Interview with Aeré-store Founder Azhar Safinova on Slow-Fashion, Buying Less and Being Different

Penned by Roman Kozak

After Milan Women’s Fashion Week, I was invited to meet Azhar Safinova – a young businesswoman in fashion from Kazakhstan. Azhar has launched aere-store.com, a new e-commerce platform which features authentic, high quality clothing and accessory designers who are part of the growing “slow fashion” movement. The slow fashion movement has been described as a type of cultural reform- a saving grace in the commercial fashion industry.

I sat down with Aeré-store owner Azhar Safinova to discuss what the slow fashion movement is all about and how she will compete against the fast fashion world of Zara and H&M.

Roman Kozak: Azhar, how did you get into the fashion world? And what are your motivations and inspirations in this area?

Azhar Safinova: I studied fashion marketing in London and Paris, after which I completed my first internship in fashion at Louis Vuitton HQ as a business analyst. When I moved to Milan (where my husband is from), I decided to start something of my own and opened my first company – a buying office called Dei Due Mondi. Dei Due Mondi is a small retail consultancy for luxury multi-brand stores in Europe and CIS countries. It was then I had the idea to create an online boutique offering niche luxury called Aeré Store.

R.K.: Your buying process for the platform is very selective, am I right? There is more attention on “slow fashion”. What does that mean exactly and how do you think “slow fashion” will develop in the future in the Fashion industry?

A.S.: On our website we propose brands that are different than what one would find at other online stores. The idea to start Aeré-store came to me because of requests for exclusive items we would receive from our retail clients at Dei Due Mondi. They wanted authentic luxury pieces, which offered a more thorough definition of its craftsmanship, i.e slow fashion. The first brand we worked with was Blazé Milano.

Our clients are important to us, so we started to develop an e-commerce platform searching for specific types of designers and brands, and from there we began to collaborate with them.

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Blazé Milano Spring 2017 (photo from Milan Fashion Week by ©Paloma Montanaro, September 2016)
Roman Kozak at the Aeré store headquarters in Milan (photo by ©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)

R.K.: How do you select the right designers for your platform – what is your main criteria?

A.S.: The main criteria I have when I choose a designer is the originality, ‘not-copied’, but an original idea. The brand should value authenticity above all, be it in the idea behind the brand/collection or the production. The brand should also propose timeless pieces, distant from any conventional trends. For example, one of our latest arrivals is a collection by Ms. Min. Not only are Ms Min’s clothes ageless and fit virtually any woman, but they are also produced in China with care and fair manufacturing

R.K.: What do you think about the competition? How will you compete with “fast fashion” brands such as Zara or H&M?

A.S.: Ironically, we try to support the “buy less, wear more” philosophy because from our prospective, we are entering the era of minimalism where things should be bought only if they are meant to last. I wouldn’t say that there is any direct competition from fast-fashion brands. Most of our customers are different from Zara’s. The Aeré store woman chooses to be different from mainstream. She wants an exclusive high-quality piece, so “fast fashion” brands are not competition.

What we propose is the alternative to luxury fashion brands, i.e over-exposed and over-distributed brands.

Roman Kozak with Azhar Safinova who displays two embroidered blouses by Nafsika Skourti at the Aeré store headquarters in Milan (photo by ©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)

… we try to support the “buy less, wear more” philosophy because from our prospective, we are entering the era of minimalism where things should be bought only if they are meant to last. -Azhar Safinova

R.K.: In that position, how would you highlight, for example, the Hugo Matha bag? What reasons would a customer have to buy that piece instead of a well-known luxury brand?

A.S.: Hugo Matha is a young but extremely talented designer, who creates truly authentic bags and accessories. Hugo uses innovative materials, such as plexiglass, or stone worked on leather and on shapes that are very geometric and very different from the rest. A customer, who may be tired of wearing or seeing the same shapes, same logos, same styles, would go for a bag by Hugo Matha.

