Penn Fashion Week keynote brings runway online

Co-founder and CEO of Moda Operandi speaks about the fashion e-commerce business

· April 4, 2013, 11:44 pm

If there’s anything sharper than Aslaug Magnusdottir’s fashion sense, it’s her business knowledge.

Magnusdottir is co-founder and CEO of Moda Operandi, a well-known women’s luxury fashion retailer. She delivered Penn Fashion Week’s keynote speech, titled “Launching a Fashion E-Commerce Business,” last night in Huntsman Hall.

The event, sponsored by Wharton Retail Club, offered an insightful look at the business operations of fashion e-commerce companies like Moda Operandi.

Magnusdottir, along with co-founder Lauren Santo Domingo, launched Moda Operandi in May 2010 as an outlet for women to preorder items from exclusive runway collections. These items are then made by the designer and delivered directly to the customer, with most pieces not available in retail stores.

According to Magnusdottir, there is a large market for businesses like Moda Operandi that allow exclusive access to non-discounted designer apparel.

“There is a whole base of consumers now that don’t hesitate to spend thousands of dollars on an item,” she said. “We are in the state of access and curation now.”

The bulk of Magnusdottir’s presentation was an aesthetic multimedia presentation that revealed the “10 Key Lessons of Launching an E-Commerce Site,” which ranged from “Choose the right investors for you” to “Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.”

All of the lessons included general entrepreneurial advice geared toward all types of start-ups, focusing heavily on the nature of start-ups themselves.

“The concept needs to be about solving a problem and filling a void,” Magnusdottir said. “However, it does not need to be unique. Don’t let conventional wisdom get in the way of good ideas.”

Wharton junior Lennie Zhu, an organizer of Penn Fashion Week, helped bring Magnusdottir to campus because of her fashion start-up expertise. “Moda Operandi is a pretty well-known fashion company, and it’s cool to get these up-and-coming e-commerce companies to campus.”

Wharton junior Sara Sodine also found Magnusdottir’s advice to be particularly salient. “Being in Wharton, you see a lot of people who have career paths laid out for them,” she said. “But for people more interested in entrepreneurship, there are definitely opportunities.”

Interestingly, Magnusdottir’s traditional career path worked to her advantage. As a graduate of Harvard Business School and a Fulbright Scholar at the Duke University School of Law, Magnusdottir worked for both Deloitte and McKinsey & Co., where she made connections that launched her successful fashion business career and eventually culminated in the creation of Moda Operandi.

Despite Moda Operandi’s success in raising $50 million of venture capital funds and signing 300 designer brands within its first year and a half of operation, Magnusdottir’s business advice also focused heavily on humility.

“Never underestimate how far a ‘thank you’ or ‘you did a great job’ goes,” she said. “Be thankful.”

Magnusdottir ended the presentation on a heartfelt note when she responded to an audience member’s question about the person who has most inspired her.

“Um … my mom!” she said, giggling. “She always told me, ‘You can do whatever you want to do,’ so I did.”

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