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Jazz Shaper: Vanessa Jacobs

Posted on 03 December 2022

Vanessa is the Founder and CEO of The Restory, a technology and operations platform to power care, repair and restorations services for the global fashion industry.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing the shapers of the business world together with the musicians shaping jazz, soul and blues.  My guest today is Vanessa Jacobs, Co-Founder and CEO of The Restory, an aftercare service restoring luxury fashion.  Born and raised in New York with, she says, her mother’s “fierce independence and ridiculous work ethic.”  It was while in London, preparing for a management consultancy interview that Vanessa had the spark for her future business.  When a high street cobbler unapologetically ruined her Christian Louboutin ankle boots hours before the interview, Vanessa felt a sharp need for an easy, trustworthy way to care for luxury items.  After testing the concept and searching for a team to develop the business model and strategy, Vanessa was introduced to future Co-Founders, Thais Cipolletta and Emily John, and the trio launched The Restory in 2017, their initial focus on shoe care and a mission to help clients fall in love with their favourite pieces all over again.  How romantic.  The Restory now repairs items ranging from leather goods to designer shoes and bags, tackling moth holes, staining, colour fading and structural damage and last year the business, which they say is committed to sustainability and circular fashion, grew threefold with plans for serious investments in technology and leadership. 

Lovely to have you here firstly.  Explain to me in your own words what The Restory is.  I had a go earlier but I am sure you will do a better job than me.

Vanessa Jacobs

So, there was a predecessor company to The Restory, a first go if you will.  There were multiple things wrong with it and I closed it pretty quickly, went stealth for a while, took the lessons etcetera as people do and then we went through a rebranding exercise and one of the names that had initially came up was, The Re-Story and the thinking there was that you know everything’s got a story and I said yeah but I don’t know if everyone’s so sentimental about that you know, really thinks of their things in that way, you know doesn’t that limit the audience and so we put it to the side and then some other names came up and then somebody put up ‘restory’ with this picture of what we could imagine would be a beautiful workshop, that I didn’t have at the time but you know would have been very lovely, and to me it seemed that it was like a magical place that you could just send your things off to and you don’t have to worry about how it gets done or who does it, just know that it’s going to come back right and perfect and it’s going to be respected for the place that it’s found in your life, whether you know that value is emotional, financial or functional.  So, for a long time we let people kind of decide if they were going to call it Re-Story or Restory depending on how they were thinking about those particular items. 

Elliot Moss

It sort of feels like to me like a spa.  It’s a spa for really nice place, they go in and say hello, have a seat, this is the time when we pamper you and we fix you up again and you leave looking as good as new. 

Vanessa Jacobs

Well, it’s a digital first mobile business so there’s no physical place where you, for you to go to, at least there wasn’t at the time.  Now, we are you know multiple drop locations.

Elliot Moss

But I mean for the objects, I mean for the bag or the shoes or the boots or whatever, that’s where they sit there and they get pampered.  And the first go at it, what was it called then?  Dare you say?  Come on. 

Vanessa Jacobs

Do I have to say? 

Elliot Moss

You have to say it.  I’m making you now.  I’m forcing you to say it.

Vanessa Jacobs

It was called The Shine Box. 

Elliot Moss

The Shine Box, alright, well I mean you’ve done better, I think you were right, you were right to drop it.  Was that an easy decision though, in truth, looking back because it just wasn’t right?

Vanessa Jacobs

Yeah, it wasn’t right.  It was, I had envisioned it in my head as a sort of a Joe & The Juice for shoeshine and coffee and it would serve as a drop location where you could also drop and collect your repairs that would be done offsite, elsewhere but I realised that it was only a very slightly better mousetrap, it wasn’t bending female enough and I always had the view that this business has traditionally been kind of overly skewed to men when it’s actually women who are, to use an American phrase, quarterbacking those type of decisions that happen in the household, so it doesn’t matter if she’s the breadwinner or stay at home mom, she’s still in charge of all of that kind of thing and I realised that I’m personally very bad at branding, without, you know, I need professional help to do that and I realised you know I didn’t realise how much of yourself you would have to put behind this and you would have to be able to stand up for something that you were proud of even when you weren’t, you know, even when others thought that it wasn’t a good idea or you yourself were having doubts so, the whole thing was just kind of wrong and I shut that down pretty quickly within about four months. 

