My Work: Gabrielle De Papp

Portrait of Gabrielle De Papp by Ellinor Stigle

Interview: Haris Stavridis // Portrait: Ellinor Stigle // Chair from Objects in General

Could you please describe your current role?

I am the SVP of Brand and Business Development for Farfetch North America, responsible for managing business development and brand relationships. Working with the Chief Commercial Officer based in London, I head up the U.S. business development team identifying and bringing on new stores, and brands, and providing support to existing partners. In addition, I work with the Store of the Future team to research partnership and new technology opportunities in the U.S.

What is your typical day at the office like?

I have a fairly long commute into the city, so on the train, I take the time to answer emails that have come in overnight from the London office, and read the newspapers and aggregated news sites. Typically, I am taking meetings with brands and boutiques and also helping the Store of the Future team in London to evaluate new partnerships. I travel quite frequently throughout the States to meet with boutiques and other partners, plus London at least once a quarter, and Paris for fashion week, so I am on the road two to three times a month.

What kind of manager are you? Do you prefer to be liked or respected?

I am not a micromanager; I hire competent people, so that I don’t feel like I need to hover and control what they are doing. I still expect them to check in with me regularly, and ask questions and know when they need to elevate an issue. I think people want to work harder and prove they can effectively carry out a task when they are empowered. I push them to come up with original ideas, not to imitate. At the end of the day, I would rather be respected than liked. I don’t need to be my team’s best friend. But I like to think they know I have their backs, and that I want them to learn and grow.

How do you hire the people in your team? Are there any specific questions that you ask potential candidates to see if they would be a good fit?

I am more interested in someone’s work experience than where they went to school. The fashion industry is somewhat of a bubble, so I like to see candidates who have worked outside and inside the bubble — it helps to bring a fresh perspective to the job. I am looking for people with drive and passion — it’s a bit of a turn-off when candidates are more focused on how quickly they can be promoted to a more senior position, or they point out that they don’t want be doing administrative duties, and so on. I typically ask what are some of the biggest problems they have dealt with and how they solved them. Farfetch is not a start-up, but we still need to be nimble and a little scrappy so I am always looking for creative problem solvers and people who are open to change and comfortable with ambiguity. And possessing a healthy sense of irony. We have to be able to laugh at ourselves.

What is the most useful thing you learned while working for companies like Neiman Marcus and Akris?

I learned about the luxury industry, and the business of fashion, and how to sell things that nobody needs. At Akris, I was exposed to all facets of the brand experience from design to sales, to international events and understanding different markets, to figuring out PR and marketing strategies across cultures. At Neiman Marcus, there was always an expectation that you could not develop any kind of strategy without understanding the product and the buys. It is a merchant-driven organisation, so we were expected to work very closely with the buyers and senior team which included store leaders, to ensure we were building out strategies that supported what we were selling. We had to understand the business first.

You joined Farfetch almost three years ago. How has the company evolved in the United States since then?

Apart from increased brand awareness we have moved beyond just a platform for 400 of the world’s best boutiques to working directly with brands, to providing other services like Black and White, and establishing our Store of the Future division. Marketplaces by their very nature are seen as disruptive, and when I first joined Farfetch, there was a lot of mistrust surrounding the marketplace model, especially one that focused on luxury. That thinking has changed, and as we continue to innovate, we are now perceived as a viable solution to specific industry problems — international shipping and logistics, an e-commerce platform for brands.

What are the biggest differences between European and U.S. boutiques, in terms of the overall experience they offer to their customers?

Specialty boutiques in the United States are typically smaller and hyper-focused on a local customer, but they realised during the recession that they had to look outside their market to survive. Farfetch enabled them to grow by opening their businesses to a wider, global audience. In many cases, they are offering similar brands to their European counterparts, but the buyers are quite different. Specialty boutique buyers, in general, are also about finding new and hard-to-find brands. I see a lot of innovation, particularly with menswear boutiques like 424Fairfax in Los Angeles that are offering very limited, and hard-to-find brands in smaller, residential-like settings.

How do you see the evolution of brick and mortar retail in the United States?

More experiential. It is now understood that the customer will shop whenever, wherever, and on whatever device they have at hand, so stores need to service the online as well as the offline — they need to be present through all channels. Stores have to provide entertainment, superior customer service and be innovative to attract and retain the customer. How technology is integrated into the physical store experience is also important.

Are there any new retail concepts that have caught your attention recently?

Rachel Shechtman’s Story, The New Stand, the launch of Brian Bolke’s reimagined Forty Five Ten in Dallas, The Apartment concepts in New York. and Los Angeles, and the evolution of Browns.

Could you tell us about your biggest business priorities in the next six months?

Signing key brands and boutiques, figuring out shipping and logistics to and from Mexico so we can start to work with brands and stores in this region, and identify new technologies and opportunities for the Store of the Future division in the United States.

When it comes to fashion and business news, what's on your daily reading list? Any great business books you'd like to recommend?

The usual industry suspects: BOF, WWD, Fashionista, Mashable, Tech Crunch, Fast Company, NYT, WSJ. I am good at skimming and thank God for aggregated sites like Mediabistro and Salon. For some light relief — The Onion. My husband just gave me Elon Musk’s book. I enjoyed hearing him speak at SxSW a few years ago, so I’m looking forward to reading that.

What is the biggest risk you have faced in your career and how did you respond to it?

When my husband was transferred to Paris, I made the decision to move from journalism into P.R. It was a momentous decision for me because I loved being an editor, and going to the “dark side” was quite disconcerting. In hindsight, it was quite prescient because all brands today need to be publishers and storytellers, so the editorial skill set has been advantageous.

What are your three biggest headaches at work right now?

Different time zones, because it’s not always easy to coordinate meetings with various offices. Brand restrictions — surprisingly some brands don’t want to be on Farfetch. Technology, as it doesn’t progress as fast as people would like it to, due to the complexity of the platform.

What kind of opportunities do you see for Farfetch in the U.S. in the near future?

To continue to revolutionise the way people shop for fashion, all over the world.

What's the most solid, specific piece of advice you have for anyone wishing to work in fashion?

Understand the business and all facets of this industry — specifically digital. And don’t believe the hype; fashion may look glamorous but it’s all an illusion. You better love working hard.

Who would you like to recommend next for My Work?

Avani Patel, CEO of TrendSeeder and Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate.

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