Tastemakers: Vivy Yusof, co-founder of Fashion Valet

27 July 2016

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Malaysian e-commerce trailblazer, mum, designer and reality television star, Vivy Yusof is the face of Fashion Valet, a fashion e-commerce site she founded back in 2010 with her then-boyfriend-now-husband.

Evident in her numerous press interviews and the success of the company today, Vivy exudes a highly competitive and entrepreneurial spirit, which she retells of having started since her schooling days where she would write books and outsource the illustration work to a friend who could draw and colour, essentially doubling the rental value of her books.

We talk to Vivy about learning to run a business, Fashion Valet’s most expensive lesson and how companies can help retain working mums in the workforce.

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During the earlier years of Fashion Valet, was there a turning point when you realised you were on to something that would take off? 

From the start I knew I had to make it work. I’m very competitive by nature. I wouldn’t start a business and not give it my all thinking it wouldn’t become a million-dollar business. Whether or not it was going to work, it was not an option.

Did you originally find it difficult to let go and delegate, or did it running a business and managing employees come naturally to you?

No. As a start-up, you do everything from marketing to buying, folding stock, packaging, I did all of that with my husband. When we started getting more staff, I still wanted to do it. I wanted to do it my way.

I felt like I could really power through my career when I was single. 

I had to learn how to let go and give people chance to do it their way because my way isn’t always right and it also gives them a chance to shine. It’s taken me a few years to get there.

Did you ever feel at a disadvantage being a woman when you first started the business? Does the glass ceiling exist for you, or do you think it’s just overly talked about?

When I started the business I was not married and I wasn’t a mum, so I could do anything I wanted and I didn’t feel any hardship being a woman; I felt like I could really power through my career when I was single. Now, there is definitely a glass ceiling.

It’s just a fact of life that after you have kids you are not as mobile or as free as you use to be. I would like to think it won’t affect your career, but as an employer I’m seeing more and more women who have dependants and it does affect their careers.

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I have 120 employees depending on me, I feel like I cannot be hanging out while they are working. 

I personally don’t have the solution, but I found the problem – mums don’t have anyone to take care of their children while they’re at work. So maybe more day-cares, or day-care subsidies, if the companies can afford it, would help.

At Fashion Valet we also give mummy incentives. Mums can take one day-off a month to just be a mum and be with their kids. I think things like having more conducive environments for breastfeeding mums and having a dedicated freezer for their milk helps too. It’s all these things that I never thought about until I had a meeting with all the new mums and future mums in the company.

What was your most expensive lesson over the years in starting up and growing Fashion Valet?  

In 2012, we had big competitors coming in from the West, so they had deep pockets to burn and spend on online marketing, on everything else really. We got some investment: one million ringgit from myEG.

We tried replicating what our competitors were doing and spent a lot of the money on online marketing, getting more brands on board — brands we’ve never even heard of. We had lost our identity. In the end we actually lost sales. It’s good that we quickly woke up and realised we should not be threatened by our competitors.

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What inspires you?

Oh, I struggle with this question. I guess there’s a few factors – one is definitely my dad. He’s always taught me from young to never be comfortable, pamper yourself, or love yourself too much.

I hardly take leave or go on MC, or go on holidays because I should work harder than my staff. I have 120 employees depending on me, I feel like I cannot be hanging out while they are working. I think it’s that kind of responsibilities and pressure that I feel like I have to work hard.

What is your definition of success? Do you think you’re successful?

I don’t pamper myself with that word. I don’t define it and I don’t know what it is. It’s just want to make short term goals, make it and then set another goal. I never really think about success because I think once you think about that and you set the definition for it, once you get there, and then what?

I don’t want to be complacent or be too relaxed. For me, I want to work on my spiritual side as well. So for me, as corny as it may sound, success is when you get to heaven.

Okay, you have five minutes to get dressed. What is your world domination outfit?

Five minutes? I still want to look chic, but I’m rushing. So, I’ll just get a white top and my white pants and a nice handbag and a pair of white heels – and I’m done.

Watch Vivy in Tastemakers 2016 on Life Inspired. Tastemakers premieres Sunday, 7 August at 10:30pm MY/SIN/HK. 

Interview by Dee May

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