As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria Unikel.
Victoria Unikel is an award-winning international artist, CEO and co-founder of 24Fashion TV — a global fashion network and TV channel (broadcasting on Amazon Fire TV and Roku TV to up to 100M total households) with an international team having a total social media reach of over 5M. The soon to be released 24Fashion TV iOS application will reach a potential audience of 1.6B people worldwide. Her company brings the fashion world to industry professionals and members of the general public. Victoria is also the president and co-founder of VUGA Enterprises — a film production company developing several international film projects at this time. VUGA Enterprises also holds several patents pending on real estate and aviation products, services, and business restructuring processes.
Victoria is an active supporter of the LGBT community and the non-profit “AIDS Foundation” in Berlin, Germany. She received an award from MOSAIC federation (US/UK) for helping in the fight against human slavery and trafficking.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I spent my entire life pursuing entertainment and business, but at first, I did not combine the two. On the one hand, I have a very prestigious degree as a professional cellist and another in drama and acting, and on the other hand I entered the world of serious business at a young age. I led a double-life — one as an entertainer, and another as a tough businesswoman in a series of very different but profitable businesses. And I mean VERY different businesses! This is stuff they don’t teach you in business school, and I am very glad I never got an MBA because it would have prevented me from trying my hand at these different enterprises. As time went on, the two different lives I lived began to slowly merge — I continued to run different traditional businesses but also began to produce festivals, shows featuring my own original music, and other musical projects. I also developed an acting career, appearing in numerous TV shows and feature films in Europe. Then we fast-forward to today, as I am producing feature films and leading a project that has the potential to be my biggest entertainment and business enterprise to date — 24Fashion TV. You could say things have come full circle and the world of business and entertainment have merged into one for me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Many interesting things happened during the start-up of 24Fashion TV and continue happening to this day. Our project is still new, but in this short time we already discovered a world of wonderful, talented, designers, producers, and others who are tied into the fashion industry one way or another. The most amazing thing is the diversity of cultures, opinions, and expressions that we have encountered.
24Fashion TV created a unique opportunity to even the playing field for all designers and brands and give the world a chance to see the styles and fashions that they would not otherwise see. No one else has created a free platform to give fashion professionals a global voice the way that we did. Anyone can create a free membership on our website, fill out their bio, add links to their social media profiles, add their photos, and register their own brands. The most unique feature we offer is giving members the ability to submit their own runway, BTS, or art videos to have them featured on our TV channel. Our team can even help edit videos, if needed. The coming iOS application will offer more social networking components, media sharing, messaging between users, retail sales functionality for brands, education, and job opportunities. We have even more surprises in store, and I am sure that this app will help members of the industry like no other application out there.
When you are doing something that truly benefits people, you cannot go wrong and cannot fail. Every day is filled with joy, amazing people, and incredible stories!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One mistake I made when starting out was in financing the shows that I was also producing. This creates the problem of getting carried away with the excitement of the project (since I was also performing in these shows) and losing track of finances. I was pumping my own money into my projects without regard to their profitability. To tell the truth — I didn’t care about their profitability at the time. I was having fun and had money to spend on my own projects from other businesses I was running. The lesson I learned from this, and one that others should learn as well — you need to remain objective in business ventures and to maintain separation between investor and producer. And if you happen to be both, it’s important to remember which hat you are wearing at any given time.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
You are nothing without a strong team and partners around you. I am no exception to this fact. A machine is only as strong as its weakest part, and our team works together as a single organism, focused on our goals. I am very grateful for the 24Fashion TV team and my fellow co-founders. The three of us, myself, the very talented and entrepreneurial editor-in-chief Galina Antonova, who has been brilliant in putting together our team of brand ambassadors and other industry experts, and our Chief Technology Officer Gene Avakyan, an award-winning leader with 25 years of Federal and local government and dot-com industry experience. All decisions are discussed among the founders and all of us bring our individual knowledge, wisdom, and experience to the project, without which it would never succeed as it has. I am blessed to have these people on this project with me!
