Founder and Director of Australian destination-style fashion label, Girl and the Sun, Zoi Vafias has been in the fashion industry for over 16 years. Having started her first business, a fashion wholesaling agency at just 19 years old, to now scaling a global fashion brand designing all pieces in house, she prides herself on providing real women with luxe and effortless yet affordable styles.
While staying focused on her passion and incremental growth of the business, Zoi is a prime example of the success that comes from keeping customers at the forefront of your mission and has ridden the ebbs and flows of business and social media in a heavily saturated industry to scale the brand globally, all while raising 3 kids under 4 and catering to a newborn.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Zoi Vafias: Zoi Safiya Vafias, Founder, CEO + Creative Director of Girl & the Sun. With a colourful background in the fashion industry, I studied a Fashion Design and Production certificate at Tafe, and started my first ever business, a wholesaling fashion agency at just 19 years old. I had no formal university degree, however, my parents were business owners, so I grew up first-hand, with hard-working influences in my life. After a few years in wholesaling, I knew I loved the industry but wanted to design my own pieces in house, so I pivoted to do exactly that, and from there my very own resort wear fashion label, Girl and the Sun, was born!
To get us started, Can you tell our readers what does your company solve differently in the crowded marketplace? Give an example or share a story.
Zoi Vafias: When launching Girl and the Sun in 2015, I saw a gap in the market for affordable resort wear that didn’t compromise on quality. Our mission has always been to create a brand for all women, that showcased neutral tones and captured the feeling of a destination holiday even while at home – the type of pieces I wasn’t able to find for myself anywhere else. Since launching our brand we have seen a few other players enter or pivot to match what we set out to offer our customers. Our company is now setting out to pivot and offer a new solution to our customers of not just offering good quality and affordable resort wear but Australian Made Resort wear. We will be launching our first 100% Australian Made capsule in 2023.
While your company is growing, what are some of the challenges you face? Hiring? Tech development? Raising capital? Branding? Tell us more about the journey.
Zoi Vafias: There are always rolling challenges when it comes to running a small to medium-sized business. The main ones that come to mind for us personally over the years would have to be hiring and cash flow. Finding people who share your vision and values can sometimes be tricky, especially when trying to understand what makes people tick in only 1-2 interviews. Cashflow can also be a challenge as you start getting larger-scale customers who request longer terms or discounts.
These challenges were definitely more apparent in my early days, as I have figured out how to get people on board that compliment not only our strengths as a brand, but our weaknesses. I found it extremely helpful to outsource a HR company and partnered with a CFO to help with our cash flow planning. My new challenges now lie with the growth of the business and managing my time and the many different hats worn. Ensuring I am always mentoring my team and checking in with departments and the creative direction of our brand weekly, while also monitoring the operational side of sales and marketing. I do feel very blessed to have a great team currently on my side.
Everyone has a different story, what influenced your decision to be an entrepreneur, what would you have done differently?
Zoi Vafias: I have always been naturally drawn to running my own business. In high school, I would wear these silly mini wooden pegs on my school uniform as I thought they looked cute -people at school and on my bus began wanting some too and asked if they could buy some off of me, so technically, my first entrepreneurial efforts were in high school selling mini wooden pegs to other school students.
I then started my first business Studio Agency, a wholesaling fashion agency, when I was 19 years old, which was naive but also perfect. I started it when I had nothing to lose as I was still living at home with not many expenses – I think I have just always had confidence in my ideas. If I could do it all over again, I would find a mentor sooner and learn more about the hiring process and company culture, and how important both of these factors are in establishing a successful business.
Now for the main focus of this interview: what qualities or characteristics do women entrepreneurs have that make them great leaders? Please share some examples.
Zoi Vafias: It’s important to welcome the fact that all women have different personalities and qualities that make them unique, however, some of the best qualities that I believe many women in entrepreneurial roles hold are based around their natural leadership abilities, resilience, organisation and ability to multitask.
