Could you please tell us about the concept and the business model behind Key of Aurora? What makes it different?
We present customers an alternative to mass consumption and at the same time spread positive stories behind the brands we offer. While the word 'sustainability' has been totally misused, the new generation of consumers want more; they care for the environment, they are looking for quality and would like to know how the products are made. We quench this thirst!
How hard was it to get these 130 brands on board? How do you select them and how does your collaboration work?
The first one is always the hardest to get! We are at a stage where sourcing runs smoothly, since we have proved to both brands and customers that we mean business and that they can trust us. Trust is everything; we fight every day to improve customer care and be as reactive as possible towards our partner brands and customers.
As for how we select our brands, we do have very strict acquisition standards. It's important to be strict, otherwise we jeopardise our credibility. Among our criteria are: quality, origin of raw materials, design aspects (we want cool things!), price attractiveness, and of course the aspect of 'sustainability', for which we have defined ten points.
We don't really see a lot of e-commerce startups coming from Switzerland. What are the benefits and the challenges of being based there?
Switzerland is an island within Europe. This means we have customs to deal with—something that is very expensive and time intensive. Usually, e-commerce start-ups from Switzerland stay in Switzerland, because of this customs pitfall. It's true that this also protects the market against foreign small to medium e-commerce players, but these country barriers deter Swiss start-ups from penetrating other markets. We are a “border free” company, since we do not keep any physical stock of our own. We work with our partner brands in what we call a “deluxe drop ship” approach: the brands ship directly from their warehouses to the end customers—wherever they are. We call it “deluxe” because we organise and handle the logistics a hundred per cent. This is a big relief for brands and not storing the merchandising ourselves helps us operate worldwide.
How do you see the evolution of brick and mortar retail and what is changing for luxury brands?
The internet brought a lot of new aspects to brick and mortar retail. However, something we do not speak enough of is the evolution of what luxury means to us. At Key of Aurora we have this approach where whatever we sell or whoever our customer is, we treat him like a king. We do not define luxury by prices. There was a big shift in consumption during the last few years. Why? Because there is too much of everything right now, and one has to fight for the customers' attention. So we treat everybody as good as we can.
Physical shops have also undergone a big change. People still want instant gratification when shopping in the city (so do I), but they are also looking for a lot more! We would like to open an experience-rich offline space, where people can mingle, but also escape from the daily noise. We would shift all sales aspects to our website and focus on pampering and getting to know our customers when visiting the physical store. For us, the term “store” will change in meaning, as the term “luxury” already has.
What are your most important markets at the moment and why?
Germany and the Nordics. Germany is the biggest European market for e-commerce and eleven per cent of customers shop online. In Switzerland, we are only at seven per cent. The Nordics in general like design and have a big affinity to sustainability and innovative products. That’s why nearly twenty per cent of our customers are from there.
What's the most useful thing you learned while working as a Senior Fashion Buyer for Manor?
My passion for people and my drive to make things happen. When I was given the position of a senior fashion buyer, I had the chance to lead a team. I made a lot of mistakes because I did not have much management experience back then, but after a while—and I am proud of it—we were a solid team. We worked hard, but also had a lot of fun together and respect for each other. I also learned that having physical stock is a big retail restraint and risk. While there are people who are really good at predicting trends, most of the time trends are triggered by some undefined forces: a VIP wearing a bag, an actor eating in a vegan restaurant, and so on. After a while, I got more and more reluctant towards the idea of buying ninety per cent of the merchandise one year in advance. Most retailers used to work like this, but now there is a shift in “short term” buying plans. The strength we have at Key of Aurora is to constantly refresh our products without taking too many risks and adapting our inventory by analysing data and listening to our customers.
Which channels do you find most effective/efficient when it comes to distributing your company's messages?
Social Media works well. With an image and a short piece of text we can convey in a simple and direct manner the idea of who we are, what we do and why we do it. We also noticed that the 'About' section on our website is frequently visited: online users want to know who is behind the company; they are reluctant towards anonymous websites—unless your name is Amazon or eBay (laughs).
Currently, a lot of brands are focusing on quality content. How important is content to you, and in your view, how is it affecting the world of fashion e-commerce?
There are two content families and they are both legitimate: the pure marketing content and the authentic content. We are moving more and more towards authentic content. By marketing content we mean content that is used to sell the product itself. For example, content on third party websites used to generate traffic (e.g. sponsored content on media pages). But on the brand's own website it can become redundant and a bit too much. Thus, we avoid talking too much about us and our products and focus on our “raison d’être”, our mission and vision. In this regard, we collaborate with market leaders who have something authentic to say. We are also interested in sustainability. With our current campaign on Indiegogo we try to go one step further: we want real, positive stories behind our partner brands, and we want our customers to tell them! Customers are very good at offering objective feedback and we want to empower them to do it! They are more authentic than companies.
What are your business priorities for the next six months?
We have to keep growing, and growing means finding more and more customers and gaining their trust. Furthermore, we are starting our second investment round and are looking for 'smart' money, which will enable Key of Aurora to get to the next level.
What kinds of tools, applications, or services make your everyday business life easier?
We have a lot of fun with the team; laughing is the perfect remedy against stress and pressure in an office environment. There is no app in the world that can replace this. A few months ago, I offered the team to either go for dinner once in a while or do sports once a week together. They opted for sports, and now we torture ourselves with bootcamp training every week (laughs).
When it comes to fashion and business news, what's on your daily reading list? Any great business books you'd like to recommend?
Daily: Business of Fashion, PSFK, Fast Company, Cool Hunting, Elite Daily. Great books: The Power of Habits and Real Luxury, which is the last one I read.
What is the biggest setback you have faced in your career and how did you respond to it?
For quite some time I considered myself to be a working machine. I am definitely not. I need sleep, healthy food, sports, holidays...and to be close to my husband and my family!
What are your three biggest headaches at work right now?
Finalising the yearly statement (at the time of going live with the interview it should be done), finalising the supply chain optimisation (nearly there) and making the team tidy up their desks every night before they leave (laughs).
What's the most solid, specific piece of advice you have for anyone wishing to work in fashion?
It’s not only about fashion, it’s in general about start-ups: be very, very, very patient and if you really want to get it done, do not give up—it will be hard, but enjoy every single moment!
Who would you like to recommend next for My Work?
Diana Verde Nieto, she is amazing!