#WCW: FGI’s Jan Gandhi on Moving from Trend-Spotting to Trend-Making

 

“I always wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. I loved reporting – I wrote a column for our local newspaper in high school on everything from social issues to what the cool kids were wearing.”

At some point down the line, Jan Gandhi went from being the teenager reporting the trends, to the woman helping drive them.

She’s currently Co-Regional Director of Fashion Group International; Adjunct Professor of E-Commerce at Seneca College, Fashion & Business Management; and Ryerson Fashion Zone Advisor; and she is the former CEO of The Peacock Parade, which she Co-Founded.

“I studied media in university and then went to law school. I knew that I wanted to practice in the media realm, and that led to my position in-house at MTV Networks in New York.

“My parents are both professionals, so they were very supportive of my entrepreneurial spirit! When I moved to New York, I felt that drive awaken as I found myself surrounded by ambitious entrepreneurs from all walks of life. One day, I had lunch with a friend that had started his own company. That conversation really pushed me to want to start my own business. In fact, he ended up being an original partner in [it], along with my co-founder.

“The Peacock Parade was born out of my passion for online shopping. Living in New York afforded me the luxury of sample sales. I would line up for countless sales, loving the thrill of hunting incredible designer merchandise at a fraction of the cost. [And later], Flash sales brought that excitement online and was how I accumulated a lot of my wardrobe.

But like any good businesswoman, Jan knew she needed more than just a good idea. She needed an audience.

“At that time, access for Canadians was very limited, and it seemed like the perfect fit for me to build a business based on an authentic passion in a market where there was a need. I loved that I was able to find brands that may have been unknown or inaccessible to Canadians, curate sales and put the product in their hands. That aspect was exciting and rewarding.”

When I asked Jan what her biggest takeaway from being the CEO of an e-commerce business was, she responded aptly: “Being able to adapt quickly to changing trends and technology is key to survival. There were huge changes in the industry, and business models came and went. That has given me the perspective and knowledge to speak to the topic more than any textbook would teach.”

Five years of experience with The Peacock Parade has given Jan the first-hand insight to establish herself as a thought leader in the e-commerce space. I got the skinny on the latest trends in the biz:

“E-commerce should no longer be viewed as its own silo. Commerce should be perceived as one fluid customer interaction leading to purchase, and retailers have to be at whichever touch point the customer is. Whether that be online or offline, mobile or in-store.

“The experience needs to be seamless and effortless, requiring the business to integrate online and offline technology and marketing.” (If my editor wouldn’t give me the stink-eye, I’d totally drop a fire emoji here).

There’ve been many times chatting with a mentor over tea (longtime VP and entrepreneurial badass in her own right), that we’ve gotten into heated debates about how one should conduct themselves in business. Do you attend post-secondary education, or dive right in? Do you find investors and start big, or get scrappy and make your first products yourself? When it comes to the generational difference in how women approach business, Jan sees one distinct difference:

“[Its] mainly with respect to learning skills outside their comfort zone. I have noticed that millennial women possess varied skill sets, from coding to graphic design and everything in between. And if they don’t know how to do it, they learn with agility. Being in business for a while will naturally lead to honing specific skills in a certain area, which you certainly excel at, but it may lead to a hesitation to experiment with new areas of technology.

So if you’re a woman looking to build a business around what you love, don’t hesitate to get a little messy! Take a course, read a book, do a little arts-and-crafts on your bedroom floor.

There are so many women to take a queue from, and Jan is one of them. But even our mentors have mentors (such is the beauty of the community of women we cultivate around us). For Jan, it’s impossible to pick just one,

“Natalie Massenet is a pioneer and visionary in the e-commerce space; in human rights, Malala Yousafzai is a shining example of resilience and the power to overcome any obstacle; in motherhood, my own mother and countless friends who juggle careers, commitments and children with grace; in creativity, as Co-Regional Director of Fashion Group International, I am surrounded by talented female designers, artists and businesswomen. I could go on forever…

 

Last great read: Peggy Guggenheim’s memoir, “Confessions of an Art Addict”. I recently re-read it, and I love that it transports me to the surreal world of bohemian artists. Peggy pushed gender boundaries and shattered ceilings by refusing to live the conventional life expected of a woman, and followed her passion for art.

What do you jam to while you’re working on a project: Anything by Leonard Cohen or his son Adam Cohen is always in rotation.