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HongKongEcho: A new chapter

“I’ve never been that confident in what I could achieve,” says Fanny Moizant. You would hardly guess it from the woman who co-founded one of the major players in online fashion retail today. With Europe conquered, Asia is now firmly in her sights.

If it was up to her she’d be in sneakers every day, admits Fanny Moizant. The co-founder of vintage fashion e-commerce giant Vestiaire Collective is decidedly laid back for someone who has spent the past six months orchestrating the mammoth launch of the company’s Asia operations.

She ushers us over to the coffee bar of her co-working space in the sleepy industrial enclave of Wong Chuk Hang – her sweatshirt, sneakers and skirt ensemble an enigmatic mix of casual and chic – where an entire floor is dedicated to fashion startups.

A dog – yes, a dog – wanders over to us while we wait for our afternoon brews, nudging us for attention and Fanny duly obliges; clearly this is totally normal here. We’re in startup territory after all. But it would be misleading to label Vestiaire Collective with the startup tag.

Since its launch in 2009, Vestiaire has become a market leader in Europe and now employs some 300 staff across three continents. “If someone had told me that nine years later we’d have such enormous worldwide growth and that I would be landing here in Hong Kong, I’m not sure I would have signed up for it!” she says.

Of course, she hasn’t done it alone. She’s one of six original co-founders who saw their wardrobes filling up with once-loved luxury items that needed a new home. At the time, fashion bloggers were operating their own electronic marketplaces, but the buying process was clumsy and there were few safeguards for quality.

The idea was simple. Create a platform to act as the middleman between buyer and seller, curating all the best second-hand luxury items that users had to offer and leveraging expert knowledge (all items are physically assessed by experts before reaching the buyer) to ensure that the luxury items are what they claim to be.

Over the past nine years, this idea has bloomed into a community of six million users worldwide, shaking traditional fashion operators to their core.

New challenges

Somewhat rare for startups, the group comprised of six co-founders at its inception. Rather than stepping on each other’s toes, they were instead able to cover all bases. “We’re quite lucky that we all met with a similar idea in our minds and that we each possessed skills different to one another. One of the biggest mistakes I see amongst my girlfriends – or anyone for that matter – is that they start businesses with people who have the same skillset as themselves.”

In that sense she’s never really felt alone, she says, gracefully diving into deep sips of her coffee between recollections.

Still, she’s the only one of the founders to have left Paris.

A four year stint in London setting up Vestiaire’s Europe operations is one she remembers fondly, despite its frustrations. Hiring and watching over country managers across the continent, she felt restrained by a hands-off approach. “I was very much in the ‘backseat’ watching others drive the business. After six months I realised it wasn’t for me and my life had become a bit flat. I need to be on the frontline of the action.”

Vestiaire’s progress in the US market has been gradual but impressive and now the challenge fuelling her fire is Asia, a market which is responsible for a huge portion of global luxury fashion purchases.

It’s a new chapter in both the life of the company and her own journey to seek greater challenges. “In many ways I’ve grown alongside the company – at times it’s been a steep learning curve – so it makes sense that this is a big step both on a business and personal side,” she says.

The current target is launching Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. She gives a friendly wave over our shoulder to one of her staff members strolling past – it’s the first week of on-boarding their new seven person office, which she adds is likely to rapidly expand as the Japanese and Korean markets launch next year. China, she says with a wry smile, will be part of the action when the moment is right.

The entrepreneur mind-set

Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Fanny has always known the all-consuming nature of running your own business. “This was a massive influence on my own choice to become an entrepreneur.” In her early 30s and discovering motherhood for the first time when the company launched, she admits the pull of entrepreneurship came relatively late.

She remains an avid reader of entrepreneur biographies – “although these days I seem to have less and less time to read,” – and pinpoints fellow digital-fashion-startup-extraordinaire Nathalie Massenet, Founder of Net-A-Porter, as an inspiration.

She’s a mother, yes, but is hesitant to get bogged down in labels and platitudes. “It’s never really been a question for me whether I could be an entrepreneur and also have a family. The support you have in Hong Kong is great, but my life here hasn’t changed since I moved from Europe. Just because I have someone who can look after my kids, it doesn’t mean that I’m out socialising more often.”

Nonchalant as ever, she shrugs off placing too much emphasis on differentiating the experience of being a female entrepreneur. Still, she’s conscious of certain elements holding women back. “As women I think we tend to lack confidence in our own abilities. We ask ourselves too many questions and ultimately this restricts us.”

Her advice? Don’t ask questions. Just go for it.

This article originally appeared in HongKongEcho 88 - The Trailblazers

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