Next in our Women Who Win series is LIL Milan founder Veronica Varetta...
You may not know the name Veronica Varetta just yet, but you're certainly about to.
She is of course the woman behind Italian jewellery brand, LIL Milan.
Born out of a need, Veronica started LIL at university in between classes in 2014, launching a capsule collection of solid gold jewellery that could be worn everyday "like a tattoo". Much like every founder, Veronica has faced her challenges, and in an effort to devote her whole self to the brand, she returned to her hometown of Milan to pursue her dream fulltime.
Eight years later, LIL Milan has more than found its stride, and her solid gold and pearl creations are worn and known all over the world. This is also true of Veronica, now regarded a businesswoman to watch and named a Forbes 30 under 30 winner.
Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with the effortlessly cool and charming Veronica Varetta to get her "pearls" of business wisdom, from the best advice she has ever received and the need for equality to how to celebrate success.
Take me back to the beginning of LIL Milan...
LIL Milan was born in 2014, between a Political Economy and a Statistics class, with the desire to be hands on and experiment with what I was learning at university. The brand was born by chance, to fill a need of mine: to create gold jewellery to wear all day every day - like a second skin. The brand's motto has always been "gold for your everyday skin", and the jewellery I create is to be worn like a tattoo. I founded it with the intention of reinventing the rules of jewellery making, of presenting itself with a fresh and innovative spirit. The cornerstones of the brand have always been to offer high quality products handmade in Italy coupled with digital communication and always ready to respond to the customer's doubts and needs.
I started with very little investment and for the first three years I just reinvested the revenues into the business. It was a long process but it helped me visualize where I wanted to go very clearly. LIL is a constantly evolving brand - my team and I are always looking for inspiration and we strive to keep improving.
How did the pandemic change your business?
The pandemic was a turning point for us during which I made a very bold decision: I cut all B2B commerce and decided to focus only on B2C. I noticed that B2B was tying up too many resources because of the narrow margins it offered, plus it didn't do the brand justice as it lacked the uniformity of display that we were investing in. I decided to keep only a few online e-commerce retailers such as LuisaViaRoma and Yoox. This allowed me to focus on developing our brick and mortar store in the centre of Milan: LIL House, our first physical point of sale. It was a very stressful moment but I couldn't be happier with the decisions I made during that time.
What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Leaving my job in NYC in 2017 to come back to Italy and focus full time on developing LIL Milan. After a few years working on it, I realized that the efforts were just not enough and it was make or break. My dad was the one that gave me that extra confidence that I needed to go 100% on my own project.
What is your superpower?
Working very well when under pressure.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Finding professional, charismatic and passionate people to work by my side every day - I think a great team is everything. I have worked for quite some time by myself and at some point I realised I couldn't handle everything on my own. Putting together a team that works cohesively and believes in the brand is the best investment you can make.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?
Doubting myself too much. When you are the (only) founder sometimes it can feel like too much weight on your shoulders, but I suppose it's all part of the game.
How do you celebrate success?
By always keeping a bottle of champagne in the fridge, ready to celebrate.
Have you ever felt discriminated against as a female founder?
Many times, unfortunately. It happened quite often while scouting for new suppliers at jewellery fairs. I was never taken seriously and it was hard at first. After the first couple of times I decided that it was not going to bother me anymore and I kept going on my own way - setting goals and doing my best to achieve them.
How can you achieve the right work/ personal life balance?
I always try to come back home, have a shower to clear my mind and enjoy the rest of the night. I will cook a nice dinner and have a glass of wine. It's very difficult to stay rational and take some time for yourself when you are your own boss, but I do my best to have a good balance. Breathing exercises and doing sport often help me too.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
Take the plunge but give yourself time - don't rush. Thinking about my own journey, I had a lot of time both to reflect on what would be the brand's cornerstones and values, and to listen to feedback from friends and customers. I was also able to observe the way people interacted with the brand and how they wore it. So, because of that, I often remind myself not to be in a hurry. There is a feeling nowadays that it is always essential to do everything right away and that success has to be immediate. In my opinion, that is not the case.
What is your mantra?
Slowly but steadily - because as the Latins said, Rome wasn't built in a day.
What has been your proudest moment?
Being nominated for Forbes 30 under 30 in 2020 and opening LIL House, our first jewellery store in the heart of Milan. Those are some of my proudest moments for sure. To be honest I never enjoy them fully because I'm always thinking about what I should achieve next. It's a Sagittarius never-stopping mind I suppose.
How can we all ask for more?
Make a list of your achievements and improvements during the past year. It will give you a clear idea of why you should ask for more. I think it helps to give you the right confidence.
What will you never compromise on in business?
Product quality and company values. These two aspects reflect who I am and what I stand for. I would never go against either of these points.
Do you have a favourite piece in your collection?
I have a new favourite every month, and these days I'm very attached to Promise. It's the most elegant and essential choker handmade in 18k gold with a little diamond drop. Beside that I'm really proud of all the pieces from LIL Milan's newest Summer capsule - it's a mix of unique pearls and gold.
What would you want to change for women?
The gender pay gap - I think it's the most ridiculous issue our generation is still facing.
What could we all achieve if we supported each other?
More goals without feeling so much stress and pressure. We would get to the same results but in less time and with less tears.
Visit LIL Milan to find out more about the brand.
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Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.
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