International fast-fashion retailer 6IXTY8IGHT is one of the few companies in the world where 84% of employees and 72% of senior management are women – not to mention a female CEO, Jacqueline Porjé. “It makes me so happy to see such a large proportion of women in the workplace and it goes to show that it’s possible to have a thriving career and be a mother at the same time – you don’t have to choose. What a lot of people don’t know is that when I was offered the CEO role, I was also three months pregnant with my second child,” Jacqueline reveals. “The timing is never going to be perfect – you just have to be brave and go with it. I’ve had two kids in the past three years and during that time, I’ve also been promoted and helped the business turn over billions of dollars. It’s been challenging, of course, but if we really put our minds to it, women truly can do it all.”
Founded in 2002 in Paris by French lingerie designer Marie Destombe and Swedish businessman Erik Ryd, 6IXTY8IGHT provides on-trend affordable fashion for young women, ranging from underwear and nightwear, to contemporary casualwear and accessories. From the beginning, the uptake was fast and business expanded rapidly to become one of the fastest-growing brands in Asia. Headquartered in Hong Kong, 6IXTY8IGHT is now present in more than 150 retail stores across China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore.
With more than 20 years of experience in fashion retail and merchandising across Stockholm, London, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Jacqueline was the obvious candidate to take on the role of CEO last November. “It’s strange to think that I almost went into a career in investment banking,” she recalls. “I moved from Sweden to London to study economics, mathematics and econometrics, before working for two years as a Finance Assistant at NASDAQ OMX. But, it didn’t take me too long to realise that I wanted to follow my dream to work in fashion – just as my mother and aunties had done before me.”
After kicking off her fashion career in 2003 as a buying manager trainee with UK department store company Fenwick, Jacqueline accumulated hands-on experience with fashion labels including House of Fraser, and Marks and Spencer, before joining Swedish multinational clothing retail giant H&M. “After nine years in various management positions at H&M, I was headhunted by 6IXTY8IGHT in January 2015, and I’ve never looked back.”
Over the past three years, Jacqueline and the team have turned a relatively disorganised and unstructured company into an efficient, streamlined business with a rapidly growing brand profile and customer base. Today, her greatest challenge is one that many businesses can only dream of having. “We’re growing so fast – by up to 30% each year – and we’re opening a new store each week. It feels like I’m running a marathon every day,” she laughs. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting, but also very challenging for us to keep up with the number of people we have to hire, the infrastructure we have to create, and the technology we need to embrace.”
“We’re growing so fast. It feels like I’m running a marathon every day.”
Jacqueline believes the success of any retail brand relies on its product. “If you have a good product, people will come. The second aspect is branding, now largely controlled through social media campaigns. We narrowed our customer profile to specifically target young women aged between 15 and 25 years,” she explains. “The third aspect is culture. We’re fun, fast, focused and flexible. We’re open-minded and we embrace mistakes – as long as you learn from them. With a flat hierarchy, we make quick decisions and take action, giving us a competitive advantage over larger companies where the decision-making process is more drawn out. One of the main reasons I love my job is no day is the same – it’s ever-changing.”
Doing it digitally
Now in the thick of the digital revolution, Jacqueline reflects on her start in the fashion world. “When I was at Fenwick, we were taught to do everything manually. If I was to order new jeans, I had to go to the shop floor and count have many jeans we had. I then looked at the number of units we originally ordered, the difference we had sold and thus needed to reorder. It was so old-fashioned, but now everything has changed – it’s all digital,” she notes.
“Particularly with a target demographic of 15–25-year-old women, we have to use the technologies that they use in order to be seen and heard. Our customers are shopping online like never before, so a large part of our focus is centred on data and artificial intelligence to create a better shopping experience both in-store and online. This is something big retailers and department stores are struggling with – they can’t get as many people in to their stores anymore.”
Jacqueline believes that in order to survive as a modern retailer, innovation is not an option but a necessity. “Retailers have to offer something extra that helps them stand out from the crowd – from offering in-store returns for online items, promoting same-day delivery or even the ability to pay with facial recognition in-stores. It might just be small things such as what music is played in stores, great customer service, nice fitting rooms and more. But it’s all about creating a shopping experience the customer will remember,” she explains. “Luckily, 6IXTY8IGHT is perfectly positioned in China where these new retail technologies are cropping up. This constant improvement is what I see as success – it’s about doing better than yesterday.”
“It’s about doing better than yesterday.”
In line with this belief, Jacqueline has planned a six-year growth roadmap for 6IXTY8IGHT, broken down into year-by-year goals. “At the end of those six years, we want to be the leading retailer among young women in Asia. In numbers, we want to increase our turnover fourfold to reach RMB8 billion, which is 30% year-on-year growth and the same speed we are growing today,” she notes.
The typical 6IXTY8IGHT woman is:
Fresh, fun, and full of attitude, 6IXTY8IGHT girls love mix-and-matching their wardrobe, interpreting contemporary trends, and styling their self-expressive looks with a casual-yet-cool attitude.
“We have an aggressive expansion plan for Asia, and we’re going to open new stores in Singapore and Malaysia within the next year. We have an omnichannel retail strategy to give young women a memorable and holistic shopping experience, and this includes recreating our store designs and introducing a wider range of products and sizes.
You could say we want to create the feeling of a candy store, where the consumer just can’t get enough and always wants to come back for more,” Jacqueline laughs. “All this is done in line with the brand’s lucky numbers, ‘6’ and ‘8’, which mean ‘forever fortune’ in Mandarin.”
6IXTY8IGHT believes that great leaders aren’t born – they’re made. The business puts great emphasis on staff upskilling and effective leadership training. Most recently, its entire management team participated in a several-day-long leadership training seminar with world-renowned Swedish speaker and coach Kjell Enhager, who works with leadership development, motivation and mental training in the worlds of business, sport and culture. “A good leader is someone who inspires, listens, and can coach and develop you to reach the next level in your career,” Jacqueline notes. “Personally, I hope to inspire women by showing that if you really put your mind to it, it’s possible to be a dedicated mother and a successful CEO. They are not mutually exclusive – women can do it all.”