From the outside, the fashion industry looks like lots of glitz and glamour, but what does it really take to be successful in the competitive world of fashion?
This month we interviewed Zoi Safiya Vafias, Director of Studio Agency, a successful fashion agency based in Brisbane. Zoi gives us a personal account and great insight into her experiences in the industry.
Zoi’s interest in fashion was sparked at a very young age – she was taught to sew by her grandmother while on regular family visits. Her first pre-teen designs involved scrap fabrics, lots of imagination and resulted in her first fashion item – cute handmade little purses.
Zoi’s first paid job was as a shop assistant for the children’s clothing retail store, Pumpkin Patch. Being the youngest casual worker in the store, the other more experienced staff took Zoi under their wing and taught her a lot about the industry and the importance of customer service.
Zoi starts Studio Agency
In 2007, at just 19 years of age, Zoi started her fashion business – Studio Agency. At her own admission, she was very young and raw, so things were not very strategic at the beginning. The main thought process was simple – take out a loan to pay for a lease and rent; find some labels; and sell, sell, sell. “Yes, I was very young and I have definitely learnt a lot along the way.”
The fashion industry has undergone many changes in the past eight years, especially with the popularity of online stores. Zoi’s strategy for her business changed about four years ago, from selling high-end items to a select few stores; to stocking more affordable priced items that could be sold to a bigger market of retailers. And another exciting development has been the launching of an in-house fashion brand called Toby Heart Ginger. “We have grown so much in the last few years and are now stocked in many majors worldwide which is really amazing,” Zoi says.
But running a business, especially at such a young age, is not all smooth sailing. “So many challenges. The biggest would have to be not following my intuition all the time and trying to please everyone. I have learnt now that the best advice is to trust your gut and follow your vision. If people believe in your vision, they will stay and if they don’t then they will drop off,” Zoi explains.
What’s a typical day at Studio Agency?
No one day is the same for Zoi at Studio Agency, but her normal routine includes a mix of managerial responsibilities (checking with sales and other department heads to ensure that all is running smoothly); creative duties (researching new designs and styles for her labels, checking samples, contacting suppliers); and with some day-to-day admin duties (checking emails, paying bills and so on). And lastly, with a little smile Zoi adds, “While constantly trying to be creative and dreaming about our next big move.”
What do you look for to hire new staff?
So what advice is there for someone looking to work in the industry? Zoi explains that her hiring criteria has changed in the past 12 months. Even though she feels she is very lucky that her current team has worked out, going forward her priorities for future team members will be personality, kindness and how aligned they are with the company vision, mission and values. “They don’t need to have any experience or any skill sets as such, they just need to be hungry to learn and take on challenges and work hard. They need to align with our dream and want to jump on board in making our dreams a reality!”
Further advice for fashion job hunters is that it’s not just fun and glamour all the time. It can be hard work and it requires persistence. “Nothing really in life happens overnight so you need to be willing to tough it out and work hard at making your passions succeed,” Zoi says.
Be a fashion leader, not a follower
“Always aim to start trends, not follow them is another big one too. So many companies in the industry fall behind because they just copy what others are already doing, that will only last for a small amount of time, you need to be hungry to start new trends and wow people.”
What does the future look like?
Like any young entrepreneur, Zoi is constantly thinking about the future of her business with lots of new ideas to consider. “Our next step is to grow our brand in Europe though. We just signed up with a distributor over there to sell our brand and they have already secured some big stores, so we are excited to see where it takes us.”
What about down-time?
Balance in life and relaxation time is important to Zoi too – she enjoys the simple pleasures when away from the office; reading with a cup of tea somewhere in the outdoors is a favourite past time – in a park, a beach or rain forest. She also loves to stay active playing netball or participating in yoga.
Studio Agency has also just joined a charity called Project Gen Z. Project Gen Z is a movement of Australian entrepreneurs that believe that education can change the world. “Over the next five years we will head to five countries with the mission to inspire 50,000 children. Running a workshop series called ‘Dare to Dream’ we want to give children the opportunity to dream bigger. I am very passionate about educating the next generation of youth to dream big and believe in those dreams,” Zoi says. Studio Agency will be incorporating some branded t-shirts through their in-house brand to raise funds and awareness for this cause. For more information on Project Gen Z visit: www.projectgenz.com.au.