In recent years, the fashion industry has seen significant changes. It is a fast-paced industry where brands must stay up with emerging trends. Some notable changes include selling through different channels, using games in marketing, and being active on social media. People can now try on clothes online and in stores, and influencers are more popular than traditional models. There is also a focus on making clothes faster and more eco-friendly by using recycled materials and involving various types of designers.
Moreover, there is a growing concern about the environmental impact of fashion since it is a major source of pollution. Governments are creating rules, and brands are trying to reduce waste and pollution. Some brands take orders before making clothes, but not all can do this. Inclusivity is also crucial now. It is not just about skinny models; brands want everyone to feel represented and included because people want more than just clothes; they want meaningful experiences too.
However, one aspect of fashion that doesn’t get as much attention and is hard to change is the watch industry. Valerie Bauduin Minassian, the Co-Founder of IRIS ALTERNATIVE WATCHES, is a fashion entrepreneur working to make a difference in this field. She shares some interesting facts and her journey in this industry. Let’s get started!
Valerie’s Journey into the Fashion Industry
Valerie reflects on her journey, drawing inspiration from a close family friend whose dynamic life of exploration and cultural discovery ignited her desire to enter the fashion industry. After graduating from a French business school, Valerie actively pursued job opportunities armed with her resume and limited work experience. A recruitment agency directed her towards a temporary position at KENZO, where she immersed herself in the world of accessories for an impressive 7-year stint.
Valerie’s professional path led her through a diverse range of experiences. She mentions, “Over the years, I worked in a variety of environments: large groups, SMEs, or start-ups, in Paris and Geneva, and in various fields: watchmaking, jewelry, eyewear, leather goods, perfume, Ready-to-wear, lingerie, etc.”
More recently, Valerie’s educational journey took her to Paris, where she completed an Executive MBA in Global Fashion Management. This program, conducted at the Institut Français de la Mode, deepened her connection to the fashion industry. She further emphasizes, “Well, that sector got my heart: if I had never imagined working in fashion before, I found so many interesting parameters that I stayed: it combines business with art, design, culture, materials, techniques, exceptional know-how, innovation, and above all, amazing people!”
IRIS ALT: A One-of-a-Kind Fashion Brand
The story of IRIS ALT began in 2019 when Valerie, inspired by the jewelry industry’s adoption of lab-grown diamonds, felt a deep connection to the ethical use of these diamonds. Her personal background, rooted in a family of coal miners who endured harsh conditions daily in a “hanging room,” heightened her awareness of responsible sourcing. Notably, while some jewelry brands had embraced lab-grown diamonds, the world of watchmaking remained untouched. She explains, “I saw an opportunity to take a different path in this industry. I started to look for a designer, and I easily convinced Eliska Stepankova that we could try something.”
Their creation, the IRIS ALT watch, distinguishes itself through its commitment to sustainability. In addition to lab-grown diamonds, they incorporated various eco-friendly materials. The watch case and metal components are made from almost 100% recycled stainless steel, reducing the need for new resources. The dial showcases innovation, crafted from Zep 1510, a novel material derived from ashes. In an environmentally responsible choice, the bracelet is crafted from upcycled salmon skin, transformed into marine leather with artistry.
Their dedication to environmental responsibility extended further by selecting an automatic Swiss movement over a battery-powered one, ensuring longevity and durability. In terms of manufacturing, IRIS ALT maintained a close-knit network, exclusively partnering with Swiss and French suppliers, proudly producing a Swiss-made watch.
Valerie explains, “As for the design, we chose to propose a watch with a small diameter (26mm), refined, discreet, but specific, and as Eliska created it in an eco-way, it can evolve over time.” This design not only speaks to aesthetics but also promises adaptability and durability, allowing the watch to evolve gracefully over time.
In their commitment to offering exclusivity to customers, IRIS ALT introduced a unique approach. They release only 100 watches at a time, each featuring a distinct color and a numbered designation. Production begins only after receiving 100 pre-orders, with watches delivered approximately six months later.
