For Joyce Azria, work and play have always been intertwined.
"I think everything is translatable from your personal life to your professional life," she tells me at her pink-walled office on La Brea Avenue in West Hollywood. Growing up in a family of six kids, she was the eldest girl and given lots of responsibility. "It's like everything leans on your shoulders, like organizing the home, taking care of your siblings, taking care of your parents. As immigrants, they were always working," she says. "Responsibility, accountability, managing a budget — things that you do at home are really good life lessons."
Taking care of her family wasn't the only thing that set up Azria for her entrepreneurial career path. Growing up in the family business — a little company called BCBG — she witnessed firsthand the rise and fall of a big fashion label built on consumer habits that changed quickly and drastically.
At 10 years old, she was already offering her dad, Max Azria, and stepmom, Lubov Azria, feedback on clothes and retail locations. "He'd say, 'Girls have intuition,'" she recalls. She began working in BCBG stores in Los Angeles as a teen and stayed with the company until she was 19, at which point she got married and, instead of going to college, decided she wanted to start her own business. She launched one — a women's line called Joyann — but shuttered it after the birth of her first child.
"I had that typical 'first kid' moment where I was like, 'I don't even know if I want to do this anymore. I think I want to see my child do everything for the first time.' That lasted for like a year, and then when he turned [one] I went back to work for my parents." She took on various corporate roles throughout her tenure at the company — marketing, planning, allocations — until her father named her creative director at the younger-skewing line BCBGeneration.
"My dad is like, 'I need your help, you have to come. Be the creative director, it's for young people.' They were doing reindeer sweaters, like random Dolce & Gabbana knock-offs and it was the craziest thing you ever saw," she says. She switched things up, aligning the brand with "cool" publications like Nylon and Teen Vogue and starting a social media strategy. She consulted for other brands under the BCBG umbrella as well. It wasn't easy, though.
"I feel like I had to fight and earn my place there in a lot of ways," she says, insinuating that some of her colleagues weren't happy with the apparent nepotism at play in her appointment. "That was really difficult. I made strong alliances with a few people, I worked really hard and kept to myself, cried in the bathroom. I tried to stay very professional, because I felt like I was learning so much and I was protecting my family."
Azria left the company in 2016; she says she could see the market moving away from what they were doing, and she was right. In March of 2017, shortly after announcing the closure of 120 stores, BCBG filed for bankruptcy.
Around the same time, last February, Azria launched Avec Les Filles, an affordable, on-trend line of subtly French-inspired, feminine pieces with lots of millennial pink branding. "I always worked on brands that weren't 'me,' they weren't inspired by me," she says of her prior roles. She pursued dance until she was 16 and explained, "As a dancer, a ballerina, my pink ballet box was like my life. I wanted [the brand to come] from things I was passionate about, and I came up with pink. Within three months of starting the brand, 'millennial pink' started to surface." It was one of many "synergies" Azria brought up over the course of our interview. "I was kind of going with my soul, and so it was French-inspired (her family moved to the U.S. from Paris), American grounded and had an easy sensibility, so it felt like me."
Things have moved pretty quickly since then: Avec is sold at Revolve, Nordstrom, Macy's, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's in addition to its own e-commerce, and recently expanded into swim and outerwear. Azria also now operates two other brands: She launched Rohb, a line of wardrobe staples all under $50, earlier this year. In July, she acquired Wukogals, a social media-driven line of cute, affordable modest womenswear founded by three sisters. "I think in fashion you can't just play on one lane, you've got to play on multiple fields," she says. "I wanted to know what the entry price point was for a business that was purely digital. I wanted to see what it was like in a niche business, so we did modest."
She feels like Avec represents who she used to be, while Wuko represents who she is now. Azria herself observes a modest way of dressing for religious reasons, but notes that modest dressing has become a trend beyond religion and spirituality. About 12 people work out of the West Hollywood office, with a few more at a warehouse in the Valley.
All of the brands drop new product frequently and target a millennial and Gen-Z customer base, but Azria has a unique retail strategy for them that is not the direct-to-consumer route many millennial brands default to these days. While she chose Revolve as a launch partner for Avec and diversified the retail mix from there, she chose Amazon for the lower-priced Rohb, and plans to put Avec and Wukogals on the massive e-commerce platform soon as well.
Historically, fashion brands have been hesitant to sell on Amazon; despite its wide reach, strong logistics and undeniable convenience, it doesn't have the chicest look and can force brands to relinquish some control over merchandising and pricing. But Azria sees it as an opportunity, and feels it's reflective of the way people shop now. "I think people aren't so precious about where, they are precocious about what," she says. "It's more about the experience about getting it, about wearing it, about making memories in it." It worked especially well for Rohb, which is more of a basics line than a proper fashion line, being brand new. "If you do a bad job, you see it right away, and if you do a good job, you see it right away, because there's customer reviews."
With Wukogals, the brand and its founders already had a strong, loyal following before Azria came along, thanks largely to Instagram, where the three sisters connect with their followers on a personal level. "The story of sisters, their 24 children, the many demands of working mothers, their families, and the birth of this homegrown #modest clothing line," reads the brand's Instagram bio.
Azria met the founders while she was still at BCBGeneration and they were looking for some advice and mentoring about launching a brand. Three years later, she reconnected and immediately wanted to be involved. "We're going to be doing some new categories in modest that were never available before," she says of her plans for the brand. "I think events will be good for them, creating the community, traveling and being within the community in different places, like New York, very strong communities like Utah where there is modesty in mind, and making genuine connections." Currently, the front portion of her office is home to a Wukogals pop-up that will last through the end of the year.
Azria never planned to be overseeing three brands within a year and a half of launching the first one, but she does see herself continuing to do business that way. "I definitely see us housing many companies," she says. "I think it's because of the way I grew up. I worked always on so many brands, that it's nice to have my plate full, and I think it's nice to have new ideas flowing, and new brands flowing."
Her quick success is noteworthy in such a tumultuous retail climate; given her past, she has unique insight into what works and what doesn't. "The difference is being really nimble," she says when I ask what the secret is to having a brand in 2018. "What happens in fashion, and I've seen this single handedly, many, many times is you grow quickly. The first thing you do when you grow is you think you need a lot more than you have. You think you need systems, you think you need warehouses, you think need more inventory, you think you need more people, you think you need a CEO, because you don't know how to run your own company, and that all comes with kind of a price tag."
"I would say the secret is giving yourself the time to figure it out," she adds. "The way to be in business the longest is to not sleep on things, move to the next thing, try everything, trust people. If it doesn't work, quickly let them go."
Clearly, fashion entrepreneurship is in the Azria blood. In addition to her father and her stepmom, there's her uncle Serge Azria, owner of Joie, Equipment and Current/Elliott, and even his stepdaughter Alexia Elkaim, who owns Miaou. Today, it feels like Joyce is the next one to watch as she builds a modern, female-led empire of her own.