A little while ago, Ewelina, the creative mind behind The Closet Journal, and Christina, co-founder and CEO of AMELI, sat down to have a conversation about the challenges of founding a start-up in the fashion industry, how AMELI strives to empower women beyond the bags and why, we as women, should support and lift each other up.
ABOUT THE CLOSET JOURNAL
The Closet Journal features a wide array of topics covering the fashion industry and building a minimalistic style aesthetic. In the past couple of months, the blog has transformed more and more into a hub for combining creativity and style under the umbrella of sustainability. This year it launched the 365 Outfit Project - a challenge to create 365 outfits consisting of 70 alternating, timeless pieces (already including shoes and accessories!). Shifting the focus towards sustainable brands and a sustainable way of consuming fashion, Ewelina uses her platform to inspire her community to shop more consciously and rely on steady pieces that last across seasons and trends.
Fashion creativity is not about constantly buying new clothes and accessories. Most of us have enough stuff in our wardrobes, and the real challenge is appreciating what we already own and continuously creating unique sets from things we have had for years. - Ewelina Kanty
Christina, you are the founder of AMELI - a handbag brand that makes the life of a businesswoman easier. What or who inspired you to start the label, and why did you become an entrepreneur in the first place?What inspired me most to start AMELI was the lack of existing handbag brands that combine functionality and elegance. I used to work in consulting and I had the choice between quite functional (ugly) unisex laptop bags or more female shoppers/totes that weren’t adapted to my ‘business’ needs.
The willingness to change something in the existing handbag industry was also one of the main drivers for me to become an entrepreneur.
Could you please tell us about the fabrics and production processes you use at AMELI?
As main fabric, we use different kind of leathers. In addition, we use reinforcement and metal parts. All materials are carefully selected and sourced from renowned manufacturers in Italy. Our producer helps us a lot in making the right decisions to ensure the high-quality and longevity of our products. Our products are handmade by a small family business in Varese, Italy. The process is that we first start with a prototype made of paper, before we have a leather prototype and then the real production. Thereby, we work very closely with our producer and visit them every 1-2 month.
In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a brand sustainable?And as an entrepreneur, how do you stay motivated to continue advocating for a fair and transparent fashion industry?
I think the term sustainability has been greenwashed a lot in recent years and there is always more one can do to be sustainable. For me, being sustainable is producing high-quality products that last - transparently and with integrity. For AMELI this means that we know every supplier in our supply chain and can guarantee that they follow the high EU standards. Also, we only produce in small quantities to avoid overproduction and we use the leather leftovers for our accessories. As we visit our producer on a frequent basis, we can ensure fair working conditions. We also offer a complimentary repair service, as we truly believe that it’s most sustainable when you invest in long-lasting pieces. I stay motivated because with every other option I couldn’t sleep with a good consciousness. The more I learn about the fashion industry, about the intransparency, illegal sweatshops and offshore sourcing, the more I am disgusted and I don’t want another human to suffer because of my business, so there is no way around fairness and transparency.
Quite recently, you shared a little reminder on the official AMELI profile that running a business isn't all roses, and Instagram isn't always the reality. Behind the beautiful photoshoots, events, and brand promotion, there is a lot of hard work, midst chaos, and never-ending to-do lists. So my question is - what biggest challenges and significant barriers did you face as a female leader, and what do you wish you had known before launching the AMELI brand?
Especially when we have been in Italy searching for a producer, there has been so much sexism. My husband was with me and everyone treated us as if my husband was financing my naive idea. I hated it to not be taken seriously. Besides that, I must admit that I also had a lot of very positive experiences as a female leader. There are so many other female leaders out there with whom I got in contact with and exchanged experiences. I actually don’t know what ‘beforehand’ knowledge would have changed our journey. I have learned that everything takes longer than expected, that you make a lot of mistakes and that you need to prioritize… And I think that is what every founder would tell you, but it’s something different to actually go through those learnings than hearing them.
How has your life changed since you first became an entrepreneur? Do you have any advice on how to maintain a healthy work-life balance?
My whole life changed. Before AMELI (and Covid), I would take the plane on Monday, work, sleep in hotels, and return on Thursday. Expensive restaurants and hotels, business outfits and heels, appearance and performance highly professional. Now, I work mostly from home, I still work a lot, also on the weekends, but I have way more flexibility. I can go out with our dog whenever I want to. I can decide to not take a shower and stay in my casual outfit the whole day. I can be transparent with my community and I don’t have to pretend to have answers to all issues. But as it is ‘my’ business, it is really tough to not think about work. So actually, I do not have a good advice on how to maintain a healthy work-life balance, I am rather seeking advice myself ;) What helps me is being in nature with my dog, doing yoga and trying to practice self-care and love.
As a team that consists of (almost) entirely women, on your social media and the AMELI blog, you focus not only on product promotion but also deal with other topics like motivation, women empowerment, and self-development. Could you tell us more about your 'Strong Voices' interview series and the education program for girls you support?
Let’s be honest - bags can’t change the world but I believe that the women, who wear them, can. For me, it is important to have an impact that is greater than designing bags. Strong Voices is an interview series that interviews inspirational women so that our community can learn from their experiences. Those women are from the entrepreneurial, consulting and corporate world and I have learned so much from them - I hope that is also true for our community. We, in our bubble, are extremely privileged. With privileges comes responsibility. There are so many women who do not have the chance to follow their dreams, who cannot read, don’t have a free choice. I believe that education is an important lever for a world with equal chances and opportunities. So we are spending yearly part of our profits to support female empowerment. Last year, we have donated 5000 CHF to the Malala Fund, this year, we have already spend 2500 CHF to Women’s Hope.
What is the best advice you would give to someone who wants to start an online business? Are there any resources, effective marketing initiatives, or tools that have helped you build and promote your brand?
Go with the standard, best in class tools - Shopify, Klaviyo. Don’t make it too complicated in the beginning and focus on getting your product out. Then it’s a continuous improvement process.
What do you think the future holds for women in the business world, and how would you explain the importance of empowering women and women-owned companies?
There is still a gap between men and women, be it in terms of stereotypes, payment, unofficial work, BUT there has already been so much improvement over the years, so I think the future for women is bright. Thereby, I feel that the empowerment of women is one of the big game changer. When we women learn to support us even more, connect better, network, we can close the existing gap much faster.
And my last question - given the fashion industry's environmental impact, what steps do you take to make your personal fashion choices more mindful? Do you have any recommendations for quality and sustainable women's workwear brands?
I try to live by a capsule wardrobe, focusing on core pieces with great fit and good materials in timeless colors - so I simply love your inspirations. I really must compliment you on that! Also, I try to avoid impulsive buying and only shop when I really have a demand for a specific item. Recently I also rediscovered my love for second-hand items. Regarding workwear brands from female entrepreneurs, I could recommend Nina Rein, Lotta Ludwigson, Vestaire Personnel, and Nort Swiss.