THE BLOG

Oliver Walsh: Le Sommelier of Style

06/24/2015 02:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women and men from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real life insights on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential Paradigm Shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.

I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

2015-06-24-1435170886-8408820-Oli11.jpg
Oliver Walsh - CMO of Aritzia

What do you think are unique traits that have allowed you to reach the potential that you have?
It's a combination of two things: it's a willingness to learn and a passion for what I do. And I think that it's also important to leave yourself open to an inquisitive nature. If you read that book (A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life) by Brian Grazer, he talks about asking questions and always having that willingness to learn. Every time I have a conversation with someone who knows stuff I don't know, coming away with something learned is the most exciting interaction I could possibly have. Digital has changed the world so much; it's important to be at the forefront of that change and to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that it brings. Fashion is all about reinvention and the confidence it can give you to take on the world. The willingness to learn from new technologies and from team members, combined with the excitement of a true passion, is what I think ultimately gets a person excited alongside you. If you're truly passionate about something, it just comes across. You don't have to sell it. You know, people say, "I'm a good salesperson, but it's only because I'm excited about what I am selling and sometimes it's because I get overexcited about it."

Where do you get your inspiration?
I think it comes in many shapes and forms. I often find that inspiration strikes when you take a step back and just disconnect for a moment. I end up thinking of twice as many ideas when I try not to think of stuff. When I am in a more conscious seeking and gathering mode, I go to people. What we are doing right now with the art and commerce mixture and marketing and fashion is thinking about human behavior. We are focusing on how people are thinking, how they are acting, and how what they are doing is changing society. Changing adoption of behaviors, changing communication methods, and changing technologies drive our society. For example, the changing power of technology essentially comes back to people; people making new technology are creating it for a reason and then people are adopting it for a reason. So psychology is such an interesting, ever-changing topic because it's how people want to connect with one another, how they want to relate, all the sort of rationale and the sub context for that rationale. I think the most successful marketing initiative is when [the brand] is truly authentic to whatever experience it is trying to create. From a fashion point of view, the best marketing is not just for marketing's sake. You look at whose doing a great job and you look at their marketing initiative and you find it's about customer service. You find it's about the product and it's about the experience. It's going back to the values there used to be; you used to go into a shop and they would know you by name. It's that whole experience. What I think technology is doing is it's allowing us to be more connected and more personal in that sense.

Who gave you your first break?

There have been a few important people in my life. The first I have to mention is my father. He is a very creative entrepreneur. At first, he was an engineer in the UK. But after two weeks working that job he was like "this is a job, not a living." And then he went traveling around the world for five years and went literally everywhere. But when he came back, it was like "I'm completely unemployable. The only thing I can do is start my own business." So he started his first business of taking groups of French tourists around the Sahara Desert. He grew that into a travel company and sold it, and then he was importing Japanese cars to the UK, which is a completely different business. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the way of thinking that you can apply yourself to do new things.

Two other important people are my business partners at Wednesday, Jens and Erik. Five years ago it was difficult to understand the intersection between the fashion industry and the digital industry. Some people spoke one language, some spoke another, but no one was speaking both. So I set up Wednesday and thought it should serve the global fashion community, helping them with business-centric, creative, digital solutions. I got lucky and met some people who were able to teach me and come along the journey with me.

Lastly, would be Brian, the founder of Aritzia. He questioned the status quo. He was saying, "Why do you have to pay so much to have a high quality piece of clothing? And why, if you're selling a less expensive product, can't the customer service be just as good as a luxury destination?" He ended up focusing on quality in a couple of ways. Get the best real estate in the best cities. Then, think about the store's environment. Invest in the best material- the best millwork, the best marble, the best sound system. Then people will touch the clothes, which are made up of high-end fabrics. After that, someone will say to them, "Hi, is there anything I can help you with?" And the people will go "wow, I didn't expect this level of customer service." Then they will try on the piece and it will fit great. They look at the price, and it's not cheap, but it's not expensive. A huge point of focus is the quality of the product and the experience. We sell third parties but we also sell our own labels. And some of our labels are so popular that we will open up individual stores. That's the unusualness of our structure. We like that we are like no one else and we focus on that.

Has there ever been a time in your life where you saw something different and changed your life?
The biggest thing I would say is having kids. I have two young children, and it's such a change because it's not just about me anymore. What you do isn't for yourself it's for these two people. You start thinking about the world you want to help create for them to grow up in. It gives you a certain perspective. It changes the ideas you may think of or the appropriateness of them. More than that, really, it ties into the bigger purpose for what you are ultimately trying to do. It defines your value sets, what you do, and how you want your kids to think of you.

Has there ever been a breakdown moment that led to the biggest breakthrough of your life?
I think that happens constantly, big and small. I think that's often part of the creative process. It's like build up, build up, build up, and then you're like, "no just throw it all away and start again." I think in order to breakthrough you have to completely breakdown. It's not about glamorizing failure; it's about accepting it and not being scared of it. And that's a very different thing. Not being scared of failure gives you the ability to move forward.

What do you want your legacy to be?
A legacy that my children are proud of, and for me that means a number of things. Did my time on Earth make a difference? Did it make a difference in a number of different ways? Have I impacted people's lives for the better? And that impact could be in the business sense or it could be in a charitable sense, which is something I try to do as much as I can but not something that I have focused on as much as I would like. I very much feel like I'm just getting started on this, it's very much like the early days. I think it's important to have fun along the way too. I'm very fortunate to be at this intersection of business and creativity and to be using creativity to really have an impact, to make peoples lives better, and to be doing it in the right way.

More powerful than connecting with magical people is being able to get to the core of how they came about. While Oliver's foresight of the future of fashion has enabled him to be part of leading one of the most up-and-coming fashion retail stores in America, it is his capability to remain true to self that will make Aritzia a staple in the American wardrobe.