Priscilla Von Sorella knew she wanted to enter fashion design after watching Project Runway at 16 years old. She had always known that she wanted to live a creative life that would also empower her. After that, she threw herself into dressmaking, using her mother’s sewing machine to create skirts, pants, and dresses. She was doing all this without formal training, too.
After receiving formal training at the Fashion Design program at Houston Community College, Priscilla Von Sorella was prepared to tackle the high demands of the fashion industry. At 24, she founded VON SORELLA, an online clothing label. That same year, she also did her first Paris photoshoot, which inspired her to use the City of Lights as inspiration for her brand.
Priscilla Von Sorella soon launched her company during Paris Fashion Week in September 2017. After that, in 2018, she held a private exhibition during New York Fashion Week at The Plaza Hotel. During the 2019 Paris Fashion Week, she launched her next collection.
Currently, Priscilla Von Sorella’s fashion label operates in the US. She employs a team in Houston, Texas. Also, a team of professionals sows the label’s collections; teams of marketing and communications experts also help her sell her designs to clients. However, Priscilla remains the head designer. She continues to design every piece of apparel for the label.
Aside from running her own fashion label, Priscilla Von Sorella also writes for major international publications about topics such as “human rights, global affairs, and current events.”
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Priscilla Von Sorella: Aside from our unique quality products, our brand is committed to customer satisfaction. As an avid online shopper, I know a crummy user experience when I see one. On different occasions, I have been unsatisfied with an online shopping experience. It could be a minor issue, but the company’s lack of personalized attention to my request has made me feel like another “order number”. My number one priority is personalized customer service response. I can attest it works. A few weeks ago, a potential customer emailed our customer service that she was very unhappy with her purchase. Shocked by this colorful complaint, I had our customer service team reach out right away. After much communication, it turned out that this customer never even purchased from us — it was an honest mistake on her end, and she apologized for confusing us with another company. Through all of this communication, we earned her future business and trust. If we had not spent the extra time to dive into what her negative experience encompassed, we would have never learned that it was another business that she meant to contact.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Priscilla Von Sorella: In my opinion, this is the most integral part of reaching long-term productivity without plateauing. My tips for avoiding burnout include keeping things interesting, getting an educated outside input, finding an outlet for non-work-related fulfillment, and staying grounded in your convictions as to why you started in the first place. My biggest motivator for not reaching burn out is to look back at all the struggles I faced and remember that I am fortunate to have the opportunities I do. Mental health days and breaks are hypercritical to maintaining your momentum while exercising healthy daily regimens. Even with a team, being an entrepreneur (especially in today’s pandemic) can be extremely isolating. Find ways to connect with others that are on similar paths or at least be a cheerleader and support your journey. Lastly, practice gratitude. Okay, I know it sounds a little preachy, but taking a step back to be mindful of everything you have built is crucial to happiness and progress.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Priscilla Von Sorella: It certainly takes a village! There are so many people I am grateful for on my entrepreneurial journey. It’s serendipitous how relationships are coming to fruition with contacts I made over five years ago. People whom I never knew would be able to help me have played an instrumental role in my company’s success and development! It’s incredible. My advice is always, always following your gut. When you sense a certain positivity from someone, don’t let it go to waste. You never know when you will need them or vice versa. Triumph is one relationship away. I won’t mention names for confidentiality purposes, but I would certainly thank some of the people who answered my cold (and rather daring) emails! When I was put in touch with a member of a certain household name organization after a positive cold email response, he told me verbatim, “I respect your hustle” when referencing my act of emailing their President directly. This doesn’t always happen, and you must respect it if you are not responded to, but you never know how one email can change your company and your life.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Priscilla Von Sorella: Sure! The user focus for eCommerce platforms has changed dramatically and is constantly evolving. Visual engagement is crucial, along with invigorating an unparalleled user experience. Variety, availability, and accessibility are the key operative words when it comes to online shopping. A seamless checkout experience is also imperative to customer conversion. Some new ideas introduced by fashion eCommerce businesses are virtual fashion week exhibitions, Gen-Z influencer takeovers (Instagram and/or TikTok), and adapting to mobile-specific web designs. I have also witnessed how marketing forces have been geared toward pandemic-specific scenarios. For example, advocating that your product is useful in a time when ‘going out’ is not an option for most.
Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Priscilla Von Sorella: Part of my mission in an industry like fashion is to constantly educate my community about the dangers of direct-to-consumer ‘fast fashion’ brands, which harm the economy, environment, and the industry as a whole. (These brands typically use low-paid worders in under-developed countries). To stay one step ahead of the competition, I am constantly seeking ways to demonstrate how ‘slow fashion’ luxury goods are more beneficial, for the consumer and the brand. My advice to US and European retail companies is to foster a strong message about the ethical and sustainable values that your company holds and convey it creatively and authentically. I share a lot about my creative process behind the scenes because it provides an intimate experience for my community that makes them feel like are a part of the process, which they are! Make your story relatable, emotional, and real. Customers are smart; they can spot a fake story when they see one.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Priscilla Von Sorella: The most common mistake I see founders make is investing too much only in their products while not focusing on storytelling, brand identity, and a strong foundation. Let me explain. You want to build a world that your customer steps into when they purchase your product. Your brand experience should be unmistakable, unforgettable, and absolute, even on a cellular level. When someone peers into your ‘universe’, they should feel completely immersed in your brand’s personality, message, and purpose. If there is any question as to ‘who’ you are, this will not resonate with your user and will serve helpless in harboring a trusting relationship with that potential customer. Invest a lot of time, energy, and resources into laying the foundation to your brand and being authentic in what narrative your business follows and tells.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Priscilla Von Sorella: I can attest to the fact that when you’re launching an eCommerce business, you tend to stress over the big picture, and don’t estimate how much time, energy, and resources go into fine-tuning your platform to run like a well-oiled machine. In my experience, I did not realize how much labor goes into analyzing and perfecting every detail of an online business platform. From coding special hyperlinks into your footer branding to ensuring there is not one single hiccup in the product selection or checkout process, prepare for many hours of auditing every corner of your platform. This will pay off in the long run, however, because this kind of close examination synthesizes the essential smooth user experience mentioned earlier.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Priscilla Von Sorella: Customer relationship building is an emotional and intimate process. As a brand, you must respect and value each dollar your shopper spends on your brand. Customer acquisition is a deep, complicated, and scientific process that does not come fast. To build that relationship, you must do your best to meet customer expectations (and go beyond). Of course, with all this said, there will be times that a customer expresses negative feedback. Whether it be what you consider large a small, you must treat every criticism with your utmost sharp attention. This has made your customer uncomfortable to the point of them taking their time to convey it to you. The best way to respond is to re-examine what their negative feedback entails and treat it with your strongest assertion of care and efficiency. Do your absolute best to mitigate the situation and offer a complimentary service/product in light of it if you feel it is appropriate. If a negative, unfair review is posted publicly, I would recommend publicly responding so that your potential shoppers can see you reached out and offered a resolution. Do your best to report it, if possible.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Priscilla Von Sorella: Fashion allows us to connect with people of all backgrounds. I would love to promote inclusivity, understanding, and acceptance across cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles. One of my favorite quotes is, “The greatest danger is the loss of curiosity to learn from each other and the loss of the desire to live together” by Tom Fletcher, a former British ambassador. If I can promote the desire to learn from and inspire others, I will feel a deep reward in this message.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Priscilla Von Sorella:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
Priscilla Von Sorella: You’re welcome and thank you so much! It has been my pleasure.