Two years into our operations in Romania, we had experienced more success than we could ever imagine. We were not only growing steadily and able to offer new products and services at a lightning rate, but also my team and I were able to be as creative and innovative as possible to keep pushing the envelope of new opportunities for us and Connex. After expanding in obvious areas, other telecom services, and supporting products, I came up with an idea that many would have thought crazy.
A clothing and lifestyle brand that reflected the heart & soul of our brand.
The MyX Apparel initiative was born out of the obvious desire by young Romanians to own western-style attire and accessories. For me, it was an ideal way to engage the very target we saw as our growth potential, as by now we were in a heated competition with France Telecom’s ‘Dialog’ brand (that would later switch to their global United Kingdom brand, ‘Orange’).
I knew I would need to do a few things to get my idea approved:
- I would need a really strong business case. While they were willing to take chances, this was essentially entering into a whole separate industry and product base. I needed to clearly show how the idea would benefit our brand and increase revenues.
- I would need to call in every favour and let key people know I would have their back if they had mine. I needed the management team to back this idea and help me make it a success.
- I also needed someone who could be my champion at the board level.
Once all those were checked, we had a go. The first order of business was to assemble the design team. We brought in a junior designer from GAP USA and hired a local designer through a competition we organized with ELLE Romania magazine. We also hired a strong Operations Director who could work to insane timelines.
I knew that we had a chance to bring something new to Romania and that, if we could pull it off, we would have a massive market within the country. It was only in 1990 that jeans were allowed to be bought and sold in Romania, so casual American-style clothing was a big deal to wear.
After months of long hours and hard work, on September 26th, 1998, the first MyX store was opened in Bucharest at 3 Toma Caragiu Street, very close to Piața Universității. This is the very center of the city.
We had two lines of products: the sports line and the urban casual line. In addition to cool clothing, we sold watches, handbags, sports bags, baseball caps, and metal mugs and saucers. The layout was very different from what you would see in traditional department stores, and the staff was kind and smiling, something communism didn’t provide. The day of our opening, we (once again) had lines of eager customers along the street.
Soon after that, we refurbished the underground space in the building and opened it as Cafe MyX, with internet access to offer more opportunities for people to meet and communicate. We served great coffee and lots of exotic teas with fresh baked goods. Local bands would play, and our store was connected on top of it.
We quickly became more than just a clothing store and coffee shop. The MyX space became a key place to launch new bands and promote existing ones. This was before the wave of coffee shops being more than coffee, and, most importantly, this was a Romanian brand that Romanians were proud of. Our brand was untouchable.
The next spring, we opened a second MyX store in Bucharest, on the ground floor of our office building on Nerva Traian Street.
People fell in love with our products and wore them as a symbol of ‘having made it’! We ultimately rolled out the product line to 24 different cities in less than six months and the sales were strong. It was the fastest growing retail chain in Romania at the time.
Every MyX store opened throughout the country to great success. MyX came with a completely different philosophy and literally educated the public, especially the younger generation, in terms of what clothing can mean in someone’s life. It was cool and sent an aspirational message. Our clothes were higher quality but more expensive and were perceived as inaccessible for many people. People were dreaming about being able to buy a piece of MyX for months before they actually could afford it. But, at the time, wearing a MyX piece of clothing made you cool, gave you status, and made you part of the Pro Generation.
I’ll give you a few examples:
Transylvania region: Oradea and Cluj
The opening of the MyX store in Oradea, on the ground floor of the “Crișul” department store, was like the centre of the world for three days in a row. Day and night, the MyX team, in cooperation with Coca-Cola, presented the MyX collection. An open-air store was open and the sales surpassed any expectations, as half of the stock for a month was gone in a blink of an eye. More than 5000 people attended the events every night.
Initially, the opening of the MyX store in Cluj didn’t create too much fuss. However, once MyX and Connex organized the Smokie concert at Sala Polivalentă, things took over exponentially and the space of the store tripled with no additional costs due to increased demand.
Oltenia region: Craiova
The opening of the MyX store in Craiova was the event of the year. The first few hours after the opening were so busy that the management of the “Mercur” department store decided to increase the security, as the merchandise was under their jurisdiction, according to the contract.
The Black Sea region
A number of MyX stores were opened in the Black Sea Region, including one in the “Belvedere Amfiteatru Olimp Gallery”. This is a trendier area and our store stood out as the new posh addition. We also had equally attractive stores in Constanța, Mamaia, and Neptun.
We even had cars and vans decaled with MyX.
