MISSION interviews Venezuelan luxury and fashion entrepreneur Carmen Busquets. Giving insight into her personal evolution and background as a pioneer of the online fashion industry.
By Bailey Calfee
I am from Venezuela and I have been in the luxury fashion industry since I was in my early twenties. I was born to a sociologist/anthropologist mother and a serial entrepreneurial metallurgic industrialist father. They both always meditated and followed George Gurdjieff’s methods of disciplining the body, mind and emotions to be better balanced, communicate better, and access the “real you” energy that is always inside. This taught me to be more aware of this dynamic.
I went to school in England, Canada, and the US, before returning to Caracas to open my own fashion boutique where I stocked and facilitated the entry of all the major fashion houses’ entry into Latin American press and my store in Venezuela at the time. I would sell fashion via DHL to customers internationally with polaroids and sketches of different looks.
In the late nineties, I was inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s vision of “the global village” – especially with the rise of the internet. So in 1997 together with my family, as cofounders and investors, we joined Deepak Chopra ‘s online community – a vision of a mind, body and wellness company named “My Potential” started by his daughter. That experience was invaluable for me. I launched a second start-up with four other co-founders to create an iVillage for women in Latin America and started to invest in internet and technology companies that floated into the stock market. I was so eager to learn more that I did not want my travels to be limited by the fashion industry. I wanted to learn more about the future of the internet globally, but I didn’t want to let go of my store until I found a partner who shared my vision of fashion online. So I actively started looking for a partner that would have a similar vision of global fashion online. In December 1999, I stumbled upon Natalie Massenet’s business plan for Net-a-Porter and the rest is history.
Since then, I have continued to be involved in the evolution of e-commerce and the empowering of entrepreneurs, and have broadened my portfolio to include many other disruptive businesses. I feel I have already given a lot to this area and am now focusing on actively in my real calling – which has always been mind and body disciplines, and humanitarian causes.
I am supporting all smart sustainable ideas starting with being on the council of World Wildlife Fund U.S. to support Bhutan for life program. Bhutan is a place I go to do trekking, do Qi-Gong and meditate. I also help the Bhutan Nuns Foundation founded by He Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, where I am on the board and I started my own zero waste program 10 pillars to educate customers on how to help to be more aware towards creating less waste in fashion and I facilitate collaborations such as now, bringing together the WWF and the Costa Rica Fashion Summit to create zero waste awareness around fashion and enforce a more mindful type of consumption.
I invested in a few great sharing economies, such as my investment in renting fashion (Armarium and VillageLuxe) and jewelry (Flont). I am also supporting platforms and tools for more mindfulness consumerism. I am advising Mira Duma in her project the Fashion Tech Lab, and am also investing in new technologies to create new sustainable materials and invested in one that creates leather out of duplicating animal cells so you won’t kill animals. I am backing two sustainable brands – one works with global artisans and another is creating the first ethical faux fur
My most important values are freedom and mind discipline. I believe everyone should fight for their freedom to be what they want, do what they love, and have the discipline to stay true to their real selves.
You are considered to be a pioneer of the online fashion industry. What led you to become an investor in luxury fashion e-commerce, and why is it important to you?
I knew that Natalie’s idea – selling luxury fashion online – would work as I was already selling fashion through sketches and polaroids pre-Internet. It’s what allowed me to survive 10 years in an politically and economically unstable country such as Venezuela, and be profitable and sustainable on my own. I never touched my capital during those 10 years, I lived off of my business.
It is important to me because we were two women who partnered to the presumptions of all the male investors at the time, who didn’t believe that it would work. Mind you, we never stopped fighting for it, even in Natalie’s last days at N.A.P.
You’ve gone on to invest in many successful luxury online fashion sites, and sometimes even act as advisor. Additionally, you have also founded brands yourself. How do these ventures allow you to make a positive impact?
The positive impact of luxury fashion e-commerce is mainly that it has created tens of thousands of jobs for people all over the world that didn’t exist before. I believe in the new economy and don’t like monopolies. The internet is there to give a voice to every individual and democratize our chances of becoming sustainable on our own. There are 365 ways of seeing a problem therefore 365 solutions and ways to segment any industry to be on top. Considering these 365 perspectives, there is a lot of room for one human with one good idea to attract other like-minded people, and the level of choice and customization opportunities have empowered the consumer and this will also challenge and create more new companies. Much like in physics, this is not a straight line, but circular. This is why disruptive ideas will always succeed.
What is your work doing to empower and/or inspire?
I hope that my work inspires women to live with a sense of freedom and not feel they have to conform to anyone’s ideals. I hope they are also inspired to be whomever they want – dress how they want and do what they want. I always get told that “I don’t look like the typical investor”, and this makes me happy. I also hope I am spreading the message of urgency around making fashion sustainable. We can’t only worry about looking good – we need to leave the planet in a good shape for the future generations.
Who is a woman of empowerment in your life?
Foremost my mother. She is currently suffering from Alzheimer’s, but still finds ways to communicate, be creative and show loving actions towards her family. Recently, she started to make us all necklaces and painting and card to express her feelings Then also the many inspiring women in my network, such as Mira Duma, Gabriela Hearst, Nina Garcia and Livia Firth , Dayle Haddon, her work with refugee women. Natalia Vodianova, her work with naked heart and elbi app , Celina de Sola and her work with Glasswing. Jana Pascal is another woman I admire and I would help and go to her school in Central America as well as Andrea Kerzner and her work with African kids at her Lalela establishment. Melinda Gates, Oprah, Donna Karan and the work she is doing with Urban Zen in supporting Haiti. My partners at Figue whom I back, create jobs to many artisans and communities around the world. The designer Carolyn Roumeguere. The queen of Bhutan, both the Queen mother and younger Queen who work to achieve equality in their nation. Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed whose perfume brand Sana Jardin has created a sustainable upcycling model. There are so many women who are all championing impressive causes for the planet, better businesses, and the lives of women.
My mission is…
My current mission is to help people become more aware and mindful about their actions and my decision to work with the WWF to preserve our planet. I am a nature-freak and love trekking, doing outside activities such as Qi Gong and meditation, and love traveling to far remote places where I can connect with nature such as Bhutan. I love working in there and in Costa Rica where I recently became co-founder of the Costa Rica Fashion Summit with another woman I admire – Andrea Somma Genta. This disruptive forum will help educate designers in the Americas.
But mostly my mission is to create a successful zero waste program for fashion that will educate everyone. The industry is the second-biggest creator of waste and pollution, and with all the effects this is creating for our earth, we can’t turn a blind eye. We need more brands and businesses to start to realize this and think about their manufacturing, their stock levels, and even how they market their products. I have been working all my life to find better solutions to sort out the problem of sustainability, but now I am taking more action by joining forces with dedicated specialist movements such as the WWF where I am on the council, and the Costa Rica Fashion Summit – a disruptive forum for the Americas – which I am co-founder of, as well as Mira Duma’s Fashion Tech Lab, Livia Firth’s Eco Age, and relevant TED Talks.
Venezuelan violinist Wuilly Arteaga, a 23 year old who was arrested in Caracas in July for playing the violin at the front lines, is pictured with Carmen Busquets in September playing at the Lincoln Center in New York after his release.