When Vivien Lászlóffy puts her mind to something, she excels.
After becoming the CEO of fashion brand, Aeron, at just 24 years old, Lászlóffy has catapulted the business into fast, far-reaching growth, siting a “learn by doing" approach throughout her impressive, still unbelievably young career.
“I have high energy," says Lászlóffy. “I love doing a lot of things and I love doing them the right way, so I just took it as a challenge. I really had nothing to lose because they gave me that trust and I knew I was going to follow my instinct. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I haven't looked back."
The Budapest-based brand, which was founded in 2012 by Eszter Áron, who serves as Aeron's Head Designer, is positioned as a luxurious contemporary label defined by unique fabrics, classic silhouettes and unexpected details. For Lászlóffy, it was a perfect match.
“I right away fell in love with the brand. It was totally my aesthetic," says Lászlóffy, who worked at Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Diesel, Roberto Cavalli, and Maison Margiela, Cartier US and L'Oréal Paris before Aeron. “The approach to it is quite minimal. We only use innovative fabrics, like organic suede or luxurious fabrics like French lambskin. Our brand is not about defining an age. It's about a character, so it's really someone who has an edgy, cool, artsy, confident look. All our pieces are simple but often have an interesting detail to them. It's always super effortless. It's a hidden elegance, and you are dressed for every occasion."
Ranging from $150 for knitwear to $1600 for leather pants, the line has taken off in terms of popularity, thanks to Lászlóffy's leadership and vision.
After meeting Eszter through a family friend two years ago, Lászlóffy started helping grow the brand as a consultant, going back and forth to Budapest from London where she was living at the time. After having spent most of her career working for large firms, she says the time was right for a change.
“I wanted to do something different; either start my own brand or build a tiny brand; something that was more mine and more rewarding," said Lászlóffy, who was just featured in Forbes Europe's 30 under 30 for Retail and Commerce 2017. “If you work with a big corporation it's a fantastic school but you're not going to have that input and the responsibility."
Lászlóffy said after starting she realized she had no other choice than to jump into the role head-first, and taking each challenge as it came through a step-by-step approach.
“At first we were a small team and it was really about redefining every angle of the business; from the production to the design to the sales to the marketing," says Lászlóffy, who is of German and Hungarian descent. “We had something that was already really great but we had to nail it down. For me at first it was about understanding all aspects of this business. I had no idea about how the production cycle works. I'd never done that before and it's so crucial."
Her stint with Aeron wasn't her first time having to grow up fast. At the age of 12 Lászlóffy traveled the world alone with her tennis coach competing. When she turned 19 she moved to the US with a full scholarship to Boston University.
“I never dreamed I would be a CEO at 24," she says. "People always say to me, 'you were so young.' I say yes but age has never been a thing for me. From the age of 10 to 18 I was traveling the world playing professional tennis. I was number one in Hungary, and the top junior player in the world."
“You grow up very quickly."
The company, which has doubled each year in sales since Lászlóffy took the helm, has also expanded in terms of a retail footprint, namely across Asia, which she said was completely unexpected.
“It was honestly at first sort of a luck thing because it was obviously not our plan to specialize in Japan, for example, which is known to be one of the most difficult markets to enter," says Lászlóffy, adding that the buyers of some of Japan's largest retailers, including Ron Herman, Isetan and Tomorrowland, all bought the collection and then there was 'a chain reaction.' "Asia is the biggest market. Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, China are really crucial markets for us."
Although Japan is very different then the rest of Asia, according to Lászlóffy the country serves as the front leader in terms of fashion. After excelling in Japan, next came Korea, Hong Kong, and China.
“It was really about us saying 'we see it working; They like our design, they like the products so we need to get the right partners in there," says Lászlóffy. “So in November we signed the biggest trading company in Japan, which gives us a partner in a market that we are now able to monitor. It's really exciting. It's such a huge area and it has so much potential."
According to Lászlóffy , when she came to Aeron, the brand was in about 30 wholesale accounts globally and now it is in about 110 accounts, across 15 countries. With more than 15 employees, the company employee base doubled in just two years.
“The other day someone said to me 'you should do an MBA; you're the perfect candidate,'" she says. “I told them I'm doing a real life MBA. There's no case study that will tell you how you're going to react when the whole house is on fire and you have to calm down your investors, make sure that your suppliers are still on board, that your distributors are still there. That's the biggest learning lesson ever.
As the brand continues to grow, Lászlóffy says it is a personal goal to keep all production for the brand in Hungary, where Aeron was born.
“We are based out of Budapest, it's our home," she says. “Hungary has a long-standing manufacturing history and a lot of the top brands, like Stella McCartney and Moncler, are produced in Hungary. It's a bit of a responsibility not to walk away and produce somewhere where it might be cheaper. We wanted to be a leader in that. I'm happy to say we are still there and I hope we will continue."