I decided to wear a complete MyX outfit for the grand opening. So, two days earlier, I took some items into my office to try them out and chose the ones I thought would work. A noticeably short blue skirt looked very appealing to me but, when I tried to unzip it, things got tough. The zipper was made of blue plastic and it was just stuck. I called my assistant and we both tried hard to unzip the stubborn zipper but there was no way it would budge. Finally, we decided to cut the skirt with a pair of scissors and, unfortunately, the skirt was destroyed. I realized that, most likely, the complete order of skirts for the store opening had the same problem. I summoned the MyX department manager to have them all redone in 24 hours. It was often like this when new initiatives were being tried but it did not deter me one bit!
This project was my baby, and I was very proud of it. The idea for it came from our own employees! Since our launch, we had created several products for our staff to help promote our brand, including T-shirts, pens, mugs, and more. We soon realized that our employees wanted to order things for themselves and genuinely liked the products. Romania was still very much in its post-communist age, and the few department stores they had only offered boxy, uninspired options. There were not yet any western brands in stores. We had the infrastructure to offer high-end products and deliver them across the country.
In June 1999, the company organized a picnic for all employees at the Diplomatic Club in Bucharest, a very posh location on Lake Herăstrău. It was required for everybody to wear a MyX item: t-shirt, handbag, knapsack, arm phone holder, cap, short pants, etc. You might think we were prepared for a MyX catwalk. The employees were allowed to bring their spouses and children or even their pets and the whole day was sheer fun with music, dancing in the sand, a magician show, leisure food, boat tours, swimming, water jumps, tennis, volleyball, jokes, chatting, and laughing. Al and I brought along our dogs, Laguna and Pushkin.
But then, to my disappointment, AirTouch, our American partner, stepped in and did not see the vision of what Romania was all about! I could not do much as I was sent to Czech Republic to start that business. I was so sad and felt I let everyone down by leaving for another venture, but AirTouch was never on board with the idea, so I should have predicted that it stood very little chance of continuing without a strong executive dedicated to the program to fight for its survival.
AirTouch saw MyX as a distraction, and we had to stop. Yet today, cross-product branding is prevalent. To cite one example, people may not own a Ferrari, but they buy Ferrari golf shirts, T-shirts, sneakers, and all sorts of logoed things and it generates profits. I guess we were ahead of the curve. I am still sad we did not continue, as I know it would have been a massive success. I believe it could have become a major brand across Europe. Perhaps even white labelled for other telecoms.
A recent article published in Romania confirms I read the opportunity correctly and should have been allowed to continue: “20 years later: The fascinating story of the Romanians who wanted to wear clothes from the biggest mobile telecom company in the country in the ‘90s” . In 2005, CONNEX was bought by the UK company Vodafone and became Vodafone Romania. In 2017, this company celebrated “20 years in Romania”, which to me is a complete blasphemy. Vodafone, by far, is not even capable of building a company like Connex. They don’t have the brilliant minds, the creativity, or the determination required for such a thing. Reporter Florentina Iana interviewed people who are now in their late ‘30s and early ‘40s. The testimonials of these people revealed the tremendous impact MyX made on the young generation of the late ‘90s in post-communist Romania.
I have always been a fan of fashion , one of the things I miss about working and going to an office is picking out what I would wear the next day. I would grab a cup of tea at the end of each day and venture into my closet where I would pull out two options for the next day, one loud outfit that said here comes KARLA and a more subtle one that could hide that I had a bad sleep. If I had any important meeting during the week I would organize those on a Sunday. I love to shop and eventually I found a few local designers who I could wear with pride that were made in Romania.
But no other clothing has made me as proud as MY X. It was truly made with ❤️ in 🇷🇴.
~ Karla xoxo
The Kiss Commercial
“The Kiss” is an award-winning commercial by a well-known music video director from Great Britain. This commercial was to support the launch of MY X Mobilewear in the spring of 1999.
This was very Avante garde at the time. It was designed to show how badass our brand was and how a young women took on the untrustworthy authorities, landed a hot guy and gave her number to him. This would have been cast as a man, bad boy in the past but the future is now. Which was our logo.
MY X Spring/Summer Collection Launch
This video was made to support the launch of the new spring-summer MY X Mobilewear collection of 2000, which offered 3 separate lines: Active, Adventure and Classic. It shows different events we did to launch new stores or retail partnerships. The lines to get in was always crazy and constantly running out of stock. For one even we had models in window of empty building in middle of the square with lights flashing on them showing new collection while they dance.
We had lots of fun doing public relations with the sub brand of Connex MyX registered trademark of the future.
Karla Stephens-Tolstoy has stage 4 chronic cancer, diagnosed in 2018. She is Her2 negative, IDC. She takes 50 pills daily, including Ibrance and letrozole, her cancer fighting pills. Karla is the co-owner of the online store StandUpSpeakUp.ca with her son, Zach. Through this venture, they are proud donors to various charities. All proceeds of their limited edition Healing and Empowerment Scarves are donated to Wellspring Cancer Support Centre.