When it comes to competition, IRIS ALT occupies a distinctive niche. Their innovative use of materials sets them apart in a league of their own. Rather than claiming superiority, they embrace their uniqueness in the market. Valerie notes, “We do not really have competitors on the market yet, as our combination of materials is unique. We are not better; we are different.”
Leading the Way in Innovation and Sustainability
“I guess that what astonished me season after season was creativity. I have always wondered what was going on in one’s designer’s head to be able to tell one or more completely new stories every six months. Karl Lagerfeld was the kind of man I admired for that,” Valerie asserts.
In this regard, Valerie’s role at IRIS ALT revolves around redefining watchmaking. Her objective is to establish a brand that stands out, resonating with individuals seeking a distinct philosophy and unique products not readily found everywhere. Her vision for IRIS ALT is to become a symbol, and her responsibility is to ensure that the brand grows while remaining true to its core mission: designing products that prioritize environmental considerations right from the inception stage, encompassing eco-design, lifecycle analysis, and embracing the principles of the circular economy.
Further, she elaborates, “My responsibilities are to be 100% sure that my partners play the game and that we all contribute to offering products with a minimal carbon footprint.”
Valerie doesn’t perceive herself as possessing exceptional qualities compared to other leaders, except, perhaps, for a touch of daring. Starting a watchmaking brand as a woman might have seemed unconventional to many, but she believes that a measure of audacity is essential to drive progress. Additionally, persistence is her strong suit. She persists until she finds the right partners. However, she regards these qualities as common traits among entrepreneurs.
Regarding the challenges she faces, Valerie believes that versatility is indispensable in a startup. One must possess a broad understanding of various domains, ranging from design to accounting to finance. She further notes, “You must be agile and organized, have a macro vision that will lead the micro, synthesize easily, be looking for information, and integrate the ones given.” Valerie also underscores the significance of investors for every entrepreneur and startup. She says, “As we are currently looking for investors to scale up, which is something I have never experienced before, I have learned three important things: absolutely ask for advice, have the right “technical” partner, and definitely not stay alone.”
Building a Strong Team for Brand Success
As entrepreneurs bring their innovative ideas to life, they require the guidance of visionary experts like themselves. Partnering with an expert becomes essential for thriving in a challenging industry. Therefore, it is crucial to collaborate with the right individual at the right moment. In this context, Valerie assumed a pivotal role by assembling the necessary pieces of the puzzle for success.
“Actually, I follow various types of brands or people. I love Jacquemus’universe and story, Anine Bing’s minimal chic pieces, Icicle’s philosophy and timeless pieces, Telfar’s vision, and Stella McCartney of course!”
Valerie collaborates closely with Eliska and other partners responsible for manufacturing and accounting. They have cultivated valuable relationships with dedicated freelancers. Expanding on this, she explains, “We mainly work with free-lances when there is a need, whom we have all known for a long time and are among the first who believed in the project and helped us achieve what we have done. I cannot thank them enough for trusting us.” Their shared motivation drives their collective efforts to transform this endeavor into a thriving brand.
Balancing Professional and Personal Life
Outside of her work, Valerie cherishes a fulfilling personal life centered around her family. She delights in spending quality time with her husband, three daughters, and a vibrant circle of cousins and friends. Prioritizing moments of togetherness is of utmost importance, including gatherings with their parents.
Valerie has been involved in sports since her childhood. She began skiing at the tender age of three and took up tennis at eight. Residing near Geneva offers distinct advantages, with proximity to ski resorts and opportunities for sailing on Lake Leman. Additionally, she incorporates running into her routine to maintain an active lifestyle.
Furthermore, Valerie has a deep appreciation for opera and theater. These pursuits provide her with a means to escape into different realms for a few hours, offering respite from her daily responsibilities.
Advice for Aspiring Leaders
Valerie has gained valuable insights from her early entrepreneurial experiences that have propelled her toward her goals. She imparts some essential advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to thrive in the fashion retail industry:
- Do not listen to the voice that tells you it won’t work, that it is too hard, that you will not manage or even succeed; just try and see what happens.
- Never forget that the Earth does not belong to us but to the next generation, so do what you want with respect and care.
“A new watchmaking brand can emerge among all the big players with innovation and a sense of responsibility toward the planet.”