm

Starting a ripple in an industry that has been predominantly occupied by men requires not only strength and dedication but a never-ending source of inspiration and fresh perspective.

You need to have a clear goal of what you want, matched with a hunger that powers you to push through the realization of your vision. Riane Garfin, founder of LEUPP Watches, is a perfect example of this drive, as she tries to shake the industry of watch-making in the country.

Having the boldness to start a brand of watches that showcases the mastery of a Filipina in terms of design and artistry is one thing, but navigating a market that undeniably patronizes foreign labels over homegrown ones is another challenge she decided to take on. Add that to the fact that women in horology are far and few between.

Women are a growing segment of watch buyers, and women’s wealth is also growing worldwide. The stereotypical idea that men buy watches for women is dead.

“Women in leadership in the watch industry are still seen as something of a novelty. My partners, who are also women, are still met with awe and surprise at our horology courses. In a room of men, we wear it as a badge of pride,” Garfin shares.

More than making a statement, however, she is here to influence—and possibly shake some outdated notions about gender and its connection to accessorizing.

“Women are a growing segment of watch buyers, and women’s wealth is also growing worldwide. It’s completely changed—the stereotypical idea that men buy watches for women is dead. Yet ideas about what female consumers want are outdated. It’s a woefully underserved market.”

She continues, “A woman’s watch was dainty and small. The reality is that’s not what today’s woman is looking for. Perceptions of femininity and masculinity are evolving, conventions are moving. Likewise, a man doesn’t have to don bulky oversized watches. There’s confidence and elegance in a man that doesn’t feel the need to overcompensate.”

This perspective is clearly reflected in the artistic design of her brand. Focusing on simple and streamlined designs, LEUPP watches are a breath of fresh air in the watch industry which has been over glamorized through time.

The power of female

 Riane Garfin, founder of LEUPP Watches: “Women need to fix each other’s crowns.”

While there is much discourse talking about women being undermined for their gender, Garfin believes that being a woman gives her a huge advantage in her business.

“Being a female-led brand, I have a first-hand perspective of what women want and altogether just a fresh perspective in a male-dominated industry.”

Of course, she supports this with the right training and knowledge. As she dug deeper into her business—which she started with on a P20,000 capital—she continued to expand her knowledge on watch-making in general to support her drive.

“We trained at the British Horological Institute (BHI) and will continue learning when the pandemic exits and permits. But I have a long way to go to call myself a horologist. As for design, it’s more of second nature. When I view a piece, whether a building, furniture, or watch, more often than not, my thoughts wander to how I would design or re-invent it.”

A marriage of cultures

While a proudly Filipino-brand, LEUPP also recognizes the power of marrying inspirations, cultures, and technology. Garfin and her design team—all Filipinos of different ethnicities—takes care of the creative process while the watches are made with the technological power from London.

“London is a melting pot of cultural diversity. We embrace the cultural mixes and diverse influences. These are our best assets because it pushes thinking beyond just one design perspective. We spend all our time creating designs or tweaking the classics with new materials and finishes where something old or familiar can be made modern in a sleek contemporary design.”

Still, Garfin maintains that she is a champion of homemade brands. “The role of micro, small, and medium enterprises is very important in developing our economy. By choosing local and patronizing homegrown businesses, you also contribute to the nation. I dream of a time when more Filipino brands are considered world-class. But to get there, they need to thrive in their homeland first.”

She adds, “More importantly, we need to let our Bayanihan spirit become our new normal especially in these times when small businesses, including those run by women and young entrepreneurs are being hit hardest by the economic fallout of the pandemic.”

The standard of female leadership

Succeeding in an endeavor comes hand-in-hand with navigating roadblocks. But while Garfin admits that challenges are part of her 9 to 5, the lessons and experiences she gets from navigating this arena have taught her a lot when it comes to female leadership.

“My challenges are not unique. As with most female leaders, we face a double-bind. Women are expected to be communal because that’s what is inherent in the female gender role. I counter these challenges by making sure I surround myself with open-minded individuals and standing up for other women because it sets the standards of behavior in any organization.”

“You know, women need to fix each other’s crowns,” she closes.