Design for Success with Priscilla Von Sorella

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Priscilla Von Sorella, Founder of VON SORELLA

Priscilla Von Sorella graduated from high school at 15 years old, and then studied fashion design. Afterward, she engaged in tireless self-education to learn how to succeed in the industry. Her sense of initiative, and being a self-starter, can be tied to the heritage of entrepreneurship running through her family’s history.

In September 2017, during Paris Fashion Week, Priscilla Von Sorella grabbed the opportunity and launched her VON SORELLA clothing line. As an emerging member of the fashion industry, her opinions and analysis on style and fashion, as well as her e-commerce expertise, has been featured in The Washington Post, Elle Italia, and more.

According to the About page on her website, Priscilla Von Sorella believes that she “has never felt like [I am] from one place.” This sense of being a world citizen has pushed her to grow the VON SORELLA brand “to represent a global focus, without limits.”

Other than running her business, Priscilla Von Sorella made her name as a writer. She has contributed articles to The Huffington Post, BBC News, Fashion Week Online, as well as other major international media outlets. Currently, she does editorial work for a prestigious scientific journal, where she expands on her passion and advocacy for science.

Priscilla Von Sorella’s main goal is to make fashion bring about lasting and impactful change, inspiring others in the process.

Check out more interviews with other thought leaders here.    

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Priscilla Von Sorella: I began sewing and designing at the age of fifteen. I remember watching Project Runway for the first time and thinking, “Hey, I want to do that.” I immediately began experimenting on my mother’s sewing machine and discovered I had a natural knack for garment design and construction. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided to build my brand and establish my private label, VON SORELLA. It was at this time that I learned that my passion for the creative side of fashion is equally matched with my love for the business facet of this competitive industry. I began building a large library of business books and memoirs of successful entrepreneurs, and I know this immersive learning experience helps me every day in building my business even now. After showing several private collections at salon exhibitions at various fashion week events, I decided to start making luxury designer fashion masks this year during the pandemic, and this escalated business opportunities for me far and wide. Through persistent promotion, authentic story-telling, and unequivocal determination, I am building a VON SORELLA community that I am so grateful for.

Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Priscilla Von Sorella: My specialty has always been designing womenswear exclusively using rare European textiles. However, it was early this year that I realized people wanted a fashionable, expressive, and unique option for face masks. I knew immediately that people would seek a face mask that aligned with the style standards rhetoric. Hence, I named my products “fashion masks” and I am very explicit in describing why my masks are different. My fashion masks embody luxury, couture, and everything high fashion. From the research and development to the fitting, prototype testing, and branding that is involved with my creative process, I want every fiber of my products to exude chic utility. My “aha moment” came when I finally was able to hit the intersection between sophistication and functionality with my masks. I was soon-after when I was featured by The Washington Post’s top fashion critic for making masks that are “treated just like luxury garments”. This and other notorieties helped me build the perfect formula for connecting with my target audiences.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Priscilla Von Sorella: Absolutely. When I first launched my label back in 2017, nothing was harder than garnering the right traction and attention to my label. Being a self-funded entrepreneur can be difficult especially in fashion, where the initial costs of brand development are astronomical. Additionally, even when you do build a customer base, margins can be razor-thin for a while. I typically worked full-time jobs to build capital for my company. One time I even welded at my dad’s metal fabrication company for 12 hours over the weekend to put extra cash into my business. Not kidding! Sure, at times like I felt like I would never even finish laying the foundation for my one-day enterprise, but I was so committed that I didn’t let it stop me. I had thoughts of giving up, but truthfully speaking, I could never see myself doing anything else. Even then, my purpose and passion were aligned with my ultimate goal of bringing something beautiful into the world and making people feel deeply connected and stimulated by it, so I never lost sight. My internal voice reminded me how hard I had worked to even be where I was, so there no giving up. I think when something burns inside of you that strongly, it will hurt even more to stop pushing and wonder where you could have been.

Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Priscilla Von Sorella: Things with VON SORELLA are thriving and going strong and we are developing a full collection for early 2021 release. The label has new doors open for new customers, community engagement, and recognition daily. I think back to every holiday and weekend I spent alone in my studio making patterns and samples until 3:00 am, researching the ins and outs of the industry, and sacrificing time with friends and family to ultimately build what I have today. If I didn’t make those choices, I would never have the opportunities I do today. They also serve as a reminder that hard work is never done, and it keeps me inspired for the future. Tomorrow, I will stand on the bricks I am laying down today. I faced a lot of professional and personal obstacles at the start of my career, and they served as adversity that tried me in the hardest of times. This resilience helped evolve my brand and personal DNA.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Priscilla Von Sorella: I’m sure there are plenty I could choose from, but I think the most obvious mistake I made in the very beginning was expecting to make organic sales by “simply putting things online”. I thought, “Okay, let me launch my eCommerce with a few limited products and I’ll make a few sales.” Crickets would be an understatement. I had no methodical plan or strategy being implemented, so it’s obvious where I went wrong (thankfully this only lasted for a short time). I am proud to have learned from having high (or any) expectations with little or no planning! Now I am well versed in the idea of having a marketing campaign, public relations, and community engagement strategy along with calculated advertising and collaboration efforts. I think this is a common mistake: many entrepreneurs initially rely on their immediate network to support their business, which they later find out will provide thinner results than hoped for.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

