Could you realize your dreams if you just had $2000 to start with? Liz Haan, the founder and owner of Marie La Mode Boutique, did just that. Marie La Mode began as a mobile boutique and now boasts a gorgeous storefront and online store along with the mobile boutique where it all began. Liz grew up with a passion for style, a generational gift from her grandmother, which manifested itself in putting together eclectic outfits curated from second hand stores. She started Marie La Mode after a short stint ‘behaving’ and following the rules of regular business. She hated her day job and dreamt of starting her own boutique with all the style and flair she flaunted in her own wardrobe.

Liz started slow. With just $2000, she had enough money to display a few pieces at shows or farmers markets. One thing led to another, and she moved to part time at her normal, acceptable, business job…and then quit all together to launch the business of her dreams: Marie La Mode Boutique. She bought a trailer and hauled her mobile boutique to private parties, farmers markets, shows and more. She did it all with no debt. As demand grew, so did her brand, along with her inventory, allowing her to reach more customers. Soon enough, she had the demand to open a retail store. With an incredibly small loan, she got creative with her displays, snatching up second hand mannequins, and putting in all the hours with her husband to build her dream storefront.

It all sounds like this entrepreneur lived happily ever after, right?

Wrong.

Liz opened up on the Shine Strong Podcast & to Leaders in Heels, sharing the nitty gritty details and all the struggles behind the scenes. Let’s dive into Liz’s authentic advice on owning your dream business.

1. It won’t always be easy

There are so many times when Liz finds herself crying on the couch with her two dogs and husband wondering what’s going on. She says, “Just cry. Just let it all out, and then you’ll be fine.”

Another way to put it is, find your outlet. If that’s crying — great! Cry your beautiful eyes out. Release it. If it’s going for a run, run as far or as fast as you need to in order to release what you’re wrestling with. If it’s something else, do what you need to do in order to move on. Holding onto it with white knuckles is only going to make things worse.

2. Know Why

Marie La Mode is unique to Liz’s style and personality and the pieces are unlike anything you’d find at another boutique. Everything has been hand-selected by Liz herself. This is because she knows what her style is, and she knows why she founded MLM. She advises, “Stay your path. Be who you are.” No matter what— no matter if you see a similar business with a different style achieving success — stay true to who you are and why you started down your path in the first place.

Sometimes “your path” isn’t always as clear as one would think. You might find yourself veering to wear a certain outfit because you saw someone else pull it off really well. There is a difference in experimenting with something new and veering off your path. To help you stay true to who you are, it’s a really good practice to sit down and write out your passion. Why are you doing what you do? What ignites your soul on fire? Is there a reason bigger than yourself? Dig deep into your soul and dedicate at least a few hours to this practice.

And if you haven’t launched your dream business yet, Liz says with all her heart, “JUMP!! Just jump ‘cause the worst thing that can happen is you fail, and fail…you learn.”

3. Be realistic

Sometimes entrepreneurs can overestimate themselves. Sometimes they underestimate themselves. The best thing you can do is get very realistic with your situation, what you’re capable of, how much capital you’re working with, and make a plan.

Liz (someone who hates numbers) created countless spreadsheets to crunch the numbers before she quit her day job and launched MLM. She has come to realize that talking to herself is a good way to get real on what she can actually pull off. She says, “Just talk to yourself. Ask yourself, can I be this person? Can I pull this off?”

Oftentimes, entrepreneurs think they can do more than is actually possible. The best way to truth test yourself is to establish your goal – and then backtrack to identify everything needed to get from your goal back to where you are today. When Liz does this, she’ll realize, “Wow, this will mean I need to work 7 days per week for the next 5 weeks. Can I really do that or will I burn out?”. She knows herself well enough to know that by the end of that 5 weeks, she will be completely spent and need a long weekend away, with no contact to the outside world. A stretch of work that hard and long will leave her empty and it’s not something she can do over and over again, but it is possible. Clearly laying out what it takes to accomplish a goal helps her remain realistic.

4. Outsource what you can

As a business owner, focus on your unique talents — the things that energize you and embody your mission. Liz found herself spending countless hours tagging merchandise when she could have been focusing that time on finding new pieces that would wow her customers. She realized that it was a more profitable decision to hire an employee to tag merchandise and to hire an accountant to do the books. Now, Liz has more time to focus on the things that make MLM the best boutique it can be.

5. Be aware of your inner voice

Liz says, “I think that your inner voice in your head is your biggest rooter, and also your biggest downfall”. Allow your inner voice to cheer you on, give you the courage to take huge jumps, and take your dream to new heights. But at the same time, be aware of the negative things it’s telling you, too. You are the only person who hears it, so you are the only person who can control it. If it’s being more of a bully than a supporter— it’s up to you to keep it in check.

Liz’s voice tells her, “You can do more. You can do better.” That type of message can be motivating — but it can also lead to a destructive behavior of never stopping. Liz has realized when she needs to quiet the voice long enough to realize if it’s motivating her or being destructive.

6. Get out of your comfort zone

Finally, as the style and fashion expert, Liz offers one last piece of advice. Most of us don’t have the eye for incredible pieces that Liz has, nor do we have the style expertise to know what to put together. Liz encourages us to get one piece out of your comfort zone. Notice how you feel in it. Wear it out and notice the way people look at you or the compliments you receive. Then, decide if you want to explore other options similar to this style.


Leah LeRae is the founder and host of The Shine Strong Podcast. Shine Strong creates a place where driven women can come to be encouraged by the authentic, vulnerable and experienced women who are guests, like Liz, on the show. Hosted by Leah LeRae, new episodes are released every Monday at shinestrongpodcast.com, on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Find Liz and Marie La Mode at marielamode.com. She also has
Instagram: marielamode
Facebook: Marie La Mode


We all have big ideas. There are things that we want to do to positively influence others and make a difference in the world. When it is time to “take the leap”, however, we are often left a little overwhelmed with all the details that go into making our business or organisation thrive.

That’s where experts like Jessica Kinsey come in. Jessica is the founder of Prodigy and Co, a consulting company dedicated to helping impact-driven organisations build strategy behind their mission. She understands that most leaders are “big picture” dreamers and have the courage to start things, but sometimes need guidance on how to establish and grow their ventures.

In our interview, Jessica shares with us some basic fundamentals behind thinking through the structure of your organisation and how to move past times when you feel stuck.

Jessica, I am so excited to connect with you and share more of your story with our readers. To begin with, would you tell us why you started your business?

