Planning. In the fashion industry, things can quickly become overwhelming. Everything happens quickly and sudden changes in plans are common. Having multiple plans in place is necessary to react promptly and take a different direction when needed.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sofia Tchkonia. Sofia is the under-the-radar founder of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi. Launched in 2015 with over 60% of the investments coming from her own pocket, the event is now considered the must-go-to appointment by the international fashion industry. Her intuition, followed by her commitment to promote Georgian fashion abroad, has brought a wave of prominent international guests among buyers and media on a search for the latest trends and the next global talent.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born in Georgia and studied cinematography between Europe and the USA. I always thought my career path would be in the film industry and, indeed, I created the documentary project “Icons and Muses”, which featured interviews with notable personalities such as Pierre Bergé, Madame Carven, Serge Lutens, and Rick Owens. In 2010 I established BENEXT Art and Fashion Foundation, with the aim to connect the world of art with fashion. That is when my career path took a clear direction. It’s hard to say how, but I felt there was so much creative talent in Georgia unknown to the world. Georgia needed a platform where designers could grow and obtain global exposure. At the beginning, it was very difficult as many people did not even know where Georgia was… I had to start from zero and prove that Georgia could host a big international event and that Tbilisi, the capital, could earn a spot among the main fashion cities. I am proud to say that, thanks to the hard work and a great team, I am closer to where I want to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
There were many interesting moments since I’ve started, but the most special one was in 2019 when I was listed by BoF — Business of Fashion — among the 500 People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry. It was a recognition that proved I was on the right path and that Georgian fashion was making waves in the international fashion industry.
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?
I still make many mistakes; I can’t think of anyone in particular. Mistakes can make us feel frustrated, embarrassed, or even silly, but messing up isn’t always a bad thing in my opinion. Not only is it part of the learning process, but it teaches a lot of who we are, and it can help us clarify our priorities along the way. I embrace mistakes as starting points for self-improvement and, eventually, as something to laugh about.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our team is quite small, and it has accompanied me on this journey since the very beginning. We know each other very well, which means it is easy to connect and coordinate quickly and efficiently when responding to changes. When I started, they had not a clear idea of what my vision was or what I was trying to achieve. I guess nobody at that time believed that Georgian fashion could be successful. Nevertheless, they followed and trusted me, and I am proud to say it is a wonderful team and I am lucky to be surrounded by so many talented people.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My only suggestion would be to love what you do and believe in it, regardless of what people say or think. Follow your dreams and work hard for it. Most of all, surround yourself with positive people. A positive attitude can reduce the stress among your team and ultimately enhance productivity without burning out.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Prior to 2014, the official launch year of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Tbilisi, fashion was absent in Georgia. The event gave the opportunity to local talents to show their creations and fulfill the dream of presenting their collections to an international audience while entering the global market. Moreover, it highlighted the cultural heritage of Georgia, a country that offers a unique blend of styles, from Persian to Byzantine and Ottoman. I am glad that through this long-term project I have contributed to making the world discover the artistic and cultural legacy of Georgia
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never say never”, because you never know what might be waiting for you around the corner. Every time I thought something was unlikely to happen, I often found myself surprised by the unexpected.
This is something that happened to me many times when I tried to predict an outcome. As humans, we have no control over all the factors in our life and, most of all, we cannot predict who we will become in 1 year, in 5 or even in 10. Anything can happen down the road, therefore I allow myself to enjoy the journey, and …never say never.
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 expect many new and talented designers to become increasingly popular in the global fashion industry and ignite a new creative wave tied to social and environmental responsibility. Nowadays, young generations are proving to be highly sensitive to these important topics and their habits are inﬂuenced by those principles. Social media is a powerful tool that plays a pivotal role in this transformative process and, today more than yesterday, we are witnessing the birth of a new designers’ generation who are already changing the fashion industry as we speak.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
1.Drive and ethic. These are necessary traits of any entrepreneur who wants to succeed in his/her business. It is important to never lose sight of your goals while staying true to your morals and values.
2. Planning. In the fashion industry, things can quickly become overwhelming. Everything happens quickly and sudden changes of plans are common. Having multiple plans in place is necessary to react promptly and take a different direction when needed.
3. Personality. Your character and the ability to react to adversities are what can make you succeed or fail. For instance, last May we suddenly had to cancel fashion week due to the pandemic. It wasn’t easy. Everything was set and all collections were ready to be presented, but I kept my chin up and I utilized that time gap to plan the first digital fashion week, which eventually took place last October in Tbilisi and it was successful.
4. Sense of humor. Humor is what nurtures relationships across all hierarchies. I use it to relieve tension and create a relaxed and pleasant work environment. I don’t take myself too seriously and I believe that a good laugh can even help form fruitful business relationships.
5. Confidence. This is critically important to succeeding in every industry, not only in fashion. It is an aspect that can be developed with time and it is necessary to convey your message clearly and efficiently to your peers.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
I think it would improve by giving more support to those creative designers who have just started in this business, especially from countries like Georgia where fashion is relatively recent. Designers are trying hard to find their place on the fashion map and, often, the doors are closed to the most talented ones because they lack the network or the connections. I think we all have to become more supportive of each other and fight prejudice.
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. 🙂
I would take actions to start a program that improves the access to food and education to the less fortunate across the world. By living in Georgia, I have witnessed the effect of poverty and lack of opportunities. The Pandemic has intensified the social differences even more. My wish is to provide the community with sufficient means to ensure a dignified life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!