How women in the fashion industry are rising up
By Fatima Gorezi
Ils Sterckx, is a fashion entrepreneur based in Belgium. She is the founder of MATUVU, a fashion agency (based in Antwerp, ) which distributes women’s fashion brands in Benelux.
Ils graduated at university with a Masters’ degree in Business Communication, but she always knew that she was born to work in the fashion industry. One year ago, she started the MATUVU Fashion Academy, where she helps new entrepreneurs in the fashion industry to start, grow and develop their business. She had 10 years of running her own fashion business. During this life experience she has learned a lot of things. One of them is that failure is not a choice, but a step further towards the growing of your company. She shares with us some important tips for women in the fashion industry and her opinion about the future of fashion enterprises.
Can you tell us about your childhood and upbringing?
As a child I grew up in a very nice & cosy family. Although my parents worked a lot, they took time to spend the weekends with their children. We would enjoy weekends out to central parks, the seaside, Durbuy, etc. We did a lot of short trips so we could discover so many things. As my brother is younger, I was the oldest of the children, so my parents were much more strict with me. I think that’s why I’m such a perfectionist today.
Tell us a bit about your professional background? How did you get started in fashion industry?
At the age of 23 I finished my studies at university; I studied roman languages with 1 year extra of master in business communication. During my studies I had a big passion for fashion but never believed I could work in this industry. The final year of my studies I had to look for a job, so I searched on the internet for companies in the fashion industry. This way I did some job applications in fashion and I got to know the industry better. At 24 I started as junior sales representative at a big fashion agency where I could represent brands like Liu Jo, Michael Kors, For all mankind, Dolce & Gabbana, etc.
When I was 27 I had a strange feeling. I was wondering if I would do this job ‘forever’. I’m very ambitious and in this company there were not many opportunities to grow. That’s why I decided to launch myself a new fashionable jewellery brand in Belgium. After 1.5 year of selling this brand, I added 2 more brands (shoes & t-shirts), so MATUVU was born. During the years MATUVU, my company, grew as a fashion agency (based in Antwerp) which distributes women fashion brands in Benelux.
The state of fashion is uncertain and challenging nowadays— how are you managing through it?
So true, the fashion industry is the most fast changing industry I know. Each day, new trends are born (especially with social media). The big chains are going very fast with fashion and trends. They can even present such good quality for appealing (low) prices. This makes it very challenging for small retailers and even department stores to follow up. On the other hand, you have the revolution of slow fashion, with focus on sustainability and making all-season clothes without following these fast trends.
As an entrepreneur in fashion you have to be open for these changes and be pro-active on what the market is going to do. I always look into the future and stay flexible in the collection we represent, keeping an eye on what the market needs.
In a product-led world where branding remains important, what do you see happening to lifestyle brands?
Indeed, by the growth of mobile and social media, it’s so important for brands to focus on the customer experience. Customers have to engage with the products and have to connect with the values of the brand behind. They become followers, fans, and trust can grow. This way, when consumers come back to your brand, they buy it.
What I notice is that lifestyle brands don’t start from the product, but from the feeling this product will give. They create a feeling around the brand. People who share this feeling, will connect, will experience this brand, and will buy the products. It’s important for these brands to keep the focus from the beginning until the end of the consumer experience. One goal is to keep the customer loyal to your brand.
What can you tell us more about Matuvu Fashion Family? What is the vision?
In January 2018 the MFF (=Matuvu Fashion Family) was born. The MFF is the biggest network in the fashion industry. We connect women working in fashion, from starters to leaders. They are ambitious, open to grow, to innovate and to empower each other. They have 1 big passion in common: fashion.
Since April 2017 we have been hosting monthly expert classes for women working in fashion (retailers, designers…) We always close these master classes always with a small network drink. During these drinks , amazing collaborations begin. I constantly get a feeling we are a real family.
When you are an entrepreneur and you have to do your business all by yourself, it takes a long time to reach your goals, and you often become lost in the field. That is why I would love to empower, to inspire and to motivate women working in fashion. We can share our stories, inspire each other, share ideas and create amazing things together. That’s why the MFF was born and growing each day with new members (internationally).
How women in fashion industry are rising up? How their roles are evolving?
In the past when I went to meetings outside the country for new collection presentations or to close collaboration deals, it was always with men. Almost no women at all led any company in fashion. The owners, directors, managers were mostly men. Nowadays, this scenario is changing. More and more women are setting up their own company, starting their own brand, and climbing in careers. It’s a good sign they believe in their power.
Fashion nowadays is not just about clothes. It seems that fashion can be an identity, business and can be empowering. What is your opinion on this?
That is a really strong point of fashion. Today, in a world where you can follow everybody, people are looking for an identity, a status and this often get expressed by fashion. Also by wearing clothes, you create a look and this look is your first impression people have about you. Brands are also following this trend and create more ‘status’ products people buy to belong to a certain group.
For me, I love to play with fashion and to be creative. I like innovative looks, but still wearable and commercial. I don’t feel the need to focus on status but more on the fact I want to inspire women with my looks and stylings. I always start the day with how I want to feel today and put on the look that matches my feeling.
How has modern technology (social media) changed the fashion industry?
Modern technology is really changing the fashion industry, dramatically. Social media, m-commerce, e-commerce, influencer marketing,… they all have a huge impact on the industry. Especially the speed is strong. People are always looking for new must-haves, deliveries have to be fast, trends have to rise every day, and people forget often the creativity (& hard work of designers) behind the fashion.
Today people set the tone of fashion and not longer brands & designers. They follow what the market needs. So it’s a huge change for this industry.
What life and business lessons did you learn from your experiences?
I’ve learned a lot during my 10 years of running my own fashion business. I’ve learned that drawbacks are not failure, but rather steps further in the growth of your company. It’s so important to keep the focus on the big picture, and thinking ahead. And that in business, your path to success has always ups & downs.
In life I learned to stay positive even in challenging times. Today (after all these experiences) I know my purpose in life and that is such a nice feeling to have. This gives me space to develop myself even more.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in business?
A strategy I recommend (coming from my own experience) is to look for a mentor. Get coaching from someone who has results in the industry you wanna grow in. Even if you know a lot already by yourself, you have to be always open to learn more.
A second strategy is to build a strong network. Surround yourself with people who are positive, leading, who are successful and who can inspire you.
Finally, I recommend that women to dream big. During my coaching sessions (I coach women in fashion at the Matuvu Fashion Academy), I hear a lot of women sharing how much they love to start a ‘small’ business; like a ‘small’ web-shop, or a ‘small’ store, or just a ‘small’ designer. If you think this way, you’ll never reach your goals and dreams. So change your mindset and your life & business will change.