CIIARA: A Fashion Label With A Social Conscience
Chiara To has always known that she wanted to work in a space that focussed on wellbeing and making a positive social impact. Today, the founder of CIIARA speaks to She Mentors about her new dance-inspired fashion label with a social conscience, and openly shares the habits she’s cultivated to make herself fearless and successful in business.
This is a super exciting time for you! You recently started a new social impact fashion label for women called CIIARA – tell us everything! How does it work? What was your mission going in?
CIIARA is about empowering women – both the wearer (through comfort, quality fabrics and beautiful designs), as well as via the charities we support. We have pledged to donate half of all profits to charities that support women, and we currently work with Blue Dragon Children's Foundation in Hanoi to support their work rescuing victims of sex trafficking. We aren't profitable yet, but in the interim we donate 10% of sales – until we can break even hopefully sometime soon! I've visited this charity twice and we have a written agreement in place.
Going into this business, I was inspired by my love of latin dancing, hence all the clothing designed are made for movement/function as well as style. I knew at the start that I wanted to have a social impact side to the business, but it did take a few months to refine this idea and have a clear way of making a difference and measuring this. Having said that, being a female myself, I was very keen to ensure that the brand was focused on women and addressing the specific challenges that we face globally!
"I had a lot of people doubting my vision to to start with, but I had to keep thinking about the bigger picture and why this felt so right to me."
More than just a fashion label, we're also about empowering women through building community. Hence in addition to our social media forums, ciiaradance (Facebook) and @ciiara.dance (Instagram), we've just started running networking events and female meetup groups. Our next major one will be a luncheon in early December, where we'll be working with Yooralla catering (a social enterprise creating opportunities for young people with disabilities), as well as featuring inspiring speakers.
We know you have a background in healthcare and we’d love to know more about where you started. Which do you feel are the most important pathways, skills and lessons that have shaped you?
I started out working as a pharmacist and then slowly building a corporate career within healthcare – mostly in project management, so I've always been in a working space that focused on wellbeing and changing lives. Having said that, I really advocate for extracurricular activities where we can further extend our learnings about life and find other creative outlets for ourselves. For me, these activities have included, for example, exercise (yoga, martial arts, dance), volunteering, playing the piano and spiritual practice (I'm Buddhist, so meditating or going to the monastery).
I think the most important lessons and pathways that have shaped me have been my true conviction from an early age of the importance of having a meaningful life (i.e. making an impact on others in a positive way). As well as a self-belief that I can achieve anything I really want to. Both of these mindsets have been formed over many years of self-reflection (e.g. learning from difficult experiences in life, seeking answers via books/therapy/ other teachers), conscious intention (i.e. taking action and using willpower to direct our frame of mind and behaviours), as well as the influence of people around me (family and friends).
Which three qualities/skills should an entrepreneur cultivate to be fearless and successful in business?
1) Self belief. Know what you truly believe in, what resonates with your soul, and stick with it. There will always be naysayers or even over-helpful advice givers, but at the end of the day this is your business and only you know what are the right decisions to make. I had a lot of people doubting my vision to to start with (including family), but I had to keep thinking about the bigger picture and why this felt so right to me. In order to strengthen our self-belief, it's really important to know ourselves, and take care of ourselves emotionally, physically and spiritually.
2) Take action. It's all well and good to have ideas and plans, but you need to make the leap and just start taking action. When I started our FB page I was scared that no-one would follow it, and I was worried that my designs wouldn't be popular. But the worst thing that can happen if you try is that you end up back to where you started (albeit with a bit less time and money). So it's important to do your research and plan right. But in the end, for anything to happen you need to just start doing things.
3) Find the right people. Follow your intuition and seek the right people to support you. We don't live as hermits in this society, and in order to reach our greatest potential we will need help and support from others. So give back and help others, and in return the Universe will also help you find the people you need. When I started planning for CIIARA in January 2018, I had absolutely no experience in fashion and no idea how to turn a design idea into an actual garment. But I found that many times during this journey, life helped me seek out exactly what I needed.
We love the Ciiara.com marketing aesthetic! What’s your approach to great marketing?
Be genuine and capture authenticity – at CIIARA we're all about being grounded yet classy. Most of the models we use and the people we work with are through my own networks. If you look at our IG and FB pages, we're not about using filters or having really glam photos; we want our followers to truly feel part of a community. Also know what your vision is so you can project this in your marketing – ours is to build community and inspire women (not necessarily to sell a product each time we post).
I still have so many more ideas about marketing, such as approaching women off the streets to feature on our pages!
If you could go back in time and change one thing to make your ‘right now’ better, what would you do differently?
Not worry so much about minor things; I've learnt to let go a bit more. For example, when one of our first products came out, I was really concerned when the fit was slightly different to our samples so I spent a lot of time and money fixing this. But what I realised is that consumers don't really notice these things and there are better ways to move past problems then having to fix everything so it's exactly as you originally planned. Nothing will work out exactly as you planned, so it's better to pick your battles and let small things go. I'd probably be less stressed overall if I'd followed this approach from the beginning.
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