I started Prodigy & Co to help small businesses and nonprofits be more creative in their strategies for products, services, programs, marketing—pretty much everything. I’m a huge believer that we can’t solve problems or make a difference by doing the same thing we have always done, and I saw too many people just “rinse and repeat” the same old thing, or something someone else had done, hoping it would work, but not making progress.

What is the meaning (or backstory) behind your name “Prodigy & Co.”?

When you think of a prodigy, you think of a young kid who is exceptionally gifted but needs guidance and direction. That’s how I think of my clients. They excel at what they do. They have a heart and a passion for the work or the people or the craft, but they need guidance and direction. Most of them don’t have business backgrounds. They are the makers and doers who need help creating a sustainable organisation for their work.

You obviously have a passion for working with entrepreneurs and leaders who are “impact” and “mission” focused. Where did this desire to help these specific people come from?

There are a lot of big challenges we are facing today and I want to work with the people who are trying to make progress, trying to make a difference. Whether you are a for-profit or non-profit, if your goal is to make a positive impact on people’s lives, I want to help you do that. I also think that businesses and organisations that are built out of a passion to make an impact are more likely to last. Money is not enough to keep you going when things get tough. Money matters, a lot. You have to pay your bills and support your family. But when things get hard, and they absolutely will, most people can go get money elsewhere. They can go back to a “real job” and have stability and safety. Mission-driven people do the work because they can’t not do the work. That kind of passion is contagious and exciting.

Do you provide a variety of services, which one are you most excited about?

The work I enjoy most is helping non-profits bring a social enterprise aspect to their organisation. I see too many non-profits rely solely on donors and they are fundraising their entire budget each year. It wears them down. They are working hard enough to do good work in the community and make a difference. If I can help bring something to the organisation that can earn revenue so they can have a more sustainable, regular source of funding, that’s an incredible feeling. It can also be a real challenge to balance revenue generation with program impact and outcomes, and that’s a fun thing to take on.

What is the main difference between a non-profit and a social enterprise?

This is such a tough question to break down, because everyone has a different opinion. There’s the difference between a non-profit and for-profit which is based on tax status with the IRS, and what the goal is related to money. Are you putting it all back to the mission, or do you want to take earnings out for the owners?

More broadly speaking, the term social enterprise (to me) means an organisation that was founded based on a sense of mission and making a positive impact in the world, and all or most of their revenue comes from the creation and sale of a product or service. I believe that kind of organisation can be a for-profit or non-profit. Not everyone agrees, but I think for-profit businesses can exist for social good. That the owners can “do good and do well”, as it’s sometimes said. Some non-profits are social enterprises because they create a product or service that they sell. Some non-profits are 100% donation based—I don’t consider those social enterprise.

It’s about the combination of social and enterprise. You have to be mission-driven and focused on making a positive social change. The social part. And you have to be selling something. The enterprise part. I don’t think the tax status matters.

I would like to see more people start for-profit social enterprises. I believe there is this dichotomy in the way people think about doing good versus making money. That it is either/or. You either go into business and make a lot of money and then give it to charity, or you go to work for a nonprofit and you make next to nothing and kill yourself for the greater good. I think we need to re-think that. You can do both. You can start a for-profit organisation that is built to do good and earn a lot of money at the same time. It’s about staying mission-focused, taking great care of all of your resources (people, environment, etc.), and doing what is right. I ultimately believe if you do that, profits will follow, because people want to buy from and support companies that do good.

What are a few tangible pieces of advice you would give someone looking to grow their business or organisation but currently feels stuck?

Find a support system of like-minded leaders in a similar place as you, and learn from and lean on each other. Especially for solo entrepreneurs or non-profit founders, it can be so incredibly difficult to go it alone. When you have someone to bounce ideas off of and ask for advice and support, it can be a game changer.

Don’t spread yourself too thin. I’d like to say focus on one thing, but I know that isn’t possible, especially in the early stages. But be mindful of the work and projects you do take on. Protect your energy and time, and put it into the things that will move the needle the most. We often feel stuck because we don’t know the right next step because there are a thousand things we could do. The more you focus in, the less that happens.

For non-profits, be extra strategic about donors, board members, and partners who share your values and want to do things the right way. Don’t just take money because you need it, and try to find donors who believe in the importance of “overhead” or “administration”. It’s not a bad thing. You can’t run an organisation that is understaffed with underpaid people, or reach your audience with no marketing budget. It’s such a hard thing to do, but it makes an incredible difference.

What is your vision moving forward? Where would you like to take the company from here?

I’m looking to hire my first (part-time) staff member to help keep me organised and on target. I have a lot of big ideas and I need some reining in, sometimes. That’s a really exciting step for me and will allow me to do more of what I truly love, which is strategising with organisations on how to grow their impact.

I just kicked off an 8-week intensive with small non-profits locally to help them set a solid foundation to maximise and grow their impact, and maintain financial sustainability. My goal is to adapt that intensive into an online program early next year, so I can increase my own impact in the non-profit space.

I would like to start working with more for-profits that want to add or increase social impact through their businesses, whether that is through their internal processes or partnering with non-profits. It comes back to my comment about “doing good and doing well”. I’d like to see more businesses put an intentional focus on that.   

My ultimate vision is about expanding my impact as much as possible. I have a finance degree, so the power of compound interest was practically beat into me in school. I want to create a compound impact. I want to look back at the organisations I’ve worked with and see how my work has helped them create massive positive impact with their beneficiaries and then see how those people whose lives were changed have gone on to create massive positive impact as well.

 

About Jessica

Whether Jessica was performing at Clown College, or calling women in nursing homes via a “phone-pal” program, or volunteering at the YMCA, she has always been a dedicated servicewoman. But even more than serving, Jessica wants to serve strategically. Jessica can be easily influenced toward your passion, and she wants to hear what you’ve got up your sleeve. She holds a degree in finance and an MBA from the University of Tulsa. She has worked as an adjunct professor at the TU, teaching Creativity and Innovation to some of the brightest entrepreneurs in town. She still can’t decide if coffee or wine brings better ideas. But who wants to choose? You can connect with her at prodigyandco.com

 


Values, values, values! Having strong values is vital in life. They help us to create the future we want to experience. When we use our own values to make decisions, we make a choice to focus on what is important to us.

Possessing strong values is what Bianca Bellantoni is all about. Bianca is the CEO and founder of her self-titled womenswear label, BELLANTONI. Bianca had a vision and made the necessary steps to achieve that vision while always keeping in mind her core values. The clothing company is based out of Vancouver, BC and is known for being a sustainable and cruelty-free organization. Bianca, a Leader In Heels herself, sat down with us for a chat on her experiences throughout this journey.

