To say that Ingie Chalhoub is a busy woman is an understatement. As Founder and Managing Director of Etoile Group and Artistic Director and Designer of her own brand INGIE Paris, she has many roles to play as a businesswoman.
Over the years, Chalhoub had overcome many challenges, from being the only woman in a male-dominated world to defying the odds by launching her own international fashion brand. But this year has seen one of the biggest challenges yet. With the global pandemic closing stores and halting travel, Chalhoub has had to rethink her strategy and plan for the “new normal’. We find out what is on the agenda for the future of INGIE Paris as well as the upcoming collections and the business developments within Etoile Group.
How have you managed your businesses throughout the lockdown and how have you been able to communicate with your customers at this time?
It has been a very challenging year. We have had a very stressful time because what happened was very sudden and it’s not something that we were prepared for. No one believed that something like this could ever happen. As well as the health crisis, we have the economic crisis and consequently a social crisis so it has been a really difficult thing to deal with.
In terms of our customers, we had to close our stores which was very difficult, but at this point, the priority was ensuring the safety of our staff and respecting the rules that were set in place by the government. When we started to reopen firstly we had to ensure that we were following the safety guidelines from the government and protecting the staff. Then we started reaching out to our customers via What’s App, sending them the lookbook and trying to offer a concierge service and communicate with them. At first, this was on a personal level, it wasn’t about sales, we wanted to check in with them and make sure they were safe. It was very difficult when the stores first opened as the regulations changed and we had to take several precautions which were difficult to put in place. There was a lot of stress and challenges, everyone was worried. It was a crazy period. The team has been working from home so that was another challenge, documents still had to be signed so we had people going back and forth for this. We had a team meeting every day on Zoom and we had to set new protocols to adjust and be agile.
Is there anything you have changed within the business moving forward after this time?
We launched e-commerce for Etoile La Boutique which was great because it was something we already had in the back of our minds but it wasn’t a priority. When COVID came; it became a priority. So our business model has definitely changed. We have tried to convince our partners that they should all have e-commerce in the region, specific to the UAE. The second priority was the Concierge service that we have put in place. All of our customers can have access to the free service which involves us sending a selection of pieces to their home, so they can try on the pieces and decide what they like. A lot of people, particularly in Kuwait and KSA were staying quite far away from the stores throughout the lockdown, so we were able to send pieces from Kuwait City for example to their beach houses on the coast. That was great for them and it was great for us too as it meant we could still have some sales.
What is a lesson you have learnt from this period?
I have learnt many lessons! In difficult times, you go back to what is most important and what is less important. Having a connection with my family, with my team members and my friends became the priority. Caring about them, making sure they are feeling safe. Making sure our team members are safe and happy. Looking after our customers and ensuring they are in good health. Making real connections with people is something I have learnt to put at the forefront during this time.
What can you tell us about your fall/winter 2020 collection for INGIE Paris?
The fall/winter 2020 collection was developed around the idea of a strong feminine woman. I was inspired by Jane Birkin. She is someone who had a real influence on my childhood because she was a symbol of freedom. The kind of beauty that is very natural yet glamorous with a touch of rock. I wanted to pay tribute to her because she has opened up a lot of doors for other women. Through my collections, I always try to celebrate women who have been strong and inspiring and who have opened the doors for others.
This issue is all about success – in your own words, how would you define success?
You achieve success by finding harmony and balance in life. It is not only about money or succeeding in your professional career, but success is also about achieving inner happiness and having time to yourself and with your loved ones.
Take us back to the beginning of INGIE Paris what were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
I faced a lot of challenges but I did have a lot of support from journalists, friends, family and partners. What I have achieved in such a short time couldn’t have been done without the support I’ve had from people in the region. Our partners understood that starting INGIE Paris was important to me. But the challenge was to have people understand that I can wear different hats and that I am still the same woman. I’m just happy to be able to design for my own collection. That was challenging at first as I had to shift the perception of people from seeing me as a businesswoman to seeing me as a creative director of a brand.
As a businesswoman how do you deal with challenges and overcome failures?
As a businesswoman, it was always very difficult because I’m a woman! When I started out it was a time when it was not very common to have a woman be the partner of big brands or a woman discussing finance and budgets etc. Dealing with partners and getting them to have that trust in me was something that I had to gain. Over time they have learnt to appreciate my skills and understand that they can still do business with me even though I am a woman. In fact, as a woman I have certain advantages as well! But I absolutely had to work harder because of my gender.
We know you wear many hats – how do you manage to keep a work/life balance?
It’s very important to take care of yourself. Like every woman I am multi-faceted and we are all required to wear different hats at different times. I start my morning very early and take one hour for myself. I have to give a lot of my time to others so I think it’s really important to have that time just for me. I have a lot of requirements from the family and the business so it’s important to make sure my mind is completely focused on what it needs to be focused on. I have to be able to organise everything before, otherwise, I will be distracted.
What would you say is your biggest achievement so far?
I haven’t got to my biggest achievement yet! I never look at the past, I look at the future and think about my next project and where I’m going. For sure, I have won a lot of awards and been given rewards, but the real reward is the philanthropic work that I do, trying to help people who are in need. We have been doing a lot of things in Lebanon since the explosion, as well as other projects. This is very important to me.
What’s something you would still like to achieve?
There is always something! I have many more projects to come and hopefully one day soon I’ll be able to achieve some of them. But right now I’m taking some time for myself because I need to re-set and concentrate on the business. I’m also trying to re-evaluate the situation and assess how we can move forward. I would also like to develop some new projects or ideas that have been in my mind for a while.
If you could look back, what is something that you would tell your younger self?
Take more time for you. I have given a lot to my work and my family and I think I have neglected myself a little! I don’t regret that at all but I think I need some time for me now.
What is the life motto you live by?
Make others happy.
What can we expect to see from INGIE Paris from the last part of this year and going into 2021?
I need to re-think the strategy of the company. The future is not very clear and when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel you feel uneasy. So I would like to take the time to reassess and not to hurry into anything. I don’t want to have the pressure of doing a certain number of collections per year and abiding by deadlines and the criteria of others. I want to take more time to look at how and why we are doing things. I have learnt that we were rushing things out so quickly and it was just too much. This is one of the things I would like to change. I don’t want to go by the book and the rules anymore. I really believe this time is an opportunity.