How to Channel the Energy that Comes from Change to Create a Positive Impact with Catherine Tong

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YOU CAN LISTEN TO OUR CHAT WITH CATHERINE BY CLICKING HERE.

Good Change

I think most of us have experienced some sort of change in our lives, or we've seen close friends or relatives undergo massive changes. We all know it can be really hard to overcome the obstacles of major change.

Here, we look at how to channel the energy that comes from change and create a really positive impact. Making changes is something that's really close to our own hearts, and we're always inspired by people who are making positive changes and doing really good things out there.

Catherine Tong, founder and CEO of The Skin Wardrobe lived in Sweden for five years, moved back into a senior corporate job, but decided to completely change direction and her career after her return. She's now built a company which is using her contacts and her learnings and inspirations from Sweden to start up The Skin Wardrobe.

The Skin Wardrobe sells selected ranges of Scandinavian makeup and skincare brands that Catherine has hand picked herself. Her philosophy is about making things simple for women. For me, personally, it's a bit of a juggle in terms of what makeup to choose specifically each day and especially after kids and Catherine’s managed to create a range of products to really simplify these choices. What I really love is her increasing sustainable focus that she's driving on her packaging, also her key messages and how she chooses to use the company name to drive positive change for women.

Good Change

Catherine, talk us through how you got to where you are today.

Catherine

Well, if we’re talking about the Skin Wardrobe journey, for me, I have spent fifteen years in corporate human resources both in New Zealand, London, Paris and Stockholm, which is where I ended up in the later stages of my career. We returned to New Zealand as a family. A couple of years ago, something changed, so I reconnected with a very close friend, Anna Katherine Sherman, from Sweden and she came to visit us with her family. We hadn't actually connected for about eight years (other than on social media) but in that time she had started her own online skin care clinic. She started from her garage actually in 2011, and she now owns a multimillion-dollar multi-brand ecommerce business, and she's been a huge success and a total inspiration for me.

So when she came down to New Zealand with her family, my husband and I spent a lot of time talking with her and her husband, who was the CEO at the time, about the journey and the enormous success and change that they'd been through and something happened in that moment when we were connecting. We took them around New Zealand and showed them our beautiful country and we ended up on Langs Beach one morning. We jumped in and it was actually in that moment when her and I were floating around chatting that she looked at me and said, what about Make The Make now? Make The Make was her first in-house brand that she'd created herself - high-performance makeup brand with active skin care ingredients, so skin care first and then make up so the whole range of makeup, not just a few things. It was just a total moment, so the first thing that came out of my mouth was, YES, and I didn't actually know the solution, but I knew it was a YES. So we ran back up to the house, talked to the guys, there was a quick conversation between her and her husband in Swedish and we said that we would sit on it. They returned to Sweden and within a few weeks, we'd had a heart to heart, and I decided that it was now or never. So, I booked a ticket, my husband and I jumped on a plane, flew to Sweden and met them, went through their business and signed up our first brand.

In the meantime, I’d returned to work, I’d quit my career. Everyone was asking what my next corporate HR job was, and I said, “well, actually, I’m going to start a makeup company”, and that's really all I knew. But since then, we've evolved and I now have created my own business, my own purpose, my own vision at The Skin Wardrobe. It's an advanced skin care and makeup business that curates high performance brands from Scandinavia. So we now have six brands going on seven, eight that all sit in a beautiful spot in my heart and in The Skin Wardrobe.

Good Change

Amazing! Is there anything else that you can add in terms of motivation?

Catherine

Well, I mean, my friend was the initial pivot and the source of inspiration and really, in some ways, she was handing me a gift to begin my journey and after that, it was up to me. It's been very solo, but I’ve sought inspiration both from her success, but also every time I’ve met a brand that has fit The Skin Wardrobes philosophy, it's been a huge wave of inspiration for me. So it's often been a new category and so new learnings, but I’m so proud of all the companies that I deal with and because I deal directly with the founders of each business, I know right to the core, what they're about and when it speaks to me and it sings to me, then I have another wave of inspiration and learning. And that's just I guess projected me to go on but I will say, it's not easy. I mean, I worked in a world where I was a total expert, everybody came to me for all their HR needs. I’ve always had the answers. I was surrounded by a team and lots of people, and then you leave everything you know or everything that you thought you knew to start something completely new and solo. So, I spend a lot of time on my own soul searching but what I’ve learned is that actually I brought a lot of what I am and a lot of what I knew into this business. I’ve sat around board tables, I’ve sat on leadership teams and I've dealt with a huge range of people and concerns, and all of that has actually come into The Skin Wardrobe, so it's not really starting again; it's just capturing the skills that you have and finding another passion.

Good Change

And I don't think you actually realize that all the jobs that you have had in the lead up to doing something like what you've done are just adding to that little toolbox of knowledge.

Catherine

So you never actually starting from scratch because you come with something.

Good Change

Exactly, on the note of where we have come from and where you are today, what are some of the key obstacles from moving from a corporate role into your current business and how have you managed to overcome those?

Catherine

Look as I said, you know, going solo and finding motivation in itself. I guess the question that you mentioned in your intro, is that how do you find that sort of passion when you're going through change. It comes completely naturally when you tap into something you're passionate about. So you know the motivation to get up every day and do what you're doing only applies to things that you're passionate about, so luckily, I found something I never knew I was so passionate about but actually, it's not just about the makeup or the skincare, it's about what it does for women. So I have woman who say they are lost and confused and they have tried everything in the skin care and makeup category. They’re frustrated and overwhelmed, and I’m finding a solution for them that delivers results. To see the transformation and women's confidence is also hugely inspiring. So I take an enormous amount of inspiration from my customers. So, giving women confidence is a huge part of what I do, and it gives me inspiration. And then the last thing is the brand founders that I partner with. The good work that they do, the passion that they have, rubs off on me. So obstacles, well, I was a year into business when Covid hit so I would say that I’ve been relatively obstacle free other than having the guts to do what I’m doing. That's been a huge obstacle until Covid hit and it really threw me because I just didn't know what would happen with my products, in my relationships and, so there were some really terrifying months where I thought that’s it, it’s over, it's been great, but I can't survive this. But luckily, I partnered with solid, well-grounded businesses who had ridden much bigger storms than we have in Scandinavia but they've ridden through it. So I think I learned a lesson and that is to only partner with the companies that you know have good foundations, and because of that, we supported each other through Covid, so that was another big challenge.

