FASHION Gigi Moda has enjoyed incredible success in the United States in the six years since her debut. Its founder and creative director Francine Wathelet shares the secrets of her success with Jack yan
Photographed by Jonathan ivan
Modeled by Quintana Quinor
Wardrobe styled by Alain Montes of Wear the future exhibition room
Make-up by Nathalie Wertheim
Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Lucire KSA
Francine Wathelet, half of Gigi Moda (www.gigimoda.com) that she created with her husband, Laurent Hebbelinck, has continued to be noticed for their brand by a growing number of Americans. Based in Southern California, having crossed the Atlantic to try her luck in the American market, Gigi Moda’s goal is to bring Italian chic to women of all ages. Fashion can best be described as “coastal chic,” something reminiscent of both an Italian summer and a Californian lifestyle.
Without the pretense of so many other labels, the basics offered by Gigi Moda have a simple promise: that they are comfortable and that they are made with durable textiles and quality manufacturing in Italy. Everything is hand dyed and handmade.
After six years, Gigi Moda has found herself in over a thousand stores in the United States.
Wathelet has spent her adult life as an entrepreneur and the first entries in her CV are varied. “I am from Brussels and I have always created and managed companies since the age of 21,” she recalls. “When I was 21, I created my first business promotion and merchandising company on my own, with clients such as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, L’Oréal, Kodak, Saab, Volkswagen, Martini & Rossi, Master Food. There was also a cleaning service with more than 250 employees which she managed with Hebbelinck. In 2012, the couple were ready to sell and seek new life in the United States.
“After selling five successful businesses in 2012, my husband, eight year old son and I arrived in San Diego in 2013 and opened two clothing and footwear stores with highly sought after selection from around the world. “Slippers from Marrakech, jewelry from Geneva, oversized bags from Ibiza and clothes from Paris and Milan,” she says. The shoe store, Zia Ka, Inc., continues, as the couple parted with another food business to focus on fashion as it resonated with the public.
“With my husband, I launched the Gigi line to meet the constant demand from customers who had their own boutiques, but who appreciated our original selection of European clothing in our store. We had a selection that was unlike anything you would find in the fashion district, ”says Wathelet. “By creating Gigi Moda, we wanted to make accessible clothing that combines style and quality materials. It is important that the designs reflect the image of the client and reflect the best of herself. ‘ Novelty has helped with the new line, with new styles and colors arriving every month, although Wathelet stresses that this doesn’t happen in the fast fashion vein, where quantity trumps quality and enduring practicality. “Fast fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world,” she notes. “It’s sold at a low price, to the detriment of workers at the other end of the chain. We are proud to work with Italian factories that respect their workers and have good working conditions. ‘
It was a must for her to be eco-responsible. “This movement is focused on ecological awareness and action in favor of a better world, to which I am very attached. I am all in favor of adopting these essential measures such as recycling, second-hand shopping and other practices. But above all, sustainable fashion begins when fabrics are created, and that’s what our label is all about. This is why we favor natural materials such as linen, silk and cotton, and work with natural dyes. ‘
Wathelet explains that they had to impose themselves by adapting their design approach to our tastes. There is a skill in anticipating the demand for every design. His advice is to “constantly question yourself and never give up.”
Looking at Gigi Moda’s current range, it’s obvious that Wathelet and Hebbelinck’s approach is to offer designs that look young, but can be worn in style by older bands. Fits are flattering and soft, comfortable shapes are the order of the day, with satin, linen and silk being popular. The colors are largely calming, with light blues, pinks, turquoises, and lilacs, although buyers will find plenty of variety. Larger sizes are available for all models. But, perhaps more importantly, Wathelet knows his clients live in the real world, not the pages of a fashion magazine. On the contrary, not having a formal training in fashion allowed him to keep an open mind in the market. It’s about being real and realizing that many women want to dress simply and stylishly, and feel comfortable doing so.
Now with a team of 20 people, Gigi Moda researches trends and anticipates what the public will look for next.
Its own role is very practical. “I take care of the day-to-day management of the business. I also like to know all aspects of the business. I supervise and help the order department, I work on new styles, fabrics and colors. I talk to marketing and customer service every day. It is important to know and be able to help you in all areas of your business. ‘ As part of the promotion of Gigi Moda, the company has actively researched influencers on social media, and those with popular blogs or Instagram accounts may be eligible to join their program. With a HypeAuditor study concluding that 45% of Instagram accounts are fake, Gigi Moda is moving cautiously, not making her promotional program a general one, but one where collaborations are endorsed by her team.
The pandemic has made things considerably more difficult, with the United States and Italy particularly affected by the spread of COVID-19. Wathelet explains: “Italy has also suffered enormously: their factories were completely closed for several weeks. Nevertheless, we were able to meet the demand of our customers thanks to the keeping of a large inventory.
“Air freight has increased dramatically, a cost we didn’t want to pass on to our customers. Our prices have not increased.
She kept her word: a casual glance at the Gigi Moda retail range (see shopgigimoda.com) sees tops and blouses selling for between US $ 66 and around US $ 100, while dresses start in the ’80s and head into the US $ 145 region. Some awesome leather handbags go over the US $ 200 mark, reasonably priced considering the handcrafted construction and quality. The idea of getting something conscientiously without spending a lot of money clearly draws customers to the brand.
Wathelet has also noticed a change in consumer tastes with the pandemic. “Customers want a more casual collection, more comfortable clothes to stay at home while looking stylish!” ” she says.
As economies open up with vaccine rollouts, and Wathelet and his team carefully monitor consumer tastes and needs, Gigi Moda looks to have a brighter future, having gone through a difficult year. •
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