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Within the last few months, Akalia's founder jumped on an interview with the Shopify team. For those who don't know, Shopify is a Canadian multinational e-commerce company headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario. It is also the name of its proprietary e-commerce platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems. Akalia, runs on the Shopify platform.
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One of the most complex and competitive markets in the world is fashion. This industry is full of paradigms and unrealistic beauty standards.
Beli or Isa as many know her has always been an entrepreneur. “I had it inside my head since I was little”, she says. That passion drove her to seek to create something profitable, viable. But above all, she got that sincerity of saying things as they are, with honesty and simplicity.
That is what makes this firm an exceptional project. In a world as produced as fashion, Akalia is a breath of fresh air. It is an honest firm that shows real women, and that speaks, without complexes, to women around the world. This is her story.
Well the first question, necessarily, is where does Akalia come from? How did you come up with this project? Because you've gotten yourself into a pretty tough market.
- I have always been an entrepreneur - she laughs - when I was little I had my kind of lemonade stand. I used to sell Cocacola at my doorstep. One day, I threw eggs into the neighbors' car so I can charge him to clean it up after. Funny times. I was about 10 years old. I believe the biggest source of inspiration was my dad. He went from Portugal to Venezuela at 14 years old and started from scratch. Living the “entrepreneur” dream from nothing. I think I had that naive idea that starting a business was going to be easy and downhill. I was in college and me and a friend, we decided to start with a swimwear brand because we felt that in Miami, at that point, there was a spot missing in terms of design . All of them used to be the typical triangle style designs, we wanted to do something different. And we did! It was fun, I learned a lot. I worked a lot too. That was like a part of my MBA I would say. I was about 21 years old, funny times and great mistakes – she laughs- then I started Akalia from experience. I did a triple major in college (marketing, management and economics) and I must tell you..working gave me the real experience. Today, not even a year after launching this brand, we got out of stock really quick and mistakes were my best teacher. And I'm talking about mistakes with the brand and mistakes within my regular job at the moment.
What do you think has been the key to Akalia's success?
- Be humble enough to understand that you don’t know everything, that your voice as a boss is not the last word, and that every day you must find ways to learn. Also, have the right team at a professional and human level, and show them that you care about them as people. So yes, I would say it takes a ton of empathy, humility, and dedication.
The second is to understand that entrepreneurship is complex, That it is a very lonely path and that you should continue there even if nobody is applauding you. Anyone who starts a business more concerned about getting likes and fame instead of being a solution for their consumers, as well as support for your team, is already on a bad path. Always, no matter what, get into your customer shoes.
To end, from your experience as a brand that is consolidating itself in such a complex market, what advice would you give to an online entrepreneur?
- Do not think that by making an online page or an Instagram you are going to become a millionaire by night. Do it for yourself, not for the sake of fame. Be humble enough to understand you are not perfect and things take time. I think many people show the image of entrepreneurship in a super glamorous way and that has nothing to do with reality. People do not understand that within those first months as an entrepreneur you have little salary because surely you are going to have to reinvest the money. And in that same sense, do not start a business for fame or because it is fun. Start something that you are passionate about, because when you are alone and times get difficult; if you do not have the passion you will not be able to continue. Especially, if you are balancing it out with a part-time job as I did.
Did you start with Shopify from the beginning?
- Unfortunately not. That was an odyssey! We started with something similar to Shopify but I did not like it at all. After there we had a programmer who suggested that we used WordPress with a sales module because he could do online marketing and so on… it was fatal. The world of e-commerce is very changing and anything that we had to change we needed the programmer. We practically had to keep it there permanently for any changes. This for a startup was fatal. Relying on one person to do that all the time is almost having to have the 24/7 programmer by your side. We were a college startup and we couldn't have many people working with us full time. At that time they recommended the Shopify platform and everything changed completely.
It is striking that the models you feature are not all supermodels. They look more normal, more honest. Is this something the brand actively promotes?
- Well, I believe all brands should stick to what they believe in. I believe in diversity and social causes. At the bathing suit level, it is a very delicate subject because it is presenting your almost naked body to people. At the clothing level, also because there are many standards of beauty. So we started using a woman, a model a little more real. And in fact, in the new collection, we are not going to touch up stretch marks, or touch up cellulite, we are going to show the photos as they are.
And they have become strong because of this sincerity. Reviewing the page a bit shows that the brand aims to be honest. To show the woman's body as it really is.
- Yes, actually it makes me laugh a lot and I'm really happy because, at one point when the collection came out, our Instagram became a bit of a self-help blog. People were honest with us and said "my legs look like this", "I hate my ankles" and things like that. And I think that was very honest, very powerful and very healthy.
After that, things evolved and we started a zero-waste initiative. We turn excess fabrics from the supply chain into new stuff and sell them. We are planning to donate part of those profits to a new non-profit organization targeting girls' education in Venezuela. We have a LOT of news things coming and it's pretty exciting seeing a brand with less than a year getting out of stock.
Akalia's commitment is to create garments that are versatile, honest, and elegant, while still fulfilling their role.
An achievement that confirms that Akalia has that extra that can be seen in all major projects. For its founder, that extra is her unwavering dedication and passion for this venture.
The brand begins to establish itself as an honest brand. That approach to showing the real body of the woman is something very powerful. Is that what Akalia is looking for soon?
-There are too many beauty paradigms that are breaking here, I don't see why fashion has to be only within reach of a few women.
Do you think social media has been instrumental in Akalia's success?
- Let's see ... I always laugh because there are too many people who believe that they are going to become a millionaire through Instagram only. Instagram is a tool to convert online and to build community, but if you are going to have a brand you have to pay attention to all sales channels depending on your strategy. The closer you get to your final consumer and understand how they feel about your brand, the better. And that is what Akalia does.
Posted by Pablo Golán, editor in chief of the Shopify blog in Spanish and responsible for content marketing and localization for Spain and Latin America.
Writing: Frank Calviño, writer and journalist, specialized in the world of corporate communication, online marketing, and public opinion. This interview was edited and translated by Akalia's team.