Can you give me a little background on yourself? Who you are and what lead to the creation of your business idea?

Hi, my name is Bianca Bellantoni and I am a 26 year old designer based in Vancouver. I love animals and I have a strong desire to make a significant impact during my time on this earth. I applied to fashion school in Toronto because I wanted a creative career. Fashion ended up being an outlet that seemed fun, and one that I felt I would do well in. Within my first year at Ryerson University, we were taught about the negative impact clothing has on the environment as well as the people involved making it. This was extremely alarming to me and it really changed my outlook on the fashion industry as a whole.

I learned about the waterways in Asia that would “magically” change colour based on the latest colour trends at the time. I learned about large populations of cotton-farmers being diagnosed with brain tumours. I learned about toxins being dyed and sprayed all over various fabrics. I was at a point where I wanted to quit attending fashion school for good. It took an honest and vulnerable conversation with my Mom to remember that if I really wanted to make a change in the fashion industry, I was going to have to stay in it! From then, I focused my studies and assignments around sustainability.

Upon receiving my Bachelor of Design at Ryerson University in Toronto, I had a deep desire to want to make clothing the way I believed they could be made and in a way that stayed true to my values. That is, without harming people, without harming animals and without harming the planet.

“I had a deep desire to want to make clothing the way I believed they could be made and in a way that stayed true to my values.”

How long have you been operating your business now? Was having your own business something that had always been of interest to you?

Officially, it was a year on March 21, 2018. However, throughout school I put my designs and clothing in every fashion show opportunity that I could find and began building my online presence before I even had an online storefront. I never really said, “I want to be an entrepreneur.” I wanted to be a designer and an artist. My dad is an entrepreneur. He owned his own restaurant and now has a successful importing company, so I guess you could say that it is in my genes?

Did you feel like you had necessary skills to build a business? Was it something that was self taught?

I was lucky that almost all of my internships and jobs in the fashion industry were in small businesses or family-owned businesses. From working independently with designers, to working in a small bridal shop, to being a designer for a startup company, I was really able to see how companies ran on a smaller level. I thought to myself, I can do that! So I went for it. I honestly believe that if I sat down and tried to work through every little detail before I even started, I would have talked myself out of pursuing fashion all together.

What would you say are THREE skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

I believe the three skills or tips you need to be a successful entrepreneur are:

  • Believe in yourself and your business​ because no one will love your business more than you.
  • Be optimistic & persistent. Know that you will be successful, and find the strength to push through when times are tough and you feel like giving up.
  • Build a network & support system​. I’m not only talking about your friends and family, but surround yourself with other entrepreneurs, join interesting groups, like-minded meetups and find an accountability partner. I have the BEST accountability partner and I am so grateful!

What does a regular work week look like for you? Is scheduling down time important?

I have another job, so my weeks are pretty busy. I work part-time as a Marketing Designer, so I work on my business in the evenings, on most weekends, as well as the few days that I am not working at my other job. Scheduling down-time is ​very important.​ I consider this to be alone time. For me, I need time alone to re-energise and allow myself to reflect on my own life. I have started meditating every morning for 10 to 20 minutes and this has helped me to stay focused throughout the day. I feel mentally lighter and I can go about my day calmly.

What do you enjoy doing during your spare time?

I love going to breweries or coffee shops with my friends or going for walks around the city. Vancouver is just so beautiful.

What has been your biggest hurdle throughout this entire journey so far? How did it affect you and how did you handle it?

I think the biggest hurdle I’ve encountered, and I actually still catch myself doing, is being really hard on myself for not being farther than where I am today. I catch myself comparing my business to other companies who have been around for years and years, and pointing out how “slow” my business is growing. It can definitely be a good thing in that I maintain my ambitiousness and keep pushing myself to do better, but it can also be detrimental to my mindset.

“My meditation has helped a lot with this too, and allows me to detach from the outcome letting life and my business just naturally happen on their own terms.”

When this bothers me, my fiance pulls me out of my head so I can acknowledge how much I have already accomplished. He always brings light to the situation. He helps me realize that I cannot compare myself to other people who are already farther than me or people who are in a different situation to me. My meditation has helped a lot with this too, and allows me to detach from the outcome, letting life and my business happen on their own terms. I know that big things are going to come, but I need to be more patient with myself and continue to work hard.

What would you say is the most unique aspect/attribute of your business?

Many people love that I recycle my fabric scraps and turn them into pet beds to donate to local shelters. This idea originated from when I was in my third year at Ryerson. I was enrolled in a sustainability field study of four selected students. I focused my thesis on zero-waste. The pet bed idea came about from this class, and I began collecting scraps from students at my school to reuse. When I started my own business, I decided to incorporate this pet-bed-making process so I knew exactly where my scraps were going.

“Many people love that I recycle my fabric scraps and turn them into pet beds to donate to local shelters.”

If you had one piece of advice to give to someone who was just starting their own business, what would it be?

Make sure that you absolutely LOVE your idea. Don’t give up when it gets really tough and remember that success doesn’t happen overnight.

Leaders In Heels is all about nurturing, inspiring and empowering female leaders. In your own opinion, what are three qualities you think a Leader In Heels would naturally possess?

I think these women would naturally possess authenticity because it is just so important to be true to yourself. Courage because it takes a whole lot of it to go after what you want in life, and kindness because the world needs more kindness. When you lead by example, you can create that ripple effect.

 

Bianca is such an inspiration and her self titled label is up and coming in beautiful Vancouver. Show her some love and support and admire her unique and classy collections by finding her at:

Website/Store: ​www.bellantoni.ca
Instagram: ​@bellantonidesigns
Twitter: ​@biabellantoni
Facebook: ​BELLANTONI


Altering the school system to include more beneficial life related skills is something I have always wondered about. Although I feel I have learned quite a bit while I was in school, I still feel curriculums should be looked at and acknowledged tremendously to include more life related skills that would essentially help young students navigate their way through the “real world” upon graduation. From learning how to manage their own money, to nurturing relationships, to buying their first car or home and learning how to file their own taxes, these are all fundamentals that sooner or later all human beings need to learn how to deal with.

What about just going back to the basics? What about the strong need to learn to love yourself, to trust yourself and to live the life that YOU want because you know you CAN and because you have learned to shut out the outside noise? What about instilling that strong foundation of self love in the younger generation early on so that they have the tools to overcome any hardships they may come across that can badly damage their own self esteem when they’re older?

I had the honour of interviewing Taylor Hui, founder of the BeaYOUtiful Organization in Vancouver, BC. With a heart of gold and the will to influence the younger female generation, instilling self love in young girls is something she prides herself in for various reasons.