I have many friends who are also entrepreneurs, and draw my answer from them, as I feel they are all most encompassing of those great qualities. As a woman, we are can often think about and do multiple things at once. We also tend to encourage collaboration and teamwork, and realise the importance of fostering good, mentoring relationships within a team – I think this is very important for women in leading positions to learn, and also to nurture growth within their employees.
I love mentoring my team and have one on one goal meetings every month to help them progress in their careers and on a personal level. I believe we are forever students in life and learn as much from them as they do from me.
What are some of the biggest challenges you still see women face while conducting business, compared to their male counterparts? What would you like to see change, and how would you make it happen?
Zoi Vafias: I think that one of the biggest challenges women still face in business is wanting to start a family, in perhaps the early days of their careers taking off. Many women want and are able to juggle both, but at the same time, it can be incredibly challenging to make both work.
I would like to see more businesses supporting women in that area if and when they want to return to the workforce, and with roles and opportunities of flexible working arrangements all the rage, I also think that increased training and up-skilling while away from full-time work is a great way to ensure they are able to thrive upon return. Externally, more affordable child care assistance from the government would be great too!
Childcare is very high and for some families, and it often doesn’t make sense to go back to work and spend your whole wage on child care. The majority of my team are women, with two mothers, one of whom is currently pregnant, and I am proud to offer flexible working arrangements to assist with being able to have a balance. I am also open to offering training when they enter back into the workforce if they require it.
I recently discovered an amazing new program, ‘The Encoreship’, that offers women paid internships when re-entering the workforce, to get some updated experience and training, and a foot back in the door. We are signing up to join this program next year, and my long term goal is to be able to offer some company paid, maternity leave.
With all of your experience as a business leader, what is the most important thing you can tell fellow entrepreneurs that you’d like to share with aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Zoi Vafias: Back yourself. You may at times be your biggest critic, but learn to be your biggest fan. That confidence will get you places.
What do you plan on tackling during 2022? Share your goals and battles you expect to face.
Zoi Vafias: This year our plans are to break into the USA market. We are launching a USA website in April, and are looking at expanding our USA wholesale operations with a new 3PL and larger-scale marketing plan to support, in hopes of replicating the sales from our Aus ecomm store. I would also love to grow our USA wholesale to be at the same point as our AUS wholesale sales.
We have had really great traction there over the 12-24 months, and with better partners and a new sales platform, we hope to see some great return by December 2022. Of course, there will always be some teething with new systems, but we have a great team on board to help smooth out any challenges. A challenge that we continue to face with the current world landscape is with freight delays and hiked prices – each year it seems to get worse. This one will always be tricky to navigate, but it’s all part of the game.
How do you keep learning? Podcast? Books? Audiobooks? Videos? Share some of your greatest sources of inspiration? Share an impactful story.
Zoi Vafias: I love reading books! Autobiographies in particular, as I feel there is just so much we can learn from others of different walks of life – Richard Branson is one of my favourite entrepreneurs and has a great story. Reading 2 of Richard Branson’s autobiographies was one of my biggest motivators in the early days of starting my business – when I was racking up a debt and feeling deflated like I wasn’t going anywhere.
His story gave me the extra drive to stick it out and be resilient in business and reinstated my confidence in pivoting where needed. Richard started with Virgin Music, signing bands and musicians, and after having to organise a last-minute flight for people who were stuck (including himself), found himself pivoting into Aviation. I took inspiration from this when pivoting from wholesale to my own in-house brand, and love to think that his own story of hard-work and backing himself as an entrepreneur was a big motivator, he inspired me to work hard and back myself too.
I’m sure our readers will be very thankful for the insights you have shared. Where can our readers follow up with you?
Zoi Vafias: They can find me on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/zoi-vafias-53089923/ – I am happy for anyone to reach out and connect!
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Zoi Vafias for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Zoi Vafias or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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