XCVI's Move: Interview with Our CEO
In the midst of XCVI’s big move from downtown to our new locations in Sherman Oaks and Carson, I sat down with our CEO, Alon Zeltzer, to talk a little bit about our relocation, his time at XCVI, and saying goodbye to our old space.
As stressful as moves often are, Alon has made peace with the process after navigating the company’s future when searching for new places to hold the XCVI offices. He is poised and ready to tell me all about his time here. I ask him to first tell me about when he started at XCVI. What was his role and how did he feel about it? Was he any good?
Alon laughs at this line of questioning. “No,” he smiles, “but I got good.”
He reports that his parents, who started the company in 1996, lovingly swindled him from working in the back of their store on Melrose to taking on a much bigger role in the business. “They tricked me,” he says, laughing, “I was at school studying Anthropology in Northridge, and my parents called me
stressed about shipping. ‘Come move some boxes’ my father said to me, and that was it.” Alon's mother, Gita, maintains an active role in the business to this day, often visiting the offices dressed head-to-toe in XCVI.
Alon began running production at XCVI’s first location, surrounded by rolls of fabric on the second floor of their building by the end of 1999, supervising a team of seamstresses. Soon after, he took
on a larger role finding the best people for the job, albeit by chance and circumstance. Together with Lilia, our designer, and Aida, our sales manager, XCVI soon took a turn for the better.
“You have to understand,” he says to me firmly, “this is a family company. It’s about the soul of the brand.” I am admittedly moved that XCVI is such a familial business, and that for Alon, finding the right people was also about finding the ones he could really laugh and get along with.
Around 2000, XCVI moved locations, to a building on 21st and Long Beach, and Alon became involved in every step of the production process, from sewing to shipping, operating primarily on instinct and smarts with the help of a dedicated, hand-selected team. Y2K hugely emphasized youth culture and youth-wear, with hyper low-rise cuts and busy looks that weren’t often age-versatile or wearable to many bodies. XCVI found its niche in this gap. “It’s the reason we’re still here, “ says Alon, “Our openness to listen to the customer and her personality. We had no social [media], no direct line to the customer relationship.”
“So you did it the hard way,” I say. “We did it the hard way,” he nods.
September 2006 marked XCVI’s fourth move, this time into our current (soon to be former) location. “The crash of 2008 meant that XCVI had to try new things,” recalls Alon. More than ever, the focus became understanding and honing in on the customer. “That’s how we survived,” he continues, “by focusing on her.”
XCVI continued to focus on its niche over the decade. In 2016, however, everything changed.
Alon explains that his father passed away in 2016, and that this time of mourning became a
moment to step up as a company leader, along with Gita and his sister, Daniela. “That’s when we
launched ecomm,” he explains, “For the first time we had a direct link to the customer. You hit rock bottom and then this light turns on. You’re just trying to figure out where the North is.”
XCVI integrated seasonality and more thorough customer insights to pointedly shape the brand in the wake of a tragedy that affected the entire company. XCVI soared, and our customer base grew exponentially. The team’s memory of one of its founders remains strong, and the success of the brand by Alon and his family’s leadership further emphasizes his parents’ immense legacy.
“When the pandemic hit,” remarks Alon, “there’s this cleanse that happened. We came out better for it. Because we knew how to handle it.”
Alon’s role in company leadership took him on many roller coasters throughout his time,
unknowingly preparing him–and the brand–for the unprecedented COVID-19 surge. Even as the
pandemic continues, XCVI knows how to fight, and Alon has been here the entire time, working from an office adorned with his wife’s exquisite oil paintings, so he can keep the inspiration and love close by.
I ask if he remembers the first time he set foot into the building. “Yes,” he responds immediately, “and it’s a story.” Across the street from XCVI’s current headquarters is a recycling plant that is currently
referred to as the “dirt pile.” “I saw it and I asked ‘When is construction done?’,” remembers Alon, shaking his head. “It’s constantly there. It’s constantly dust.” At this point, I’m laughing pretty hard.
“Room to grow,” he concludes, referring to his office view of the pile. “I’m leaning in.”
I ask Alon who shaped his experience at XCVI, and he instantly says the name Nina, recalling our
beloved late pattern maker, may she rest in peace. “Nina was my prototypical pattern maker personality,”he recalls, smiling, “Patterns were not yet digitized, and she came from ‘Ludmila Couture’ to us. We became instant friends,” he reports. “She became interwoven, integrated into the family business.”
When the time came to finally digitize the sewing patterns and use new media, Alon recalls Nina
saying “Well what were you waiting for.” Alon laughs, recalling her as “very opinionated, a typical
pattern maker. But she always said it with love.”
“I know she [Nina] knew she was one of my favorite people. I know because I remember the conversation.”
Alon describes working with many women as a lucky experience. “It’s all I know,” he says, along with a self-described “commitment to excellence.” The company he keeps and works with helps him never get too caught up in external pressures, like trends or the existence of other clothing companies. “It’s always about putting out the best product. It’s all about mission accomplished,” he remarks. “She [the customer] is deciding to trust us.”
Pivoting, I ask him to recall some funny or stand-out moments in this soon-to-be former XCVI
warehouse, “aside from eating sardines from a can,” I joke, recalling a zoom marketing meeting in which that special snack time happened.
“There’s a lot,” he says, “Staying up all night. Running up and down the halls with crutches.
Having eight or nine dogs in the office at once pre-COVID. Dribbling basketball around the office.” The latter reminds me of the stray basketball hoop I spotted on my last peruse through the warehouse. “The girls, my daughters and wife, put it up for me for my birthday.” As silly as these moments are, I’m touched by the familial spirit in all of his recollections. “The company was once 220 employees,” he states, “but we’re happier now.”
I inquire about what he’ll miss about this old space. “Basically, the familiar,” he answers. “There
was so much growth here. We were kids. We’re old people now…My biggest priority was keeping people.” He makes a point to explain that sustainability is as much about maintaining a healthy and happywork environment as it is creating long-lasting clothing.
“I’m optimistic,” he concludes. When asked what he’s looking forward to in the new space, Alon
asserts that he’s excited to feel lighter. “After the purge, you can envision focus and clarity. But we grew up here. I’ll miss our roots.”
Alon’s time with XCVI has been spent cultivating this current warehouse space, and it’s easy to
see why he’s grown to love and cherish the memories created here. Nonetheless, his priority has always been nurturing the people he works with, and running a business that provides a warm work environment as well as quality clothing. It’s no question whether this will continue in the new space, but in the meantime, we’re slowly bidding goodbye to our working home, and appreciating all the moments and successes it has brought us. As we go through these changes, we find comfort in the shared history of our space, and the way in which each and every person working here shaped our experiences for the better. To some extent, we’ve outgrown this space and know that as the doors close here, a new one is quite literally opening into the future. Alon’s leadership takes us through this door with flying colors, knowing fully well that we have one another to guide us through any uncertainty and all of the celebrations to come.