Career talk with Rebecca Vera Stahnke

I met Rebecca while she was still a project manager at Vice Media. Always smiling, always busy with lots of creative projects, Rebecca seemed to have a dream career ahead of her, so the news of her quitting her job and starting a business of her own came as a huge surprise. Later when we met again during fashion week, she told me a little bit about her new sustainable idea and for the 5 minutes that we got to chat about it, I was completely charmed by her passion, enthusiasm and positive energy, so I had to ask her for this interview. Here is a story about turning your passion and hobby into a business, that I hope you will find just as inspiring as I do.


What is your job title?

I would say I’m an entrepreneur, founder of a new sustainable concept, called Veras, which works like a membership that allows people to trade clothes through an estimated points system. Aside from that, I’m also a blogger and I’m working on so many different projects all the time. I’m head of merchandise for Distortion and working as a freelancer for a TV project, so an entrepreneur with a big E.

What is your professional background, your studies?

After high school I travelled around for a while and then I studied Media Production, so I’m educated as Creative Project Manager. But I was just always so interested in the cultural scene in Copenhagen and always curious in everything that was new. So when Kulturkajen Docken opened I was the first one to work there even though it was far out in Nordhavn. But from a very early age I noticed that I was quite good at styling; I had customers at the clothing shop I was working at just asking to buy the whole outfit on the mannequin and this instantly gave me a pleasant feeling. That was the first time I noticed that I liked working in the service field, something I still enjoy today. After I started working at Distortion as a Project Manager, where I in the beginning was responsible for the street parties, I got a big network from working with cool people from the music and fashion industries and also culture in general. And for a little over a year I had been working in advertising. So basically, I’ve been swapping around different projects and industries, not only in the fashion field, but the one thing they had in common was that they all provided me with the creative environment I was so interested in.


How did you start working in fashion?

After Distortion, I started at Copenhagen Fashion Week. You know, we all have this princess dream that we want to work with fashion, but I was never that girl who read all the magazines and knew everything, I still don’t know anything about designers, actually. I know what is going on in Copenhagen, or in Denmark, but I don’t know who is the new designer for Dior and stuff like that. But right now I feel like it’s not about me working with fashion, this is just about me working with something I have loved my whole life, being around people, providing good service and making old things shine again; I love to bargain and I love talking to people. In my time working as a project manager, I found out that sitting in front of a computer just wasn’t for me. Even as a waiter at Halifax, or working in Tivoli, I remember that instant feeling of satisfaction I got from talking to people, being nice and giving them a positive experience. So right now, I am trying to combine my interest in fashion and my passion for vintage and second hand clothing and, with this need of being around people and making them happy. Even though people think that it’s much more prestigious to work at Copenhagen Fashion Week or Vice, I would rather work in a restaurant my entire life, than as a project manager, where I sit behind a computer and send e-mails without talking to anyone.


When you were growing up, what was your dream job?

I wanted to be a lot of different things. I wanted to be a designer, but then, I couldn’t draw. I also wanted to be an interior designer. But then again, I couldn’t draw. I have always been inclined towards creative fields, but I come from a family of engineers, so I had a very logical way of thinking. It’s not like my parents haven’t been supportive of me, but they didn’t take me seriously or push me in that direction, to choose a more creative path. Now that I think about it, I feel like I should definitely have done it, in a follow your dreams kind of way. Because when looking back, I realize that even at a young age, I was sewing my own clothes and hand making birthday presents or reusing milk cartons as candleholder. So that’s something I regret a little bit, but then again, I’m here, doing this, so I guess it’s better late than never.


For how long have you been thinking of starting your own business?

I always wanted to be independent and I always enjoyed being the project leader, in school and at work, but this particular idea came to me in 2011, when I started using Trendsales. I was always interested in what is new and then started thinking about ways to optimize it. I started writing things down, like what is good and what can be improved about online shopping, and then about flea markets, which was also something I was very interested in. And the last part of the equation was the second hand commission shops, where there is also room for improvement. So after comparing all the pros and cons for these three fields, I switched my focus towards the user and the customer service. As a startup business, it’s very important for me to focus on the customer service, that’s a key factor in all Veras projects. It’s what makes you come back to a place. That, combined with the knowledge I had on how many clothes we actually throw away or how much water we use on making a pair of jeans and my passion for second hand, resulted in this new, sustainable concept.


What was the ultimate push that made you start your business?

