Maria Villalonga saw her dream come true: to evolve in the fashion business. She even joined the first and biggest fast fashion group in the world: Inditex, created in 1985 by the Spanish visionary Amancio Ortega and his wife, who rapidly launched their first shop Zara. Today, Maria Villalonga is a Product Manager for Pull&Bear, the second biggest brand of the group. She manages 10 countries.
Michel Temman: Where do you come from? How did you manage to join the famous Spanish group Inditex?
Maria Villalonga: I come from Mallorca, a little Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea. Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing in my dad’s shoe factory, unfortunately he retired before I could take over the business. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to work in fashion at a very early age, even though that meant leaving my beautiful but not very fashion oriented island and my beloved family. And this is exactly what I did. So here I am now, at 29 years old, living in Alicante, where the head office of Inditex’s shoe division is, with my French husband and our baby boy and of course, enjoying my dream job!
M.T.: Did you start there with an internship? What were your previous experiences?
Maria Villalonga: I was working as a Sales Manager assistant for Longchamp in Paris when I saw that an interesting position was vacant in the Spanish group so, I immediately applied. HR contacted me soon after to tell me that unfortunately that position had already been filled but that they thought my profile was a perfect match for another one. They were especially interested in my language skills, as I can speak English, French and Spanish, in addition to my mother tongue, Catalan, as well as in my international background. Before Paris, I had worked in London as a Product Developer for menswear. After a couple of interviews with my future managers, they offered me the job. That happened just three days after my wedding and accepting that offer meant moving to another country, again, and starting a long distance relationship with my new and very supportive husband. It was a risky decision that brought many sacrifices with it but also the opportunity I had been working so hard for. I accepted!
M.T.: What is your position and exact role within the company, and can you briefly describe this group? Are you working specifically for one brand or are you more involved in a global and strategic mission?
Maria Villalonga: Inditex was founded in 1985 by the Spanish entrepreneur Amancio Ortega and his wife. They started off by opening a Zara shop in their hometown and quickly grew to become the biggest fashion group in the world. It owns 9 brands that represent over 7000 stores in 91 countries. I work as Footwear Product Manager for Pull&Bear, the second biggest brand of the group after Zara, aimed at a younger and less formal customer. My mission is to define, plan and execute the commercial strategy for the 10 markets I manage (France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland amongst others) selecting the product and adapting the distribution, pricing and merchandising strategy to each country. It involves a lot of sales figures and analysis, market research and communication.
M.T.: When and how did you decide to join IFA Paris and how was your Luxury Brand Management MBA valuable?
Maria Villalonga: In such a competitive field as fashion, having a MBA is the minimum recruiters expect. After 3 years of working in the industry, I felt the need to increase my academic level if I wanted to reach the next step of the professional ladder. I chose the IFA Paris program because it offered so much more than knowledge! The chance to live in 3 amazing cities such as Shanghai, Florence and Paris was very appealing to me as I have always believed that traveling is a great way to learn. In addition, the fact that my classmates had the most varied backgrounds turnout to be an endless source of inspiration. The MBA was an extremely enriching experience at both a professional and personal level.
M.T.: Inditex has become a world leader in a few years. From your own experience and insights, how do you explain this huge success?
Maria Villalonga: The key is innovation! Inditex’s founder has been a visionary since the very beginning, on so many levels... The group was born with a unique business model that inverted the normal fashion path. Instead of offering the customers a collection based on the designers’ inspiration, Inditex’s creations are made to match its customers’ demands. We are constantly listening to the market to spot a new trend or request and thanks to a very sophisticated distribution system, we are capable of satisfying that demand in record time! We only need two weeks to create, produce and deliver a new piece. In addition, Inditex is considered the founder of fast fashion. It offers new products twice a week, while the classic way to work is to have two collections per year. Finally, another of Amancio’s revolutionary ideas was to offer customers the “total look”. He wanted them to be able to leave his stores dressed from head to toe. So he progressively introduced accessories, handbags and shoes to what started as just a clothes shop. Of course, behind such an amazing entrepreneur, there is big team of hardworking, results oriented and passionate people without whom this success wouldn’t be possible. I couldn’t be prouder of being part of this team!
For more information on the program Maria pursued at IFA Paris: MBA in Luxury Brand Management