Reflections on navigating darker waters - Andreas von der Heide, co-founder of Les Deux
Andreas Von Der Heide is a young Danish entrepreneur and the co-founder of Les Deux. He started the company during his time in law school and has spent the past 10 years building one of the most influential companies in the Scandinavian fashion industry. This interview examines the thoughts and considerations related to managing a company through chaotic times.
Going back to the very beginning, how would you describe the journey of Les Deux?
The journey of Les Deux has, from the very beginning, been a testimony to the possibilities of determination and hard work. It started with nothing but ambition and a single white t-shirt, and over the past ten years, we have pushed ourselves to manifest this ambition. We have grown together and forged a strong bond within our organisation - a bond that has been a defining factor for my own, as well as the careers and personal lives of my partners and colleagues.
I remember back when we sat in my old apartment, manually sewing patches on white t-shirts. I was in my twenties, dreaming about the day where we would move into our first office, and pay ourselves our first salary. That was the ultimate target. Since then, we have grown to become an enormous family, with 23 European showrooms and more than 800 stores across the globe.
So how would I describe the journey? Exhilarating, tough and absolutely fantastic.
Can you put a few words on the transition from leading a growing company, to navigating a situation of crisis?
The last weeks have truly been tumultuous for our organization. The core of our business has been turned on its head, as a result of quarantine legislation and a rapid decline in financial security. No matter how intimidating the situation seems, we have to keep composure and find clarity in the chaos. Times are tough, yet that is sometimes what keeps your passion alive.
The fashion industry has taken a beating, so immediate change was inevitable. In the first 48 hours our management team worked tirelessly, looking through our prospects. We assessed everything; our budget, employees and stakeholders, and came up with a strategy for this new, changing setting. We face countless issues every single day, as the situation progresses. Yet, my strength as an entrepreneur, has always laid within my abilities to solve problems and overcome obstacles. I believe that no matter how hard a market is hit, new possibilities are always to be found, and these are what we are now searching for. While my partner is focusing on our back-office, incoming goods and financial footing, my eyes are directed towards our brand and organization. We have to make sure, that we maintain momentum. That we arrive on the other side in a leading position. It is an exhausting task, but every minute is a lesson.
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What is the strategy of Les Deux approaching this situation?
First, I would like to address the severity of our current situation. I am immensely affected by the people who have suffered and lost under this crisis. The people who are isolated from their loved ones or have seen their life’s work crumble under the financial blow. The atmosphere is grim, but in order to stay afloat, we have to keep our heads high.
To sustain our position in the market, we have to arm ourselves with quite a bit of courage. We have to dare to focus on the long-term development of our brand and organization. Right now, everyone in the industry are fighting for liquidity. Everything is on sale, and companies are hogging their resources in a vicious struggle against each other. Even if it seems overwhelming, we have to believe in the possibilities of the approaching post-pandemic market. Our chief objective is to keep the wheels turning - to invest our way out of the crisis. And is it looks right now; our foundation is strong. If we keep expanding our brand awareness, continuously add value to our team, as well as pay our bills, we have a chance to advance our position. Agility and cooperation is key, so we have to get our whole team through to the other side. It is going to be challenging, but I believe in our family, and the culture we have established. If everything goes as according to the plan, Les deux will truly be a force to be reckoned with.
How did the past month affect your personal life?
The first couple of days were hectic. Even though I still slept in my apartment in Copenhagen, I essentially lived at the office with my team. I had evacuated my kids, wife and her mum to our summer house, to give them some space while we drafted our plan. Most of our team was still working from the office, until the situation escalated, and the government issued their first protective measures. To comply with the guidelines, I joined my family on the countryside, where I turned our guest house into my war room. From here I can balance my work and family, far away from the stressful ambience of the inner city.
The open land creates a sanctuary, where I can alleviate myself of my frustrations and thoughts. When the kids are put to bed, I dive into the sea with my harpoon to find peace underneath the waves. To distract my mind and focus on something primal – and maybe catch tomorrow’s dinner. I have done a lot of reflection on existence over the past weeks. On enjoying life. Even though the pandemic has brought people a considerable amount of anxiety and stress - it has also given us time, closeness and a break from the trivialities of everyday life. An unexpected pause, where we can determine what is important to us. When we move back to the city, I am going to buy myself a piano. I never got to finish that project.
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From an entrepreneurial point of view, what is your advice to the readers?
My best advice to entrepreneurs suffering under the current circumstances, is to keep calm. As you would in a physical trial like a marathon, you must acknowledge sudden shifts and changes, and adjust accordingly. It is a balancing act, and receptiveness is the crucial factor. Yet, we cannot predict the future, but as long as we keep improving ourselves and we are willing to put in the necessary work, I have no doubt that we will all see the other side. We all took a hit. Trust me, I know. But tough times do not last – only tough people do.