The brand's newest collection, which was inspired by the region around Lake Balaton, which is located an hour from Budapest, is meant as a homage to the label's birth country.
“We included a color palette that evoked the emotions and feelings that the lake brings out, which is what originally inspired the collection," Lászlóffy has said of the collection. “We also endeavor to reinvent tailoring techniques and reinvigorate folk themes, based on traditional Hungarian clothing that has now been completely modernized."
Another future goal for the young CEO is smart hiring, identifying hungry young executives who want to follow in her footsteps.
“I always look at experience and not education, because if I look at myself or a lot of amazing people around me, it was the journey that defined us," Lászlóffy says. "I want them to be hungry to learn and to be open, and to be part of this journey. Every time I meet someone I know right away if I throw her into ice cold water she will survive and thrive from it. Above it all, I think that's the most important thing."
Sometimes the person you have to stand up to is you! There I was, rewatching the Miss Universe 2019 competition. Which I do for inspiration from time to time. (No, seriously!) There is something about seeing women on stage, in full-on glam mode, and speaking with confident assuredness that really lights my fire!
I have seen this Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa win this crown so many times before, but something about this particular viewing, her delivery or her words, touched something inside me a little differently. At that moment, I truly believed, with complete conviction, that she lives what she speaks.
The announcement was made, the audience cheered, and the crown was awarded. The light was dazzling,, she looked stunning, almost blessed. The judges made the right call with 2019's queen.
Reflecting On Myself
Suddenly, the YouTube video ended. And I was left looking at a black screen. In the darkness of that screen, I saw my reflection and I began assessing what I saw, asking myself, "What have I been doing with my life?" It may seem like an overly dramatic question, but at that moment, I had to ask myself seriously… What have you done? The fact that I couldn't come up with a solid, confident answer gave my inner-cynic license to quickly spiral into self-criticism.
This went on for quite some time, until I got up. I stood up and walked to my mirror to have some serious one-on-one "Queen Talk." I needed to get out of that self-critical mindset, and I know that physical movement is something that help disrupt a way of thinking. I needed to remind myself of who I really was. The negative feelings I was experiencing at that moment were not reality.
Here are a few reminders for whenever you need some Queen Talk!
1.) Comparison is truly the thief of joy.
This saying feels like a cliché. That is, until it's applicable to you. At that moment, this "cliché, becomes self-evident. Comparing myself to someone on a stage with years of experience in an area I know nothing about is not only unfair but straight-up mean. A part of my comparison comes from me wondering, "Would I have the ability, if put in that position, to perform at such a level?" The answer is totally and without question, yes. I excel in the field I work in now, and I know that if I put that same energy towards something else, with practice, I could do just as well. No joy can come from comparing yourself to someone in a completely different field!
2.) Never forget the blessings that have been bestowed upon you.
Every single day, I am blessed to have the opportunity to wake up with all ten fingers and toes and choose to create the kind of life I want to live. There is so much power in that alone, but sometimes it's easy to take it for granted. Let us not forget those who are unable to make that same decision every day of their lives.
3.) Appreciate how far you have come!
I've been very intentional for some time to be kinder and gentler to myself. I need to realize that I am human. Being human means that I will not know everything, and I will continue to make mistakes.But I must let go of the need to always be right. I feel empowered when I can see the growth that I've made, regardless of the mistakes that may come in the future. I don't react to every little thing that bothers me, because I have learned boundaries when it comes to dealing with others and myself. I truly value my time and my energy, and, for that, I am proud.
4.) You Can Be Who You Want To Be
If you can see it in your mind, you can achieve it in reality. I saw myself when I looked at the women on stage, when she smiled, the way she talked, her elegant walk. For a moment, in my self-criticism spiral, I forgot that we are all connected. Debasish Mridha has said "I may not know you, but I don't see any difference between you and me. I see myself in you; we are one." I will not sit in the mentality of lack, there is more than enough opportunity and good fortune to go around for everyone. Her win was not a loss for me, but it can be a nudge from the universe for me to go ahead and dream big!
This Queen Talk was not easy. There may have been some tissues and tears involved but giving myself an honest yet compassionate talk is sometimes what I need to bring myself out of some bad head space. In these moments of doubt, you truly need to be your own best friend.When times get rough, criticism won't always come from outside sources. How you speak about yourself internally is crucial to how you see and feel about yourself. As Beyoncé once sang, "I've got Me, Myself, and I." We must put forth every effort to be there for ourselves. I look forward to more Queen Talks when some negative emotions arise. I am grateful for the person I am today, but I am excited to see the women I become.