Women in Business Q&A: Elle AyoubZadeh, Founder, Zvelle

In 2014, Elle AyoubZadeh, embarked on a mission to design and create luxury shoes made by the best artisans around the globe. Zvelle launched in June 2015.

The Zvelle brand embodies the values and distinct style of its founder, Elle AyoubZadeh. A global citizen in every way, Elle hails from Iran, and has lived in Dubai, New Zealand and Australia before moving to Toronto, where Zvelle was born.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I am the oldest of five siblings and my mother always encouraged us to be independent individuals and to speak up. I spent the early part of my child in Dubai, United Arab Emirates surrounded by people from different cultures and different religions. Our friends were from all over the world and we celebrated all types of religious holidays. Both these things helped form the person and leader I am today. Its helped me build the diverse team we have today at Zvelle and allowed me to work with people globally. The most natural thing for me is being surrounded by people who are different than I am.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Zvelle?

I have spent equal parts of my career in the corporate world and starting companies. My corporate experience helped me understand business and finance and my entrepreneurial experience before Zvelle helped me understand creative professionals. I can work with business and creative people and understand where both sides come from. Being the CEO and Creative Director of my company means the ability to understand and combine both parts (business and creative) is invaluable. 

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Zvelle?

Before I launched Zvelle the biggest challenge was find the right factory because quality and craftsmanship is critical to our mission and not something we are willing to compromise on. This took time and I travelled to many parts of the world to find the right partner. It was not easy especially because I did not come from the shoe world and I wanted to produce our collections in a way that the old factories where not used to doing. It took perseverance to find the right partner. We have a personal relationship with every supplier we work with and we are proud to support their communities. 

We are self-funded and this has meant that we needed to be very focused from day one as we did not have cash to burn. While at some points of time it has been challenging because you can't pursue numerous opportunities it has also been a highlight because we have done things that others were not willing to do to grow Zvelle. Our latest popup at Yorkdale Mall in Toronto is a highlight and seeing the reception we received from our customers is thrilling. 

Sticking to our mission of building a global and inclusive company is a highlight that we don't take for granted. Since day one we have ensured that both internally (who we hire and who we work with) and externally (our brand imagery) represents the world. It is one thing to have a mission but another to execute it day in and day out. 

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

The business of fashion is so much more than beautiful products and developing your own voice and principles will allow you to build a business or career that has a solid foundation. It is one of the most complex industries we have and that is the challenge and beauty of it. Don't try to be all things to all people. Be everything to the group of people you want to cater to. There is a misconception of how easy it is to work in fashion and most people don't realize the number of hours and level of effort that you have to put in regardless of the seniority level. 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

Who you have on your team is everything. It is what makes the difference. To win any world cup you need great athletes who have different strengths and the same shared mission and together they make a winning team. A company is no different. The right team can do things that people think are impossible. 

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I integrate my work in to my life and my life in to my work and I optimize as much as I can. I am the same person at work and in life and for me it is all about managing priorities. I am goal oriented and if you look at it in that way it is more rewarding. I am aware of the fact that I am choosing my opportunities both in my personal and professional life so it is up to me look at them as blessings instead of something I have to balance. There are many people in the world that would dream of the some of the things we take for granted. 

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

The mindset that women are not as ambitious and don't want to build companies that will become the next global brands needs to change. Funding for female founders has been a challenge in the past and so has the terms they have been offered. It is also important to understand that there are many different types of female founders just as there are many different types of male founders. You can't fit everyone in to a box nor should you try to do so. That being said for most of the time I ignore all these 'issues' because my first job as a founder is to prove the naysayers wrong and ensure that the company I am building is inclusive across many levels including gender and ethnicity. 

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Yes. I have not had formal mentorships but I have had many professionals, male and female who have advised me over the course of my career and company. Their investment in me made a big difference in my professional life because I got access to information and expertise that would have taken me years to accumulate. 

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I admire and respect Bozoma Saint John because she brings her authentic self to what she does and she is not afraid to stand out. I admire Anjula Acharia-Bath for the same reasons and also for the career choices she has made. She is not your everyday investor or entrepreneur.  Both these leaders are also not the usual leaders you grew up hearing about or watching which makes even more extraordinary. I admire people who are internally driven and not afraid to go after what they want for reasons other than just success for the sake of success. 

What do you want Zvelle to accomplish in the next year?

I want Zvelle to continue developing our mission of creating luxury shoes crafted by the best artisans in the world and bring them to more women in the world in an 'affordable way'. We are still early in our journey so it’s about building on that. We have global ambitions and we are only just getting started. 

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