With more than 20 years of professional experience in fashion, wholesale and retail, a background in digital and a very hands-on approach to the business, Astrid Lefèvre-Staelens launched, in 2022, 'We love fashion brands' - WLBB - in Antwerp to support the growth of Belgian creatives. Since her debut in 2020 as an entrepreneur, Astrid has successfully supported and accompanied more than ten brand in their commercial development: Collectors Club, Sarah de Saint Hubert, Lien Mertens, NDC, Kaai Bags, Les Vraies Filles, Max et Lola, Kunoka, Ludovic Lunetier, Doriane Van Overeem....
MAD had a talk with Astrid Lefèvre-Staelens.
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
"I am a 40 year old French woman, based in Antwerp for 15 years. After various internships, I was more interested in communications, and press, then after an experience at Burberry, I discovered a passion for sales. I loved the customer relation, the idea of having figures to make, budgets to reach. I liked the idea of a very concrete purpose in the sales relation. I then specialised with an MBA in the luxury industry and in sales and marketing development. During my studies in London I happened to meet the man who became my husband and I settled in Belgium for him. I quickly realised that Dutch was very important and I immediately took courses to learn it."
"After an experience in sales in a designer's shop in Antwerp, I had the opportunity to work for New Look Fashion Deal, an Antwerp agency. During 11 years in this agency, I learned everything about commercial development in the BENELUX market. I developed skills in negotiation, sales but also in training in department stores for example.
Thanks to this experience and the network I built up, I started my own business in 2020. Little by little it became very clear that I wanted to support Belgian brands in their commercial development. Since 2020 I have been working for Collectors Club, a brand with enormous potential. Twice a year I set up showrooms in Antwerp. It's important that the advices I give to the brands are based on a reality in the field."
"I love podcasts, I think it is an interesting medium with a lot of possibilities. In Belgium, this medium is not yet so popular compared to France, for example. It will take some time for the 'we love fashion brands' podcast to really become visible, but I am convinced it is a great medium that offers a lot of opportunities."
What are the current challenges of entrepreneurs that you experience during your coaching?
"The main challenge for young entrepreneurs is the lack of a vision, such as a brand mission and business development. If I ask the following questions: what is your brand DNA, your message and values? What do you think you bring to the market? Why should someone come to you and not your competitor? What makes you different? Everyone thinks they know, but there is often a lot of superficiality in this approach. It is really important to work on this gently and persistently, because the message is often too vague. Trying to appeal to everyone and therefore not differentiate yourself will not make you stand out and customers will not find your message. Sometimes the DNA of a brand is very strong and the designer is very creative, but the challenge is the lack of a commercial strategy. How to generate sales, generate sales to whom? Why online instead of B2B? Which market? You need to know who your competitors are, and whether your price is right. Are all your elements aligned? Is the message, vision, DNA, price and positioning right in relation to the competition?"
"These are the two main challenges I face in an industry where the number of offers is increasing. Often creative people lack a commercial strategy because schools do not pay enough attention to this aspect. There is always an idea of wanting to make something beautiful, but there is a fear of setting the price and selling. This spirit of money has yet to develop. It is important for an underwriter to be aware of these things to be able to tailor his or her sales pitch to different audiences. I think there is a real need for support in this field."
What advice do you have for young creatives in 2023 in terms of their sales?
"Proper alignment. Aligning their mission, their product, their price, the realities of the market, customers and competitors is essential. That way, entrepreneurs can develop and underpin their 'sales pitch' with more confidence."