Appreciate your staff, be thankful to the customers for supporting your brand, don’t stress too much over small details that nobody other than yourself can see — It’s simply not worth it.
Aspart of my fashion industry interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Wingsoe. Recognized as one of the earliest creators of the micro-endorsement platform, Peter Wingsoe is an innovator turned serial entrepreneur and veteran of the start-up world, touting over 20 years of experience in retail management, marketing, strategic advisory, and business development. With a professional background in and distinct aptitude for brand acquisition, expansion, and franchising in unchartered markets such as Southeast Asia, Wingsoe’s comprehensive knowledge of the international landscape has made him a consummate resource with those her partners with.
Mr. Wingsoe recently served as the Master Franchisor and CEO of MANGO for the Philippines and Thailand, while also acting as a key strategic advisor to several multinational retail corporations across Asia. He continues to oversee several international brands in the US and Southeast Asian markets including the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, ensuring the growth and profitability of each brand in their respective markets. After moving back to the US, he currently serves the CEO North America of ILLEST International, with several brands under its umbrella including ILLEST, FATLACE, HELLAFLUCH, TSELLI, and Heartaches and Heartbreaks to name a few.
Born in Copenhagen, the always curious and self-starting Wingsoe was schooled throughout Europe before immigrating to the US in the late 80s. Wingsoe co-created and then served as EVP of Pink Dot, “delivering the future,” a first-of-its-kind convenience store chain in California that began as just a vision. A single store became the template for nationwide e-commerce and online grocery shopping trend that was embraced as an untapped format; exploding in its popularity today.
After leaving Pink dot, Wingsoe went on the become the VP of Marketing and Business Development for Blue Jay Inc., an international holding firm specializing in retail and licensing. He’s gone on to launch or advise on various business entities in the online, mobile and digital space such as Tinder, ad.ly, looksy, Kalibrr, Payra & VMoney as well as TRV, TRIMARK Holdings, TBK, FICO and Retail Specialist Inc.; all of whom originally engaged Wingsoe for his unique understanding of the retail and brand sector, both domestically and internationally.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ithink like most people, the career path that found me, rather than me specifically choosing this particular career. I studied art in college and considered myself to be creative with little to no interest in the business. However, as I left college, I realized quickly that I had a natural ability to understand business and was able to combine that with my art experience. I discovered that I had a unique skill set and the ability to succeed as a marketing executive which eventually led me to become a successful entrepreneur and CEO.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
A few years ago, I purchased a large retail chain of stores with a few partners in Southeast Asia, in a country in which I have never lived in and knew little about. The business was essentially failing and bankrupt but that didn’t stop me! I had previously turned around a similar business back in the Philippines and turned a profit. I remember one of my partners saying, “The first time you do it, that is pure luck! If you can do it again, then you can call it skills!”. Those words gave me the drive to do it again. It was almost a total disaster right from the beginning, and I think most people would have been wise enough to walk away from it right then and there, but I decided to stick with it (The thought of my previous work being looked upon as luck did not sit well with me.) Over the next few years, my team and I were able to turn the business around. We closed non-performing stores, built large 10,000+ square foot mega stores, and added several outlets stores, selling old stock we had inherited in the acquisition. We quickly managed to get a sell-through of 72% on full-price merchandise, 4% leftover after EOS, all leading to increased sales and profitability, and a complete revitalization of the brand’s image. Now I can finally say, with conviction, “I have skills!”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Like most entrepreneurs, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. I don’t know if there’s one specific mistake that I remember in particular, but what I have learned is, and I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes, one that I read every day and words I live by….
“THE ONLY REAL FAILURE IS THE FAILURE TO TRY, AND THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS IS HOW WE COPE WITH DISAPPOINTMENTS, AS WE ALWAYS MUST.
WE CAME HERE, AND WE TRIED, ALL OF US IN OUR OWN DIFFERENT WAYS. CAN WE BE BLAMED FOR FEELING THAT WE ARE TOO OLD TO CHANGE, TOO SCARED OF DISAPPOINTMENT TO START IT ALL AGAIN?
WE GET UP IN THE MORNING AND WE DO OUR BEST. BUT IT’S ALSO TRUE THAT THE PERSON WHO RISKS NOTHING, DOES NOTHING, HAS NOTHING.
ALL WE KNOW ABOUT THE FUTURE IS THAT IT WILL BE DIFFERENT, BUT PERHAPS WHAT WE FEAR IS THAT IT WILL BE THE SAME.
