How a Student Networked to Build Her Fashion Business

A wealth of knowledge and experience lives within University of Sydney’s alumni network and recent graduates are now tapping into it through mentorship.

Elena Biancardi was working as a physio in Italy, but she was driven to start her own fashion company. Determined to learn how to succeed in business, she moved to Sydney to study innovation and entrepreneurship, and discovered the alumni mentoring program. With guidance from her mentor, she’s taken her business to the next level.

When Elena (GradCertInn&Ent ’16) started her study at the University of Sydney Business School, her goal wasn’t to get a job; it was to learn more about how to enhance the unique qualities of her business and turn her passion into her career.

Trying to grow her business while studying was difficult, and Elena admits that, at first, it was hard applying lessons from the classroom to the real world. She was struggling with how to achieve a greater distribution of her products in stores to achieve more brand awareness and more sales.

The turning point came when she received an email about the University of Sydney alumni mentoring program.

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The program offered Elena the chance to connect with industry-experienced alumni who could give her the knowledge and advice she needed. She immediately jumped on board and started searching the list of mentors relevant to her ideas and ambitions.  

The search led Elena to Alex Vitlin (BA ’06 MPub ’09). As a management consultant who had his own retail clothing company, Alex was ideal to give her the practical insights she was looking for. Elena says they wasted no time as she emailed Alex at 9:30pm and they set up a call for 9am the next day.

“For anyone that’s getting into their industry, it’s really important to have a point of view from different people,” she said. “I think it starts with someone that can tell you exactly how the world out there is going.” 

Alex advised Elena on useful, practical ways to improve her business such as managing distribution channels, connecting with customers, building a social media presence and her overall business strategy.

Alex was immediately impressed with Elena’s poise and focus. 

"...I would have loved [having an alumni mentoring program] when I was at uni..."

“I’m really big on the role of mentoring because I feel like I would have loved that when I was at uni, because I had no idea what I wanted to do.”

Alex gave Elena instant insights that were both surprising and crucial. He said that “customers are much more interested in our point of view on the world than on our specific products. Customers want to be part of something. The products, I think, are just a way of buying into a club.”

After speaking to Elena, Alex realised that her business –  called Makia which means “energy flows where your attention goes” – had a valuable story to tell and a unique perspective.

“It’s actually a wonderful family business,” Alex noted, mentioning how Elena’s father makes the products which Elena then markets. “That’s a lovely story to buy into.”

With Alex’s help, Elena was able to focus more on how to communicate her story to the public though social media, including an influential blog that Alex recommended; all to get her message out there.

For Elena, the advice she received from Alex through the University of Sydney alumni mentoring program has been invaluable. “He gave me so much feedback,” Elena said. “When someone can tell you exactly how the work out there is going, I think it is the best value you can get from anything.”

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