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."
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.