The tale of two sisters. Gillian Warmflash’s name may look familiar, and it should, Gillian is Jordana Warmflash’s sister, and the CEO of her fashion brand Novis. We had the pleasure to feature Jordana and attend many of her gorgeous presentations over the seasons, and are equally thrilled to have another peek into the business by speaking to Gillian. A lawyer by trade, Gillian, joined the family business when Novis picked up momentum when it transitioned from ’emerging’ to ‘established.’ Gillian manages the business and operations portions of Novis and maintains a focus on continuing to increase sales and maintain a firm foothold in the corner of the market where Novis exists.
What’s your background?
Perhaps unexpectedly, my background is in law! I practiced corporate law at a firm in Manhattan for several years before joining Jordana at Novis in early 2015. The firm has hundreds of lawyers, and its clients are mainly banks and large public and private companies – virtually everything about that job was a total 180 from my current work. That being said, the general business knowledge, analytical thinking and stamina I developed there have proven very valuable at Novis.
Did you ever think you and your sister would be working together? Have you always wanted to work in fashion?
We definitely dreamed of it – Jordana and I would often chit-chat as teenagers about having a fashion empire one day, her running the creative side and me overseeing the business side. Funnily enough, I recently found an article on Simone and Nicky Zimmermann that I ripped out of a magazine years ago to show my sister – it was so moving to come across evidence of how long our current sister act has been on our minds. I’m still pinching myself that the dream became reality.
What’s an average day look like for you?
There is no such thing as an average day, which is what makes this work so fun and challenging. Some days I’m all in on high-level strategy issues – our marketing and PR plans for the next two quarters, sales planning and analysis, and financial review, to give a few examples. Other days, I’m totally in the weeds in Quickbooks or tracking inventory or responding to emails from our accounts regarding availability of certain styles or ways to deepen our relationships with them. With a team so small (there are four of us full time), no one has a choice but to wear a range of hats.
As the CEO, what are the most challenging parts of running a business?
Integrating all of the company’s pieces into a coherent, smooth running whole. It can feel like we have a thousand internal verticals – product development, marketing and branding, PR, merchandising, production, supply chain, wholesale outreach, e-commerce, inventory management and financial, among others. If one of these verticals falls apart, the rest may suffer too. Given I’m just one person and our team is so small, I’m constantly evaluating priorities and asking myself how my time is best spent.
In what ways has the company grown since you have been overseeing the business side of operations?
Jordana really did a drool-worthy job of managing the company, in conjunction with both internal team members and external consultants, before I came on the scene – my contributions, inseparable from hers, have built on that foundation. In terms of quantitative growth, our team has gotten bigger, and our sales figures for 2015 were by far our best of any year yet. More qualitatively, our infrastructure is stronger – our planning, especially in the areas of sales, product and finances, is more strategic and longer-term focused.
Were you and Jordana close growing up?
You bet. We’re just over two years apart in age, and attended the same schools and summer camps from kindergarten through high school, which led to us having overlapping social circles and shared reference points and experiences. I think part of the reason we were so close growing up – and remain that way and work well together now – is that our strengths and interests are complementary. Jordana has always been very right brain, and I’ve always been very left-brain.
How are you two similar?
We’re both OCD when it comes to Novis! We’re meticulous and detail-oriented and both love to talk things out – as we like to say, no one has a monopoly on ideas. We’re also totally aligned when it comes to the team and internal culture that we’re building – integrity and curiosity and energy are huge.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of the fashion industry? How are you troubleshooting this for Novis?
Such a complicated question! So much upheaval all at once – from the rise of fast fashion to new pressures on the retail/delivery calendar to the shift away from brick and mortar and towards online sales to revised thinking on Fashion Week and its purposes – often feels like a real opportunity for emerging brands like ours. Because we’re small, we’re nimble, and so should be in a position to adapt fairly easily to a new landscape. That being said, no brand, no matter its size or the extent of its resources, can address all of these changes in a vacuum or simultaneously, while still maintaining its voice and authenticity. We’re currently looking at a few potential tweaks to our strategy that will be responsive to (and capitalize on) current conditions, realistic in terms of implementation, and on-brand in terms of the company we’re building.
Do you think designer burnout is a real cause for concern?
Yes. The pace of the industry is punishing, bottom line pressures are enormous and, as so many have pointed out, designers aren’t merely designers at many brands –they’re responsible for creative content and vision more generally and also expected to be the face of the company. No one can thrive under those sorts of conditions indefinitely. I think the industry and the public lose something when the creative isn’t given room to breathe, and top houses’ designers are playing a game of musical chairs. I certainly have some nostalgia for a slower era.
Where do you see Novis in the next 5-10 years?
I see Novis in the next 5-10 years as a brand with truly global distribution; a strong reputation for design integrity and originality; an incisive voice; and a very loyal customer base.