AYNI’s collection not only embraces style and lifestyle, but makes clients feel confident and beautiful in an effortless way by offering them a comfortable, qualitative and contemporary style of clothing.
Location: Lima, Peru
Product / Service Offering: AYNI Contemporary Ladies wear Collection, Sourcing and Consulting agency
This article is part of our Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight Series featuring female entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you?
Adriana: Since I was a little girl my passion for fashion was very clear. My two grandmothers taught me how to sew and how to knit when I was a kid. My grandmother is a tailor and she used to make the polleras (“dresses” in Spanish) for people. I have the best memories of my childhood seeing her choosing the colorful fabrics, cutting and sewing those beautiful polleras. She was a very strong woman entrepreneur who was always a good example for me.
As a teenager I was aware of how privileged I was to have a family that gave me not only love but security and great education. For my parents the education was the best heritage they will give us. As a student I lead a group doing social work and helping abused children with Down syndrome.
AYNI is the result of my two passions, fashion and social work.
LAERKE: I have always been into fashion. I used to tell my mother what she had to sew for me. I have always seen my mother sewing during her time off and my grandmother too. Having been a witness of that, I will never forget that creative part of my life.
I was eager to see and learn. At 12, I started to take couture lessons. It was a very strong hobby for me but I never imagined I would make a lifestyle and a living of it. My couture teacher told me that I was not looking for much help. As for my first creation, I had a clear idea that I wanted to create one of the most elaborate pieces: a coat.
I did my own clothes for every key moment of my life: my prom dress, my birthday outfits ….. then I was regularly stopped in Copenhagen’ streets by buyers who wanted to know who made it, and they wanted to put my creations in their boutiques. I did not study fashion but international business, focusing on emerging markets because it was interesting to me. In retrospect, I finally did what I have always wished: create clothing while helping others.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
When Laerke first arrived in Peru, she met Adriana through her sister. In their parents’ house Laerke immediately noticed her sewing machine and fabric. To show her gratitude, Laerke started cutting the fabric and did a top for Adriana that she loved and put on straightaway. Then we went to Barranco district, which is the artistic and nightlife area of Lima. While looking at the top she was wearing, Adriana told me a sentence I will remember my whole life: “let’s do a business out of that”.
For Adriana it was clear from the beginning. However, like evidence, you have to go back to understand the context. In 2006, a terrible and bloody terrorist war had ended in the country only eight years before. At that time, Peru was not as internationalized as it is now and not that attractive with low wage perspectives.
Thanks to Laerke’s artistic inspiration, and out of necessity, she started producing styles that she sold to friends. At the same time, Adriana was doing a thesis on Peruvian textiles. We come from two different countries and cultures but share the same personal values. Laerke was fascinated by Peru, its contrast of colors, the diversity of the country in term of landscapes, and its cultures. At the same time, she was shocked by the gap between Peruvian social conditions and Danish ones. As a European, it was culture shock to experience such poverty and social gaps within Peru.
Our main motivation and driving force is to make a difference in sustainability.
We have always acted with the conviction that we can change something socially in our way of living. Through the limitations and difficulties we have gone through, we have always encountered opportunities to improve our actual role, convinced that aesthetics and ethics can join hands in fashion within a sustainable project.
In today’s values, the economic independence and empowerment of women are more developed than before. However, when we began to contribute as entrepreneurs it was considered a weakness. Since the beginning, we were both already involved in activities with social values. For that reason we are emotionally connected to AYNI. We took on the responsibility of being a role model in entrepreneurship, doing it with passion, and 100% commitment.
On a personal note for Laerke, coming from a very privileged country, it is not common to have an urge to be entrepreneur because you do not have to take as much of a risk there. Our target has always been to be independent. It is in our nature and personalities to be attracted to adventure and to challenge ourselves. We believe in what we do and we are confident that we will succeed.
Each time we met, we kept talking about doing something together. This always centered around the same vision: we wanted a different business model, a sustainable one for exportation. We both have been privileged to do a trip to Peru, which inspired us, and then we traveled to France and Denmark and saw that we could enter those markets.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
What we intend to do through AYNI’s collection is not only to embrace style and lifestyle, but to make our clients feel confident and beautiful in an effortless way by offering them a comfortable, qualitative and contemporary style clothing. Clothing with a human and conscience story behind them adds strong value.
