Apr 4th, 2018, 11:43 PM

Sew Into Fashion: Girlboss

By Sabrina Scholkowski
Image Credit: Veronica Beard
Stephanie Unwin, President of Veronica Beard, speaks about work, life as a mom, and gives advice on entering the fashion world.

It’s a sunny but cold February day in Manhattan and as I am walking through Union Square Park, down towards West 17th street, I can’t help but feel a little nervous about the person I will be interviewing in a mere 10 minutes. Stephanie Unwin is President of Veronica Beard – an East-Coast meets West-Coast brand designed by women, for women, creating the essentials you need to feel chic and effortless when time is the ultimate luxury – and a true #girlboss in my opinion, so of course I want to impress her despite my nerves, hoarse voice and stuffy nose from my cold.

I finally get to the building where the studio and offices are, onto the elevator and off at the floor marked Veronica Beard. As I step through the door, I can hear furious typing and phone chatter coming from the offices, and I can see that market season has clearly just finished, since there are a couple of girls running around the showroom space trying to fit things into suitcases and boxes, preparing to ship to their next destination (Paris, that much I know).

I am told to sit in her office, and once inside, I imagine this is what it must be like to be inside Anna Wintour’s office, or anywhere at Vogue: two Victorian couches on one side of the room, another large sofa on the other, two desks in front of each other at the back, while a myriad of books and magazines line the coffee table and window ledge in front of the couches. There are two huge moodboards hanging against the wall, and an inspirational “Just keep making”…the am both calming and energizing, and before I can think about anything else, Stephanie comes in through the door, and we get to talking…

Image Credit: Sabrina Scholkowski

Let’s go back to the start, how would you describe yourself?

I’m very family oriented so I would describe myself as a mom, it’s very important to me as I have two children (a five-year-old, and an eight-year-old). I’m ambitious, I love to travel, I enjoy challenges, culture, and I adore working at Veronica Beard, it comes second only to my friends and family, but then again my team at VB feels like an extension of my family.

As a working mom, how do you balance it all (life, work, family)?

Probably not very well, but I try, I feel very fulfilled, us working moms have a hard time with that, but I try exercising in the morning which helps keep me sane, we entertain a lot at home so I can spend time with my husband and friends; we also have a place outside the city where we go to every weekend to relax and have quality family time, and my kids go to bed later than most so I can spend time with them.

I have to ask, how did you get into fashion?

I started with my undergrad in finance actually, and I started working for a semester during college at the Royal Bank of Canada, and at the age of 19, I was legally able to trade. It turns out I didn’t like that very much… and after traveling and working abroad in London, I tried my hand working in retail at Holt Renfrew (luxury department store) back home and I realized I found my passion. I then applied for an AAS Marketing Program at Parson’s, and here I am in New York working in Fashion since 1998.

“The best you can do in your college years is to try and explore as best you can. You should always try and play in your own strengths and skills, but the most important thing is to be passionate about it… that’s how you’ll be successful.”

Speaking of, what was or has been your biggest challenge?

So many challenges… the first one was probably when I started working with a young designer couple right after graduating from Parson’s. We ended up launching a brand together called Mayle (recently relaunched as Maison Mayle) and it was successful, selling to Barney’s, Harvey Nichols, with big international distribution. I was 25 at the time, and it was a great formative experience and so rewarding to be able to learn all the different aspects of the business, from packing boxes, to writing checks and overseeing the store. Now I’ve probably done it around four or five times, maybe more, and the thing is, you don’t always get it right… The lesson is that the product is first and foremost, the quality as well, and there must also be a balance between business and marketing acumen.

Photo: Courtesy of Veronica Beard

And your favorite part about the job?

That I can be involved in so many aspects of the business, the multifaceted nature of my role, to be able to lead a team and work together to drive the business forward. I like making decisions quickly and being able to really impact the business, and lastly, I enjoy being very involved in the merchandising, with 20 years of experience, I have a good sense of what’s going to sell and it’s still very important to me.

What is your favorite brand?

98% of my wardrobe is Veronica Beard [says through laughs], no but really, I’ve been obligated to wear many brands for work before, and I do love and enjoy wearing our brand. As far as designers, Dior, Balenciaga (back when Nicolas Ghesquière was there), and Gucci of course!

How does Veronica Beard speak to the modern woman?

First, we have these two incredible and dynamic founders Veronica (Swanson) Beard, and Veronica (Miele) Beard; one is more boho and west coast, and one is more flashy and east coast, so we have an interesting mix. We like to say that we are very much everyday chic, VB is a brand you can wear from day to night and from work to weekend, and we are also a combination of cool and classic, everything is wearable and with the consumer in mind, who she is and what she needs. Our consumers are between 20 to 70, and each segment interested in a different product. Since we are a bit on the expensive side, the younger customer, is interested in the emotional piece or splurge, whereas the older segment will come in to buy their entire wardrobe. We recently just launched jeans and footwear, so there’s really something for everybody.

Thoughts on sustainability?

We’re not the front-runners of sustainability, but we do make our contribution to it. 50% of our products are manufactured in New York City, so we still keep it fairly local. And in terms of giving back, we have this thing called VBGB (Veronica Beard Gives Back) in which we give 10 dollars of every online purchase to a different charity each month, and we’ve done it since we launched our site.

Image Credit: Veronica Beard SS18 Lookbook

What’s in the future for you and for the brand?

For the brand, we are continuing to develop our digital footprint (technology is very important to us), national retail expansion since we believe brick-and-mortar is still necessary, we are also pursuing international expansion in Europe and Asia as well, and we have our eye on accessories down the line.

Career-wise, this is it, I’m living the dream! Haha no but in all honesty, despite my rewarding career here, we still have a long way to go in the company and I look forward to that. My current goal is to travel more and explore the world with my family.

What’s your advice for young women in any profession?

I truly believe that we are capable of anything that we put our minds to! You just have to pursue what you love, what you’re good at, and you have to work hard to get where you want to go, never feel inferior and believe in yourself.

And lastly, any tips for people wanting to succeed in fashion?

Do as many internships as possible, it exposes you to different parts of the business and you get to realize what you love and don’t. I think you should explore as much as you possibly can before you have to sign on full time, and it will help you make a more educated decision.

Next, on Sew Into Fashion, I will be tackling the infamous "fashion showroom", what it's like directing one, owning one, and working in one, from the many experiences of a veteran insider herself throughout the years, so stay tuned fashionistas...