I’ve been independent from a very young age, and had to earn my own money and not rely on my parents. What finally made me quit my job and work on it full time was the fact that my parents decided to give me their full support. Apart from that, I was suffering from stress two years ago, and that changed my life completely. I feel like crying when I think about it, because I realized that all the values I thought were important in my life, all the things that I thought were important, like the prestige that I was doing something or having a certain job, were not real. I was actually very unhappy but I couldn’t see it until I started going to a psychologist and that’s when everything changed. Starting up Veras Market at Copenhagen Street Food, even just as a hobby, made me see the potential in the market and the growing demand for places where people could sell all their clothes, regardless of the brand. Also seeing how many people were coming there, and having my parents’ support just gave me the push to do it. And right now, even if I’m on minus, I don’t even care, I’ve never been this happy. I literally wake up before the alarm clock every day with excitement.


What was the biggest challenge?

First of all there’s the emotional roller coaster I’ve been on since embarking on this journey. It can feel very lonesome at times being in this all by myself, and trying to stay positive and confident when things just go wrong is not easy. There are days when I feel like throwing in the towel and when it’s so hard to pick myself up. And there’s also the financial part. Even if I have my parents’ support, not succeeding is one thing, but not living up to all the expectations that I myself have created and not achieving the goals that I know I can reach, that would be really dissapointing. And also being a manager, I hired five people, and just managing a team, having people helping you, communicating your ideas, has turn out to be more difficult that I expected.

Did you think about the risks?

Of course I think about the risk, but I am so confident in my idea, because I have gotten such a positive reaction from everyone, from huge business men to friends and family, I was so overwhelmed with how well they reacted and I know that this concept is appealing to so many different people. And I simply think that if you believe in yourself, then it’s going to happen. I always had a lot of confidence, but I never had self-esteem. But now I started to believe in myself, looking back at my experiences and how well everything turned out so far. And if it all goes down, so what? I will lose a lot of money and then I can work for the rest of my life to pay it back, but at least I can say that I tried and I’ll have a good story to tell my grandchildren.


What about legal advice and other things you had to think of?

I did everything by myself, which is fun, although super hard. I’ve had help from my stepfather, who had little experience on the legal side, but although they gave me their full support, my parents know nothing about this industry. And I had no idea about a lot of things, like making a budget, but I figured it all out on the way, by just doing it. I didn’t even know that I wanted a physical shop, but when searching for a deposit space I found this space on DBA and arranged a meeting and now here we are. All I had was a budget, and a plan in my head. But I did my research very well, and I have experience from working with advertising and business strategy, so I still had a plan, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and how to do it. But opening a store, an online shop and making my flea market twice as big and having everything happen at the same time might have been a little stupid, but I couldn’t have done any other way.


What were the biggest milestones?

I don’t know, I feel like I succeeded just by getting so much recognition from the media, even before the launch of the concept. Also by being able to communicate my ideas to the website developers, who did everything from scratch, based on my concept, and seeing it come to life. So it’s more like the recognition that you get from the people in the business environment, and knowing that they believe in my idea and in me. Also being featured in a two-page spread in Berlingske is just so exciting and something I am so proud to read.

What is in store now for Veras?

My main focus is on this new concept. Within one year I hope it will be available online in all Denmark, and I want to come up with my own designs as well, maybe in June, and also have styling events for groups of friends, where they can come down for a few hours and listen to music and I can help them with styling, as part of me trying to educate people into wearing more colors and try out new things. And I have a lot of other ideas, to cover children and men’s wear as well, and expand in more niched markets, like Fastelavns costumes or New Year’s Eve dresses. I just have so many idea I could talk about it for hours…


How does this new concept work?

You buy a membership for 179kr a month, and then you register your own things online, and the system will give you an estimated point value on how many points you can get of your used items. Then you bring your items to the shop or get them picked up. Once you get the points in your account, you can shop here or online using the points, and whenever you feel tired of the clothes you got you can just put them back in the system and trade them for points and get a new wardrobe. So the users can be 100% sure that they will get value for what they put in, and also be sure that the clothes are given to someone that likes them, or are recycled.


What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?

 I think the market research is very important, knowing your competitors and your target group. And of course, making an estimative budget. Keep your dreams, but also be rational. I made three different budgets, for three different outcomes, just to have a good indication if the concept is good or not. Get to know the risks, be aware of them and have a backup plan, but don’t use your time thinking of what could go wrong. Think positive and believe in yourself!

Find VERAS online here and if you’re in Copenhagen, don’t forget to pay a visit to the lovely store in Vendersgade 17 kld. 1363 København K.