The twenty-member 24Fashion TV international team includes advisors, editors, reporters, photographers and ambassadors, such as advisor Klaudia Zinaty-Capalbo (regional director of Fashion Group International, Canada), exclusive fashion columnist Christina Henningstad (Paris, France), fashion editor Olyasha Novozhylova (founder of NotBasicBlonde podcast, USA), beautiful ambassadors Marre Gomez (singer and influencer, Colombia/USA), Carolina Ogliaro (digital creator from Milan, Italy), Amanda Lauren (international Playboy and Maxim cover model, UK), Linda Halab (YouTuber and blogger from Belgium), Eleonora Bernardi Zizola (Milan, IT), and many others. The combined social media reach of our team is over 5M people as of June 2021. And — the team is growing!
Last but not least is our network of industry partners such as Fashion Group International of Toronto, VPRCOM Magazine, Lumiere Runway and Meler Productions (Hong Kong and USA), Art Hearts Fashion (Miami Fashion Week ‘21), ORAN Fashion Week, Vegas2LA Magazine, Dubai fashion week, Flying Solo, Supermodel Russia, Alger Fashion Week, Glory, ModaVision, and many others.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I start my days by writing down the things that I want to see materialize in my life. I find it very positive to write down [on paper] what my goals and desires are, for my career, life, family, and 24Fashion TV. I never stress about work because I don’t ‘work’ at 24Fashion, I LIVE 24Fashion! 24Fashion TV is my life 7 days a week, with no holidays, no quitting hours, and no vacations. It’s a way of life and a reflection of who I am. What I find most stressful is to sit and do nothing.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
That is a great question! I agree completely with a racial self-reckoning in America. I firmly believe in America, and the ability of this great country to look at its past honestly and make changes to fix the wrongs that were committed.
We assembled a truly international team because we believe that there is no place in business for bias and discrimination. This makes us stronger because we have a variety of viewpoints and representation from many ethnic groups. I am personally a vocal supporter of equality for everyone regardless of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, identification, or social position. We are all human beings and owe the same consideration to others.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
You have to understand that all humanity is one organism. We have to be open to knowledge and experience of the generations before us, from all people of the Earth, and accept each as they are. That is the only way that humanity can live in harmony on Earth. Everyone is born and dies, and no one really knows what follows after death. We must live our lives honoring this and creating the greatest good for humankind and not waste our limited time on intrigues, divisiveness, and denying equal rights to anyone. A society that is inclusive and fair, one that gives a voice to all its members, and one that honors the rights of all is the model society of the future. For my part I try to be as inclusive as possible in my projects and am happy to say that this has been a success! As Gandhi said — be the change you want to see in the world. We must start with ourselves first and lead by example. That is my advice.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The most important quality a CEO must have is accepting responsibility. That is an invisible but important quality that must always be developed and cultivated in oneself. Taking credit for the success of one’s company is easy, but the true test of a leader is whether they will take responsibility for their mistakes, making wrong choices, and their company’s failures.
It’s also important for the CEO to plan many steps ahead. For example, my plan for 24Fashion TV extends over the next 5 years. A CEO must set not only a reference timeline but also hard deadlines as well. This, in turn, must be balanced by flexibility and the ability to pivot when the situation and the market demands it.
Last but not least is the need to turn off the ego when running a company. If you take on the role of a CEO and leader, you will do well to constantly monitor and improve these qualities within yourself.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Ha! There are a lot of these, but the one I think must be dispelled first is that the CEO lives in suits 24/7 and sleeps with a briefcase in hand. But seriously, what people must understand is that a true leader LIVES the project, and it becomes a part of them, part of their character, and key part of their world. The greatest happiness a leader can experience is to have a family that understands this and accepts them as they are — there is no leaving the job at the office when you are the leader of a large business. The office is wherever you are.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The biggest challenge women executives face is in dealing with male counterparts who were brought up in old paradigms of male-female relationships. This is one thing that male CEOs don’t have to deal with. I am not against compliments and polite gestures such as opening doors, etc., but I am completely opposed to situations where male counterparts begin to show their ego and superiority to a woman as well as looking at and treating her as a sexual object. I’ve had to deal with this many times in my life, especially in my acting career and I never put up with this. If I was not able to change the situation diplomatically and make the man treat me as an equal, I would forget any benefits of working with such people and told them what they could do with their chauvinism.
In business negotiations women must sometimes do twice as much work as men — first to get their ideas across, and then to be taken seriously. Where men encounter no barriers, women often find doors closed, which requires them to break through with a sledgehammer. I am very happy that society has finally come around to see and acknowledge this problem! It’s about time to fight this form of discrimination!
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
There is no difference for me. I love my 24Fashion TV team, love my work and projects. The only difference between my actual job and how I pictured it is that everything is even better than I ever could have imagined!
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
First, we need to take an honest look within ourselves how we were as children. If you were always first as a kid, always active and trying something new, organizing the kids around you, then you probably are a ‘born leader’ — someone who has leadership in their blood. If, on the other hand, this is not how you were as a kid, and there’s nothing WRONG with this alternative at all, then you are probably more naturally predisposed to the role of employee rather than leader.
A company is like a single organism that requires a certain number of cells to function, and these cells can be equated to workers doing their jobs. The role of a leader is no better or worse than that of an employee, and a person must occupy that place in a company where he or she is most comfortable and can do the most good. That’s what I think.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Women have an advantage when it comes to leadership — their strength, flexibility, wisdom, patience (sometimes), and intuition are among these. All these qualities are necessary in a leader. Thankfully the times of women lacking basic rights and being unable to express themselves are in the past. No longer do women have to take a back seat to a man, whether in a relationship or in the boardroom. These are the glory days for all women, and my advice to other women would be to take advantage of this fact to the fullest!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Our goal is to bring a spotlight to the regions of the world that don’t typically get the recognition they deserve — we strive to feature the best and the brightest from all continents to bring our users and viewers a truly global perspective on fashion. In doing this we also lift up some social and ethnic groups that have traditionally suffered in the home countries. We want to bring to the underprivileged people around the world the things we may take for granted, and we will continue to be a force for good in the industry and around the globe.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Do more than is expected of you. Doing just enough to get by is the ‘employee attitude’ that you must destroy in yourself if you want to be a leader and entrepreneur. Over-deliver and earn the respect of your staff and customers. The bottom line is that you are the only one responsible for your success and you must be ready to sacrifice to reach your goals.
- Respect everyone around you. Earnestly find things in people that are worthy of respect and feel that respect within you. This does not mean that you must lower yourself to the level of truly despicable people, but then you won’t be working with such people, will you? No, you will build a team that will get the job done, and because there is more than one side to anyone, you will find something truly worthy of respect in them.
- Accept responsibility, especially during the difficult times. It is said that tough times reveal true character, that everyone is a ‘gentleman’ when things are good, but not when bad. Set an example by taking responsibility for your actions and never taking it out on anyone else. When you are the boss, the buck stops with you. Period. By not accepting responsibility you are undermining yourself in your own eyes and in the eyes of your team.
- Accept that you are not ‘working’ on something, you are ‘living’ it. If you are not willing to dedicate your life to your project, at least for some time, you are not going to make it big. The upside of this is that you’ll never work a day in your life — you will just be living the life of the entrepreneur. That happens to be the path to happiness as well — you will never again complain about Mondays or about going to the office — I cannot imagine doing so when I’m living my ideal life inside my project!
- Know how to apologize. Everyone makes mistakes. Smart people also know how to apologize at the right time. Being a leader requires a lot of emotional intelligence, and there’s no better way to demonstrate your mastery of it than by apologizing when the situation demands it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Well, first of all — thank you! And that is an excellent question! One of my goals for 24Fashion TV is to establish a non-profit organization that would help people with talent and drive to reach their true potential. We want everyone to reach their true potential regardless of the limitation that life or society has placed on them. Poverty, social caste, health, race, or orientation should not limit anyone, no matter where they live. I want to help the artists, the creatives, the talented and the capable people out there to strive and reach for the stars. This will do a great deal of good for many people and will make the world a better place because given a chance, these are the very people who improve society, technology, and consciousness. Being the head of 24Fashion TV gives me and my co-founders a unique opportunity to make this sort of bold initiative a part of our corporate mission.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” This is a quote from Winston Churchill, who rose to great heights even after great defeats because he kept moving toward his goal. He did not get distracted by his opponents in government and society. This has been very important to me because if I get distracted from my goals by every troll or jealous competitor who tries to get my attention, I will never succeed. I take the opposite approach — picking up enemies along your path is an indicator that you are succeeding and growing. People who stand out from the crowd attract some negativity, so treat any negativity you encounter as a sign that you are on the right path. The path to success!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I have a great deal of respect for Oprah Winfrey — for her strength in accomplishing so much in her life, and for her ability to make the right choices along the way to the top. She is the epitome of success to me, and I would love to sit down with her and talk about life, business, success, and share in her incredible energy.