Elliot Moss

You’re American, hardly needs to be said but it’s I think relevant.  New Yorky, Arizonary, as I’ve discovered.  You’ve been in the UK for how long now, Vanessa?

Vanessa Jacobs

Seventeen years. 

Elliot Moss

And has, has the sense of, and I don’t know how much of an outsider you feel but has that sense of looking in from the outside helped you do you think develop this breakthrough idea, this idea which has not been done before in the way that you are doing it?

Vanessa Jacobs

Oh yeah, absolutely, I think, I think anyone who moves to a new country, and I’ve had the experience three different times in my life, you automatically start to see things that either they do better there that you could bring home or vice versa, so I think, I think everyone has that experience.  I’ve never met anybody who’s moved to a new country who hasn’t had at least, you know, a couple of good ideas pop out from the experience, it’s just the ones that you want to you know kind of dedicate your life to ultimately sometimes.

Elliot Moss

But does it make it easier when you are not embedded in a place, where you haven’t sort of grown up with all the, you know, I lived in India for a few years, lived in Mexico for a few years and I knew that what was in my head, the visuals from my childhood, were totally different to my colleagues who were working in the Indian ad industry with me.  Is that sense of other, does it make it easier to see what’s missing?

Vanessa Jacobs

Yes and no, I mean I, as I said, I’ve been here a long time and this kind of seed of an idea was planted when I first got here but then I did sit on the idea and I let it fester and grow and morph and you know over, initially over ten years kind of just between my ears and occasionally a spreadsheet or something and then I had, you know then I had a couple of years to literally start to develop it so, I think by the time I actually started to put meat behind it, I was no longer an outsider and I kind of knew, I didn’t have that other experience by then.  So I guess the other was more relevant…

Elliot Moss

It calms down, doesn’t it.

Vanessa Jacobs

Yeah, it was kind of yeah very relevant in the beginning and then you know maybe it helped it, maybe it hurt it over time. 

Elliot Moss

And that point you made about the realisation that when you create something, it’s you, you know, wherever you are in your head and your life.  At what point did that penny drop that this personal investment in this business was going to hit you, you know you were going to feel connected to it?  When did that suddenly occur to you?

Vanessa Jacobs

During that first four months when I launched that first, that first business because then it was real and it was out there and it had you know my old colleagues from Accenture were coming by the shop that I had and it was on LinkedIn and people were saying ‘congratulations’ and ‘oh what’s this’ and you know I started to get a sense of everything that it was going to require.  The accolades, because people are always kind of patting you on the back for taking a brave step but also all the stress and the way that you just have to stand up for this thing and fight through all sorts of doubt and try and come out on the other end.    

Elliot Moss

And those first few months, is it still there basically? 

Vanessa Jacobs

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.  For sure, for sure. 

Elliot Moss

Do you manage it better though?  Are you able to?

Vanessa Jacobs

So, it’s different now, obviously the business is older, the industry has come along, circular fashion has become, sustainability, circular fashion, all of these things have, you know have come along so the concept of it is no longer like the issue like it was kind of back then and in the beginning, it was you know, does anyone really want this?  If you’ve got money, don’t you just buy new stuff?  You know, women just throw away, like that was, that was something we heard a lot in the early days and you don’t really hear, you don’t hear that anymore.  Now, it’s more like you know can you, how you control quality, how do you make the unit economics work, it’s those sorts of issues. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for much more from my guest, it’s Vanessa Jacobs, she’s here with me in a couple of minutes again.  Right now though we’re going to hear a clip from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions, they can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Victoria Pigott talks about ESG, which stands for Environmental, Societal and Governance issues and what the resulting long-term benefit is for businesses putting purpose before profit. 

