More often than not, business is about looking at how things have been done before and having the courage and imagination to reinvent the rules. That’s what Anne Boden did when she created Starling Bank, a digital bank for personal and business current accounts. Starling was born out of her determination to give customers control over their money, and provide a real alternative to the banks of the past. Starling strives to be fast, friendly and supportive – just like a murmuration of starling birds.
In this series, we’ll be shining a light on other Great British entrepreneurs who, just like Anne, are pioneers of change.
Our next entrepreneur is Starling customer Sonya Bachra-Byrne, the co-founder of AVIE.
Fashion is one of the most attractive and lucrative industries that appeals to aspiring entrepreneurs. But it is also one of the most challenging; building a brand that stands out from the crowd.
Alongside her husband Liam Nathan Byrne, Sonya Bachra-Bryne is co-founder of AVIE, a luxury and sustainable women’s fashion brand that creates contemporary, ‘season-less’ pieces that offer versatility from desk to dinner, and tackles the fast fashion industry head on.
‘What would I do if this was my own company?’
For Sonya, running her own business has always been a long-term goal.
“I like to think a little more abstract rather than mainstream in finding solutions and problem solving, even as a young child, I would always think a little bit bigger and beyond. I innately knew I would have my own business,” she explains.
Like many entrepreneurs, however, Sonya started off in employment. She worked with businesses that were struggling and in need of a reboot. Why?
“Successful companies usually have everything already in place, and you are just another person there to fill a role and not to bring about change,” Sonya says. “I did not want a ‘job’ or a ‘role’. I wanted to become a better business person, to learn, to excel and working with struggling brands gave me greater responsibility, far beyond just ‘having a role’.”
Sonya worked with the mindset of ‘what would I do if this was my own company?’. And it paid off, driving multi-million pound turnovers at several businesses around the world.
At 16, Sonya entered a competition to create an export plan for an existing business. She and her teammates won the competition and a three day trip to Brussels to visit the European Commission at the European Parliament. It was a trip she credits with fueling her desire to become an entrepreneur.
Her own personal love of fashion made it stand out as the obvious choice for her entrepreneurial pathway.
Sonya explains: “I began studying business and economics, but I quickly changed to Fashion Design & Associated Studies. I realised that I wanted to learn the trade, so that I was able to do the design work myself in the early stages of my business.
“I was setting myself up to be a fashion entrepreneur, but I wanted valuable industry experience first. Targeting struggling companies allowed me to explore my entrepreneurial side, pushing new product lines, and implementing ideas and strategies that placed innovation at the centre.”
But how do you stand out in such a crowded and competitive market? So many young people want to enter the fashion world, and the digital age has made the idea of launching your own brand so much simpler and more accessible.
“I wanted to challenge the fast fashion industry,” Sonya says. “I want to change people’s mindset on buying better, high quality items that can be reworn in multiple seasons.”
The rise in the public’s eco-consciousness has grown dramatically in recent years. As consumers, we’re far more aware and driven by the impact our purchases have on the environment. And that has put a huge spotlight on the fast fashion industry.
“The concept of purpose-driven luxury slow fashion is about buying versatile pieces that are season-less. They are designed to be stylish, not trendy.”
After a successful career and having developed a great business idea, Sonya felt ready to create AVIE – ‘For life’ – with her husband, Liam, in February 2019.
“We have been fortunate to have our careers lead us around the world. We’ve had to learn new languages and cultures, and adapt to our new environments. It helped to build the DNA of AVIE,” Sonya says.
AVIE was born in New York, nurtured in Catalonia, developed in Scandinavia, matured in Australia and launched in the UK.
Sonya added: “We have taken influences from living in each of these places, fusing them into a unique global aesthetic for professionals in the creative industries.”
The pair launched their business in February 2019 at the Saatchi Gallery in London and was quickly selected by DRAPERS as a ‘Brand to Watch in 2019’. AVIE joined the UK Fashion & Textile programme and was due to appear at its first international trade fair in Paris in February 2020. But then , of course, the pandemic hit.
So, we asked Sonya about the impact of lockdown and where the business is going in the future.
How have you and the business fared since the start of the pandemic?
“We were agile enough to have effective measures in place to navigate the uncertain future. At the start of the pandemic we were really resourceful and were fortunate enough to sell all of our inventory that was designated for wholesale which provided liquidity for AVIE to elevate our investment into our digital offering.
“We focused on sharing our ethos of ‘slow fashion’. People wanted more of a human response than a selling response to connect with, since the pandemic blindsided many people, they started looking for more of a community to be aligned with to gain knowledge or reassurance.
“We believe that the pandemic has inevitably changed people’s mindset to look for goods of higher quality, local or UK made products, therefore supporting local businesses. Since then our focus has pivoted from B2B to D2C reevaluating and refining our supply chain to be more agile mitigating any future risk.”
What has been the biggest factor in your success?
“We are honest in our approach and authentic in what we are trying to do with AVIE. We are surrounded by people that are aligned with us and our journey, and we give back to communities and organisations where we can. Whether it be helping a new start-up navigate the initial stages of setting up their business to partnering with universities with final year business management students.”
What are your immediate and long-term plans for the business?
In the short-term, we are in the process of finalising some projects that will strengthen our central purpose driving AVIE forward and championing the ‘Made in Britain’ direction. Behind the scenes we are continuing to collaborate with industry partners that are aligned with the same vision, creating innovative pieces and enhancing the digital experience.
Long term, our vision has always been to provide elevated stylish investment pieces for the empowerment of women.
Lining up the future
Like a lot of retail-focused businesses, Sonya and Liam have turned their attention to a direct-to-consumer approach, investing in its website and e-commerce offering.
However, in-keeping with the luxury aspect, they’re planning to return to a London showroom and open up a new showroom in Paris. From there, the duo is determined to continue its mission to pioneer change in the fast fashion industry, and help consumers switch to a style that is…for life.
Find out more about Starling Bank here: