Just do it! #7: Marie-José Vermin
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
In our interview series ‘Just do It!’ with inspiring leaders, we met with Marie-José Vermin, CEO at Fashion company 10Days.
10Days was founded in 2007 by two free-spirited women. The concept of Freedom is engrained in everything the company does. The aim is for people to feel free in spirit and action. Hence, the design, touch, and feel of 10Days fashion products should feel like a second skin, unleashing the power to be who you are really.
What is driving you in life?
Empowering others to become the best version of themselves is what excites me! This motivation resides deep within me. During my childhood, I was never encouraged to develop myself. On the contrary, I was often told others were far better than me. At some point in my life, I decided to believe in myself and my talents. Fortunately, I met great mentors who gave me opportunities in leadership positions. This enabled me to develop and change organisations. Now, after more than 20 years, my passion is to share my experience and help others to become a better version of themselves. This is very rewarding and humbling!
How does the company philosophy of ‘Freedom’ play out in your role as CEO?
Together with the founders Myon Veenendaal and Barbara Hilbrink, we have a clear split of responsibilities. My role is to make sure the people in our organisation can grow their talents, work as a team and perform together. I aim to create the conditions for our people to excel in their work. I experience a lot of trust and freedom from our founders to find the best way forward for the company and do the right thing. It works very well because Myon and Barbara allow me to be myself and we trust each other’s intentions.
How do you build trust and psychological safety for employees at 10Days?
Well, trust goes both ways. Hence, we need to be crystal clear upfront about what we expect from each other. That’s the start of building trustful relationships. Of course, we had our ups and downs in growing the company. Trying not to control everything and everyone is something I need to accept. My approach is to give people a lot of freedom to act. They know best what to do. By displaying an open attitude and show sincere interest in people, regardless of where they work in the company, I try to stimulate an environment where people feel they are valued for their ideas and contributions.
Which visible actions increased trust with your employees and customers?
Sometimes it is in the little things where we can make an impact. For example, investing in good nutrition during lunch breaks, sports classes, freedom to hours and work location people prefer, the right climate conditions, professional work equipment, etc. Perhaps more substantial is the way we organize our work interacting with our customers. For example, our sales support staff receives very valuable feedback from our customers. The challenge for many organisations is to act on this. By implementing a simple feedback loop, we can now quickly use this information to improve our business. By the way, another example I personally like a lot is that visitors always mention the nice vibe they feel while walking around in our Amsterdam offices. This is created by the soft tones of music you hear and the warm atmosphere.
What impact did Covid-19 have on the organisation?
Looking back, I can see we cleaned up our organisation at the right moment. At the start of the pandemic sales dropped significantly which triggered a critical review of our cost structure. We redesigned the organisation and then suddenly sales picked up again. We were ready at exactly the right moment. You need to have a bit of luck too, I guess. With people working mainly from home, our fashion products played nicely into this trend.
During the pandemic, we all managed to continue to work partly from the office (following government guidelines), even enabling us to accelerate our business development.
What impact did Covid-19 have on your customer base?
Our company tagline is ‘Be Unexpected or Simple | Never Regular’. Our fashion products always need to reflect this. I believe our customers recognize this aspiration in our designs and fabrics. Our brand fits perfectly in the times we live in, where work from anywhere becomes the new normal. At 10Days we think in opportunities, which has a lot to do with the level of trust we talked about before. We have seen tremendous growth both nationally and internationally last year and this year, confirming we made the right choices!
How would you describe your company culture?
I already stated above that we think in opportunities. That defines us. We have an entrepreneurial spirit and curiosity, have a down-to-earth mentality, we think outside the box to boost creativity, give our people a lot of freedom to act AND value everyone for who they are. This would sum it up nicely I think. I very much believe in going with the flow because good things will come to you if you let go of the reflex to want to control everything. Life has taught me you simply can’t.
What is your view on sustainability in the fashion industry?
To be honest, this is a daunting dilemma for me. To start with the good news, we want to use only organic fabrics for our products. The problem is there is not enough availability of organic fabrics for every fashion manufacturer. An organic cotton field for example uses a lot more space compared to non-organic cotton, so this is a real problem in the industry. The cotton producers are working hard to adjust to a more sustainable way of growing organic cotton, but we still have a long way to go. We also manufacture our fashion products in Portugal instead of Asia, as we want to have our production close to us whilst reducing our ecological footprint. This also allows us to prevent overproduction, which is potentially even more damaging from an ecological perspective.
What is your wildest dream you want to accomplish with 10Days?
I believe that any company needs to have a soul that is deeply felt by employees and customers. My ambition is to build a global lifestyle brand with 10Days. Growth is not the main objective, but the desire to be recognized by as many customers as possible for who we are, what we make, and how we behave. We all desire to feel valued for who we are and what we do. That is true for me as well and it would be fantastic if we can grow our customer base on this foundation of Trust!