All our former Jazz Shapers are available for your delectation on the Jazz Shapers podcast and you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice.  My guest today is Vanessa Jacobs, Founder and CEO of The Restory, an aftercare service restoring luxury fashion.  Your family background is interesting, the moving around and I think you’ve talked openly about the very close relationship with your mum, how she’s influenced you.  You’ve also referred just then to the difficulty of you know those, the pressure that you feel because you’re so personally invested in this baby called The Restory, which was called the other thing, which we don’t mention again.  How, in those early months and in fact the last five years, how has she influenced you in the way that you’ve tackled this incredible thing called setting up your own business?

Vanessa Jacobs

So, my family background is that my mother, my mother had me very young, eighteen.  In those days you married the other person involved.  So, they were quite young, he had, he had some personal problems which made him, you know, a nice guy but not a great father and not a great husband and then she had three, she had three more.  So by 22, she had three kids and a bad marriage and hadn’t had a chance to go to school yet and he wasn’t really somebody she could rely on so, so she was really on her own and in a tough spot and she, she very much just decided that she was looking around at other people in her life who were in a similar situation but didn’t necessarily make it out the other side in a way that she would want to see for herself so she, she read a book, I forget what it's called but it was about a woman who had been through something similar and came out in a way that my mother found admirable and she just put this picture in her mind and she just focussed on it, she just laser, laser, laser focussed on it like almost like a horse with blinders and she just, she just moved heaven and earth, did whatever she needed to do, worked every hour that God gave her and you know was able to, you know we moved back east, we moved in with my grandfather, she got herself educated, she got herself educated some more, so she got her MBA, she eventually got remarried, had two more children, so my stepfather adopted the original three of us, now there are five of us and you know she’s quite, you know now she’s in a good spot, she’s had a very good, healthy, happy life and she’s the most tenacious person I’ve ever met so, I would say that’s, that’s what I’ve gotten from her.

Elliot Moss

And you say it with such great pride, just looking at you, I mean it’s extraordinary just looking at your face as you talk about your mum.  Is that you?  I mean, you know, you talk about writers, the best writers have experience, they’ve experienced something which has been difficult and obviously it was more difficult for your mum than you because she did everything she could to make it work for you but is, is a lot of that sense of toughness and hard work and the necessity to really focus, has that become who Vanessa Jacobs is?

Vanessa Jacobs

I mean, absolutely, we all become our parents, even despite our best efforts sometimes.  But in that sense, I’m very happy to have inherited that from her.  Ironically, and I don’t, I didn’t know my father very well, I was quite young when the marriage split up and there wasn’t much contact after that but I did understand him to be, and I do remember him being you know kind of funny and you kind of a good time, good time person so, I hope that I think that’s part of me as well and then there are, you know there are your own images that you kind of adopt along the way, the way that my mother adopted this image of this woman and you kind of emulate yourself off that so, I think, yes I’m very, very much like my mother but I’m also, you know, I think I approach the world with a little less sense of risk than she does and clearly this was a very risky thing that I’ve done and, and perhaps a little bit more adventure and I think that actually, I think I got more from my husband than I got from my parents.   

Elliot Moss

It’s good to know husbands have uses, right.  He’ll be very happy to hear that that’s one, definitely one high level of utility.  Stay with me for much more from Vanessa Jacobs, my Business Shaper today, she’s the Co-Founder of The Restory, which is a lovely business which makes things that need fixing into things that don’t need fixing anymore, creates the original state that they were in. 

I can picture you setting up this business.  I can picture you now running this business.  Tell me a little bit more about how you’ve managed to actually fund the thing because you alluded to the fact it’s early, circular fashion is a thing but it wasn’t a thing a few years, literally a few years ago, it’s a thing now but the numbers are still being plotted and everyone’s talking about where you look at the RealReal’s figures or Vestio or whoever it might be, there’s huge projections for this thing to just take off and I’m sure it will.  For you though, talk to me about a couple of the things that you’ve had to focus on to make it a reality in the last few years?