Hi Taylor, thanks so much for joining me today! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how your organization came to be?

Thanks so much for meeting with me! I was born and raised in Vancouver BC. I worked in Asia for the last 4 years on and off in fashion and recently relocated back home, which has been great! 

I started BeaYOUtiful when I was 16 years old. I was in highschool and I had a lot of friends suffering with eating disorders and I was often bullied, mostly online. Cyber bullying was something that I had happened quite often in my life growing up. I just saw this cycle of negativity regarding the need for a young woman to pull others down in order to feel better about herself or to rise above and I always felt there was more competition between girls over collaboration and I never understood why. I very much and have always preached the opposite.

There was always this hierarchical feeling and women needing to bring other women down to raise their own self esteem. I thought that was such a vicious cycle and a mentality that I really wanted to change so I created BeaYOUtiful. The organization provides 6 week classes for young girls in elementary schools focused on building confidence, self esteem, nuturition, learning about self respect and self worth. I just think that these are such fundamental tools that are not taught in elementary schools or even high schools for that matter. It’s really shocking to this day that these topics are rarely touched upon in the education system and so I thought it was essential to bring about a class that would provide and teach those values and introduce these characteristics to young girls so they’re better equipped as they grow into their teenage years and then adulthood.

My friend and I did a pilot test that lasted about six months and it ended up being amazing and we just kept expanding… five years later, we’re still continuing today and are participating in quite a few districts across British Columbia. It’s been quite the adventure. I really do feel my personal experience has played into that, but it’s been the most empowering and moving experience I’ve ever gone through. It will always be a part of me and I say that because if it doesnt turn out to be my full time career, it’s definitely my passion project. I feel like I’ve grown so much from it and the girls are a reminder to me of what the meaning of life is and what to value. It’s been such a life changing experience for myself and for our volunteers. The people on my team are incredible and they’ve grown so much from it so it’s not only the mentors that inspire our students, the students have inspired us as well.

That must be so rewarding and to be able to see their growth too. How many students do you usually have in each class?

Yes, they’ll walk in the first week being timid and feeling so vulnerable. You can tell the self confidence isn’t quite there and a lot of the times, they don’t even know what it means to have self confidence and how to work towards it without having this idea that being confident is being egotistic or being bossy because a lot of the times, young girls get confused by the terms. With all the social standards in place, it’s just so important for young girls to realize that they have a voice, they have self worth and it’s about applying all the values we teach and making sure it’s with the right intentions.

In terms of numbers, it depends and usually the minimum we have is six girls. My favorite number is eight. I love having eight girls in a class, but we’ve done up to twenty three girls. Ideally we aim for eight to twelve. A smaller group allows the mentors to build a closer connection with each student. When you have much more than that, you’re not really given the opportunity to have those much needed one on one moments with the students.

With that being said, it’s not a one-on-one mentorship program. They get that one on one time to build relationships, but we ensure that they build relationships with each other as well because that’s who they’re going to be spending their everyday with. They’re going to be attending high school and university with other girls and they need to learn how to respect and understand each other. So while I believe that one-on-one time is important, what’s even more essential is that they’re building connections with their peers.

Do you have a vision for your organization or stretch goals for later down the road? Would you want to perhaps go global?

Our goal is to just impact as many young girls and women as possible. Going global would be a dream of course! We are definitely looking at expanding onto Bowen Island right now and interested in Toronto and even Calgary, but it is quite difficult because we do use a lot of guest speakers, a lot of artistic therapists come in too and we just have such dynamic classes of different topics. We’d have to find the right people to help facilitate the program. I am so lucky that we have such a strong team here and so many resources and I’m not saying these wouldnt be available in other cities, but it would definitely take time to find and create the right connections and build that network.

“Our goal is to just impact as many young girls and women as possible.”

Right now, we are looking at hosting more conference type events and that is our next one-year goal. Being able to host conferences in different cities which consist of a 6-8 week program compressed into one or two days would be a dream! It’s a super-high stretch goal for me, but it is something that’s in the works right now and our test trial would be done in Vancouver. Depending on how that goes, I’d love to then go nationwide (like in New York or Los Angeles!) as well as difference cities across the world. But yes, baby steps!

With technology these days, we have access to and are heavily influenced by so much information that we see online. With Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube etc. do you personally feel that social media plays a huge role in how young girls see themselves today?

Oh absolutely and it’s undeniable that it has a long lasting effect. I grew up with a cell phone, but not until I was in Grade 8 or Grade 9. My 6-year-old cousin already has a cell phone and it’s insane! It’s normal for her age now. These girls we’ve all spoken to in Grades 4, 5 and 6 all have iPads, or some sort of technological device to keep them entertained. The amount of information and knowledge they have access to is incredible, but it’s also very scary and can be very toxic.

In our programs, we actually dedicate a week to talking about social media, addressing how advertising manipulates young woman and what beauty standards are. I think the earlier you introduce this to a young girl, the better. They don’t even realize half the time that the ads they see are often photoshopped and edited and the world of commercialisation is quite manipulative (if i can say that). It’s making young women aware that things they see online aren’t always what they seem.

It’s also about educating these young girls that if you post something, then erase it, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. It doesn’t mean that those feelings associated with it disappear. I always make sure I touch upon my experience with cyber bullying and how that affected me growing up. I share how to this day, I still remember how it felt to receive those messages. Just because something isn’t said to your face, doesn’t mean it won’t have the same effect on your wellbeing. What’s important is to look at media in general as a pedagogy. It’s a huge platform that you can learn from and it can be used in so many amazing ways. It’s just harnessing those tools and ensuring you’re providing positive information to its users.

“What’s important I think is to just look at media in general as a pedagogy.”

There are proper ways to offer criticism and everyone has their own opinion. Freedom of speech is so important, and I encourage it. But it is about taking responsibility at the end of the day and at BeaYOUtiful we call them “acts of kindness” – ensuring there is a good purpose in whatever is said or done, whether it is in person, or online. It’s about education, awareness and taking responsibility, NOT discouraging people to use social media as a whole. I want them to be able to contribute, but in a way that’s inspiring and positive. If people can strive to integrate the two, social media is such an amazing tool that we’re so privileged to have.

“If people can strive to integrate inspiration and positivity, social media is such an amazing tool that we’re so privileged to have.”

What type of harmful messages did you receive when you were younger that really affected you?

