The fashion and brand director for online accessories marketplace Boticca explains why she gets a kick out of supporting new designers.
Former My-Wardrobe.com buying and merchandising director Luisa De Paula left the now-defunct premium etailer in 2012 to become a consultant, before joining online accessories marketplace Boticca in October last year. She explains why she moved away from established brands and how she nearly lost all her possessions on a raft in Thailand.
Tell us about your role as fashion and brand director at Boticca.
Boticca is an accessories marketplace for independent designers from around the world. It’s like shopping on your travels. You can pick up something unique from all corners of the globe - not just London, Paris, New York and Milan, but places like Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea. We have the same model as Farfetch, but for designers rather than boutiques. Boticca doesn’t deal in established brands; it’s for emerging designers that we think have a story. I help them understand the nuts and bolts of how to scale up and grow, identify their bestselling products and make more of those. It’s a different set of rules from what I’ve done in the past [in roles at Selfridges, Liberty and My-Wardrobe], which was buying premium established brands with a sprinkling of unknown ones.
I think the online marketplace is an emerging model that’s only going to grow. Most retailers deal with the same brands and the only differences between them are the delivery options or that they offer some exclusives, which are often just colour variations. People want something different.
Boticca is an accessories and jewellery site, but you have a fashion background. Why did you make that move? I left My-Wardrobe to become a consultant. I had been in buying and merchandising for more than 20 years and I’d reached the point where I wanted to have control over my career and work across a number of projects, with different people. I consulted for The Shop at Bluebird and eBay and did some brand consultancy for emerging designers.
I worked with designers at the Istanbul Moda Academy, looking at their price architecture, sales strategy and branding. In the end, though, I missed working in a team and following things through to the end. I feel like I’m a bit long in the tooth for fashion now. It’s still my personal passion, but it’s an all-consuming profession to be in.
I’ve only dealt with accessories to a small extent, so it’s exciting to do something new.
Part of your job is to spot emerging talent. Who has impressed you most recently?
One of the real stars over Christmas was a brand called Article 22. It is based in the US and its concept is to take discarded bombs in Vietnam and use local artisans to turn them into jewellery. It has amazing imagery; it’s quite ‘fashion’, very stylish. Its pieces cost up to £250 and we’re selling out.
There are some brands you bring on board because, creatively, they are important. They are the artisans at their workbenches doing one-offs and customers love that because it’s personalised and individual. But you can’t scale that up; you wouldn’t want to. And then there are the brands that are more like small businesses, which you can scale up. They will make the real money, but both are important.
The site’s unique selling point is that each product comes with a story and they are sourced from all over the world. Do you have any of your own travel stories?
I studied Portuguese and Brazilian at King’s College London back in the 1980s and then went travelling for a year and a half. I told my parents I was going for six months! I went everywhere. I did all sorts of things I shouldn’t have, like white-water rafting in Thailand on a makeshift raft with all my possessions. And other things I can’t talk about! It was a life-changing experience.
You worked for Selfridges and Liberty before moving to etailer My-Wardrobe and then Boticca. What have those experiences taught you?
My-Wardrobe got me into online. I learned how to help tell the story of products online and what was going to help sales. When I worked at Selfridges [from 1993 to 2003], I watched it grow from a mediocre store to the beginnings of the designer emporium it is today. It gave me real training in theatre and product. I learned how to be a retailer, a trader. I love being on the front row and I love product, but what ultimately satisfies me is when a decision that I make is right and something sells.
What makes someone a good buyer and merchandiser?
Some of it is based on what you think will work and what will sell in your environment - and sometimes it’s a gut feeling.
I don’t have an art degree, but I do have a good eye. You have to understand your customer and what makes them tick, and know what’s selling in terms of the pricing and particular categories. You don’t always get it right, but you do have to take risks.