We want to convey a personal message using total transparency in our production chain. AYNI wants to prove to the fashion industry that we can make a difference doing an attractive, contemporary collection while still contributing to a responsible lifestyle by lowering environmental contamination.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
On an international scale we do not have direct competitors. We have a strong, different and human story behind our sustainable collection.
Our collection is successful thanks to our clear and unique vision. Coming from two different countries and rich cultures that match well, we gave our company a stronger, fused identity. This allows us to establish our brand for export on a high-end contemporary design segment. We have always aimed high and believed that we could do it with a DNA focused on the quality of the origin.
Behind the fashion image, AYNI has acquired a strong ethics image, respect, and recognition. We have been business wise and loyal, which gives us credibility. This allows us to have good networks and to be where we are now as a well-established company.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
As a Danish women, Laerke had to first adapt to the informal way of working in Peru. She learned about the market dynamic and adapted with her own resources. Starting up a company as a foreigner means that you have to do a lot to be recognized, taken seriously, and to find a reliable supplier. But step by step, due to our hard work and loyalty, we obtained trust and respect.
It is even more difficult when you simply want to establish a value chain working with vulnerable populations. You have to motivate them and communicate with them without speaking the same language. Peru still speaks different ancient languages like quechua and aymara. We overcame it thanks to our patience, perseverance, and loyalty.
Despite these obstacles, and others such as limited expenses and working with small budgets, we have been inventive and creative and have worked hard finding the right potential buyers. We have grown organically, probably limiting our growth sometimes, in order to be more responsible and careful. At the same time we have not let opportunities pass us by.
We diversified our activities by sourcing brand consulting and creating certification programs that are learning through other experiences. Creating those certifications, now validated by the Peruvian Ministry of work, definitely gave us added value and allows us to obtain better negotiation terms. It assures an official recognition to our artisans and quality of our value chain for our final clients. It reinforces our position and complements AYNI’s brand image compared to our brand competitors.
Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
- Humility and perseverance by learning from mistakes and obstacles we have faced; we came out stronger and wiser.
- Learning from our experiences and being responsible for our actions.
- Hard work and commitment is especially important when your business is focusing on human empowerment.
- We definitely think there is still a lot to explore and AYNI has huge development potential worldwide.
- Open-mindedness is important and sharing with your competitors as they can be your allies too.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
We have been following our basic model since day one. We might have grown quicker, found investors or considered capital injection at an earlier stage. Nevertheless, we felt responsible to secure our growth due to the social responsibility we have, giving work to many Peruvian families relying on us as we assure them a regular income. When your financial means are limited you get a one-time chance; therefore, you go carefully step by step. Thus, we have good base foundations and an experienced background which can only be appreciated and reassuring for potential investors.
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Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
We had to scale the business in order to grow – but when is the right moment to take the next step? Which growth model do we apply?
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
Finding working capital in order to grow. In our industry we have to invest a lot in marketing and communication but it is a long-term basis to develop your fame and visibility. Those expenses do not impact immediately the sales results. It is intangible at this time.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
- Always believe you can make it
- Never give up despite the obstacles
- Enjoy each step you reach during this long entrepreneurship journey
Is there anything else you would like to share about AYNI?
We are young and a not so well-known brand, but we have succeeded in creating goods, contacts, and catch the attention and trust of worldwide professional and recognized institutions.
We are very proud to announce that the world-renowned Peruvian photographer, Mario Testino, has asked us to create an exclusive Home-wear Line. This would be made by Peruvian artisans, certified by AYNI, and using ancestral techniques. Being present in his MATE boutique situated in Barranco, the artistic district of Lima, will certainly help us develop our brand awareness. In retrospect, it is moving to see that our work will be presented in the district where this project has been foreseen by two friends, now both founders of AYNI.
This project shows that determination and hard work can make your dreams come true. Through our AYNI brand, we want Peru to become a reference point in sustainable fashion empowering women with our responsible business model to create economic growth. We think it is always a good investment to invest in women.
Advice to women entrepreneurs…
If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. So determination & confidence in what you do is the key to success!
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