As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laure-Cecile Lafond-Fenonjoie, the COO and Co-Founder of SocialEras .A brand strategist and designer by training, Laure-Cecile’s deep understanding of western values and eastern production capabilities has propelled her to become a force in the ever-evolving eCommerce space, leading teams around the globe from Australia, Canada, China, France, and the US. Over the past 6 years, Laure-Cecile (LC) has cultivated resources to help bridge the gap between Eastern/Western markets — including starting a consultancy aimed at re-branding Chinese companies to appeal to Western consumers. In 2018, LC co-founded SocialEras: a global eCommerce marketplace for socially-conscious brands.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I wanted to be a “MacGyver Business Woman,” and became an entrepreneur — almost there! All jokes aside, I know what I don’t want: to be static, limited, or have regrets.
Candidly, failure brought me to my current role as COO of SocialEras.
When I was refused my Master’s degree in France, I was told: “Laure-Cecile, you gave the best presentation of the day; however, what you are doing is not design in its pure, stylistic form. You have built a bridge between design and business, which we can’t mark.”
I left thanking them for the new vocation they revealed in me. Without hesitation, I signed up for a Transcultural Design program at the School of Design, Nantes Atlantique, and left France to live in China for two years. Six months after arriving, I built my first startup, offering Chinese e-commerce companies a way to localize their brands and messaging into the European market. I was 25 years old.
For six years I studied the meaning of culture — single cultures, multiculturality and transculturality, etc. — and how it could feed business strategies in their search for internationalization. From social media to market places, I tried to understand what could best bridge the East and West? Maybe a common cause to fight for?
This constant study in culture lead me to co-found my latest venture, SocialEras: a socially-conscious eCommerce platform. We work with brands that understand their businesses have to take responsibility for the impact of their merchandise, and provide the means for emerging independent brands to reach a global audience.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I love learning about the new brands joining SocialEras. Understanding the thinking, process, and ethics behind each brand is crucial to maintaining our vision. I believe that the more we learn about the brands we are working with, the better we can serve our customers, and vice-versa.
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?
My French accent has played some terrible jokes on me from time to time. Of course, my team and I always reach a mutual understanding that usually ends in laughter, which effectively builds our camaraderie and bonds us as a team. And laughing about yourself/your mistakes is also such a great pressure release.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our platform, our vision and the foundation of our team are what set SocialEras apart from other direct-to-consumer (D2C) platforms. We are giving independent, and ethically conscious brands a social ecommerce platform to reach a global audience and using social media to engage with consumers in innovative ways.
To ensure brands share our vision of social consciousness, and embody this in their products and presence, we require brands to hit 3 of our 6 criteria:
1. Socially Responsible: Conscious about their impact on local and foreign communities
2. Transparency in Pricing: Open about cost breakdown of products
3. Innovative Design Concepts: Cutting-edge design, quality tailoring, and use of tech fabrics
4. Ethical Manufacturing
5. Eco-Friendly: Creating products with fabrics from recycled fibers, recyclable or biodegradable packaging.
6. Qualitative Products: Brands that are responding to modern day problems providing solutions through their branding, product development, and manufacturing
Uniting D2C brands with a socially-conscious approach is not a trend — this is a real movement, and right now there is a gap in the market. SocialEras is dedicated to bringing a strong community of like-minded people together.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We recently came across an incredible fabric called Mirage Fabric that reacts to UV light by changing color. It is made of recycled, natural photo-sensitive fibers.
In a time where we take everything for granted — especially our planet, oxygen and sun — this UV fabric is a reminder of the environment’s presence and its influence on our lives.
We decided to introduce this revolutionary new fabric to Abeātis, a D2C athleisure brand sold exclusively on SocialEras. Mirage Fabric is a great fit for the brand’s ethos, which is to focus one’s actions with clarity and mindfulness, and they now offer a hoodie that changes color when exposed to sunlight — check it out here.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
A good leader, regardless of gender, should always strive to be fair, responsible, and always encourage trust by identifying that which unites the team. Demonstrate your common goals, then empower each member by reminding them how much their actions and work will influence the team’s shared ability to reach these goals.
