This millennial artist breaks stereotypes by building her own watch company

How Riane Garfin, founder of LEUPP, is thriving in a male-dominated industry of watch designing and making

We are now in living in the 21st century but still, there are a lot of industries that are dominated by male workers—among these are software development, architecture, and even the watch industry. But this reality didn’t stop Filipino female artist and businesswoman, Riane Garfin, to pursue her passion and enter the predominantly man’s world of watch industry.

BREAKING BOUNDARIES Riane Garfin breaks stereotype by pursuing an artistic career in watch industry

In an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the creative head behind the thriving Filipino watch brand LEUPP, shares her journey toward braving this world to pursue her goals. Some say that artistic calling is a kind of voice that is hard to ignore. And this has been true for Riane. Despite having years of experience working in the retail industry under some of the biggest companies in the Philippines, the universe still found a way for her to answer her artistic calling. 

The birth of LEUPP

After working in a tech company in London, in 2018, together with some London based designers, Riane decided to build LEUPP. 

“It was always there—the impetus to create something,” she says. “When I was young, there was no social media. And I suppose all the idle in between moments left room to get creative with anything, from building skyscrapers with Legos to making bicycle replicas from popsicle sticks.” 

Inspired from Japanese Kanso principle, which means simplicity or elimination of clutter, Riane designs watch pieces that are sophisticated but follow minimalist designs. 

“The design process starts with a spec sheet. The kind of watch we want to make with a list of the functions and features needed, with as many examples to describe the style, finishes, and textures that we like,” she says. “Three different case ideas are created then, we select which to go ahead with. At this stage we do the editing and eliminate details if it gets too busy or complicated. There are three guiding principles we follow—simple, clean, and contemporary. This is consistent across each collection.” 

Working in a man’s world

Just like any journey, building a career in a male dominated industry is not easy. “My challenges are not unique, as with most female leaders, we face a double-bind,” she admits. “Women are expected to be communal because that’s what is inherent in the female gender role, but we’re also expected to be agentic because that is what's expected to be inherent in most leader roles.” 

But Riane is determined to establish her name as an artist in the watch industry. 

“It raises some eyebrows, but mostly just open-mouthed awe. My instructor at BHI (British Horological Institute) even said that I was a unicorn, because he's never in his decades of training watchmakers come across a Filipina watchmaker,” she says. “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.” 

To date, LEUPP has numerous designs available both for men and women. Aside from elegant and sophisticated designs, the brand is also boasts quality with watches made from stainless steel, and are resistant against rain and splashes (3 ATM). 

“I wanted to create something a lot of people can enjoy and appreciate. I see a watch as wearable art. What’s better than having people wear your art and have them find it useful too?,” says Riane. “In this time of crisis and isolation, the role of art becomes more central to our lives, whether we realize it or not. TV, film, books, video games and graphic artworks offer us a chance to be mobile. Art can set you free. So share your art. The world needs it.”