Priscilla Von Sorella: Absolutely! I make sure to do a lot of research about any tools or software we consider for my eCommerce platform. When dealing with apps that serve as add-on’s to the platform, I analyze how many times it has been downloaded, what devices it supports, and most importantly, its reviews. We don’t use anything with an overall rating below 4.5 stars (out of 5) typically. To specifically give examples, I use Privy (an email marketing tool), Sticky Add to Cart Booster Pro (an app that makes the add-to-cart function easier and animated), and Kit (a virtual assistant that runs analytics, helps run ads, and serves as a medium to instantly communicate with shoppers).

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

Priscilla Von Sorella: The most useful strategies include using modern communication and reminder tools like SMS text, personalized abandoned cart email reminders, and a shopping virtual assistant. I can’t name the number of times we have secured sales because we were able to swiftly respond to shoppers via our personalized virtual shopping assistant, which mimics ‘chatting’ on social media with the other user. Also, when it comes to abandoned cart email reminders, it is important to include the user’s name, and a catchy phrase, like ‘this mask is waiting for you’, or something to that effect. Invite the user back in with personalized references and have your team as available as possible to answer time-critical questions.

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Priscilla Von Sorella: Building a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand is an art and a science combined. Yes, you have to boast positive reviews, demonstrate unmatched customer service, be authentic, and reliable, but most of all, you have to value each customer. I have personally spent several hours handling a single inquiry or request just to make sure we are accommodating our community the best we can. Also, express the value you place on your community by voicing it and showing it. Just as important, give company updates, background stories, and behind-the-scenes information as much as possible. Your community wants to feel like they are a part of your journey, which as I said before, they are. Take advantage of this by showing you are more than just a company; you are a strong, defined, real community that values each individual. All of these things combined manifests a trusted brand.

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.

Priscilla Von Sorella:

  1. Make your platform trustworthy, user-friendly, and familiar. Use a trusted platform such as Shopify to make the website smooth, functional, and fast. When I first started, I was using another platform (which is widely used). However, I received a couple of complaints about the add-to-cart function not working. It was a minor error that rarely happened, but one time was too many. I immediately switched to my current platform and have never received another similar complaint. The best lesson from this experience is that even the smallest detail can leave a lasting permanent negative impression on a shopper, and it can (and probably will) cost your brand their business indefinitely. If a company doesn’t have its platform working seamlessly, what does that say about their operations and customer focus?

  2. Use high-quality product imagery, logo branding, and overall aesthetic. Your brand must radiate consistency and cohesion in every aspect. This point goes back to my theory of ‘building your brand universe’. Without overall uniformity, potential customers will be confused by your message and goal. I invested in quality designers, photographers, and software to build this systematic impact, and it pays off continuously. I went through dozens of logo designers and drafts before I finally committed to my final logo. Do not settle for anything less than perfection when it comes to such a crucial part of your brand’s representation.

  3. Offer various payment methods (Apple Pay, AfterPay, Amazon Pay, Paypal, etc.) to optimize customer conversion. Additionally, use add-ons to website platforms that help engage customers. One of the best decisions I made was to integrate Amazon Pay into my payment options. Using a popular and trusted payment option like this offers familiarity to users and also helps establish legitimacy.

  4. Use AI-based marketing and advertising rather than a private ‘marketing consultant’. Algorithm-based AI technologies help identify target audiences and potential customers better than paying someone a monthly fee to do it. While I am not against using a consultant to assist with marketing efforts, I made the decision early on to trust the data and numbers. I decided to research the best AI-based marketing software that determines best-selling products, target audiences, and even manages direct communications to my shoppers.

  5. Always research the market and your competition. Strive to look better and use larger competitors as inspiration for overall look and flow. I am an avid online shopper and would consider myself an expert. I know exactly what red flags to look for when shopping online. In today’s market, the majority of online shoppers do too. These would include inconsistent fonts, dated-looking aesthetics, incohesive platform design, no contact form or contact information, poor quality images and photography, just to name a few. However, these are basic attributes. To achieve the best results, list out your 5–10 top competitors or biggest inspirations for your brand. Think of companies that are currently performing at the tier where you would like to be in 3–5 years. Carefully evaluate their platforms and make detailed notes about what you like best. Make an action plan to begin incorporating similar (or better!) characteristics to your platform. Remember, this is an inspiration for your brand, not a direct path. I listed my favorite labels and went through every feature of their platforms. I notated which elements made their platforms look most trustworthy and luxury-focused. With this groundwork, I was able to illustrate exactly what I wanted my brand to represent.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Priscilla Von Sorella:

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Priscilla Von Sorella: You’re welcome and thank you so much! It has been my pleasure.

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