About Different Is Cool x YouInc: DisC and YouInc have collaborated on a series of profile pieces featuring Canadian entrepreneurs in non-traditional, creative careers [ie. fashion, visual & performing arts, social enterprise]. Through these profiles, we endeavour to break down stereotypes, inform our audience about entrepreneurship and provide perspectives on how business owners have followed their dreams whilst maintaining their intrinsic individuality.
Following, is our profile piece on Canadian entrepreneur, Elle AyoubZadeh and her luxury shoe line, Zvelle.
About Zvelle & Elle AyoubZadeh: The Zvelle brand embodies the values and personal style of its founder, Elle AyoubZadeh. Born in Iran, Elle lived in Dubai, New Zealand and Australia before moving to Canada in 2007 to work in international finance. Elle went on to co-found a successful luxury concept store in downtown Toronto that featured coveted designers from New York and around the world.
Passionate and hands-on, Elle oversees all aspects of design and production, bringing her business savvy and global perspective to each collections she creates for the Zvelle woman.
Zvelle recently garnered international attention when Canada’s Leading Lady, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, wore Zvelle shoes while accompanying her husband, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during a recent State Visit to Washington, DC and again in Japan during the 2016 G7 Summit.
Ten Questions with Elle AyoubZadeh
1. Zvelle has now completed its first full year of business. Congratulations! What are your 3 top learnings from this past year?
EAZ: We have just had our first birthday! Zvelle was launched in mid June 2015. The three top things I’ve learned since launching Zvelle are:
2. You are a serial entrepreneur. Two part question: What was the impetus for starting your first business? And what made you transition to shoe design?
EAZ: Prologue Lifestyle, the venture I co-founded prior to Zvelle, was a luxury concept store that focused on delivering a premium customer experience with quality products that you couldn’t find in big department stores. I spent a lot of time on finding unique products and tweaking the customer experience in store. The vision for that business was to eventually have our own products; I didn’t want to do a white label brand like many retailers do. To do anything well you need to have a maniacal focus and passion for it. So we decided we would close that chapter and I would focus on creating Zvelle. Designing shoes for the Zvelle woman is the most natural thing I’ve ever done in my life!
3. Zvelle Shoes is a direct-to-consumer only brand. What are the advantages of DtoC only and what are the challenges?
EAZ: We want to have a direct relationship with our customers and the only way to do that is to sell directly to them. We want to control the customer experience and have a direct dialogue with them. It’s the only way to guarantee great customer service with every interaction. We want to build a long-term luxury brand that will become tomorrow’s heritage brand. Our shoes are made in the same specialist factories as many global luxury brands but because we choose to sell them directly through Zvelle.com they are a fraction of the price point of other luxury shoes.
The advantage of DtoC is you get to have full control: from what you design and produce, to the price and how you deliver to the customer. You own the entire process and the challenge of that is you are taking all the financial risk upfront. However, for us, the advantages outweigh the challenges, as our shoes are not discounted in the current retail and secondary market discounting wars. Just because we are online only now does not mean we are not going to have physical locations in the future. Birthing a brand online is the fastest way to launch but we’ve also always offered private fittings in our downtown Toronto studio.
4. Being an entrepreneur is more than a full time job, it’s a 24/7 job. What does your downtime look like? Are your leisure activities related to business [ie. Reading business books]?
EAZ: Being an entrepreneur is definitely more than a full-time job. It really depends on what kind of company you want to build and are building. For me I decided that I want to build a global luxury brand and this means we are very ambitious in the goals we are pursuing. I have gone in to this with open eyes knowing that I have committed the next however many years of my life to make it happen! I have downtime but it’s limited and a lot of my interests are related to and compliment my work. I don’t have a separation between personal or work life. For example I love to travel and expand my cultural palette and I get to do that at work by visiting our factory or working with our team in different markets. I love reading. I will read anything with the exception of fiction except for Paulo Coelho’s books. There’s nothing I love doing more than spending time with my family, life partner and our American Cocker Spaniel Chilby. We love entertaining and bringing together an intimate group of diverse people together for dinner. It makes for great conversation and ways to learn about new people and their passions.
5. Every entrepreneur goes through times when they doubt themselves and their business. How do you navigate through those times and manage to keep going?
EAZ: My life partner Raymond Luk who is also an entrepreneur building/growing a fin-tech startup called Hockeystick once gave me very important advice which was “don’t get too high on the highs and don’t get too low on the lows”. I didn’t understand it at the time but I get it now, two companies in.
“…don’t get too high on the highs and don’t get too low on the lows…”
I draw inspiration from what Martin Luther King said “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” If you want to build a business for the sake of ego or money then you may give up when it gets tough (and it will!). But if you want to build a company with a mission attached to it, then that mission will hold you and will always guide you no matter how dark it gets.
6. You have integrated social causes [ie. Women’s College Hospital] into the DNA of Zvelle. Is it important for new entrepreneurs, who may not see themselves as having a great deal of profit to give back, to incorporate a social cause into their business plan?
EAZ: We have a partnership with Women’s College Hospital because we share many important values with them and they were the first hospital in Canada to allow female physicians to practice medicine. We didn’t set out to look for a ‘social cause’. It came about very naturally as it is part of Zvelle’s (and my) DNA. As a society, we tend to underestimate the impact our small actions can make in the long term. I would say that any entrepreneur and company should consider what’s important to them and do that. It’s very obvious when ‘social causes’ are incorporated for marketing purposes. It has to be authentic to the company. For us, Women’s College Hospital is a natural partner. They’re working on cutting edge innovation and research related to women’s health and is the only hospital of its kind in Canada. They employ hundreds of women (and men) in the health care field. Both empowering women and supporting the modern working woman is why we started Zvelle.
Read more about Zvelle’s partnership with WCHF here.
7. What is Zvelle Shoes’ BHAG [Big Hairy Audacious Goal]?
EAZ: We have plenty of BHAGs! We’d like to be a global luxury brand that will be remembered 100 years from now. We’re building the next heritage brand.
8. Fashion is an industry populated by people who consider themselves to be different than the mainstream. Many fashion people have been bullied in their youth for that uniqueness. Were you ever bullied and if so, how did you handle it?
EAZ: I lived in different countries growing up and learnt to grow in different cultural environments and that came with some challenges. When I was in high school in New Zealand it never occurred to me that it was not cool to be a librarian and play soccer at the same time. I didn’t understand or feel the social pressures at the time, but there were students who made me realize them and that didn’t feel good. I have a brother who has an intellectual disability with autistic tendencies so I’ve been aware of what it feels to be different. How I handled it at the time and even now, is by not letting anyone pressure me to play any kind of role to fit in. I’ve never felt the need to do that and I surround myself with people who are independent by nature.
9. Zvelle is active on social media. How do you see platforms like Instagram building your business?
EAZ: Social media including Instagram is a great way to give the world an inside look into your brand. It gives you an opportunity to share moments and have conversations that you can’t have elsewhere on the website or in print. It’s also a great way to get immediate feedback from your audience and keeping pushing yourself to connect with new people.
10. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
EAZ: My idea of perfect happiness is knowing that I gave it my all and had nothing more to give, and I pursued it all, in my professional and personal life. Being with my family and the people I love is perfect happiness for me regardless of where we are or what we are doing.
For more information on Elle and the Zvelle shoe brand [including the online store], visit zvelle.com.