NAME: Olivia Zarantonello
COMPANY: Designer Forum / D F M A N by Designer Forum
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Kind, courteous, dedicated, balanced and positive
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
When I was younger, about 18, all I wanted was to own my own boutique. My mum said to me you can’t just open a boutique with no experience, you need to learn everything you can and gain as much experience as possible before you do that. So… I started studying at FBI Fashion College and completed my Diploma in Fashion Business. Whilst I was studying I tried very hard to get a job at Designer Forum as it was my local and favourite boutique. They gave me a job, just as a casual and shortly after was moved into the office as the Customer Care/Office Assistant helping with the online store, which included packing and sending orders as well as answering customer emails/calls and general office duties.
About a year and a half later I was promoted to Operations Manager where I worked closely with the previous owner of Designer Forum, Karen Young, helping her with the stores, buying, and the online store. About 3 years later I was given the opportunity to take over Designer Forum as my own and by that time I was sure I was ready to have my own store (well 4 actually!) Now 2 years later I am the Director of not only Designer Forum but also D F M A N by Designer Forum which is the menswear store that I opened in October 2016 in Castle Towers Shopping Centre.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph. What is you elevator pitch on what you do?
I have 4 women’s fashion boutiques and recently opened my first menswear store where we sell a range of the top Australian brands. Often people say, ‘but you’re so young’ with a confused look on their face, and I respond that I didn’t start the business myself, I worked for the company for about 4 years and closely with the owner as her Operations Manager, then 2 years ago I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to take over the business.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago?
10 years ago, I would have been 15/16 years old, I can’t exactly remember what I thought I would be doing by now but I know it was something along the lines of following in my mum’s footsteps as a hairdresser. Even though I didn’t end up doing hairdressing to this day I still love doing my hair and notice and admire other people’s hair.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
Success to me is being able to look at your life from the outside in and feel genuinely happy, content and calm about every aspect of it.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally)
Personally – I still want to travel to many places in the world and I want to own a property near the beach!
Professionally – I want to start my own in-house brand and open more stores!
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
Yes I did, I completed my Diploma of Fashion Business at FBI Fashion College
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
There are a few things I can list here:
1. Making myself stop for a minute and take a step back to comprehend that I have 5 retail stores and an online store, these are probably the most rewarding.
2. Looking back and noting the progress the business has had within the two years since I took over.
3. Completing a full fit out of the Robina store after only owning the business for 5 months.
4. Seeing my menswear store come to life!
Tell us about your workspace and what inspires you about it?
My office is a big open plan office with wooden floorboards and white walls. Everything is mainly white with hints of rose gold and greenery, and we have lots of natural light! I love having a simple office, clean desk with small decorations that inspire me and look pretty or smell good. I work better when everything is clean and organized.
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey?
Sometimes you feel as though you have worked so hard, (the crazy hours, sleepless nights) and still aren’t getting ahead. And the other frustration is that every time I meet someone new in business they seem to be confused by my age – I don’t think age matters, it’s the experience and dedication to your work that matters.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load?
About 2 months ago, around November/December – this is the busiest time of the year for us and I was juggling doing 3 people’s jobs (and they weren’t easy jobs!) aside from my own, I was looking after social media and marketing, and the retail sales & operations role. I knew it was only temporary but sometimes you are just so exhausted and all you can do is cry. It does make you feel better after though!
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this lessened or increased as you progress in your career?
I don’t think I put too much pressure on myself but I am just a person to either put all or nothing in. I can’t start something and not finish it so I guess there is the pressure there to finish things and finish them properly. This has definitely increased since taking over Designer Forum because when the business is yours it does change your outlook on how you do things, even though I thought I was working as hard as I could before, I definitely work harder now.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough?
I try and prioritize what is important and needs to be done urgently, delegate tasks to others that I am confident can do the job, and on top of that I make sure to keep a balance with my personal life by making time to do exercise, spend time with my boyfriend, my friends and family. When I leave the office after a busy day no matter what time it is, I try to mentally shut off from work so no matter how hectic my day has been I am ready to go home with a positive attitude.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how?
At first when I started as the Director of Designer Forum, it did a little bit because I was still trying to find my feet and spent a lot of time just focusing on work. I worked long hours but I was able to realize that I needed to find that work/life balance and make sure that when I left to go home, I was switching off as much as possible and ready to enjoy my night with my boyfriend/family. So I wouldn’t say it has ever badly affected my personal life or relationships but it definitely took time away from that or at times made me tired and frustrated which reflected on my personal life.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How?
I can honestly say I have never felt lonely. I have lots of people in my life that have been so helpful, and whenever I have needed them they have always been there for me and are always checking in on me.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights?
Usually things that I must do within the next day, or week. It might be having a meeting with a staff member to discuss their performance or there might be 10 orders I need to put together for stock for the shops or even things that get me excited like designing a new shop fit out. A mixture of both exciting, and not-so-exciting things.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
Not one thing.
What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Keep going how you are going because you are on the right path. (I am pretty happy with where I was at 21)
Who are some women in business you admire & why?
Lately I have found Sophie Amoruso (Nasty Gal) pretty inspiring. I read her book and then from there started to follow her and learn more about her journey. I loved that she started literally from scratch, stayed true to who she was and worked her way up from there. I admire her confidence and her work ethic.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
Confidence, humorous, genuine, realistic
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it?
I would say it does exist. I think the balance doesn’t have to mean you split your work and personal life 50/50. If you love what you do you enjoy being at work and being with the people you work with and then you spend the time you need on your life. If you feel it is a happy balance for you then of course work life balance can exist.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit?
To be completely honest – no I haven’t ever thought of giving up or quitting. I’ll admit that sometimes you need to remind yourself why you put yourself through the hard work and stress, because that helps pull you back from thinking ‘I should quit’.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
I just shop all day, look at pretty clothes, go to fashion shows and eat at nice cafés…. I wish!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
If you are about to start studying, start interning straight away! This helps to not only get you noticed but also helps you understand how the fashion industry works. You can learn so much from interning, and as an employer, when I’m looking at resumes if I see someone has spent time interning this shows they are not only hard working but would have some hands on knowledge and skills. And one more thing I think people should remember in the fashion industry is to not get caught up in what everyone else is doing, just be yourself, know what you’re good at, what you love, what your job is and roll with that, and it’s bound to get you where you want to be.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what?
I would do it again, but at least the second time around I would be prepared for it!
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
I would love to be remembered for giving people opportunities within Designer Forum that they may not have thought were possible, and just basically being an inspiration to the young women around me to empower them to do things they didn’t know were possible or that they were capable of.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)?
Because together we can inspire one another to keep on keeping on and be the best version of ourselves. I wanted to be involved in this interview in hope that someone who needs a little inspiration in their life might read it and get that kick they have been looking for to go out and follow their dreams!
What are some of your favorite quotes?
- Better an 'Oops’ than a ‘what if’
- Live a ‘WANT’ to life, not a ‘HAVE’ to life
- Always remember to fall asleep with a dream and wake up with a purpose