It’s smoooth to talk about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and the real, the challenging, and the exciting experiences of e-commerce.
Meet clothing designer Elin Alemdar, founder of fashion brand Stylein, who is busy digitalising her business, exploring new ways to attract customers and offer value, and preparing to scale her brand – all while Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden is flattering her in the best way possible.
This is Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden arriving at the Polar Music Prize in Stockholm in June with her husband, Prince Daniel.
Do you notice anything special?
Look at the red dress.
Yes, it’s one of Elin Alemdar’s creations.
Being recognised by a princess in this way is naturally the crown jewel of flattery for a designer. However, as many entrepreneurs would agree, few things beat the feeling of seeing ordinary customers using your products. Elin experienced one of those moments on her way to the subway, just a couple of days before Princess Victoria showed up at the Polar Music Prize:
“I saw a woman dressed in a kimono-set from us. Then my energy was fueled for the rest of the day.”
A bit of extra energy never hurts, but. it’s not like she’s lacking in the first place – in her teens she almost made it to the Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics (“only 25 qualified, and I was number 28”), and she still spends half an hour every morning at the gym. But considering how much she has going on as a creative fashion designer continuously creating new collections, and as a founder and CEO who chooses to work very closely with her ten employees and feels pride in keeping a high spirit in the team – and on top of that she almost daily discusses ideas, challenges and strategies with her co-owner, product manager and sales manager Ulrika Nordén… well, maybe the question isn’t whether she could use more energy but rather if she has too much of it?
Do your passion and energy ever lead to too many ideas? Sometimes creative people get sidetracked by new ideas that pull them away from what they are supposed to do.
“I know exactly what you mean. I’m lucky enough to have a core business that is built on creativity and where my ideas can usually be directed. With that said, that’s one of the reasons I’m so grateful to have my partner Ulrika. She helps me to filter out ideas that don’t fit our brand, so that we stay on track. She says things like ‘Great idea, but the timing isn’t right’.”
“I believe in The Law of Attraction – the universal principle that your inner world is projected in the outer world, that your desires will be attracted into your reality when you are energetically aligned with it, and that sometimes things will happen later because they aren’t aligned right yet. What comes to mind is how, a couple of years ago, I felt this pull to work with denim, but the material was just too far off the Stylein brand. Then, half a year ago, the opportunity came to bring it in, in a way that was right for us.”
Another opportunity you also attracted into reality – in some way or another – was an investor offer that must have been appealing, because you sold a part of your company?
“Yes a small share, to Nordic Tech House, which is partly owned by Isabella Löwengrip [a Swedish blogger turned serial entrepreneur and investor]. She is a fan of our brand – and even in our first discussions it was interesting how different their attitude was compared to traditional investors. No one was saying things like ‘For 350,000 euros I want 20 percent in your company, and I want to know how you are going to use the money.’ Instead they were like: ‘These are the kinds of resources we have. We believe those are some of the resources you’ll need to scale your company.’ We talked the same language. They think big, have many fresh ideas and are visionary. We have great discussions, like about whether we should join Amazon or not.”
Should you? Are you going to?
“When the time is right we will join them and many other successful digital platforms. For now we are focusing on optimising our own first.”
Let’s zoom out for one second. After more than a decade in business, you are now transitioning from an offline sales structure – where your clothes have been sold via retailers in the USA, Europe and Japan – to having your customers buy directly from you online. Are these physical stores still important, or will you go completely digital now?
“Most sales still come from retail, so we are still dependent on our retailers. Besides that, there’s also a touch-and-feel element to it. Customers enjoy the opportunity to touch and feel the quality of our clothes in a physical store. However, the retail sales model is getting outdated. Last year our online revenue went from 10 to 25 percent, and by the end of 2019 I guess it will account for about 50 percent. One of our challenges is that we want to serve our customers directly, but at the same time not compete on price with our retailers. It’s a balancing act for us. One of the ways we solve that challenge is by offering online exclusives.”
How exactly do your online exclusives work?
“We make small drops online; products that are available only on our website.”
“These drops are exclusive in their availability, they come with a better margin for us, and they cut 2-3 months off getting the products to market – other collections we are working on today will be available in stores in a year from now. We also offer more expensive products that retailers wouldn’t buy because of the risk; they are not commercially safe bets. One example of a product made just for the web would be the dress Crown Princess Victoria was wearing. That will be offered on our site only.”
And you feel ready for scaling?
“Yes, I want to put my foot on the gas pedal now. However, we don’t have the cash to take it to the next level quite yet. It takes economic muscles to have enough in stock and meet a higher demand. That’s one of the reasons we are digitalising everything now. We are preparing for scaling, making ourselves venture capital-ready you could say, even if it’s not for certain we’ll take that route.”
“One effect of bringing in Nordic Tech House is the focus we now have on creating the right conditions for scaling. For example, we are changing e-commerce platforms to allow for advanced customised integrations, so that fewer hands are involved once everything is up and running by the end of this year. Also from an environmental point of view it’s important to do things smarter.”
When looking 3-4 years ahead, what do you personally believe will happen in the e-commerce space?
“The focus will be much more on attracting dedicated followers, not finding them. The way to do that is to invite them into your world, in our case to Stylein’s world, to make them feel a part of it. I don’t think you can rely on cutting prices or running promotional sales. I will work hard to create content that is real, passionate and inspirational.”
If someone donated 100,000 euros to your business today, how would you spend that money?
“I would put most of it into creating content that builds the inspirational world of Stylein, and use a few coins to buy traffic.”
This is Elin
Name: Elin Alemdar
Role: Fashion designer and founder of Stylein (LINK: www.stylein.com). Started in 2001 in New York, but since 2003 based in Stockholm where she has a team of ten employees.
E-commerce platform: Panagora so far, soon moving to Shopify with a tech team working on the more advanced customisations and integrations.
Her best online purchase: “Every The Row accessory I’ve bought. It’s my favourite brand.”
ELIN’S SECRET DAILY HABIT
“As I write my to-do list in the morning, by hand, I force myself to put at least one painful thing on the top of that list. Something I have been resisting doing. I see that task as a symbol for how effective my day will be. So I attack it right away, and immediately feel strengthened.”
ELIN’S “FAVOURITE” ADVERSITY
“There was an Italian boutique in Paris who wanted to sell our clothes and placed an order. They sent us a bank guarantee for the 30 percent deposit, and we sent them the clothes. However, that guarantee was false. We never saw the money, and lost about 15,000 euros wholesale. After that I decided to be more selective about which retailers we should work with.”
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