SO, WE MUST CELEBRATE THE CHANGES BECAUSE AS SOMEONE ONCE SAID…
EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT IN THE END AND IF IT’S NOT ALRIGHT THEN TRUST ME IT’S NOT YET THE END.”
I think the most important thing to remember in life is don’t be afraid of trying. If you fail get back up and try again; remembering that it’s okay to fail, eventually, you will succeed as long as you learn from your mistakes. Be positive, because nobody wants to be around a negative person, be encouraging and inspiring because your team will work harder for someone that they look up to. And lastly, remember you can do a lot on your own, but realize you can do more as a team.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I sit on several boards both as an advisor and as a board member, and I currently act as the CEO of North America for streetwear brand ILLEST. ILLEST has been around for 10+ years and today is one of the most successful US streetwear brands in Southeast Asia. Since moving back to Los Angeles and taking on the role of CEO about a year ago, I’ve been able to completely transform the business here in the United States and we are already starting to see huge growth numbers even during this difficult time we are in at the moment. I believe one of the most important things in order to be successful, besides being fortunate enough to have a stellar team, is to be nimble and willing to look outside the box, explore new opportunities and capitalize on successes. This is a belief that can not only come from me but has to be part of the company’s DNA and the team’s desire to fulfill. Right when the pandemic started, having some experience with lockdowns in Asia caused by SARS and the Hong Kong protests, I immediately steered us into exploring new product offerings and explored sales channels that would be effective during a lockdown. I’m proud to say that with the entire team’s dedication and hard work, we were able to grow online sales far beyond expectations. Again, this is not my doing as an individual but the results and workings of a truly dedicated team.
Furthermore, I always tell my teams that it’s not the best product that wins, but rather the most balanced one. If there is no balance, it will eventually tip over. The perfect fabric with a dated design will fail. The perfect product with a mediocre marketing activation or demotivated sales staff will never be successful. Without balance it’s hard to reach full potential.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I was recently asked a similar question by someone and I think the answer is you truly have to “love what you do”, — you need to love your work in order for you to be passionate about it. Basically “Love your job and you won’t work a day in your life” because if you truly love it, it will never feel like work. But at the same time, it’s also important to know when to let go. Doing what you love and making money is not necessarily the same; because when you start losing money, that’s usually the time the love starts fading away, and then you will start hating what you used to love.
I suppose my advice is simple; Stressless and appreciate more. Appreciate your staff, be thankful to the customers for supporting your brand, don’t stress too much over small details that nobody other than yourself can see — It’s simply not worth it. Now, that’s my advice, but I’ll be honest, I’m not always the best at following it myself, but no one is perfect right?! LOL.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Some people say I talk too much, LOL, but I like to think of it as a way of sharing my knowledge.
I work with many retail and fashion brands, helping them explore and expand into international territories, particularly southeast Asia. Having lived overseas for 10+ years, I not only understand the retail markets in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, as well as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines but also know all the dynamics of each country, the in-and-out as they say, ultimately I know all the main distributors, their strength and capabilities, to ensure brand success.
Further, I am active on many Advisory Boards of many smaller startups, in the hopes that I can share some of my knowledge with aspiring entrepreneurs.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
I live by the motto, “In life it doesn’t matter what you say, it only matters what people hear”. You must ensure that the people around you truly hear what you’re trying to say otherwise you’re simply just wasting your breath.
For me life is simple; there are always three realities, the reality as I see it, the reality as you see it, and then the true reality.
In order to be successful, you need to ensure that people truly understand what you’re saying because we are only judged by what people hear/understand, their reality, not by our own reality.
Similarly, as a brand, you must be able to awaken the excitement within, in order to get people to want to engage with a brand, regardless of what the brand really is. Again, intentions are irrelevant, it’s the perception that wins.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I am always excited about the future, and the “what’s next”; I think that we just catapulted ourselves 3 to 5 years into the future since the beginning of this pandemic and I believe that many things will change in our industry, but also that many great things will come out of it!
I was one of the original co-founders of EFG PR and Ad.ly, two of the largest and most successful micro-endorsement agencies/platform when this was a term no one understood it and no one wanted to embrace. EFG was founded in 2002 with Ad.ly some years later. Nobody believed in micro-endorsements back in those days and yet today every brand uses influencers and micro-endorsers to promote brands directly to the consumers today. Any brand that wants to succeed, large or small must embrace the changes in order to survive, and sometimes before they become part of our own daily lives.