There would be a lot of swear words targeted towards me and a lot of negative content. They made me feel worthless, and a lot of the times I was excluded from the “cool” activities and I didn’t get invited to parties that other girls hosted. At that age, no one wants to feel excluded, especially if you feel like you’ve done nothing wrong. I was quite the tomboy growing up and not in the way I dressed or acted – it was the activities I did. I enjoyed playing sports and playing in the mud as a child, and I was always on the track team. I grew up in a family where everyone played hockey and I loved that!

Cyberbullying is still an issue and something I feel should still be talked about. People are able to say a lot more on social media than they would to your face.

Absolutely. It’s so terrible because it encourages a chain reaction where one person posts a negative remark, someone else likes that person’s comment, and then another person posts a new negative comment. People end up encouraging the behavior and then it snowballs and it can be quite vicious.

We have one week of our program called “Heart to Heart” week and it’s literally us in our pyjamas, with pillows, chocolate and a box of kleenex. We have conversations and connect and showing that there is so much beauty in vulnerability. There’s so much confusion and misconceptions about being vulnerable, but to be able to open your heart up and cry and talk about what’s bothering you and to just be aware of what’s happening in your life… it really changes your opinion on others and how you treat others.

When you have a group of young girls and even women crying after sharing their most vulnerable selves, it is the most empowering thing. We show that we embrace being human to each other. We acknowledge that we have feelings. We share that we’ve all been through ups and downs. That’s just part of life. To be able to hear that and comprehend that at a young age is just so important.

“We have one week of our program called “Heart to Heart”…having conversations and connecting and showing that there is so much beauty in vulnerability.”

I love the whole idea of being more comfortable with being vulnerable because there’s such a stigma about being vulnerable and how it’s a weak characteristic when in actuality, it’s a strength.

Yes! The earlier we can teach vulnerability to younger girls, the better. It’s something that is not taught or spoken about in school. When we first started this organisation, I got a lot of backlash saying schools aren’t places that we have these types of conversations and discussions. Schools have said that they are not there to teach those values, because parents do that. That frustrated me more than ever. The administrators didn’t understand that people may not have the luxury of a safe space at home. I’m thinking to myself, as facilitators who are with students 6-8 hours a day, how can you not be teaching values of kindness and expression, or basic life skills or the fundamentals useful to us when we are sent out into the “real world”?

Something we’re also looking to incorporate into our program soon, for highschoolers in particular, is what kind of financial aid do you have available to you? How do you write a resume? If you don’t have any experience, how can you still own the room during an interview? Skills like that! If I could rewrite the syllabus of what’s taught in schools today, I totally would. But then again, this is why our programs exist; to really offer that alternative form of education and learning.

“Schools have said that they are not there to teach those values because parents do that. That frustrated me more than ever.”

Going back to the title of your organization, BeaYOUtiful, did you play around with that a little bit? How did that come about?

My slogan is, “I want every girl to look in the mirror and feel beautiful”. I started it in elementary schools because I feel that when you’re in high school, you may already have a negative view of yourself or your image, so why not introduce it earlier to prevent them from feeling that way once they reach that point? It’s simple and it sells itself. We cater to a younger demographic, and it’s easy to remember.

It’s super cute when you hear the girls say, “I am in the BeaYOUtiful Program”. They sound so confident, too!

Did you feel like you had all the skills necessary to build your organisation? 

It honestly was so organic. I sat down with my girlfriend who helped me bring it to life. Once we graduated we went our separate ways, but she always encouraged me to keep at it. I just had this idea and saw a need for it and I see it now more than ever that I’ve always had a love for entreprenurship. I’m such a passionate person and when I feel so deeply about something and want to help, I take action and I believe that’s what a lot of young girls feel like they can’t do. They feel they don’t have the right tools or resources, but for me, I thought, How can I take what I’ve learned in my life – from my mom especially, as she taught me so many values – and apply it to different modules?

My family dynamic is so strong and we celebrate life. I am always working on my acts of kindness and volunteering, and being able to travel opened my mind and way of thinking. I took all of these life lessons and arranged them into a lesson format. The first class we ever did, which spanned six weeks, is not much different to what we do now. I didn’t feel the need to alter much of it because after that first pilot course, we saw how well it worked and how it affected these girls. The girls were just so much more full of life, they built new friendships, and were confident. It wasn’t necessarily what we did, but more of the space we built for them. They felt safe and secure. It was a place of connection, and vulnerability was really celebrated.

“I’m such a passionate person and when I feel so deeply about something and want to help, I take action and I believe that’s what a lot of young girls feel like they can’t do.”

What has been your biggest hurdle throughout this entire journey? How did it affect you and how did you handle it?

The hardest thing was – and still is, sometimes – having that credibility. I’m not a teacher or a therapist. I had no degree or higher level of training when I started this. I was a student trying to do something positive and facilitate a class for young girls with zero certification, and that was hard to sell. I’m still working on my degree and even when I complete it, it’s actually not in psychology nor education, it’s in Communications.

“Why do you feel like you’re qualified?” I do feel like that’s always been the pressing question. We’ve definitely built our reputation up over the years, but for the first year, we were denied at several schools and couldn’t teach our course in the school we hoped to get in to.

We were told we didn’t have the prerequisites to teach and weren’t qualified. We were always asked, “How do you know what you’re teaching is valuable?” It took so much convincing. On our end, it took a lot of passion and dedication. I funded it all out of my own pocket for the first two years because I believed in what I was doing. It didn’t come easy, but the program itself developed through experience as well as the mentors’ experiences, and what I would’ve wanted to learn in school. I took all of that and applied it to the program.

We just want others to know that we aren’t trying to be therapists or teachers. We want to be sisters, because you cannot teach experience. At the end of the day, we’re teaching kindness, we’re teaching how to be expressive, and we encourage self love. I never learned that by going to university or college. I learned all of that by going through what I’ve gone through. That was the selling point, because they began to see that we weren’t out there to propose a teaching style similar to institutions that have been conducting classes since the 1950s. We were trying to  change the learning experience altogether. I won’t lie, it’s an ongoing battle, but now that we’ve been running for a few years we’re in a better position.

“BeaYOUtiful’s purpose is to change the learning experience all together.”

Girls want to be able to ask their questions without feeling scared. If someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, no offense, I dont think they want to talk to a 60 year old counsellor whom they met once at an assembly. They want someone they can sit with and feel comfortable with. Someone they can relate to. For us, it really is about making that space and if topics come up, we have mandates and protocols in place if we need to get schools, teachers or parents involved. Right now, these girls need a safe place where they can go.

How do you define success?

