“IFA Paris encourages us to step outside of our comfort zone!”
A graduate of IFA Paris’ MBA Global Fashion Media program, the American and dynamic Ehryl O'Rourke is based in Paris where she worked for MTV France and CNN International and where she created the agency OuiBridge with her partner Leah Li.
Michel Temman: Ehryl, where are you from in the United States? Tell us more about yourself and your path until your fashion studies at IFA Paris and the creation of OuiBridge?
Ehryl O’Rourke: I grew up in a small suburban town outside of Boston, Massachusetts, called Hopkinton. It’s where the infamous Boston Marathon starts. We consider it our “claim to fame”. Growing up, it seemed that most people had their life planned out… but not me. I wanted more, I just didn’t know how to get there. I surpassed a lot of hurdles on a personal and professional level, but nothing seemed to satisfy or challenge me enough to be interested in it long term. During this time of self-reflection, I travelled the world, particularly in Asia and Europe, and I knew I had to leave the United States. Therefore, after my studies in International Business at Boston University, I decided to leave the country to learn the French language in Paris. First year I arrived, I ended up working for large corporate media companies such as Viacom International (MTV France, Nickelodeon, GameOne, J-One) and CNN International. I enjoyed the media sector, but still wasn’t satisfied enough with my professional career. Again, I wanted more, so I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue an MBA at IFA Paris due to my right brained creative, outgoing, and “go-getter” nature. I’ve always been fond of fashion and the arts, but always maintained a business-oriented mind. After graduating from IFA Paris, competing with thousands of other fashionistas wishing to make it in the industry was not easy. There were times where I really felt defeated. But I believe that’s where some of my motivation to start a company derived from.
M.T.: You graduated from the MBA Global Fashion Media of IFA Paris in 2018. Why did you decide to pursue this MBA and how valuable was it? What did you learn in terms of knowledge, practical skills or ideas that changed your vision or even yourself?
Ehryl O’Rourke: Working in companies such as Viacom International and CNN International really opened my eyes to marketing, advertising, and journalism. It was during this time that I decided that I wanted to pursue media further, but rather in a more diverse industry that would challenge me mentally on a creative level. Little did I know, studying fashion would also challenge me on an emotional level as well. There seems to be this cliché misconception about those who go to school for “fashion”. As if most people who go to study fashion only go because they just enjoy shopping, or styling themselves. People don’t seem to understand that fashion is part of our history, a form of art and expression, a multi-billion-euro business, a part of our society’s culture and an important part of our future that we cannot ignore. I learned most of this at IFA Paris. On a deeper more personal level, I learned that I can overcome any emotional struggle that comes my way. Working in fashion isn’t for the faint of heart. As with most professions, you need to have the passion, but especially in a field like fashion. IFA Paris is a very safe and caring learning environment, but they encourage us to step outside of our comfort zone and embrace the journey!
M.T.: Soon after graduating, you launched the consulting agency and web platform OuiBridge with your partner Leah Li. OuiBridge is a name mixing French and English - how did the adventure start?
Ehryl O’Rourke: I met my Chinese partner Leah during my first fashion-oriented internship at a company called Melijoe - a fashion luxury e-commerce company specialized in children’s wear - based here in Paris. She and I both worked in the Marketing, PR/Communications department. During this time, we talked about China and Chinese culture a lot because I studied abroad in Shanghai during my last semester at IFA Paris. We would always joke around saying we’d start a company together, but we never thought we’d go through with it. Randomly one day, we were both fed up with job searching and agreed that we’d start a company... Our business is to help brands and designers gain exposure in a new market (Americas, Europe and China mainly). We wanted to create a “bridge” from one continent to another. Our initial name was WeBridge, meaning we (our company), will help your brand bridge over to a new market. But we decided that since we are based in Paris, we’d change it to OUI as a word of encouragement as well. “Yes, we can bridge you over to a new market.” I suppose, in English grammar terms, it could be considered a homonym… I thought it was catchy.
M.T.: OuiBridge seems to be very transversal and trans-border. Can you introduce it and tell us how you and Leah see the future of this company based in Paris?
Ehryl O’Rourke: Indeed, it’s very transversal and trans-border. It’s the skeleton of our business. Although OuiBridge is currently located in Paris, we will eventually (very soon) open ourselves as a legitimate business in China, because it’s 100% necessary in terms of PR and communication for the brands and designers. For example, we’ll need to open official WeChat accounts. WeChat is an integral part of Chinese communication and business. We cannot do that without being a legal entity in China. Thank God my partner is a born and raised Chinese citizen! However, Paris will always be the location of our headquarters due to the history of the company and the city itself.
M.T.: Your agency is targeting young entrepreneurs based anywhere – even in China right? What other services and specificities do you offer?
Ehryl O’Rourke: Yes, based anywhere. We’ve had a brand contact us from Toronto looking to make their way into the French market and another from France into China. Our services are sort of tied into one another. It expands from consulting, to public relations, to content creation. For example, brands or designers who don’t necessary have the budget to go abroad yet but want our advice on the market and/or how they could get started is part of our consulting services. Our PR services are usually more hands on. We have quite a few media contacts that we’ve developed in Europe and China as well as potential partnerships with other companies that would help both our client and OuiBridge gain exposure without ever stepping outside of the country. Content creation is pretty straight forward!
M.T.: As a young entrepreneur today, what are your main challenges? How did you jump from the theory learned during your studies to the concrete requests of the market?
Ehryl O’Rourke: Obviously, there’s the financial struggle. I’m working a full-time job as well as a part-time Fashion Editor job, and building up OuiBridge. Time management is key. Although, the biggest challenges we face today is the French administration (especially as a foreigner) and getting our name out there. Those are always the biggest struggles a young entrepreneur needs to face. I think the buildup of everything that I’ve learned in my studies and in life really helped me construct the strong shell I need to make my dreams happen. Like I mentioned before, I also studied International Business, meaning I had the necessary knowledge and skills to create a business in an international setting. IFA Paris was my icing on the cake. I must thank IFA Paris for most of the things that I learned in terms of global fashion marketing and communications, otherwise the OuiBridge business model would cease to exist. Fashion and luxury is extremely fast moving. I try to read at least one article from either Jing Daily or Business of Fashion to stay relevant to my market. If you don’t stay relevant to the necessary trends in the industry, you can lose clientele in the market just as fast as it arrives!
M.T.: On what projects do you currently work? What is the nature of the actual missions of OuiBridge?
Ehryl O’Rourke: Our projects now are quite exciting. For one of the brands coming from China –who’s also worked for Armani–, we’re coming up with a gorilla PR/Marketing strategy, meaning we’re thinking of ways to get their name out there without the traditional pop-up store. We’re also helping them with their rebranding.
M.T.: What are your pieces of advice toward students wishing to create their own company in the future?
Ehryl O’Rourke: My first advice would to make sure that entrepreneurship is for them, because it can be a bumpy road. Sometimes not though, which is really great if it is! For those who are riding the roller coaster such as myself, I would recommend working for a company for a while and see first-hand how a business works in the fashion industry. It’s important that you at least know the basics of what you’re doing. Once you have a good understanding, reflect, and take that leap! My second advice would be to never give up. Getting discouraged is part of the journey, but if your dream is to own a company of your own one day, do it. If there’s anything IFA Paris taught me, it was to step outside of your comfort zone, fight through those physical and emotional pains, and make that dream a reality.
To learn more about the program pursued by Ehryl, please see: MBA in Global Fashion Media
And to learn more about her agency OuiBridge, check out: www.ouibridge.com