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From model to mogul: Charlotte Collard on fashion's digital future

February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charlotte Collard is a former model turned entrepreneur
  • She launched a fashion e-commerce platform after spotting the potential of the market
  • Charlotte says there is room for both physical and virtual boutiques in the world of shopping
  • She thinks they offer different advantages when shopping, which compliment each other

(CNN) -- Former model Charlotte Collard sashayed down the catwalks and graced the covers of magazines around the world, until she decided to use her inside knowledge of the fashion industry to launch e-commerce platform SoYouThinkYouCanShop. Here the mother of three girls, who is also a GIA certified gemologist, shares her insights on the future of online shopping and talks about her transition from a model to a businesswoman. Watch out for Collard at Paris Fashion Week, where she is Tweeting and Instagramming behind the scenes exclusively for CNN.

CNN: Why did you switch career from being a model to a fashion writer and now entrepreneur?

Charlotte Collard: I wouldn't say that I changed my career, but more that I took it to the next level. Modeling has given me the opportunity to travel and learn about business from an early age, and that experience has helped me become an entrepreneur.

It all started with a blog in 2009 where I put together various looks and photographed them, and then Net-a-Porter gave me the opportunity to sell clothes through an affiliation system. It made me realize the potential online and SoYouThinkYouCanShop became a commercial platform.

I also studied gemology to gain a deeper knowledge of exclusive markets, as at the time many fashion brands were launching their own jewelry lines.

CNN: What have been the greatest challenges you've faced in the transition?

CC: As a model, people have preconceived ideas of you, and you have to fight them to gain credibility. But that can also be a good thing, because it pushes you to work harder and prove yourself more. You might need more time for people to take you seriously, but once you succeed you know that you're fully prepared to operate on that level.

CNN: What advice would you give to someone changing careers in the way you've done?

CC: Think about what you have done in the past, and start something based on what you have experienced and learned.

If you want to make a drastic career change, consider what your passion is. Today, to be successful you must be professional, but also patient and persistent. You need to know what you are never willing to give up. Ask yourself - if this job wouldn't pay anything, would I be able to do it every day for a long time? If the answer is yes, then you have found your passion.

CNN: How do you see consumer behavior changing over the next decade? How will shopping be different?

CC: The financial crisis has made people think more about the way they spend their money. They want to invest in lasting pieces which won't go out of fashion. I have always selected garments for my website according to that principle -- elegant clothes with a modern touch, which are wardrobe staples.

CNN: Do you think there will still be a role for high-street clothes shopping in the future?

CC: I believe that we need both markets: virtual and physical. People shop online because it saves them time, they don't have to worry about opening hours, or maybe they can't find what they are looking for in shops. It gives them a certain "shopping freedom", but not everybody knows how things will fit them based on a picture from an e-boutique, no matter how detailed it may be. This is why at SoYouThinkYouCanShop we offer our clients services such as online personal shopping.

CNN: How easy is it for new designers to find an audience these days compared to previous years?

The financial crisis has made people think more about the way they spend their money. They want to invest in lasting pieces which won't go out of fashion.
Charlotte Collard

CC: I think it's becoming harder and harder. So many designers are coming out of schools trying to launch their own brands, and it's hard for them to stand out from the crowd. Once they have found their brand identity it isn't over, they have to be able to keep it fresh and renew it for every collection - almost four times a year. This is why I am so impressed with designers that have been in fashion for decades, and have managed to reinvent themselves without losing what identifies them.

CNN: Has the Internet improved exposure for those who are up-and-coming?

CC: Of course! Internet is the best way to communicate, it offers easy access to up-and-coming designers, and social networks help them go beyond the constraints of a studio and show-off their work to a global audience. Good or bad advertising, it doesn't matter, as long as it spreads the news and people remember you and your work.

CNN: How important are events like Paris Fashion Week for designers? What opportunities are there after a good show?

CC: Fashion weeks are extremely important for designers. They are an opportunity to impress the most important people in the fashion media, whose reports will influence department store buyers and potential customers. A fashion show is not only about designing garments of clothing, it's about inviting an audience into your world and showing your vision through a collection.

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