To me, the definition of success is happiness. If you’re constantly wanting to be better and striving for more, I think that’s an amazing quality. For myself, I always feel like it’s never enough. I accomplish one thing and immediately I’m like, now what? Sometimes, I need to take a step back, look at what I’ve accomplished, and celebrate that. If happiness for you is working a full time job with an apartment and a dog, whether married or single, then celebrate that!

I have so many friends who are globe trotters that don’t have a permanent address. That was me for a while, where I jumped back and forth, and that at the time was happiness to me. That was my own definition of success, being able to travel, learn and engage. Being truly happy and at peace with where you are doesn’t have to mean you don’t have goals you’re not working towards. If you can celebrate your health and who you have in your life, that’s success. I don’t see success in the form of money or hierarchy. You can have those goals for sure, but if you have your health and family and good people you’re constantly surrounded by, you’re doing just great!

“I don’t see success in the form of money or hierarchy. If you have good health, family and good people you’re constantly surrounded by, you’re doing just great!”

What are some sacrifices you needed to make to get to where you are right now and at the end of the day, what truly motivates you?

What truly motivates me? It’s the grind! 

I’m a full time student. I realised that if I wanted to run a business, I had to ask myself what I was willing to give up? And at this point, it’s time with friends. I’ve had to say no to going out so I can get work done. Setting up meetings takes away from family time. It’s all about balance, but for me, it’s being okay with working the extra job or going the extra mile to finish school so I can make my business flourish.

So I think the biggest sacrifice was accepting that I had to give up certain luxuries in order to have this business, but for me it was always worth it because I loved doing it. And that’s the thing, if you love whatever you’re working on, it doesn’t feel like work. I’m so focused, and excited to get things done. It’s a no-brainer. I do love to go out and have fun, but had to accept that it wasn’t going to be every single weekend any more.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who have been honest with me and said things like, “Your passion isn’t a career in this world that  makes a lot of money.” And that’s the reality.

I always think at the end of the day, can you see yourself being happy doing anything else? If the answer is no, then you’re in the right place at the right time of your life. You just have to sacrifice going on that extra vacation or by living in the suburbs as opposed to the city, or by picking up more shifts at the restaurant you work at.

My rule is to keep pursuing this project as long as I’m loving it and as soon as I fall out of love, move on. Life goes on. I just know that right now, I’m super happy.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Oh that’s such an easy question, my Mom. It’s so funny because I get asked this all the time. I can cry in a second when talking about her! She is my world. Everything I’ve learned and everything I want to be, it’s due to her perspective. I feel like everything I’m saying here has come from my Mom. Growing up, that’s what I’d hear. “You are so fortunate. You are so blessed to be healthy. How grateful we are to be living this life. Appreciate it everyday.”

Just the other night we went for dinner and she said to me, “You’re in this new chapter of your own life, and I’m so happy for you. My heart is so full to see where you are.” I feel the same way about her. I’ve seen my parents transition into a new chapter where their kids are getting older and moving out. They’re the hardest working people I know, yet the “youngest” people I’ve ever met. They work crazy hours, but they love their jobs, and they celebrate! They really know how to balance life.

Family is everything for us. My mom is behind me on everything and has pushed me to elevate myself. She really believes in what I do.

Leaders In Heels is all about nurturing, inspiring and empowering female leaders. In your own opinion and off the top of your head, what are three qualities you think a Leader In Heels would naturally possess?

Number one, she is passionate. Two, she is fearless. She is not afraid to succeed nor fail. Three, she is a hard worker, but still stays true to herself.

For more information on Taylor and BeaYOUtiful, feel free to check out www.foreverbeayoutiful.com or follow their instagram: @beayoutiful_org or Taylor’s instagram: @taylorlinhui


I had the honor of sitting down with Meagan Ayres, the founder of Project You based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Project You is a movement of women coming together to consciously elevate themselves and the world.

“It’s more than just an organization or a business, it’s a way of life,” says Meagan. From being a shy, timid girl and someone who initially lacked self confidence, Meagan decided to put her foot down and break out of her own ways. Through personal development courses and other resources as well as experiencing her own breakthroughs, she discovered her purpose and founded Project You. It later became a well sought after organization and community that was much needed in the city of Vancouver. Ladies, meet Meagan!

Meagan, thanks so much for being here today and for taking time out of your busy schedule. Can you give us a little background on yourself? Who you are and how your organization came to be?

Thanks for having me! I’m Meagan and I’ve lived in Vancouver for 5 years now, though I grew up in Ontario. When I moved to Vancouver, I really felt that people in Vancouver in general were more active with their lifestyles and were doing things to live a more purposeful life. Many people I initially made connections with had huge aspirations, big dreams and goals. I found that to be really inspiring. Believe it or not, I used to be a very closed off person. I found it difficult to speak up in larger groups and have my voice heard and I was always very timid. I often lacked confidence and was often quite nervous.

Then I thought to myself that I should really be doing something more with my life. A friend of mine at that time introduced me to Landmark a few years ago. Landmark is a global enterprise committed to the fundamental principle that people have the possibility of success, fulfilment and greatness. This program made me want to be more committed to personal growth and figure out what I wanted to do with my life and figure out what my purpose was.

That’s when I created Project You. Toward the end of the course, I had to create a project in my community that would impact society in a positive way. At that time, I was more focused on feeling a lot more confident with myself and my body, as I’d suffered through many body image issues that many young women go through. I really wanted to build a community where women could come together to feel confident in their own skin and know who they are. I also wanted to use it as a safe haven where they could figure out what they wanted to do. That was the initial idea, and since then it’s really transformed.

Initially this was a passion project for myself which developed into something for the greater community. I didn’t realize how much of an impact it would actually have. It’s interesting how quickly things can change!

How long have you been operating your organization now and would you say entrepreneurship was something that had always been of interest to you?

It will be two years in August. I feel like I was always entrepreneur focused. Even as a child, I was always trying to find ways to make money and to raise money or sell things. I always wanted to run my own business. I just didnt find the core thing as to what I wanted to do. I always had these ideas to start something, but then they would always get delayed. It really just comes down to taking action and just doing it and it took me awhile to realize that you CAN do anything you want and what your heart desires. You just have to take the necessary steps or just that ONE step to move forward.

…but it really just comes down to taking action and just doing it and it took me awhile to realize that you CAN do anything you want and what your heart desires. You just have to take the necessary steps or just that ONE step to move forward.

What does a regular work week look like for you? Is scheduling down time important? What do you enjoy doing during your spare time?

