Action Sports’ Most Influential Women: Les Ettes Founder Carmela Fleury
Before Nixon, selling watches in a skate shop would have been unthinkable. The same goes for headphones and Skullcandy, but now both are pushing nine figures in sales and retailers are reaping the rewards. Carmela Fleury is hoping her brand, Les Ettes, can do the same for perfume, and with virally spreading distribution, she may just be right.
Fleury is the definition of an international woman. Growing up in eight countries before settling in Japan with fiancé Ivar Fougstedt, Burton’s executive marketing director for Asia, she earned an engineering degree from Tufts University, worked at High Cascade Snowboard Camp, Mammoth’s Looney Bean, Vice, Onboard, and Burton. Then, Fleury and a group of friends decided to take a risk, based on Fleury’s favorite business tool, the flip of a coin.
We caught up with Fleury recently to learn more about why she made our list of this year’s most influential women in action sports, and those of so many of her peers:
Share a little personal background on where you’re from, etc.
Grew up living in 8 different countries (within Europe, US, and Oceania). Got a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Tufts University. Worked summers at High Cascade Snowboard Camp, Looney Bean Coffee Shop in Mammoth (toughest job so far), Vice Magazine, Onboard Magazine, and Burton Snowboards. French father, a Spanish mother, two older brothers, 7 nieces and nephews, in laws, a vegetable garden…
How did you wind up in Japan? My Finnish-Swedish fiancé grew up in Japan (yes, our future kids are going to need speech therapy). Two years ago he got offered a job to work for Burton in Tokyo.
What were your goals when you were younger? If my goals were literally represented by soccer goals I guess they were always moving. I’ve always wanted to do it all.
How have those changed today? Haven’t really although I guess I try harder to follow my grandmother’s mantra “que me quiten lo bailado”- literal translation- “take away from me what I’ve danced.” Which means nobody can take away the fun you’ve had. So with that in mind I’ve been trying to keep the ball rolling while enjoying it all.
What have been your biggest accomplishments personally and professionally? Personally, being able to share life with the man of my dreams, having the luxury to travel to visit friends I adore, and being able to spend quality time with my family. And professionally being able to work with something I feel passionate about and with people that inspire me daily.
Where did you get the idea for Les Ettes? It seems like a great niche that hadn’t been addressed before. In 2007 with a couple of friends we concluded that there were no cosmetic brands on the market that directly spoke to us, reflecting and catering to the lifestyle we liked. So we decided to create products that we wanted to use.
Where is it being sold? How has acceptance been? It can definitely be tough getting retailers to accept a new category.
Les Ettes non-alcoholic perfumes are being sold in boardshops and in select boutiques.
Before Les Ettes we all worked in the snowboard industry therefore approaching the snowboard industry was familiar. It was our backyard so-to-speak. Collaborating with brands like Spy, Billabong, Bataleon and Zimtstern has also helped in broadening our playing field.
We have been super fortunate to have some pretty incredible support from friends, media, brands, agents, distributors, and ‘fans.’ Similarly action sports retailers have been remarkably open-minded compared to the elitist cosmetic world and the whimsical and cutthroat fashion industry. Our action sports niche is a faithful, relaxed and relatively uncompetitive one.
How did your work at Vice, Burton, and HCSC prepare you for launching your own company? Through Vice in Sweden I met some incredibly savvy, smart, stylish human beings. Burton Europe taught me the importance of servicing pan European and global multilingual dealers. HCSC’s dedication to the sport instilled the love that I hold for our culture. Through these jobs I made some lifelong friendships I am highly grateful for. These jobs also taught me that it is possible to have a lot of fun while staying professional.
What have been the keys (personal traits, etc.) in getting you to this point? Hmm, let’s see it’s a keychain of keys: being hardworking, making lists, speaking different languages, being lucky, having a wonderful father with 32 years experience at Procter & Gamble, being surrounded by amazing people, flipping coins, being optimistic, stubborn and of course being dumb and naïve.
How do you define success?
