Career in fashion is an important issue on FashionUnited. With this interview series, we would like to show how versatile the industry is and introduce the professionals who work in fashion. Today, we would like to share with you the story of Manuela Ruano, Merchandising Team Lead for Footwear at zLabels. Together with her international team, she is responsible for driving growth and profitability for Men’s and Women’s Shoes divisions. We asked Manuela about her career journey, proudest achievement and what makes Berlin unique.
What has been your journey to zLabels?
I was born into a family dedicated to retail, more specifically, bags and shoes. As a kid, I loved the days when school was closed, so I could go to one of the shops or just watch how leather goods were being produced. During university, I studied two years abroad in Italy and got the chance to do an internship in a leather tannery. So after finishing my studies in Law, I made the decision to start working for my family’s retail brand. As in most family-owned businesses, you really get the opportunity to cover many areas. I started out in raw material buying and key account management for our 35 franchisees and then moved on to opening two flagship stores in Moscow. In 2008 I decided to take on a new challenge and joined a startup, that was later acquired by Amazon (AmazonBuyVip). Together, we were at the forefront of introducing the concept of ‘‘flash sales’’, as well as e-commerce in general, to the entire Spanish market. I spent six exciting years there, working in the Bags and Shoes department as a Category Manager. Then, in 2013 I was given the opportunity to join zLabels as a Merchandiser. I had been following Zalando’s activities for a while already, so I thought that the combination of Zalando, shoes and Berlin was a good mix for me. So I took the leap and said yes!
What skills do you make the most use out of from your MBA?
I studied to be a lawyer and now I am a merchandiser, so it’s pretty obvious that there is not that much correlation between the two. The most valuable takeaway has to do with the importance of time management and prioritization of tasks. Also, learning that people with very different skill sets can accomplish incredible things when working together as a team.
And since joining zLabels how has your career journey progressed?
It has been an unbelievable journey with a chance to develop myself and others from day one. I started out in the Men’s Shoes area, then moved to lead the Women’s Shoes team, and now I am leading both Men’s and Women’s Footwear teams! I really appreciate having had the opportunity to continuously grow professionally, while still being true to myself and keeping my style.
What do you find most interesting about being in Merchandising at zLabels?
For starters, I have been part of this team before it even existed! When I first joined, I was doing it alone and today we are over 45 Merchandisers at zLabels. For me, being part of such remarkable growth and having to constantly challenge the way we do things, has been the most exciting part of the journey. I really enjoy that the focus is never about how things were done in the past, but on how we will do them in the future. This requires everyone to be brave, and we have a very fearless team trying to be the best version of themselves every day.
What excites you about leading a team of Merchandisers at zLabels?
The level of energy in my team is incredible. I have people from eight nationalities, all with very different backgrounds, so I get to learn a lot from each of them every day!
In my team, we encourage uniqueness in each of us every day!
What project or achievement are you proud of?
One of the things I am most proud of is taking the chance and moving to Berlin with my family five years ago. It was a risky move to relocate with two daughters and one on the way, but in retrospect, it was a very positive change for our family. At zLabels, I have always been given lots of opportunities to grow, whilst still being able to manage my personal life in a balanced way.
What's next? What are your ambitions for the next year for yourself and your team?
We will be piloting quite a few new things in footwear, so I expect all of us to learn and grow a lot. I believe it will be challenging, but also an amazing development opportunity for my team, as they get to be the first at trying out some innovative tooling.
What makes your team special?
My team is formed by an amazing group of people from all over the world. We are all very different and we try to encourage this uniqueness in each of us every day. Everyone contributing their unique ideas and skill sets also makes us more efficient as a team. We work autonomously, yet we know that we can have the support of the whole team when any of us needs it. Working in my team is not just fun, but we get to constantly learn from each other and pitch in to support one another in complex situations.
What are your thoughts about Berlin as a Fashion mecca?
Berlin has a very unique and recognizable style. With the amount of new startups and people coming from all over the world, it is easy to see how the city is becoming influenced by other styles, which adds even more character to it. The amount of new flagship stores that were opened in the last 5 years is impressive, and it really shows how brands know they have to be present in Berlin.
And what makes Berlin unique?
In my opinion, Berlin is truly a multicultural and hyper-creative city that is always in transition. When I see my daughters growing up here, surrounded by kids coming from all over the world, it makes me realize how lucky we are to live here. I also like how heterogeneous my group of friends are in Berlin in comparison to Madrid, where I come from. In Berlin, everyone is always so open to mingle and learn new things. Luckily, there is always something new going on, so it’s impossible to get bored!
What is best professional advice that you received?
I was once told by my mum, between accessories and shoes, to always choose the accessories. I obviously didn’t follow her advice - Sorry mum!
Do you have tips or recommendations for young applicants who want to join zLabels?
Be brave and open to learn new things every day!
Curious about what your journey could look like at zLabels? Then apply now: https://zln.do/2OII0Yk
Check out also Zalando’s Employer Branding Page.
This article was created in cooperation with ZLabels.
Photos: The copyright for all photos in this articles belongs to zLabels.