Empower by giving responsibilities and setting goals (KPIs and deadlines). From there let your team find out for themselves how to reach their objectives. Be available for questions and open to challenges; give feedback and then let them move forward. Work alongside them — not behind, not ahead.
Moreover, I personally don’t classify myself as a “female leader”, but rather a citizen of an evolved world, meeting others halfway and fostering the growth between us. My experience in the Navy taught me this same team mentality, and this approach has served me well across multiple cultures throughout my career: thrive like everyone else, and don’t dwell on differences as it only creates boundaries and limits one’s capabilities.
That is what we try our best to do at SocialEras, whether it is within our team or on the platform between brands. We understand that what brought us together is this sincere belief that we need to support and share all our brands’ voices to improve responsible production and consumption.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Whether your team is small or large, my advice is the same: keep your focus and forget about perfectionism! Problems will inevitably arise whether it’s from operations, your partners or your investors. Simply focus on a maximum of three issues at a time and delegate action when the path is clear. Then move on to the next three and keep moving.
If things become overwhelming, then map things out, visualize, select and focus.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In the past two years, things would have been very different if I hadn’t met Court Petrie, now SocialEras’ President.
His strong experience in the digital media and lifestyle industry has strengthened our company vision, and our ability to better understand the demands of the US market.
Together with Court, we have created a very strong vision for SocialEras, something that speaks to our teams and us three as individuals and as business people.
Because our company has offices in different cities around the world, with employees from multiple cultural backgrounds and with various business habits, communication can be a challenge and can have an effect on business growth. Unless you have leaders with the very rare ability to see, understand, adapt and work with other cultures, then your experiences combine into a rich melting pot of experiences focusing on one same mission.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The fashion industry is among the most wasteful industries in the world, especially fast fashion. If we were to distribute all the pants produced every year, each person in the world would have 16 new pairs of pants annually. Because we can’t read minds, presenting consumers with “10 best sellers” requires brands and manufacturers to produce 10x more product and propose more choices.
SocialEras was created to bring manufacturers and brands closer to consumers, encouraging consumers to express their voice during the production process by giving them the tools to influence product development. The SocialEras’ vision is to give the consumer a voice — essentially saying “tell us what you want and we will make it.” To develop this direct dialogue, social media has been an incredibly powerful tool.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Set your and your team’s expectations right. In our search for success we have to build the best possible team and convince new partners to join. In this work we always make sure not to over promise and accurately measure each member’s abilities to keep everyone motivated.
2) Don’t dwell on failure or mistakes. Move on fast. Of course, failure is part of the journey and we need to learn from it. Move on fast and be ready for the next lesson, don’t let your mistakes accumulate and become overwhelming enough that you begin faltering in efficiency.
3) Long-distance management is like a long-distance relationship. It requires constant dialogue and extra understanding. Always assume positive intent.
4) Find common ground and speak on the same level. In order to save time and tasks to be done, it is essential to be straightforward and clear with your directives. One of the best ways is to show your team your work/work ethic; lead by example, don’t hide behind superiority or title.
5) Be a coach and welcome difference. It isn’t easy, and becomes more difficult when added pressure and the urge to meet your company goals is present, but when it comes to startups, we have to give team members the tools to meet our expectations and then accept the evolution of those same tools to allow one’s appropriation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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.
If I can in anyway participate in creating or illustrating the notion of world citizenship, even in a very small way, I would sacrifice anything to support this architecture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The distance between number one and number two is always a constant. If you want to improve the organization, you have to improve yourself and the organization gets pulled up with you. That is a big lesson. I cannot just expect the organization to improve if I don’t improve myself and lift the organization, because that distance is a constant.” -INDRA NOOYI
Our ability to reinvent ourselves and our thinking will affect our ability to face challenges and find solutions. We have to constantly learn and grow as we install effective, continuous innovation cycles for our platform.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have a discussion with Carlo Rovelli, the famous physicist who discusses quantum gravity and one of the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory. I would want to better visualize the theories surrounding quantum physics and time. From what I understand from the readings, our world would take a very different approach to life if more of us could understand the role of time, space and gravity.
I absolutely admire personalities willing to illustrate and give our humble human brain more strings to break our conventions.
These concepts are important to me because I do not believe in limits and conventions and that is why SocialEras was created, to seek out new and unexplored frontiers.
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