"Always Send A Thank You Note": A Fashion Insider's Tips For Making It Big

Tagwalk may look like a valuable tool for those working in the fashion industry (and oh boy, is it), but it's so much more than that. Founded by Alexandra Van Houtte, a 29-year-old based in Saint-Germain-des Prés, Paris, the site is a visual library for anyone who loves clothes.
In need of styling tips? Search 'colourful tailoring' and you're presented with a thousand ways to style your new fuchsia suit, straight from the catwalks. Want to see the best denim street style looks? There's a roundup of looks from your favourite editors and influencers at fashion week. Thinking of investing in a new handbag? Shop directly from the show you loved this season.
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Think of Tagwalk as fashion's Google – free, easy to use, and teeming with inspiration – and you're halfway there. Equally impressive is Alexandra's career trajectory. Having interned at Lanvin, she founded the site alone from her sofa and now runs a team of 16, and uses her insights – pulled from 38k unique visitors per month – to consult for major fashion houses.
We caught up with Alexandra, who gave us her key tips for making it in the fashion industry, founding and running your own business, and holding your own as the only young woman in a meeting room full of older men.
Hey Alexandra! How did you get started in the industry?
I studied Mandarin at Nottingham University before doing an MA in fashion styling at London College of Fashion. I interned at the same time at Numéro magazine and French Elle, but also learned the value of money by selling cinema tickets during the Deauville Film Festival four summers in a row!
When did you move from London to Paris?
After finishing London College of Fashion in 2012, I returned to Paris [Alexandra is half French] to intern at Lanvin under Alber Elbaz. I have never looked back – I love this city. I love its slow energy, its cafés and its architecture.
How did Tagwalk begin?
I was a fashion assistant from 2012 to 2016 and my job was to search for clothes all day long. I realised there were approximately 500 shows, four times a year (and that excludes accessories, street style, etc.), and it was so tedious to search for products that I created Tagwalk as a fashion search engine that would facilitate the process.
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What are the site's key features?
Tagwalk references everything to do with catwalk brands, models and fashion news – and is free to use. More than 150,000 images are referenced with over 2,800 keywords. You can use Tagwalk as inspiration, create moodboards and download them as PDFs, and also to shop products.
How has it evolved since you first founded it?
I founded it alone, on my sofa! Fashion entrepreneur Carmen Busquets is my cofounding investor and I now have businessman Adrian Cheng as an investor, which is a huge development. Tagwalk started with only womenswear, but we now have womenswear, menswear, accessories, young talents, models, street style and couture, creating a 360° view of fashion. I have also left my sofa and have an amazing office in Paris with a great team!
Who uses Tagwalk?
Twenty-six percent is media (journalists, stylists), 25% are creatives (designers), 18% are fashion students, 11% are buyers and the rest is split between beauty and business (PRs, marketing).
And where in the world are your users based?
We’re lucky, we have an amazing split: 52% are based in Europe, 22% are based in North America, 16% in Asia, 6% in the UAE and 4% in South America.
You consult for some of the industry's biggest brands now – how did that come about?
Very organically, like Tagwalk. I’ve had great press in France, which caught the eye of CEOs and CMOs. They really made me understand the value behind Tagwalk – it’s been the most interesting journey, and I am lucky to meet the smartest people. They have a lot of time for the new generation.
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Tagwalk has grown so quickly. What has it been like stepping into the role of a boss?
I don’t think any entrepreneur who started with an idea on a sofa can easily say that having a 16-person team is a swift move. I didn’t go to business school or management school, I’ve had to learn on the day-to-day. I’ve also had to learn how to prioritize, organize myself and still keep time for friends and socializing, which I never used to do at the start. I used to feel very guilty about taking time for myself. That's been flip-reversed now: I can’t be a good boss if I don’t take time to breathe.
Imposter syndrome is so easy to fall prey to – how do you tackle it?
There’s no secret – it’s definitely work, perseverance and politeness. I always go to a meeting fully prepared, I arrive 10 minutes early, I try to never make people wait and I like to send a thank you note. The people I meet have so much to teach my generation that it is a real privilege to get time with them – and being grateful takes you a long way. However, there is also a point when you have to stop allowing yourself to be pushed over. I used to accept all interviews, all conferences, all opportunities and then I realized I was being so inefficient, I would probably end up failing my business.
Fashion can be a tough industry to break into – what makes you stand out?
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Staying humble, being grateful and keeping your head down. It is very easy to have a couple of interviews and think you’ve made it – that’s a fake perception. The more coverage Tagwalk receives, the more pressure I feel for it to be perfect. It’s a vicious circle that strives to make you the best.
What are the benefits of being such a young businesswoman in the industry?
The more experienced members of the industry make time for the younger generation and they are always willing to give advice, give insight and help out. I have asked for advice from senior level executives and they have always been very truthful. I think they are intrigued when meeting young counterparts at first. You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression so when they’ve let you in, they will have your back for a long time.
Do you ever get patronized for your age?
I used to be constantly patronized for my age, and for being an ex-fashion assistant walking into a business meeting. People never used to take me seriously and some still don’t. I’ve toughened up – I’m square and irreproachable in the way I work – I control everything and leave nothing to faith.
How do you hold your own as the only woman in a meeting full of older male CEOs?
I love it. I’m very comfortable with who I am and what Tagwalk can provide, so seeing them is a bonus, I love being challenged. I love being asked questions that I don’t always have answers to, it keeps me on my toes.
What advice do you have for young women who want to found their own business?
Don’t differentiate the fact you’re a woman vs a man – if your idea is a good idea, they will have time for you, either way. Never stray from your initial idea. Do not ask for advice from everyone who crosses your path, it will confuse you. You need a very close-knit circle of trustworthy people and that’s enough. Finally, don’t hire someone when you’re feeling vulnerable.
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