Recently listed in 2017 Europe’s 30 under 30 for Retail and Commerce, Vivien Laszloffy is leading the wave of young, energetic leaders in fashion. Incredibly focused, motivated and driven in her work, Vivien is of German and Hungarian background raised in Budapest, and has lived extensively in Boston and New York. Growing up in a bi-lingual and multi-cultural environment as well as playing tennis professionally played a key role in shaping her upbringing. Vivien started travelling the world at the age of 10 playing tennis professionally, representing Hungary as the No. 1 ranked player at the Junior European and World Championships on eight occasions. Becoming one of the top junior players of her generation sparked a broad curiosity and wanderlust that defines her still today.
After graduating from the German School of Budapest, Vivien enrolled at Boston University, securing a double major in Business Management and Strategy with the occasional class in architecture. She received a full scholarship as a Division 1 Tennis player and became captain of the Universities’ Tennis Team in her senior year.
With a keen interest and urge to gain as much experience in the lifestyle and luxury market as possible, Vivien chose to spend all her time away from school and tennis on internships, learning from the experts around her. Having always been interested in fashion, she gained invaluable experience at firms such as Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Diesel, Roberto Cavalli, and Maison Margiela. At that time, a serious contemplation began to emerge around shaping the brand landscape catering to women with a similar mind-set and aesthetic sense of their own. Succeeding her four years in Boston, Vivien moved to New York with the Digital Department of Cartier USA. Following her time at Cartier, Vivien joined L’OREAL Paris in New York working with the Product and Business Development team.
After more than five years in the United States, Vivien decided it was time to move back to Europe, thus setting her eager eyes on London. At only 24, Vivien became the CEO of ÁERON.
We had the chance to sit down with Vivien and ask her about her brand ÁERON
How did the idea to join ÁERON come about? What inspired you to join such a brand?
The brand was set up in 2012. However, being such a small brand it encountered many challenges in understanding the international fashion market and how it could fit in and grow in its early stages. This changed very quickly, and through an unexpected turn of events, I ended up meeting Eszter (creator of ÁERON) and shortly after the ÁERON family during a weekend visit to her hometown of Budapest. A mutual friend introduced us, who believed that Eszter and I would be a symbiotic pairing, sharing a mutual drive and complementarity in the many areas necessary to build an internationally successful fashion brand.
The beauty and artisanship of the ÁERON clothes as well as the atelier in Budapest and manufacturing in the countryside of Hungary fascinated me. I saw an opportunity to create something unique to raise the brand to the next level. Initially lending support as a consultant, a few weeks into working with Eszter and the ÁERON team I was asked by the founders and investors to take on the role of CEO at only 24 years of age. Still working at my day job in London, I quit and moved back home to Budapest. It meant stepping out of my comfort zone to pursue an adventure, combining my creative and entrepreneurial interests, challenging and pushing myself in a position of leadership, and facing new challenges every day. I never looked back or regretted a thing that brought me to where I am today.
Tell us a bit about ÁERON
The brand has 4 distinguishing features:
- FABRIC – We exclusively use both Italian and Japanese fabrics. The former offers high quality and luxurious textures, the latter brings us modern, technical, and interesting fabrics that give our collections their edge.
- DESIGN – Although all our collections have a minimalist theme, our designs allow us to make each and every item a statement piece.
- ORIGIN – ÁERON is not another French or Italian brand. We’ve been able to build a world around Budapest and its culture, where women can wear the clothes on the streets of Budapest as well as globally.
- AGELESS – there is something for everyone, the clothes are supposed to reflect each individual’s interesting character and allow buyers to express their own personality.
ÁERON now holds over 100 wholesale accounts globally in 15 countries such as: Korea, Hong Kong, the Benelux region, Hungary, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States. Future markets include the United Kingdom and the Middle East, which we are so excited about. Japan is our biggest market, where we stock in luxury department stores such as Barneys and Isetan.
What is it about fashion that drives you?
My goal is to make women feel more confident, empowered and beautiful through the clothes they wear – that’s the end product. It’s such a creative process too. Our collections start with a clean slate to create something beautiful, from inspiration for the next season (the colour, fabric, and silhouettes), to picking textiles, drawing and designing, cutting and creating in the atelier, and several fittings to create the perfect shape. We then show the collections at fashion weeks for the buyers, which are then ordered for production and dispatched to the stores. There is such a pace to the fashion world, which means we always have to be thinking 10 steps ahead. Planning for the Spring Summer 2018 (SS18) collection will start in March 2017, and it will be in stores at the end of February 2018.
Where do you get the inspiration for your next collection?