For the most part, my schedule is pretty standard. I work in fashion full time from Mondays to Fridays; as a wholesaler and doing sales for different fashion brands. That alone is a committed schedule from 10am-6pm. Typically, I wake up and get my man ready and out the door. He’s an entrepreneur himself so one of our common goals obviously is to help each other grow and succeed. In the evenings, I sometimes take other courses and immerse myself in other personal development resources. Right now, I have committed to Monday evenings being dedicated to Project You. I am incredibly grateful for my team that I have working with me on Project You to help with the workload.

Sundays are the one day I take off and I don’t do anything else. It took me awhile to figure that out in terms of just being able to schedule “me” time. I actually don’t have a lot of spare time, but one of my goals is to learn to dance more. I want to be more active, especially in a city like Vancouver where we can enjoy the scenery. I love going for walks and working out. If anything, I’d love to do more of that. Right now my boyfriend and I have a vision board project set up together so that takes a lot of our time. But I love it! We’ve pretty much envisioned our lives at 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years and 5 years for ourselves and together. Finding pictures in magazines and other inspo to constantly add to our boards can take a lot of time! I also enjoy browsing through social media and various blogs to be inspired for creating my own content. I don’t really get to do that everyday.

Meagan, what has been your biggest hurdle throughout this entire journey so far? How did it affect you and how did you handle it?

I get this question a lot in different interviews and I feel like the answer has changed everytime. You start to see things differently all the time. So much is involved with Project You from the various social media channels to running events, you really dont know how much it takes until you’re fully immersed in it all. It’s easy to get carried away. The biggest thing lately is recognizing what I actually want to be and asking myself where I want to go. The coolest part is so many people appreciate this project and want to be on the team, but at the end of the day, I need to feel aligned with where the project is going. One of my own challenges is being able to recognize my own desires and really truly honoring my own voice and what I want. I’ve become a lot better these days saying “hey, this is the direction we’re going in and I would love for you to feel aligned with it too, but if you aren’t, maybe this isnt the best opportunity for you at this time.” You have to take in and consider everyone’s opinions and ideas on the team too. Most important thing in my honest opinion is to just stay committed to your core values and mission of what you’re doing.

It can actually be very difficult sometimes to stay fully and truly aligned. But like I said, I’ve become a lot better at speaking up and having my voice heard especially when it comes to what Project You stands for.

The most important thing, in my honest opinion, is to just stay committed to your core values and mission of what you’re doing.

So with all of that in mind, how would you define success? 

For me, success is just being so devotedly committed to what your overall purpose is and actually doing whatever you can to make it happen. It’s different for everyone, but if you’re not staying committed to YOU, to me that’s not success. I also think about success as being able to boldly step outside of your comfort zone and continually doing more and playing a bigger game and showing up more and pushing yourself…. 

…if you’re not staying committed to YOU, to me that’s not success

It’s very easy to fall into the victim mentality. You know, “I cant do this, poor me.” NO, you actually can! You just need to be committed to what you want and not let anything else get in the way to get to your end goal. You have to stay focused. You have to practice self discipline. You have to think differently and know who you are FIRST and that I believe will bring you success. You have to know it’s going to take work. 

Who would you say is your biggest inspiration?

I really admire Elena Cardone. She is such a powerhouse! My boyfriend is heavily involved with Grant Cardone, Elena’s husband. Grant Cardone is a best selling author, sales trainer, speaker and entrepreneur who has worked in real estate and the auto industry. He is also the owner of Whatever It Takes, a digital network for entrepreneurs, business owners and success minded people. They have this massive empire that they’re building together, which I love. She is just so committed and disciplined. She’s all about being responsible for your own role and owning it. She is boss babe goals!

If you had advice to give to someone who was just starting their own business/organization/passion project, what would it be?

I would probably say…..just go for it. Honestly, JUST DO IT. That’s what im realizing myself. There are so many beliefs you have about yourself that can stop you in your tracks. The more you can take action and push through that, you’ll figure it out! We are so much harder on ourselves than anyone else is on us so just go for it. And be ok with something not working out. Learn to adapt and change, if need be. Be able to speak up during the entire decision making process. Be able to confront things and people and push forward. Have an open mind. Even if you’ve been in business for ten years and it’s the most amazing thing, you can probably always do more.

There are so many beliefs you have about yourself that can stop you in your tracks. The more you can take action and push through that, you’ll figure it out!

Leaders In Heels is all about nurturing, inspiring and empowering female leaders. In your own opinion, what are some qualities you think a Leader In Heels would naturally possess?

Someone who is very bold and willing to be out there and be a changemaker. Also someone who is genuine and ethical and actually cares and someone who has high standards and lives by their words. They have high integrity. Leaders In Heels are also bubbly and fun! Being able to willingly be vulnerable is a great quality too. Vulnerability means you’re real and doesn’t mean weakness. Vulnerability portrays strength and I feel a great leader would have no problem with that.

 

Check out Project You (Instagram: @iamprojectyou). You can also follow Meagan’s Instagram: @meaganayres


Marica Morales is a lifestyle coach for women focusing on self-development & financial education. She is also the founder of Inspired by Marica, an online blog created to inspire readers to continually attract abundance and confidence into their lives. As an interviewing contributor to Leaders in Heels, Marica hopes to provide value, inspiration and really empower those who cross her path.


Zeina Dalal Ossi is a handbag designer bringing together cultures. Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1974, she and her family immigrated to the United States when she was six. She originally pursued a more traditional career path working in management at American Airlines, consulting with Deloitte, and in new product development at Frito Lay. A lifelong lover of fashion and artistic pursuits, she finally took the step to begin her own business creating designer handbags that convey glamour and quality, at reasonable prices.

We sat down with her to talk about designing handbags under her brand NinoRossi, her inspirations, and her life as an entrepreneur.

 

You have beautiful and unique handbags – what makes them different from other handbags on the market?

NinoRossi’s research shows that only a few designers are offering creative and original designs, but at very high prices.  Hence, our business model is to bridge that gap where we offer distinguished designs and luxurious quality at reasonable prices.

Our forte is an artistic interpretation of style, creating designs which exemplify our motto: “The Art of the Handbag”. We begin with the finest grade of European leathers that include embossed lizard, hornback croco and anaconda snake leather, to name a few. We love color. And we love to combine and weave colors and textures into pieces of art.

From art and music comes imagination, hence the creation of beauty. Beauty that manifests itself in a good design. A good design must always express an intrinsic balance of flow while being elegant, glamourous, and rich.

Do you bring your own culture into the handbag designs, and if so, how?

Our “Inscription” Collection employs a centuries-old method of Lebanese embroidery called “Aghabani”. Aghabani was used to decorate garments, tablecloths or shawls, using threads to stitch patterns. Traditionally, this was done purely by hand in small shops by elderly ladies – a time-consuming and intricate process.

