This month, OROTON announced its partnership with fashion-tech start-up, AirRobe. The collaboration introduced a new mode of online shopping to the brand’s digital channel, enabling customers to resell, rent, recycle or donate directly from personalised wardrobes. To celebrate, OROTON’s recently appointed CEO Jenny Child speaks with AirRobe founder Hannon Comazzetto about breaking the mould and the importance of navigating new technology in order to move fashion forward.
JENNIFER CHILD: Hannon, I think it’s important to start by saying that from our very first meeting, we were so excited about AirRobe, the idea of working together and its potential – it’s such a smart initiative, the next direction in fashion. I’m interested to know more about your drive and determination: you left your role as a mergers and acquisition consultant to launch your company, how did you find the courage to take the leap?
HANNON COMAZZETTO: “It was definitely a big leap, a lot of colleagues thought I was crazy to leave my corporate job to start AirRobe but I had been studying the market for quite some time and I felt it was the right move. I’d previously worked on a big consulting project, helping an international fast fashion brand work out its approach to technology, and that gave me a glimpse into the underbelly of fashion, it was an opportunity to take in some of the things that were going on in the industry. I really wanted to explore ways that we could help consumers focus on higher-quality pieces that were durable and timeless rather than disposable. So the idea came from really thinking about how to help both industry and consumers move forward along that path. The courage came from having conviction in the opportunity and the idea. I always knew I wanted to start something of my own and I felt like it was the right time.”
When I think back to my time at [McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm], I received some invaluable advice early on in terms of what makes for a successful associate – one of the senior advisors told me that it all comes down to one thing: confidence. That was such a shaping moment, it lodged in my brain, I think it really charged me in terms of how I showed up and how resilient I had to be. Can you tell me about your inspiration and what motivated you, how did you build your confidence:
“I've worked with some really incredible people, but ultimately you need to have belief in yourself. I worked hard to create a few start-ups at university and made an effort to be part of that ecosystem. I am always fascinated by people who break the mould, who go on to do the unconventional, taking risks along the way. I've also always been someone that has an interest in business at every level, whether that’s building something from the ground up, or buying businesses and reselling them. The start-up ecosystem is full of examples of leaders who started from a young age without decades of experience but had the grit and determination to succeed. Melanie Perkins [CEO of Canva, the online design and publishing tool founded in 2013 and now valued at over A$1billion] is one such inspiration. Her success proves that you don't need 10 years of experience to go out and create something. There are many others following in her footsteps. Having had some small successes in past start-ups, and seeing these other people going for it at a young age cemented my conviction and gave me self-confidence to take the leap.”
I've worked with some really incredible people, but ultimately you need to have belief in yourself.
– HANNON COMAZZETTO, ENTREPRENEUR
Your company is a cross section of fashion and technology, I'm curious to know which side drives you most, what pushes you?
“For me, I find it most interesting working with brands and retailers to help them enter the world of peer-to-peer resale offerings. I think what really excites me is the fact that there's a huge opportunity for any leader or business at the moment to shape their vision, to change their business models, and focus on purpose-driven initiatives in a way that hasn't been done before – and with meaningfully driving results. The technology is really the means to the end. I think of it as the tools that can help us drive systemic change. I will say I love that I have a job where I’m able to context-switch between things like sustainability, product, technology and fashion, it means there’s never a dull day.”
You ventured to Silicon Valley, which must have been tough, how did you build your confidence in that tech space, how did you immerse in that world which can be so tough to get a foothold in?
“I travelled to San Francisco where I met with investors and I was fortunate in that we had early support from a couple of angel investors that were intrigued by our ideas. There’s a very strong network of start-ups/investors/operators that work across Australia and Silicon Valley and I’ve definitely been a beneficiary of that network. Something that holds true in both Australia and Silicon Valley in the start-up ecosystem is that everyone wants to help each other. Silicon Valley is a big pond for sure, but Australian founders are well respected there – known for our grit and humbleness. We are the quiet achievers compared to US founders, but every year there’s more recognition and appreciation of Australia’s tech scene and our ability to export great tech companies.”
What advice would you give women starting out in this business:
“I'm always reluctant to give advice because I feel as though we're still in the very early stages. I do encourage people to remember that you don't always have to take the more conventional path or follow what feels the safest – that's not to say that it's not great to follow convention, but only if it’s what you want – I think it’s important not to do so blindly. I think it’s really important to think about some of the challenges in the world that you would really like to focus on, and what motivates you. It’s a bit trite to quote Steve Jobs but he has this amazing line that ‘Everything around you that you call life was made up by people who were no smarter than you’. It’s a really powerful idea that can help give you the confidence to shoot for the stars.”
Can you tell us about your work ethic and resilience, perhaps a time when you had a knockback and had to still push ahead?
“I think it’s important not to focus on any knockbacks and just concentrate on the path ahead. In my mind I know that there are always going to be setbacks, it’s part of the process and usually a great learning opportunity. I am definitely a hard worker, I’m focused on achieving our vision – and I have become good at prioritising, for instance I think it’s important to know that you shouldn’t have to end your day with an empty inbox, sometimes – and in my case most times – it’s just not possible to respond to everything. As a founder you get used to rejection and setbacks as they happen every day, it’s learning to stay at it and get back up again that counts in the long-term.”
In terms of our partnership, there is a real synergy in terms of what our brands stand for. We have a history of craftsmanship and creating enduring products and memories that are shared across generations and friends. You have created this tech platform that enables this sharing to happen in a new, more modern way. From our POV, it’s a magical partnership. Why did you feel the fit was right?
“OROTON is such a well-known heritage brand in Australia. I think the idea of working together to really innovate, to address both ethical and environmental challenges within the fashion industry is such an exciting prospect, and to do so with such a relevant brand is an incredible opportunity. I think it’s exciting to be innovating together, to build a circular industry where we can extend the life of the brand’s timeless and well-crafted pieces, at the same time helping consumers to invest in those pieces as well, it’s all very exciting.”