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Meet Nina Ruud and Rafael Figueiredo of Cali Life in Hillcrest

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nina Ruud and Rafael Figueiredo.

Nina and Rafael, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Cali Life Co. started in October of 2015 when Rafael was looking for stylish, comfortable and effective sunglasses that were affordable. With over 300 sunny days a year in San Diego, he assumed the perfect pair of sunglasses was on every street corner. Indeed there were plenty of shades around town, but none carried the combination of characteristics he was looking for. Being an artist and entrepreneur, he seized the opportunity to design not only a pair of sunglasses but a brand that reflected the qualities he sought.

Upon collaboration with other local artists including myself, Cali Life Co. was born!

Inspired by the natural beauty of San Diego, we chose to use plant-based frames that don’t wreak havoc on the environment. We chose Polarized/UV400 lenses to prevent sun damage and reduce glare while driving or boating. And, we also chose spring hinges to support an active lifestyle and enhance comfortability. What makes each piece truly striking is the unique art found engraved in the temples!

Once our products were ready, we started attending Farmer’s Markets and Beer Festivals all over San Diego and LA. This was the best way to interact with customers, listen to their needs, and make adjustments as needed. We emphasized ongoing customer support and quickly built relationships with other local businesses. Our first store was Creative Crossroads on 5th and University. Aimee Baca built a neighborhood Mecca for local crafters and was just getting started when we were.

We built our online store which called the attention of GQ, Glamour, and Conde Nast Traveler. We started sponsoring youth and professional skateboarders and surfers, and now also sponsor World-Class aerialists and divers. We have a non-profit called Cali Life Kidz that provides funding to local and international youth art projects, including an Autism clinic in Davao City, Philippines.

In a short time, we’ve certainly come a long way! Our focus remains on providing quality products and genuine customer service.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Being a self-starting business has its upsides and downsides. With the high cost of living, you have to be smart in budgeting, planning, and knowing when and when not to spend your money! Having some experience in the business we knew the general framework of how we want to operate, but the details can get really overwhelming when you are always learning something new!

Being in the eyewear industry and facing brands like Oakley and Maui Jim, we simply cannot compete. So we don’t. We’ve chosen to sell at markets, festivals and artisan stores as a reprieve from the hyper-expensive and often redundant sunglasses stores. But with Amazon taking over retail, it’s growing more and more difficult for brick and mortar stores to survive.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Cali Life Co. story. Tell us more about the business.
Cali Life Co. specializes in designing Wood Polarized Sunglasses and Wood Watches. Recently we sent a request to our subscribers for feedback on their experience, and we received an overwhelming response commending our craftsmanship, uniqueness, and customer service. When people see our booth, they simply cannot believe they are standing at a farmer’s market. Every detail is considered for the ultimate customer experience. It’s not just the chandeliers, carpets and curtains that draw people in. It’s the music, the friendliness, the hand-crafted nature that keeps them coming back.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck can help some days while waiting for it will hurt other days. Nothing replaces hard work with a logical thought process. There is so much excess of everything. In order to find luck, you have to slow down and look around you. When you find a solution with a smile on your face, your pretty lucky.

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