The Aeré store woman chooses to be different from mainstream. She wants an exclusive high-quality piece, so “fast fashion” brands are not competition. -Azhar Safinova

Hugo Matha handbag made from plexiglass. (photo: © Paloma Montanara, 2016)
Roman Kozak inspects the Hugo Matha “Cobre Stone” envelope bag at the Aeré store headquarters in Milan (photo: ©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)
Hugo Matha “Cobre Stone” medium envelope bag (photo: ©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)

R.K.: What do you think about the culture of the new generations? In your opinion, is the addiction to electronic devices and social networks a positive development of society now?

A.S.: Nowadays everything is promoted through social networks – through the posts, hashtags and photos. In my opinion, the bloggers are prevalent, but now the most photographed are the customers and the stylists. Most of our clients work in business, culture and art institutions; these areas are the most popular, for example, on Instagram and Twitter.

Most of our clients work in business, culture and art institutions; these areas are the most popular, for example, on Instagram and Twitter. -Azhar Safinova

R.K.: Do you think it is right to move away from trends? How will you help people find their own style?

A.S.: Our name – Aeré Store – comes from the french word “air” which for us means freedom, specifically freedom from trends. Aeré-store.com is for people who want to develop their own style and not follow seasonal trends, therefore any item bought on our store virtually fits any style, shape or personality, rather than imposes a certain style. Even if a brand has a very strong personality and style, such as for example “Liudmila”, a brand of low-heeled shoes (that are made in the same factory as Manolo Blahnik’s in Italy), that are surprisingly very easy to style with any look without compromising the wearer’s personal style.

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Liudmila “Minakari 50” Pumps (photo by ©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)
Roman Kozak inspects the Ludmila “Minakari 50” pumps at the Aeré store headquarters in Milan (photo ©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)

R.K.: What do you think about “Sustainable Fashion” and do you choose brands that support environmental efforts? How do you see fashion helping the planet’s preservation?

A.S.: I strongly encourage sustainable fashion and it breaks my heart a little when I hear that yet another acquaintance (who does not have a background in fashion) decides to become a fashion designer. It may sound like hypocrisy, since I sell new designers and encourage production; but I truly try to sell designers who carry sustainable fashion at least in one way or another, such as alternative materials, employee safety or community benefits. The designers that we carry use high quality manufacturing, which is also reflected in the prices of some of our items since quality materials and the salaries of experienced workers often incur heavy costs to production.

Our idea to help the environment is to produce limited-edition, or made-to-order pieces (such as Tomas Than’s bags) – so people buy less and because of the exclusivity they wear it more.

R.K.: If, for example, you find an emerging designer, with an unusual point of view but they don’t have high quality pieces, would you be interested to help these talents to develop in a better way?

A.S.: We work just with new designers who have good quality and can show their products in the best light, so unfortunately we can’t help, develop and promote start-up designers that are outside of these criteria. The Aeré-designer has to have a mature base.

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Azhar Safinova at the Aeré store headquarters in Milan (photo by ©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)

R.K.: How do you think the e-commerce business will develop in the next few years? Do you think it will have more success in “slow fashion” than in the “fast fashion”?

A.S.: E-commerce is the future. At the beginning it seemed “to go a different road” or to be risky, but it’s good to risk. In the USA there are many exclusive multi-brand e-commerce stores, but here in Europe – we are among the first.

Our idea to help the environment is to produce limited-edition, or made-to-order pieces – so people buy less and because of the exclusivity they wear it more. -Azhar Safinova

R.K.: I read that you managed to propose timeless but innovative pieces at Aeré Store. How do you see the development of this project? What would you like to change or add in the future?

A.S.: Our goal is to sell “hard to find” luxury brands, so in the future we want to add items that are exclusive to Aeré store, such as capsule collections or just single pieces not available anywhere else.

The future of Aeré Store is to unite people who want to “ wear a perspective” which means wearing items that represent slow fashion, exclusivity, and generally an alternative to mainstream – this philosophy implies a deep respect for yourself, your skin and your personality.

R.K.: Thank you very much, Azhar, this interview was very informative.

Welcome to Aeré world!

Cover photo: Azhar Safinova, owner of Aeré-store.com holding boots by Amélie Pichard (©Paloma Montanaro, 2016)