Caterina | From politics to fair trade fashion
By Eleni Meraki
Growing up in Naples in the 70’s, the region was in economic ruin and no woman in my family had ever graduated university or was financially independent.
I didn't know what I wanted to do exactly but I started with my studies and worked really hard my whole life. I climbed up through the career ranks of the European Commission and started focussing on development projects for women in Turkey and North Africa. The start of a lifelong passion.
5 THINGS ABOUT
POLITICAL SCIENCE | KNOWS A LITTLE ABOUT A LOT | PIONEER IN FAIRTRADE LUXURY | STARTED WITH 50 EURO | #HEARTMOVEMENT
LEAP OF FAITH
My career at the European Commission was going great. But the higher I climbed the ladder, the less I started caring about politics and the more passionate I became about really helping these women I was working with. I wanted to find a sustainable way to help them escape dangerous and violent situations and become independent.
I took a leap of faith, knew nothing about the fashion industry and had never owned my own company. But I had the drive to help these women and a lot of determination.
SEEME FAIR TRADE FASHION
I set up my own fair trade fashion brand, SeeMe. We are a fair trade certified organisation that creates sustainable work environments for female victims of violence, so they can live an independent life. SeeMe is a premium fashion brand and all our products are uniquely handcrafted by women in Africa and the Middle-East. SeeMe is sold in over 90 stores around the world including premium retailers like Colette and Galleries laFayette to name a few.
I started SeeMe straight after I quit my job. During my field work for the UN I had been in contact with these woman and organisations in this field. When we first started, I was designing products that no one really wanted to buy. So I was selling nothing, they were ugly, of a poor quality - I didn't even like them. One day I met this woman from the field and she gave me the golden tip - to create a mono-product, something iconic. I had already created a big hard jewellery piece and decided that should be my way forward. Just that. And so I did.
THE TOUGH TIMES
Setting up a business in a new sector is tough. I made a lot of bad decisions but also learned the most from the mistakes I made.
Financial stability. My biggest challenge then and now. Making sure I can pay their salaries each month is something I always have on my mind.
Managing staff. SeeMe has employees here in Amsterdam, but also in North Africa and the Middle East. Dealing with very different work ethics and cultural differences is a daily learning process.
Being responsible for everything - from marketing to material sourcing. I find it hard to make decision about things I know nothing about.
I started SeeMe with no budget at all, there was literally 50 euro in my bank account. I was selling products to pay the rent. A pop-up store and a lot of help from my network helped me get the company off the ground. Starting your own business isn’t about having a certain budget – it’s about taking risks. If you grow organically, you don’t need a huge start-up capital. The company is now (three years since foundation) financially sound and seeking to expand further.
5 INSIDER TIPS
When you are surrounded by knowledgable people, use the art of listening.
Focus on one thing and do it well. You can't do everything at once.
Use your network! Anyone can inspire you and/or guide you in the right direction. Don't be afraid to ask.
Trust your instinct. If it doesn't feel right, it's not.
Having a dream is great but it's mostly just hard work. Be prepared to work hard.
Written by Eleni Meraki
Eleni is the founder of Guts & Tales. She is a hypnotherapist, mind-trainer, coach and creator of the women’s coaching program Be Your Own Muse. She helps women become clear, confident and courageous to be and live true to themselves.