You’ve held leadership roles at some of the biggest names in fashion. How did these experiences influence the founding of AERA?
The diversity of the brands for which I worked definitely gave me a very wide perspective, and deep knowledge of how to build and operate a brand. My experiences both at Donna Karan and Theory, while both are big companies today, were focused around business development, team building, and management.
For example, when I joined Theory in 2001, the brand was only available in the U.S. My mission was to help them expand internationally. We started the department with myself and one employee. Over time, we grew it to become a global organization. As a result, scaling a brand, hiring and, managing now come naturally to me. My experience at Dolce & Gabbana reinforced the importance of luxury branding, CRM, and PR/communications.
All three of my past experiences helped me realize the importance of creating a strong company culture.
What made you want to pivot your career?
I reached a point in my career where it was time for me to do something mission driven and to use my experience to give back in a meaningful way. It was at this time when I started researching sustainability, and became much more aware of how much my industry needed to shift on so many levels.
It was serendipitous that shortly thereafter I reconnected with a former Georgetown classmate, Alvertos, and luxury footwear designer, Jean-Michel (whom I had worked with in the past at Theory). They were also at turning points for individual reasons, and we collectively saw an opportunity, or void, in the market for sustainable luxury footwear.
How do you handle risk and competition?
AERA is a first mover in the luxury footwear space, which we believe is ready for disruption. That helps to a certain degree because we are offering a meaningful alternative to the status quo in luxury footwear. However, in order to maintain a long term advantage, it's critically important to listen to the market and our customers. As a digitally native business, we have the opportunity for direct dialogue. Simultaneously, we have to keep ourselves abreast of new innovations in materials and technology. It’s imperative that we have continual evolution, as more eco friendly materials and processes become available. This is just the beginning.
Competition will come soon and this will be a sign that we are doing something right. I believe that we have the opportunity to develop a meaningful business within the the luxury market. Today that market is 350 billion and growing. There will be room for others too!
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Brand awareness and covid fundraising.
We officially launched this past February and then covid-19 hit. Never before has our global society been faced with such tremendous uncertainty, from both a human and economic standpoint. We have had to navigate this unprecedented time, while trying to build awareness and re-strategize the most efficient way to move forward.
Needless to say it has been a challenging time for a small, early-stage business raising capital.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
Throughout this process I have learned I am much more resilient than I ever imagined. When you start something from scratch, there are so many unknowns and variables. You must remain extremely committed and continually find the balance between being open minded to adapt, and not compromising on core principles.
Being resilient but flexible as I go allows me to embrace change, rather than resist it. I remain determined to see this project become a success.
How do you envision the future of sustainability in the fashion industry?
Thankfully there is a bright future as I believe sustainability will soon become a necessity rather than a choice. This is because more and more regulations are being put in place today.
Awareness is also growing. I see it slowly but surely weaving into mainstream society. As this happens, it will become essential for brands to be transparent regarding how they operate and what they are doing from a social and environmental standpoint.
What is the most notable challenge you’ve faced in terms of developing and keeping to your environmental and sustainable standard?
We are an extremely lean start-up, so it was challenging to get the required certifications from third party authorities to validate our sustainability platform. It was an arduous process to scientifically measure all of our impacts from cradle to consumer via partnership with SCS Global Services. But for us it was extremely important to not only be as sustainable as possible to begin with, but to realize and offset our impacts by 110% (we transparently present information to the customer as to how we go about this).
What’s your team culture like?
We have a very small, but inclusive and passionate team in which the voice of each member is appreciated. It helps that we are all driven by a shared belief in the mission, and that our corporate goals are very much aligned with our personal ones.
I believe that as a leader, I must always be available and show my dedicated team that I am willing to put in the hard work to make this a success.
What’s your kryptonite?
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I drink several glasses of warm water with lemon every day.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
Yoga, meditation, traveling, and cooking (much more since quarantine).
Do you have any mentors? If so, what have they taught you?
My mother. She taught me unconditional love and the power of gratitude and positivity. She also encouraged me to follow my dreams and taught me the invaluable lesson that hard work pays off.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Believe in yourself & trust your instincts.