Vanessa Jacobs

I’m not a serial entrepreneur.  I’m not, that’s not kind of how I approach this, you know I had a very decent corporate career before obviously, what I saw was you know, a status quo that I was sufficiently angry and frustrated about, that I was willing to do something about it.  And I think serial entrepreneurs would have approached things like funding in a much more strategic way than I did and this has been a big lesson so, to answer your question, we’ve been funded by ultra-high net worths and a few small institutional bits of money, we’ve never had you know kind of a big VC come on board. 

Elliot Moss

So, the funding has been one thing that you’re really had to focus on and what you were saying, you know the learning curve is?

Vanessa Jacobs

People would always say to me, you know, ‘be careful when you take on other people’s money’ and I didn’t, I never really understood what that meant and people would also say things like you know, ‘be careful about being too early’ and I also didn’t really understand what that meant at the time so, I don’t know if I could do it again differently because, as I said, it’s not, I didn’t just identify a problem that I felt there was a large enough audience for, I approached a problem from the point of view that I wanted to see this in the world and thought about, you know, was there enough of me later so, I was probably too early.  That makes funding rather difficult but I’m grateful that I was able to find a sufficient amount of people who were willing to fund an idea that they also felt really passionate about that needed to be seen in the world. 

Elliot Moss

But in a way though, the world’s gone a bit into your space, which is now there’s less money around and you know what, it isn’t all made up money in five years’ time, pyramid capitalism, whatever you want to call it, it’s real.  Does that mean that the focus in your business is much more real and much more focussed on how am I going to drive if it’s not profit?  How am I going to break even at least?  In a way that you may not have had if someone had given you a hundred million quid.

Vanessa Jacobs

Yeah, absolutely, I think the old game was that it was very much growth before profit and I think I’ve seen this a few times, I’m a bit older than a typical, you know I’m not a twenty-nothing entrepreneur, I’ve seen this cycle a few times so, I know the world kind of moves back and forth so I, I always had this awareness that you really need to, you may not be going for bottom line profitability straight away but you certainly really need to be focussing on the unit economics because you need to be able to at least get pretty close to the black, you know when the music stops and the world you know kind of, the spins close down.  You know, I think we’re heading into a decade of higher interest rates and I think that that is going to have a real impact on all sorts of alternative financing so…

Elliot Moss

You’re ahead of your time again, you see.  You see, that’s what really happened, I’ve got…

Vanessa Jacobs

Well, I’m also married to an economist.

Elliot Moss

Ah, there you go but these things are useful, economists, they have, they have a unique…

Vanessa Jacobs

But I think it will be a very different world for the next couple of years, for sure.

Elliot Moss

Keep your feet on the ground because that’s where they’re going to have to be.  Final chat coming up with my guest today, Vanessa Jacobs and there’s music from Fela Kuti, that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere. 

Vanessa Jacobs is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes.  Where does the technology piece fit into this because I read a lot about how you’re going to make it very easy for brands, of whom you are already partnering with, big brands, where you go we’ll take away the problem for you, you want your brands to be able to retain the customers that they have from buying these very nice goods, not uber luxury, every day, smart luxury, and we’re going to give you a piece of tech that makes it very easy to process that.  Tell me a little bit about where that’s going. 