I get teased for carrying a humongous black planner everywhere I go- and on the first page there is a pink piece of paper with the following prose:
“Success is to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; that is to have succeeded.” By Ralph Waldo Emerson-
And when it really boils down to it, the best measure of success is longevity. And in my book, longevity is good health and bad memory (if I remember it correctly, no pun intended).
What are the keys to being a successful leader and driving change? Since you mention driving- two examples pop up in my mind. The first is from Jim Collins’s book ‘Good to Great’ about leaders of companies that go from good to great by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, the right people in the right seats and then deciding where to go. And the second would be when I first learned to drive and my father kept telling me to keep my eyes focused out in the distance so I wouldn’t zigzag. I believe ‘staying focused’ applies to all successful leaders.
How has the role of women in action sports changed since you started in the industry? I started snowboarding more than 15 years ago, back in the “shrink it and pink it” era for the few token girls out there. Eventually even though there were less girls practicing the sports they were buying ‘the lifestyle’ just as much as the boys. Consequently there was a huge boom a couple of years ago when all the brands started paying attention to their female customers. Brands were suddenly hiring female designers, supporting their female athletes in their print ads, etc. With time, more and more girls started getting involved in the industry. Now it feels like things have settled and become more equal within companies (male to female ratio) and on the market (products for girls and boys). It still feels like women are pushing the boundaries, with athletes like Torah Bright, magazines like Cooler, films like Peep Show, brands like Nikita Clothing and the million of incredible women in our industry doing amazing things.
Give us a little background on Women In Boardsports. What are your goals for it and who’s involved? For the first retreat in Switzerland back in 2009 the initial concept Daniela Meyer and I agreed on was “to create a supportive and enriching platform to bring together women from different geographical and professional backgrounds, so they could network, share their experiences, and get recognized.”
In May 2012 with the help of a few exceptional ladies such as Circe Wallace, Rian Rhoe and Fabia Gruebler we’ll be launching the first US based Women In Boardsports retreat in California. We hope to bring together incredible women from the surf, snow and skate industry. To set the record straight it is not women gathering to complain about men; quite the opposite: we talk very highly of the inspiring ‘men’tors who recognize and help foster talent regardless of gender.
What limitations do you see these days for women in the industry? Whether as employees or athletes- I’d say the lack of recognition (equal prize money at contests), opportunities (budget for female initiatives), career advancement (promotions, etc) and balancing their personal and professional lives.
How about opportunities? Women are such a high buying force on the market that they should be involved in every part of the process of catering products to women. There is a need to include more feminine energy.
What advice do you have for young women coming into the industry? Without sounding cliche- I’d say work hard, get as much experience as you can, show your skills and get respected for being an asset regardless of your gender. It’s a fun, international and healthy industry to be a part of. High executives are generallyfriendly, laidback and easy to reach so don’t hesitate to ask for help. Plus it’s a great place to build lifelong friendships and relationships.
What’s your prediction for women’s roles in the industry in five years? As Margareth Thatcher would say “there is a place in hell for women who don’t help each other”. If you are in a position of power and witness an injustice or recognize talent- speak out and offer to help. Hopefully there will be more deserving women in positions of influence making decisions with their own budgets to decide and support female focused initiatives, products, brands, athletes, etc.
If you had some sort of magic reset button and could go back and change a business decision you’ve made along the way – what would it be? I make all of my decisions based on the flip of a coin. That could be a bad business decision in itself although the coin is always right.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned the hard way? What business lessons have really stuck with you, by screwing something up? I repeat the coin is always right. Haha! I wish. I can’t think of major things I’ve learned the hard way. I’m still learning especially little things such as setting priorities the night before, tackling the hardest tasks early on in the day, and making room for a good meal, good sleep and a workout no matter what.
Any shouts out to women you look up to either in the industry or outside? How many pages do I get with this interview? Circe Wallace. Anne-Flore Marxer. Donna Carpenter. Marritxu Darrigrand. Martina Luger. Jenna Selby. Coco and Cira. The ‘healthy badasses’ I’m lucky to work with on a daily basis Jardine Hammond, Claudia Almendros, and Silvi Schlereth. My mother (I look up to her only if I’m sitting down as she’s only 5 ft tall).
Anything else you’d like to put on the table?
A bottle of wine.