What we have done is to evolve this process into a more sophisticated method by bringing special machines together with hand and foot led movement to create what is called an “Aghabani” stitch – you can see a video of the process here. This method embroiders beautiful and colorful French silk threads onto European embossed leather using a hand-led machine to create an authentic and artistic handbag.

What inspired you to start creating handbags yourself?

I have always known that at some point in my life the focus of my passion would be in starting my own business. Now my children are in school and I have more time on my hands – and considering how much energy I have for being productive and purposeful – I decided it was the right time to begin a new venture.

Through my work experience with select Fortune 500 companies that took me around the world, I had a wide exposure to art and artisanal work which fostered a tremendous appreciation for culture.  My lifelong study of music and the arts were equally an inspiration, as was my family’s love for the finer things in life.  Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, where my father was involved in starting and developing major companies, I gained the perspective that there are no limits to what you can do.

I’d say the most important turning point was early in my life, during my study abroad in Salzburg, Austria and my subsequent travels throughout Europe. It planted the seed for what became a lifelong journey of artistic discovery in wherever beauty is expressed, be it live performances of classical music at the Vienna Musikverein (The Golden Hall), the study of impressionist paintings at the Louvre, or breathtaking views while crossing the Alps from Italy to Switzerland, to name a few.  I learned that the more I immersed myself into the study of the arts and culture, the more I could discover a deeper layer of myself.

With my love of fashion, I knew that designing handbags would draw from my own strengths, experiences and passion.  I truly enjoy interpreting each design to satisfy the lifestyles of today’s discriminating woman. It was not so much a risk as much as it was rewarding to be able to see so many pieces of my life come together.

And, with this decision came the ability to fulfill my goal of supporting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, a charity which has been near to my heart since my mother passed away of cancer in 2011.

What is it like to be in business with your dad, and what roles do each of you cover?

My dad is a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to business. He is also well traveled and well read, so he brings an open and multi-faceted perspective to everything we do.  We also have an association which is quite special. We have a lot in common, which fosters a deep understanding of one another – we often finish each other’s sentences!  Our roles evolved in a complementary manner, as we work closely together on every aspect of our business model from design and marketing to finance.

When it comes to production, my dad plays the major role.  While we work closely together on all the aspects of the business, my dad takes a direct responsibility for seeing that the designs are sampled and produced exactly as agreed upon.  This is done through a reputable factory in Lebanon which my dad has contracted with for producing samples as well as production of inventory.

How do you manage overseas production?

Upon finalizing each group of designs, my dad travels to Lebanon for around two months, where he works with stylists and sample makers at the factory to produce the samples, and offers various choices for hardware. The samples are then shipped to Jacksonville with DHL for our evaluation and for any changes, if necessary. Sometimes, samples may require more than one trip to get them exactly right. Subsequently, we create final patterns for each of the designs together with all the selected hardware to be ready for production. Finally, we put in place a rigorous quality control for production.

My dad travels to Lebanon as frequently as needed, depending on what new designs we have in the making.  He also gets to meet with representatives of European tanning companies in Lebanon, getting samples of new leathers and new colors.

Why did you choose Lebanon as the main place to create the handbags?

Lebanon has always been a center for art and creativity. It’s given birth to many world-renowned fashion designers, such as Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Reem Acra, whose dresses steal the spotlights at red carpet events with gowns made for Hollywood celebrities. Beirut is known as the “Paris of the Middle East”, not just for its cultural vibe, but also for the remnants of its status as a French colony during the second World War. The city is rife with Parisian-style cafes, as the city is constantly alive with art showings, plays and poetry nights.  Even the streets and architecture stand true to the nickname.

As a result, Beiruit is famous as a fashion capital in the Middle East, and a major world hub. Downtown Beirut and its souks are a hub for luxury shopping in the region, boasting names like Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Christian Dior, among others. It’s not only the city that makes Lebanon such a hub for fashion but also the locals.  The Lebanese have proved more understanding of  cultural change. Trends catch on, and Lebanese high society are quick to consume fashion goods. Gucci is a household name. Cultural enrichment and beauty is readily embraced by much of the population.

From that perspective, and because of our connection to Lebanon’s artisanal tools of production, we chose Lebanon for manufacturing, as it has a strong emphasis on quality.

What was your biggest challenge in business, and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge was to understand the market and define NinoRossi’s business model.  There was a tremendous amount of research to be done in understanding the marketplace, and then in determining where we would fit in.  And of course with production being overseas, we had to plan well and work efficiently to keep our costs down.

There were so many hurdles to overcome – research, product positioning, design, production, as well as online marketing and advertising. So I am most surprised by how well things have come together in an efficient and cost effective manner.

What are three pieces of advice you would give to someone starting out in business for the first time?

  1. Have a good business plan and continually reevaluate your roadmap. Plans are necessary but are constantly in transition.
  2. Take in as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have…seek critical feedback.
  3. Quality and passion should always be main ingredients.

What is a typical day for you? How do you maintain work-life balance?

At this stage with NinoRossi, it’s all about marketing.  We are continually assessing our marketing strategies.  We are constantly looking for opportunities and working to steer our business in the proper channels. We also persistently monitor the market for future product and design direction.

On a personal level, I have three children, ages 12, 11 and 9, and they are my first priority.  I am involved in their school and also with them in all their after school activities, which range from violin and piano, to tennis and swimming.  My day starts at 8am after I drop off my kids at school and ends at 2:30pm when I leave to pick them up from school.  During those hours, I work on NinoRossi, exercise, run errands, cook, have coffee or lunch with a friend, and make plans for my family.  I have a loving husband who is very supportive of me and my vision and that helps things go smoothly.  My father is also tremendously helpful in lending a hand with my kids.

Having an online business allows for so much freedom. Freedom of staying in your workout clothes all day, or approving ad campaigns in your pajamas.  While a photoshoot would have to end by 2:30pm, most of my work can continue throughout the day and around my other responsibilities.

Okay, now for some fun questions! What is currently lying on your bedside table?

Photos of my kids, parents, brother and grandparents. Also, “Pride and Prejudice”, by Jane Austen.

What couldn’t you leave home without?

A snack. I’m always hungry. ?

Who is your favourite designer or fashion brand and why?

We have always admired Louis Vuitton for their quality and beautiful designs.  My vision for NinoRossi is an artistic and vibrant image for today’s woman.


With so many handbags in the marketplace, NinoRossi provides clarity to women in their search for the right handbag.  A handbag that offers authenticity and luxury, as well as value. You can take a look at their full range here!