"It was amazing to study with people from all over the world!"
Passionate about fashion since her childhood, German born globetrotter Alexandra Gunia is an expert in cultural shocks after living almost everywhere, from Miami to Switzerland. From Paris she is managing from export sales of French cosmetic brand By Terry. We met her in Shanghai two years after graduating from the IFA Paris Bachelor in Fashion Marketing program.
Michel Temman: Alexandra, you’re a fashion lover, but could you tell more about yourself, your life and lifestyle in Paris?
Alexandra Gunia: I came to Paris five years ago, initially drawn here by my love for fashion. But I also realized fast that loving to shop at Zara and Mango wouldn’t be enough! Nonetheless, I’ve always loved clothing and was obsessed with playing dress-up as a child - I remember my parents would get annoyed at me for changing my outfits four or five times a day. I could spend hours trying on new outfits, hairdos or make-up by myself - this skill came in handy as I had no siblings, so being able to spend time by myself was essential.
In a sense, starting my Bachelor at IFA Paris showed me that I actually had such little fashion knowledge, and names such as Azzedine Alaïa or a twill weave were unknown land for me. That changed after being thrown into the cold water with the Fashion Marketing course of IFA Paris I had chosen - and yet this fashion world remained so untouchable but fascinating. Having lived in mainly small towns with little fashion background, I would always be the girl standing out. I moved a lot in my life, eleven times, until settling in Paris. I hated it until I got a bit older and came to realize that all these changes only benefited me. But being the “new girl” every two years with a quite “extroverted” style wasn’t always easy - picture a 16 year old girl in a German town called Mainz, located one hour from Frankfurt wearing chunky rings on nearly all of her fingers plus a minimum of four pearls necklaces around her neck and a fake green croco bag on the first day to school! I felt like I had to adapt because my sense of fashion didn’t fit into the small town way of living. I was always thriving for bigger cities. Paris incarnated what I’d been dreaming of my entire childhood - a metropolis full of glamour, mystery and opportunities.
M.T.: When and how did your (hi)story with fashion, style and luxury exactly start?
Alexandra Gunia: I had never worked in or for fashion before coming to Paris - I remember well the first time I got the chance to get one step closer to this exclusive circle: I got to assist the wholesale team for the English fashion brand Matthew Williamson, known for their beautifully embroidered and feminine style, in their showroom during Paris Fashion Week in 2014. As it was quite a small environment, I had my first chance to observe how things were going, how deals were being sealed and how collections were being sold to big fashion department stores. I was in the back dressing the models, zipping up their dresses and buttoning up their skirts. I wasn’t paid, but that didn't matter much for me at that point - I had a foot in this glamourous industry! Quickly after, I switched sides and it was me selling collections to buyers with budgets of ten thousands of Euros. In the beginning I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have this much responsibility, I was scared to screw things up but also thankful at the same time to had been given such a chance, in particular with the Japanese brand Issey Miyake who put their faith in me when I was 19 years old - I was then the youngest showroom seller in the team.
M.T.: You completed your Bachelor in the spring 2016. How valuable were your three years at IFA Paris?
Alexandra Gunia: Since I completed my Bachelor in Fashion Marketing at IFA Paris in June 2016, I got the chance to go through many experiences and companies. I learnt a lot at IFA Paris, especially at a moment where the fashion school was launching the Bachelor Fashion Marketing course - we were the lab’ rats and we were exploring a new land with the professors. IFA Paris helped me opening my mind, as my parents also always did. They educated me that way and I have to thank them for it. It’s a question I asked myself: where is my home? Where do I feel at home? For me, the answer isn’t in terms of geographic location but in terms of feeling. My current home is Paris, where I shaped my last five years - among them three at IFA Paris. Studying at IFA Paris was fun and very international. In my program, we were 19 students from 16 different countries! It was amazing to study for three years with people from all over the world. Also thanks to IFA Paris I discovered Asia, particularly China and Shanghai! I was never interested in Asia before, but now I am. I discovered there a new system, there are new values and new morals. Thanks to IFA Paris, I discovered Shanghai and I love it!
M.T.: HFM, Eres, Chanel, Condé Nast, Diesel, Issey Miyake... You had so many experiences before joining By Terry. Can you describe your professional path?
Alexandra Gunia: When you study Fashion Marketing, you feel like you want to become so many things - but actually know so little about their execution! Trade Marketing, Sell-in and Sell-out, Buyer, Merchandiser, e-commerce – all that sounded so aspiring, but I experienced that you’ll most likely end up somewhere completely else anyway. After having worked for several international fashion showrooms, I got the amazing chance to join one of the biggest fashion publishing houses in the world, Condé Nast. I worked for Vogue Germany in Paris in daily contact with the Parisian press offices and the headquarters in Munich. This internship showed me a completely different side of fashion than what I used to know. I was suddenly involved with press and fashion shootings for one of my favorite magazines. Vogue always represented this sophisticated image. Vogue is different in every country and I enjoyed the fact that I could work for my country’s version of it in Paris. I enjoyed working so close to fashion - it was crucial to be in the know of every designer’s current collection, plus any upcoming trends, brands, spots… It was very hectic, but that is just one part I absolutely love about this industry. After that internship, I was left on my own, having worked in sales and press and absolutely no clue what to go for next. I knew at that point my resume didn’t provide a massive range of experience yet, so I tried to focus on a gap I could fill with my language skills and that’s how I got to Diesel in Paris, being their first B2B Retail Commercial assistant for all direct shops and outlets in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This experience taught me a lot in important supply chain operations such as handling deliveries, stock management and purchase order processing. After only a year I got the opportunity to join the French key account team to work with them on retail coordination, sales analysis and creating campaigns to boost the sales teams. These experiences were really enriching but I felt that I needed to broaden my horizon and get a step closer to the product.
M.T.: This explains you joining By Terry. Analysis organization, commercial operations, order management... How do you combine all these your missions on a daily basis?
Alexandra Gunia: I hadn’t given much thought to changing industries, but when the job posting at By Terry popped up, I realized that beauty might be a great addition to my career path. Initially joining the French luxury cosmetic brands as a maternity leave replacement, I took things as they came. My tasks included mainly export sales administration so to a lot of order and delivery management as well as follow ups with the clients. By Terry is a growing brand, yet an established brand identity with an evolving clientele and market. I started in March with taking care of European markets plus Eastern Europe which come with quite specific regulations which makes these markets tricky. Things evolved quickly and only after six months I got offered a higher position which was permanent and included new tasks more focused on coordinating different markets. I took over England which is one of our biggest market (Harrods, Selfridges, The Hut Group to mention a few) plus travel retail which is a booming segment for the brand. I love the fact that I work for a French brand but with such an international range of clients. Multi-culturalism is one of the main things that motivate me on a day to day basis, you just learn so much from each other - both in a professional or non-professional setting.
To know more about the program pursued by Alexandra: Bachelor Fashion Marketing