Eszter, our Head Designer will start with 3 core ideas and build on themes across the fashion world as well as information produced by WGSN – the world’s trendsetting authority for global brands that holds data around what the new trends are going to be. As a team, we then try to understand the relevance of this data for our next collection, and agree on ‘how to make it ÁERON’.
I love our SS17 collection – it was inspired by the region around Lake Balaton which is 1 hour outside Budapest. People escape the big city to find solace in nature throughout the year in this part of Hungary. We included a colour palette that evoked the emotions and feelings that the lake brings out, which is what originally inspired the collection. We also endeavor to reinvent tailoring techniques and reinvigorate folk themes, based on traditional Hungarian clothing that has now been completely remodernised.
How would you describe the importance of social media to drive a brand like ÁERON?
Incredibly important! It gives brands like ÁERON the opportunity to reach everybody at a low cost. We get to create our own message every day – echoing our latest collections. We reached 25,000 followers on Instagram over 1.5 years, which we wanted to grow organically and without sponsorship. Through our Instagram page, we are able to have real engagements with our customers who love the brand image. It also allows us to be interactive and respond to queries, comments and questions. We sometimes share photos from behind the scenes and from our shows, so that followers are able to understand more about who is behind the brand.
As the CEO of ÁERON, what does your typical day look like?
I don’t have a typical day – every day is completely different and a challenge in itself. My job ranges from supporting the design of our new collections, to sales (both with stores and customers), to marketing and PR, as well as financial management of the business. I also have the privilege to work with a fantastic team to help drive the business forward and help me problem solve. Being a leader for your team is an ongoing responsibility, which involves keeping everybody motivated, and ensuring there is a plan that the team can follow. One thing I’ve learned is to trust your colleagues, since you can’t do everything on your own.
As the annual fashion weeks approach each year, we become really busy preparing to show our products to the buyers, as well as department stores and concept stores, and help them decide what they are going to order in the new season. I end up working 14-hour days, but I break this up with a variety of exciting activities. From New York to Paris, the first meeting will always be in the showroom with press or the buyers. In between all the meetings, I try to sneak out to see other shows to get inspiration – there is so much talent in this industry. What’s really important is taking onboard feedback from our engagements, where can we improve, how can we do better and share this with the team at HQ – these can be such valuable lessons when you’re growing a business. Feedback is a gift!
What do you enjoy most about doing your own thing?
Freedom. On the one hand it’s the most stressful job you could ever imagine, with a lot of responsibility on your shoulders being at the helm of the business. On the other hand, you can be your own boss, manage your own schedule, and make all the decisions.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in growing the brand?
The biggest challenge is reinventing your brand, especially being in the fashion industry. Your mind is always moving a year ahead and at the same time you’re in between collections on sale, you’ve finished designing another one, you’re bringing on stream the latest one – it can become a real whirlwind.
Fashion is incredibly capital intensive, which means it’s very easy to encounter cash flow problems as you need to finance your collections at least a year in advance. The need to raise investment grows very quickly and is very difficult to do this on your own.
With small companies, you go from being a 6-person team to an 18-person team very quickly. Every 2 months you need to re-think your company structure, culture, changing the process like production and sales. There is no handbook on that! Learn by doing… as they say!
Here at Eyedea have been honored to host some of the world’s leading women in business across different sectors. Who would you say are the women who inspire you?
- I love reading Porter Magazine, where women share the spotlight.
- My mother is my biggest inspiration. Being a mother of 2, she gave up her profession to raise a family. However, she reinvented herself in her 60s through teaching and helping others.
- Tory Burch – she started her own brand in her 40s, at a time when her 2 kids were young, but she was able to build a billion dollar empire while still remaining humble.
- Serena Guen – the Founder of Suitcase Magazine. We’re the same age as well as good friends, and I can identify with her the amazing experience and struggles of a young entrepreneur.
What would be your top 3 words of advice for leading a business at a young age?
- Never make age an issue. You will no doubt be meeting top executives and investors in their 50s and 60s, but age is only an issue if you make it one!
- Be open minded. When you make a mistake (and you will make them) – don’t sit on them, learn and move on (you have 1 million other things to do…) just make sure you don’t repeat them!
- Don’t give up! You’re in the wrong business if you think it will ever get easier.
- Put on a thick skin! Hustling for your business in its early stages is crucial to get your brand out there.
- Invest in your people. The more you invest in them the more they will work hard to grow the business.
ÁERON has gone from strength to strength since its start up. What are some of the highlights we can look forward to?
We’re really excited to continue entering new markets and to see which ones will work for the brand and where we can really have an impact, test and learn from those experiences.
We are aiming to open our own retail store in the next few years so that we can create an ÁERON world, and make it a unique buying experience. The opportunities are endless – architecture and design is a really interesting space for us which could extend to a home collection in the future.
You can explore more about ÁERON here