Startup Story #17: From IT saleswoman to fashion entrepreneur w/ Animazul founder Karin Gutzwiller

Updated: Jan 31, 2019

The Website of Animazul
"When people love what they do, it's not work. It's just what they do." - Quote of the founder, Karin Gutzwiller-Schreier.

Animazul started out as a side project while working full-time in IT sales for HP, the computer company. The platform brings latin american brands with a story and an impact to European consumers, and the products can be found on the startups web-shop or in one of the many pop-up stores around Switzerland.

Listen to the episode and suscribe here

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • How Karin managed to go from IT saleswoman to fashion entrepreneur

  • How she got her first customers and launched with a 'BANG'

  • Why you shouldn't underestimate the power of influencers

  • How the government can help you out, for free

  • Why building a startup with a social impact is important

  • Why it's important to do what you love

  • What Karin would do differently, looking back

The story behind Animazul

In March 2018, together with her brother, Karin Gutzwiller-Schreier started Animazul as a online e-commerce platform for Latin American brands with a story to tell and an impact – impacts widely ranging from women empowerment to poverty alleviation to inclusive brands. Karin travels to countries like Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, and El Salvador just finding those unique stories and brands, seeking more than just fashion and bringing Latin American craftmanship and design to the European market, starting in Zurich as the main market. They’ve also created pop-ups for people to be able to see and touch the things and try them on.

While Karin was doing research on consumer behavior towards sustainable fashion and financing of ethical fashion while she was at university, she found that it was a bit difficult to attract business angels and VCs, so she went into IT. But over the years Karin has found sustainable fashion has really developed with very interesting business models that create social impact in the communities. With her experience in sales and IT for 7 years, Karin thought there was something she could do and decided to provide a platform for these Latin American brands to sell and help them grow.

The shift to fashion

Karin loves everything to do with sustainability and being from Latin America, she was very aware of the social problems in these countries. When she came to Switzerland to study, she told her professor she didn’t want to write a paper, but instead wanted to do something meaningful that could “change the world”. Karin describes herself as being basic and not a fashionista, but her family’s love for textiles and growing up around a lot of colors while traveling around Guatemala and Mexico made her exposed to the craftmanship part of fashion. While looking for a topic in university for her thesis, she realized that she wanted something to do with textiles and organic cotton seeing this growing awareness at the same time. She was able to meet a lot of designers; for example, Veja, a brand that Meghan Markle wears. There she realized that the biggest challenges these designers had was that they have no money and access to financing.

For 7 years, working in sales for HP was very demanding, but there she became a Kiva ambassador and realized that there was something she could do. Coming home super tired every time (although she loved IT and her job), but she loved the textiles and “telling the story” more. Supporting newbie designers like a young girl named Isabella, this is where she discovered that she really wanted to create an online platform for Latin American design brands. With the support from her family and friends, thus commenced the brainstorming for Animazul, doing this as a side project with her freelancer brother. It was a stressful time for both of them—her having so much stress and pressure from her job and her brother getting sick—still for two weeks they continued their project.

And now Animazul has gotten bigger and bigger, and that eventually she had to tell her boss. Now, Karin has found her passion and her thing—still working as much as she used to but saying it feels much different. She ultimately made the difficult decision that she couldn’t do both working in HP while managing Animazul, so she made a sacrifice as she wanted her side project to become a success.

Getting first customers

In order to gain traction, Karin held a big party event, collaborating with other brands and entrepreneurs. She asked Manuel, another coffee and rum seller from Cuba, who had a Latin American-styled bar and coffee shop if she could do her launch there. Sixty people (an overwhelming number for a startup) came and there they were introduced to Animazul.

Through Isabella and then having 2-3 key brands, others followed suit. Now they already have 5 brands on the platform, and the number just keeps growing. When people like the stories behind the brands, they start telling others about it; and that’s how Animazul gets new sales. It's all about being out there and joining events.

Working with the right brands

Animazul chooses brands that already have a little bit of track record as it helps with advertisement. Creating content and working with bloggers does take a lot of time – something that Karin did not anticipate. They mostly use Instagram as a channel to target some groups, but popups are as effective as well. Also, having a customer in mind and choosing the right target groups, e.g. ages 25 to 40 versus ages 40 to 55, to market to.

Starting popup stores and choosing influencers

First is working with influencers that have that engagement with their audience and that really go well with their brand; the right people that can help build the community, that follow the brand on Instagram because they love the story and are engaged.

Second is collaborating with other sustainable brands that already have more traction than they do in the market. An example would be Pink Maharani, a brand that creates handwoven cashmere shawls. Collaborations in markets you’d want to be in and going to where the consumers are is a way to go.

Connecting Latin America and Europe

Working with the logistics – as an entrepreneur, the big challenge is you have to do everything on your own, starting with traveling and carrying a huge suitcase in tow and going through customs. At the moment, they are importing with couriers as this is the best way with jewelry and clothes that are not a huge volume and being in a slow fashion movement type of industry.

Creating an impact

For every purchase, one franc goes to educational projects on craftmanship and like jewelers that are teaching others to maintain tradition. The brands that Animazul works with have an impact but they wanted to create one of their own. They want to give something back to Latin America, something that has a social impact. They have partnered with Lichutam, an organization that works in rural areas in Guatemala providing scholarships to kids.

The biggest challenge

Not having the courage to do it, not having the big idea and not knowing whether she could start was in itself the biggest challenge; just taking the first step and going for it. But luckily, Karin had the support and encouragement from family and friends as well. From there things started evolving and then she met many people that helped her along the way while learning about the things an entrepreneur needs to do like importing, logistics, bookkeeping to how to choose the best cotton, etc. Having a team around her also is important because no one can do it alone.

The next step

Their next target is Germany, where people are a bit more risk-taking in terms of clothes. But their focus for now is Switzerland, specifically in Geneva, a place which is a country itself as Karin describes.

Doing it differently

Karin wishes she met with her distributors first. Admittedly, she had worked with some people that she didn’t know and it didn’t turn out well. Karin describes the human component in online business is so important. You have to know your distributors and you have to know who you're working with, and work with people you like and respect.

Hope for the startup’s future

She shares that she wants Animazul to be a gateway for the different brands to be able to grow and to be there in the next year. She wants it to grow, wants people to know it, and love the things they buy. She hopes to have that impact while doing what she loves to do, something she finds very fulfilling.

Listen to the episode and suscribe here

Link to the startup:

Links/Weekly recommendation:

  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg a book that Karin recommends for women that have self-doubts

  • Option B by Sheryl Sandberg –- a book that teaches to have an option B in life, building resilience and how you get out of a horrible situation and turning it into something positive

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