Emilie was a head of collection in mass retail when she quit her job to follow her husband to the Basque coast. Never would she have thought that just a few years later she would be at the head of one of the world’s leading ladies boardsports brands, Roxy.
Emilie, where did you grow up?
I was born in Paris, but my parents moved to the Lille area when I was 10. So that’s where I went to school and spent my young adult life.
“My father was a business owner in the automotive industry and as a teenager, I told me I’d take over the business.”
As a little girl, what did you want to be when you would grow up?
My father was a business owner in the automotive industry and as a teenager, I told me I’d take over the business one day. I wanted to do the same thing my father did, but I quickly changed my mind.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to business school in Lille. Then I decided to do an internship throughout my second and third year at the company “Les 3 suisses” as a buyer and product assistant. I really enjoyed those two years and decided I wanted to stay in retail.
What did you do after graduating?
I went to work for Kiabi. I was a head of collection. I worked with stylists and designers to develop children’s collections at Kiabi.
Did you have a background in design?
I am not a designer, I can’t draw or sketch but I have a keen eye for products. At Kiabi, I worked with designers on a daily basis for 4 years, so I can come up with something with a few samples and sketches.
“The product manager is kind of like the business safeguard of design.”
How did you learn your job, in business school or rather on the job through experience?
It’s quite a technical job. You need to know about fabric and manufacturing, which I learned about on the job. I went very frequently to factories in Asia, Morocco, India and China. I also went through specific training on fabric with the French Clothing and Apparel Institute (the IFTH).
So yes, I mostly learned my job in the field, but business school taught me structure, reasoning, building, data analysis, budget management, store stock management, etc. The product manager is kind of like a business safeguard for design.
9 years ago you left Lille for the Basque Country. Was it for professional reasons?
Not at all. My husband, who surfs a lot, wanted to be able to surf even more and Lille wasn’t quite the best place for that! Professionally, he got an opportunity to come down to the Basque Country, so down we came. I therefore quit my job at Kiabi to follow my husband and that is how we landed in the Basque Country.
No job? What did you do?
I didn’t start looking for a new job right away because I was pregnant with our second child
“I gave birth to my child on Wednesday. I think my first interview was about a week after that. I didn’t want to miss such an opportunity.”
So how did you wind up in the Quiksilver group then?
It’s pretty funny actually. I had a colleague at Kiabi who had quit a few years before I did, to go work for Quiksilver in the Basque Country and we had kept in touch. One day he called me and said, “… a guy at work mentioned that a girl on his team is leaving soon and it seems like your profile, so if you’re interested send me a CV and I’ll pass it along”. That was a Tuesday, the day before my due date. I sent my CV in anyway and on Wednesday morning I gave birth to my child. I think my first interview was about a week after that. I didn’t want to miss such an opportunity.
So you just hopped right in?
No, they had someone lined up who was temping. Since I had just had my baby in early May, we agreed that I’d start in September. I therefore was able to enjoy the summer with my children and I started in September 2008.
What did you do at Quiksilver?
I was a product manager in ladies apparel and swimwear for Roxy. Two years later, my boss, who was the Brand Manager, left, so I took on more responsibilities in managing the designers.
Quiksilver globalized its activities in Europe. What was that transition like for you?
We started globalizing the company 4 years ago. In each region, USA, Australia, Europe, we wanted responsible product representatives for each product to be spokespeople in global meetings for each region. With that, I was promoted to manage the Roxy team for Europe.
That was quick!
What happened after was even quicker! At that time, a part of the collections were sketched and designed in the States. We worked based on excellence centers: Europe designed jackets and denims while the USA focused on swimwear. It was very complicated to stay coherent within the collections. So Pierre (editor’s note: Pierre Agnes, the GM of Quiksilver Europe at the time) decided to bring back and centralize the design center in Europe so he put me in charge of the product on a global level for Roxy.
What was it like to be responsible for product worldwide?
It was really great. Soon after that though, Pierre became the International CEO at Quiksilver. He therefore implemented a new set up for the company with a key leader for each brand. Rather than having a marketing manager to cover the three brands (Quiksilver, Roxy, DC), he wanted a product boss, a design boss… he wanted one boss for each brand. That’s when he offered me the position of Global Brand Manager for Roxy.
What was it like getting that kind of a promotion?
It was extremely rewarding and stimulating. That said, I did wonder if I’d really be able to handle it given how big a challenge it was. But I love the brand and that kind of an opportunity doesn’t come by often in a career, so I went for it and dove right in.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I remember that a Sales Manager once told me to be curious and to stay interested in everything. You can never know everything that’s going on everywhere, but the more you know on processes, on people, on what’s going on in the company, the more pertinent you are and the more people are inclined to listen. It’s advice I would recommend following.
Do you travel a lot?
I travel around 10 to 15 times per year.
And when you aren’t travelling, what is a typical day like for you?
Lots of meetings. Lately, I have been travelling quite a bit, so when I get back to the office, I work with my teams on current issues. I always try to be available for my teams, I try to help as much as possible so everyone can move forward at the same time.
What do you do to unwind?
When I’m not at work, I spend time with my kids. I pick them up, take them to the beach, we go for a walk… It’s vital for me, I need to spend quality time with my family.
“The industry needs to reinvent itself […], it needs to get back to authentic values, […] and have a genuine outlook on things to make people dream.”
How do you see the boardsports industry today?
The industry needs to reinvent itself and stand out from the competition of fast fashion. We need to get back to authentic values, put our efforts into technical and innovative products and have a genuine outlook on things to make people dream.
You recently joined the EuroSIMA Board of Directors. What do you think the only woman on the board can bring to the table?
I think it’s great to represent women and surfers, it’s an honor. I’m completely comfortable in a male environment and I think that the men are quite happy to have a woman working with them. We push them to go outside their comfort zone. With us, they have to adapt their communication and listen differently… A board of directors with only women would be boring, but if next year there could be a few more that would certainly be a good thing (laughs).
What can we wish you for the future?
Success with Roxy and the teams I work with. I hope to inspire other women and to give them the desire to take the same path.