I’ve been lucky to be a part of many successful startups and the more exciting question for me is, how do we capitalize on this? How do we make use of the “new ways” of living? How do we recognize our new needs, the new technologies that are emerging and how do we translate that into our new normal lifestyle? I think we are transforming faster than ever, and I look forward to changing our current way of life to capitalize on these new trends.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
I’m not sure there’s necessarily a “top 5 to success in the fashion industry” as much as there is a top 5 to be successful in anything. My own personal tagline that I live by is: IMAGINE, BELIEVE, EXECUTE & DELIVER! But 5 things that I think are essential are the following:
Have Passion. I think first and foremost you need to love and passion for what you’re getting yourself into. What is the first thing that you do in the morning when you wake up or what is the first story that you read when you read the news? Pick your industry based on what you read first because that’s what you will be most passionate about, the most knowledgeable about, and always the things that you will work the hardest at because it will just come naturally. If you’re dead set on being in fashion, but the first story that you read is about sports, then maybe you should work in a fashion company that deals with professional sports.
Work hard! If you’re just starting out, work hard, and remember there’s always somebody that’s working harder than you. I tell my teams: “A hard-working person is not he who spends the most hours at work, but he who gets the most done.” Concentrate on results, not on being busy.
Execution! As the saying goes, “A plan is only as good as its execution” …and a beautiful plan with a failed execution is always a failure. Intentions are good, but the execution is the true key to success!
Be consistent. Consistency is a must because if you’re not consistent no one will know what to expect from you. Consistency brings a level of comfort on how people trust and believe in you (this applies to both an individual as well as a brand.) For me, consistency in building a brand is achieved by creating standards and making sure those standards are always being followed.
Be flexible. Remember to be agile and flexible especially with the new norm; and this is more important now than ever. In the past, we would plan ahead, create concrete plans about what would happen in the weeks and/or months ahead, plan for the short term which inherently affects the long term. But now all those pre-existing plans have gone out the window. Now is the time that we must be agile and flexible and roll with the punches. We need to be able to pivot and adapt or run the risk of disappearing without a moment’s notice.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
That’s a thought one because in many ways I think we, the fashion industry, and this may sound contradictory, is a bit old-fashioned.
Many large brands tend to do what they did last season, because they were successful and often lose both sight and ambition to do things differently and/or in new ways. I’m not necessarily talking about the fashion itself, but how we go about things as an industry, but I suppose they are most often afraid of the unknown. It’s no secret that many retail brands have disappeared over the last couple of years because they either failed completely or were simply too slow at embracing the new reality we live in.
Furthermore, I believe the fashion industry as a whole often lacks authenticity, and now more than ever. Many brands in general, but in particularly fashion brands, are often quick to align themselves with current news, but often lack the intention to make long-lasting, sustainable change. Everyone can hop onto a movement on social media, but more importantly, what are we truly doing both personally and professionally to make that change?
Unfortunately, it often comes across as disingenuous when a brand says they stand behind something, during an uprising or movement when they never stood with it before, is all too convenient. It ends up looking like a marketing opportunity rather than something that they truly care about and this has become easier than ever with social media. And something that I believe consumers are starting to see more and more often.
I think that whatever we do and decide to support has to be authentic, has to come from within, from the brand’s DNA down to the teams’ alignment and execution, not from the marketing department.
But as the saying goes, “You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t” but choosing the right moment to speak up and the motivation behind it, has to be authentic, especially if the brand had previously been silent on the matter and should not be done for the sake of the bottom line.
I, personally, have always been an advocate of exploring new opportunities and new ways of doing things as an industry, not only to be better and because it’s right but also to be different.
Fashion is all about being different, being creative and going where none have gone before, and we continue to do that in fashion, but not necessarily in the (fashion) industry.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Having lived in Southeast Asia for 10+ years, I would love to be able to help more people in third world countries getting a better education.
I’m a true believer that better education ultimately leads to prosperity and happiness for all. I’ve been fortunate enough to sponsor two children in Cambodia for the past five years. They are currently attending a Private International School in Cambodia, ensuring that they get a good education that will help them care for themselves and their families in the future.
For me it’s like planting a seed; I started with two, been watering them for the past five years, hopefully able to nurture them to grow big and strong and they will generate multiple more seeds and trees for generations to come and slowly generate change. You are right, if everyone would plant and care for a seed that needed a little water and nurture it, I’m sure great things can happen.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m not a huge social media person, I rarely post, but you can follow me on Instagram @wingsoe and for the brand @ILLEST
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!