Vanessa Jacobs

So, our recursive strategy has always been to start a consumer proposition, elevate the experience, prove that people wanted it, prove people would pay for it, yes, use that to get in with the retailers, use the retailers to kind of get in with the brand and ultimately, make aftercare as an integral part of the fashion experience as shopping itself.  So that’s always been our strategy, so we were always, if you’ve ever tried to kind of sell a car or a nice watch or something like that, you, nobody wants to buy the car from you, they want to buy it from a credited source where they’ve got some recourse if something goes wrong and I think particularly in the higher you go up the luxury pyramid, the more true that becomes, so we always knew that we were here to enable consumers to invest in the brands that they love but also to enable the brands to incorporate aftercare into their value proposition in a way that they wanted that fit with their brand, at the scale they needed and the quality they would expect.  So, if you think far Farfetch fashion or Amazon or even Ocado, you build lots of technology in order to run your business and scale your business and we always had an eye that this would be, also would be a B2B proposition, so we’ve been building this technology in this direction since day one.  We for a long time felt that we would be using our technology on somebody’s behalf, you know in a private label type capacity so, I don’t want to use a brand but, you know, we would act like them, talk like them and we would be using our technology and our infrastructure on their behalf.  About 2021, what we started to, we started to realise that there are some brands that already have an aftercare solution and they’re quite happy to use their own physical assets and personnel assets to run it, what they don’t have is the technology to be able to scale it.  So, for example, Nudie Jeans, it’s part of their value proposition is that they’ll repair it and the way that they’ve set it up is they have accredited suppliers all over the world.  What they can’t do is they can’t stitch it all together so, for example, if you’re in Stockholm, and this was the case at least a few months ago, you can’t get your Nudie Jeans repaired because the suppliers that they set up in Sweden are totally, totally out of capacity.  Meanwhile, their guy in Berlin or wherever, could be sitting there totally underutilised so, part of what our technology enables them to do is to be able to, if they’ve got those assets, to be able to stitch that together and treat it as an ecosystem and be able to kind of load balance their system. 

Elliot Moss

And if you were a betting woman, would you say that’s going to be worth kind of more, as it were, to the business than anything else?

Vanessa Jacobs

Well, I again going back Ocado, Amazon, Farfetch, I think you with any…

Elliot Moss

That’s where it’s come from.

Vanessa Jacobs

…with any business it’s you know the technology asset tends to be the multiplier.    

Elliot Moss

Keep focussing on the technology assets.  Sounds like a good idea to me.  It’s been lovely talking to you, Vanessa.

Vanessa Jacobs

Thank you so much. 

Elliot Moss

Thanks for sharing everything with me today.  Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Vanessa Jacobs

It’s Erykah Badu and it’s Don’t You Know.  I was a very young person in the late nineties in New York and I was never a club person, I was more like a lounge person and it kind of just reminded me of being in the East Village, just in these places and it was, you know, so I think everyone gets a little nostalgic for those, for those days but then, you know, as I got older and went through more and more experiences and I started paying attention to the words, I think it, it is about the way you kind of pivot and get challenged along the way but as you get older, you also start to realise that you know it’ll all be okay. 

Elliot Moss

Erykah Badu there with Didn’t You Know, the song choice of my Business Shaper, Vanessa Jacobs.  She talked about the repair industry not bending female enough and how that was a gap that she wanted to fill.  She talked about the tenacity and the focus of her mum and how that’s influenced her deeply in the way that she lives and runs her business and she talked about the importance of having her feet on the ground in the context of the new world of funding, every new business, every young business is going to have to get real about the fact that there is not as much money going around and they’re going to have to cut their cloth accordingly.  Great stuff.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive, to find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/JazzShapers.

The Restory is the official global aftercare partner for Farfetch, Manolo Blahnik and Nicholas Kirkwood (via Farfetch Platform Solutions) and has national partnerships with Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Browns. Prior to The Restory, Vanessa, a New York native, was a financial analyst at Needham & Co. and a management consultant with Accenture. 

Highlights

I think anyone who moves to a new country, and I’ve had the experience three different times in my life, you automatically start to see things that either they do better there that you could bring home or vice versa. 

You have to stand up for your business and fight through all sorts of doubt and try and come out on the other end.     

My mother had a very good, healthy, happy life and she’s the most tenacious person I’ve ever met so I would say that’s what I’ve got from her. 

I saw a status quo that I was angry and frustrated about – and I was willing to do something about it. 

I’m grateful that I was able to find a sufficient amount of people who were willing to fund an idea that they also felt really passionate about, that needed to be seen in the world.   

We always knew that we were here to enable consumers to invest in the brands that they love - but also to enable the brands to incorporate aftercare into their value proposition in a way that they wanted that fit with their brand, at the scale they needed and the quality they would expect.   

So, our recursive strategy has always been to start a consumer proposition, elevate the experience, prove that people wanted it, prove people would pay for it, yes, use that to get in with the retailers. 

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