Drapers speaks to Sara Ferrero, CEO of luxury Italian handbag brand Valextra about her varied career and billion-euro business ambitions.
Luxury handbag brand Valextra was founded in Italy in 1937 with the aim of embodying Milanese style. Today the brand is known for its stylish and modern creations, with boxy shapes and ladylike designs.
Quirky detailing and colour pops have also become a signature for the brand, and retail prices range from £1,800 to £2,200. The brand is stocked in just under 100 stores globally, among them Selfridges, Bergdorf Goodman and Dover Street Market.
It also has 18 of its own stores, including a boutique on Mount Street in Mayfair, London, and a flagship store in central Milan, just moments away from its famous cathedral, the Duomo.
Sara Ferrero, CEO, joined the business in 2015, following five years as director general at Italian accessories brand Furla and four years as CEO of Joseph. She started her career in investment banking and consultancy. She speaks to Drapers about the switch, and her billion-euro ambitions for the business.
When did you join Valextra, and where were you before?
I joined in 2015 as temporary CEO and I have worked for the brand full time since 2016. Before that I was working at McKinsey & Co as a consultant.
Why did you switch to working in fashion?
I began my career in investment banking before I moved to [consulting firm] McKinsey & Co. While at McKinsey I had the privilege to work for several fashion companies. Within this context I met Giovanna Furlanetto, president of Furla. I was offered the chance to join as CEO to help to run the company. I was only 32 – I could not possibly turn the opportunity down.
You have previously worked in investment banking – how did your time there influence the way that you work now?
Working on translating strategies and other activities into financial values really trained my creative brain.
How would you describe the aesthetic of the brand?
Minimalist, graphic, powerful, colourful
In your role as CEO where are you hoping to take the business?
I’d like Valextra to reach €1bn turnover. It is a long-term ambition, like the 26 miles of a marathon. If you run, it is with the goal of crossing the finish line. A realistic timescale to reach this target would be eight to 10 years. Valextra is a luxury brand that requires both growth and consolidation phases. The competitive context of the market requires scale.
Why were you drawn to handbags and accessories?
They are timeless objects, but also a piece of your wardrobe that you always take with you. Accessories define our identity – they are everyday companions.
What are some of the challenges you face day to day?
To make the brand attractive so that we can retain talent in the business.
How do you keep yourself creative and inspired?
I surround myself with incredible people. Traveling and seeing the world with my own eyes also helps me to keep an open mind.
Do you have a favourite design from the Valextra collection?
It changes every season, but it’s currently the Passepartout – a boxy, sleek and geometric top handle tote bag – it’s so versatile.
Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
I am constantly learning from incredible fashion personalities such as Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli and Miuccia Prada, Moncler CEO Remo Ruffini, and designers Pierpaolo Piccioli, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Phoebe Philo and Jonathan Anderson, and by brands such as Nike and Balenciaga, many more: anyone with a positive attitude inspires me.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
To focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses.
Favourite clothing brand
Céline by Phoebe Philo: structured, powerful, feminine and refined
Favourite places to shop
Anywhere in the world while I am traveling
Last fashion purchase
Sneakers from Nike
Last book you read
Wild Swans by Jung Chang
Last film you watched
What Happened To Monday with Willem Dafoe and Noomi Rapace
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Mainly sports with my kids: skiing in winter, sailing in the summer