This article was originally posted on Women's Agenda - Australia's leading online publication for career-minded women.
Growing up, what kind of career did you want to pursue?
Anything and everything! I wanted to be an astronaut, a professional netball player, a poet, geologist, and a lawyer. I have always been a passionate and curious person with big dreams. "Why not?” is always my attitude.
Who inspires you?
My co-founders Fi and Sharna, they are the most driven and determined women I've ever met. We created The Fabric Social because of our collective work in livelihood projects for women in conflict affected areas. Next thing you know, we are business partners. Fi taught herself how to code html, Sharna immersed herself in the intricacies of fabric production, there’s nothing our team can’t do given a little time and encouragement. We are best mates, business partners, and mentors to each other at all times.
Who (apart from you) is most surprised by your achievements?
The women weavers we work with in Assam. They have been so proud to see their fabric being worn with pride by women across the globe. Inside every item of clothing made by The Fabric Social you will see on the tag, the names of the individual weaver who created that very fabric. Our supporters can write a note to the weaver directly and thank her for her beautiful work. All of those notes reach our weavers and it really means a lot to them to know that women support their craft and are proud to support their cause for equality and peace in Assam.
How have women helped shape your success to date?
I was raised by a single mum and that pretty much sums it up. My mother's relentless dedication to her children and their future has been catalytic to anything that I have achieved or had the opportunity to pursue.
Growing up in the South Australian desert, my mum really blessed us with a variety of experiences outside the normal purview of many Australian kids growing up in cities. She’s an incredibly selfless woman who has taught me a lot about being tough on the outside and soft on the inside. Equal parts strength and humility are gifts that my mother has taught me through her own lived experiences.
What qualities do you most admire in a female colleague?
I really admire women colleagues who just jump at the opportunity to showcase their talents and take risks. I also really admire women who maintain their humanity as professionals. A bit of humour and a cheeky subversive attitude is always welcome.
What's the key to successfully balancing work and life?
This is the trickiest question to ask a social entrepreneur since what we create is such a refection and expression of ourselves. This makes it hard to see where the work ends and life begins. I guess the main take home point would be that I don’t beat myself up every single time things get a little unbalanced. Things have a way of balancing out naturally.
If you had an afternoon to yourself, how would you spend it?
Probably sleep till noon, not bother with pants, and write some spoken word poetry that I punish my poor family and friends with. I’m also a swan valley girl in Perth, so a drop of wine wouldn’t go wasted on me either.
Who do you regard as your mentor?
My mentor is a senior solicitor Janette McCahon. She is an insightful feminist and incredible role model for women in the legal profession. She epitomises what it means to lead as a female and support young women in their specific challenges as professionals. She has taught me a lot about owning my time and taking on responsibility early on in my career.
I’ve also had mentorship from Adam Silvester, associate director of Macquarie Bank, who has revolutionised the way I think of business development in social enterprise. Adam has really made a significant impact on how we run The Fabric Social as a business for social good and his advice has taught me a lot about the role of social enterprise in our changing world.
What personal attributes have you used to overcome adversity in your life?
I lost my younger brother to suicide this year. He was only 24. He was an old soul who wore the weight of the world on his shoulders. His passing has taught me what courage feels like. He lived his life through his own values and danced to nobody else’s tune. I always thought I was the same, but now I know that I still need to work on it, because living true to yourself comes at all kinds of costs, even heartache and depression. But there is a place for sadness in overcoming adversity. The ability to feel the sadness of others and feel empathy brings immense potential for compassion and that’s what I hope The Fabric Social can do for the world - bring healing, empathy, and compassion back to the world.
If you could make one change to women's lives, what would it be and why?<
The ability to feel competent, capable, and utterly deserving of all the good that presents itself. Success starts with opportunity, which is born of complete gender equality. The Fabric Social isn't rocket science; it's about empowering women and girls in the world’s most volatile places to become leaders in their own community for their own community. If The Fabric Social can alleviate the burden of poverty that prevents women from being heard in this important process, then we are half way there already!
What is the hardest part of your job?<
Finding partners who truly support trade for social good! Social enterprise is the new buzzword but to me it’s the only logical way forward. I have experience in international aid and development and I see a disconnect between the women's livelihood projects in volatile areas, and the consumers on the other side of the world who want to support. Because The Fabric Social is a for-profit and for-women venture we become immediately ineligible for the kind of funding that we could really put to good use in conflict affected communities. Luckily with competitions like UN Women & MasterCard Project Inspire we get to be in the spotlight because of the very fact we are using innovation to create a sustainable business that makes meaningful social impact!
Being a finalist in this competition has definitely made the hardest part of the job feel a little bit easier, it reminds me that we are on the right path with our vision and we should do it our way or no way at all. But most of all we are so proud to represent Australia in this competition, which has been on our wish list since The Fabric Social’s inception. Everyone involved in our project is absolutely stoked too! Fingers crossed!
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to success in your field?
Do before you are ready, nothing puts a spanner in the works like feeling you are in a chicken-and-egg scenario. It does nothing but stall success.
I would also say that sharing the journey with others is crucial to success. If we were too precious with The Fabric Social and kept others locked out because it was “just ours" then it would never be able to grow and flourish. We love to take on volunteers and consultants who can help us and who share our passion. We are very honest about not having all the answers, and when we take talented and passionate individuals with us on the way we grow exponentially. It truly takes a village to do what we do!
Katie Rose is co-founder of The Fabric Social, a Perth based ethical fashion social enterprise which has been shortlisted for MasterCard's Project Inspire. They work exclusively with women affected by armed conflict, pioneering a new wave of economic independence not dependent on charity.