I had the opportunity to chat with CEO of VIOLET GREY, April Uchitel. Her experience, triumph, and advice on navigating the corporate world, as a female leader is nothing short of impressive! I had a chance to learn more about this empowering role model and how she worked to become a CEO of a company that’s doubled numbers from the previous year.
Melissa: Give us a little background about how you bounced from fashion to beauty and background of who you are and how you got here today.
April: I started working in fashion in LA, from Colorado, for 9 years and followed BCBG from LA to New York. Overall, I spent 25 years in fashion, with the last 9 of those years at Diane Von Furstenberg. I knew that I didn’t want to be a 50-year-old-garmento and that I needed to get more digital experience. I left DVF and got myself into some digital advisory boards where I started to figure out how I can bring my expertise and learn a whole new business at the same time. Within that process, I met Ara Katz and we did a couple of projects together for specific brands, with Ara doing the digital side while I helped with merchandise. Ara gave me my next client, Spring where I saw an opportunity to really help build a mobile platform that was super unique and counter-intuitive to the way brands were used to working. It was an amazing opportunity to completely reinvent myself while taking a few steps back, with the first time living in an equity-based environment, a stakeholder-based environment and learning a whole new language around technology. Within the intense few years, I learned and started to get into the beauty business to understand the differences within the industry. When I moved to LA, I knew I really didn’t want to do fashion anymore, so I relied on my incredible network and it all came together.
Melissa: What is your favorite part about working here versus working in fashion from the past?
April: It’s been fun to take on an established and beloved brand, even though we’re still small and consider ourselves a start-up. Our commitment to producing best in class content and the dedication to our curation process is what sets VIOLET GREY apart from anywhere else I’ve worked. It’s allowed us to build customer trust and industry loyalty – and it’s paying off. 2018 was our best year ever, doubling our numbers from the previous year. I also love how passionate people are about the brand. I feel like Bono when I tell people I work at VIOLET GREY!
Melissa: How do you manage or try to balance your life?
April: It’s definitely a juggle. I have times where something comes first, whether it’s career, family, husband or self. The hardest thing is getting them all firing at the same time. I am trying to do a better job checking in with myself because I put myself at the back. You’re working 24/7 when you’re running a company that’s a start-up. I tend to go overboard, unfortunately, and work until midnight every night. I already have some New Year’s resolutions ready, where I can really dedicate time to myself and family, and that’s the kind of culture I want to have for my team as well; having to take care of yourself because life comes first. That balance is something we’re building into our culture; sometimes you need a mental health day and it’s okay to say that.
When I see anybody aging gracefully with that approach, I get this sense of strength in the way I dress
Melissa: Do you take any style inspiration from anyone?
April: I love the idea of embracing a uniform. I love that Emmanuelle Alt has always been kind of rock and roll yet consistent with her look. Her urban uniform (denim, army, leather) is everything because it’s so classic. When I see anybody aging gracefully with that approach, I get this sense of strength in the way I dress. I do still love a lot of ‘girly’ brands, but I put on a print dress and it doesn’t work for me anymore. I just want clothes that make me feel empowered and strong all day long.
Melissa: What’s your go-to accessory?
April: I’ve never really been an accessory girl, but glasses are my single identifier. Claire V. is a good friend and I live for her leopard, stripe and snakeskin clutches. For me, recently, it’s become more about the one really good item that you can use forever, rather than the trendiness of something.
Melissa: Is there anything you can’t leave the house without?
April: My red lip. It’s honestly such a mood lifter. I love NARS Cruella, and Mac makes a really good long-lasting liquid lipstick.
Melissa: How do you unwind?
April: My husband’s from Argentina, so we barbecue a lot. We have a built-in real Argentinian barbecue at home. When we lived in New York, we had a lot of parties with bonfires and barbecues all the time.
Melissa: Are there any beauty products that you’re in love with right now?
April: We launched Augustinus Bader in March and it has become our number one brand since. It’s made by a German scientist who was heavily involved in stem cell regeneration work. It completely changes your skin and has, by far, been the most effective product for me and anybody that has used it. People have become obsessed with the product and with how well it works. Some other brands I love are Dr. Barbara Sturm and Vintner’s Daughter.
Melissa: Walk me through the process of this product getting on the shelf?
April: We discover a lot of brands through social media, like Instagram. We receive a lot of inbounds and a lot of the artists that we work with make recommendations. What I love about what differentiates us outside of our Violet Code curation process (Editor Note: The VIOLET CODE is a testing process and set of standards by which VIOLET GREY‘s community of top makeup artists, hairstylists, estheticians, dermatologists, and celebrity influencers distinguish the finest beauty products in the world from the tens of thousands on the market) is it’s really about that one thing you need. We don’t go to market like most retailer’s and buy a huge part of a catalog. It’s an authentic editing process which means we only stock the best in beauty.
Melissa: What is coming in 2019 for VIOLET GREY?
April: We get inbounds all the time to do concessions or pop-ups in other retail spaces, airlines or hotels. We’re exploring possibilities but we’re always incredibly discerning about what we do. The way that I’ve been looking at this business was having the first year be about fixing the foundation. It’s about putting the right stakeholders in place so that we can have team leads take those next steps. We’re already there and it’s really exciting. What I love is that we don’t have this heavy pressure from our investors to hit a certain number, which can water down your ultimate value proposition. We have a slower growth that’s more organic and there’s a lot of soul in what we’re building.
Melissa: Do you have any advice for younger entrepreneurs starting out?
April: For me, I just go back to a network because you cannot do anything alone. It all comes down to leveraging and building your network and asking your peers what they’re doing and thinking. It’s the only way to survive in a world that’s changing all the time. Everything has a pro and a con, and there are many people who have done that legwork who have made the mistakes and can tell you what not to do. Asking people around and having that network saves years of money and time. Learning how to take that network and be part of that network is just so critical to your success.
Particularly social: Handles and preferred Instagram filter
Particular calling: What do you do?
Particular order: How do you go about your day?
Particular style: What’s your uniform?
Particular adornment: Your go-to accessory
Particular meal: Favorite thing to eat
Particular latitude/longitude: Where do you like to go/be?
Particular vice: What is your weakness?
Particularly 70s, 80s, 90s, or 00s: What decade defines you?
Particular high school/college persona: Were you a burner, credit card hippie, prep?
Particular pickiness: What are you finicky about?
Particular passion: What are you passionate about?