Good Change

So we're also looking at your company philosophy, which I just love because it's all about keeping things simple and keeping things simple for women. So when you have that philosophy, is that something you translate into everyday life and how would you do that?

Catherine

Yes, well, I’m a personal self-confessed minimalist so I love a simple decluttered life and I do not want woman to feel the overwhelmed when they enter into beauty or fashion houses, so I’m here to curate. simplicity in your routines, but actually there's a huge amount of complexity behind the individual products that you choose. So I do all the hard work and finding those brands that perform that have quite a lot of complexity within them, but as a result of that, you’re simplifying your routine, so I’m all about. So, results driven skincare and makeup that has a lot of research and science behind the individual products that you don't need to worry about because I’ve brought them to you and just a slow conscious consumerism about your skin care and makeup routines, and that really gives me joy.

Good Change

That really resonates with Stine and I , because we've got three little kids each and I just love the way you can just simplify putting on makeup because it's a very hurried rushed world that we live in. There's a lot of noise out there, so just to be able to get up in the morning and just put on something that that's going to work that is simple and straightforward.

And I also love how you can just few choose a few simple things. With Covid we've started clearing out our houses because all of a sudden, after spending so much time inside, you don’t need the clutter anymore and you need to get rid of a few things. I’ve personally taken that mantra with me so I like to keep things simple and just have a few good things, both in terms of the clothing I wear, but certainly also in terms of makeup. You know, you don't need a thousand shades.

Catherine

Right, and look, I actually find a huge amount of joy in my skincare makeup routine, so in the evening, I love being in the bathroom and doing my layering of all my skin care. I'm not saying I’m spending an hour in there, but those ten minutes I might take just for me. It's my meditation and in the morning I love doing my makeup and so if you want to take time and indulge in it, go for it but if you want simplicity, that's also present in the products that we offer to you.

Good Change

Brilliant. So when I look at what you do…you're on a mission with your business to help women feel the most confident and radiant, but at the same time you're also passionate about supporting women in business, and you hold it as one of your key pillars. What drives you to want to do this because you've been very supportive of us as a business as well. What is the driver there?

Catherine

Well it's a good question because I don't know, but it's obviously one of my key passions that I’ve tapped into. When I left my corporate life and I am also a busy mom of three and a puppy, (so I’m going to say four that's what it feels like), but I knew when I left, the one to two hour commute every day, plus a full time corporate job to start my business that there would be more time in my day to dedicate to women and I’ve had an eye on a charity called Dress for Success for a long time, so I say to myself, you will make room for this as well as your business. But, as I started the business, I went to them and I applied to become a volunteer which was quite a process to do so, and I’m so glad I did that from the beginning, because there's always been room in my life for charity since I started my business. It's incredibly humbling, it's incredibly rewarding. I loved my career in human resources, so it was a bit sad to say goodbye to it, but funnily enough, it's come full circle because I’m now a qualified career coach at Dress for Success. I also dress women but they've tapped into my HR skill set, so I get to do a bit of my old life, give something back to women, and then it's very grounding because owning your own business can be all consuming, and you do get quite, you know, uni focused on it, and it takes me out of that. And that joy I get from walking in those doors and how I feel when I walk out and that I can make a real difference to women's lives. So that's obviously one of my passion projects and it's just really come about both in my business, but absolutely, if you can spare some time, even if it's a couple of hours a fortnight, then do it because it really does enhance your life in the end for others.

Good Change

I think you get to a certain age in your life as well, where it's not about making money. It's about giving back, and it's doing something positive and the satisfaction that you get from that is just all consuming. So I totally get where you’re coming from there. In terms of other ways you are doing good, I know that you are on your own sustainability journey with your products. Can you just tell us a little bit about that?

Catherine

Okay, well, I’ve always been environmentally conscious, so when I started the business, all the small decisions that I made had to fit well in my conscience. From the very beginning, things like how is the customer going to get my product and how is it going to be moved around and in what packaging etc was all part of my decision making, so it's really easy in the early days to get ‘wooed’ by beautiful glitzy boxes with lots of colored printing etc. As soon as I found out that the box was covered in a thin layer of plastic and therefore couldn't go in your curbside recycling, I was like, ‘no way’! So, we stripped it right back and went right back to raw boxes, so those little decisions along the way, all had to sit well with me. The other thing that I was really conscious about was working only with New Zealand organizations, so I could get right close to the founders like I do with my brands to ask them the hard questions, like where does the sticker come from, where does this paper come from, where is this tissue sourced from, etc, and so supporting kiwi businesses is huge because I am a kiwi business, even though obviously my products come from Scandinavia. So that was the first thing I did, and then I worked directly with all the founders. They are all doing amazing individual environmental actions and activities.

One of my brands is very focused on only using certified papers for the packaging. They have a passion for the bees and the environment, and so they donate a portion of their profits to their Perfect World Foundation, which is supporting bees and beekeepers. Our latest brand, (M)ANASI 7 has seven amazing sustainable activities and principles. Their whole brand is founded on high performance and small batch production, so none of my brands want to be everywhere. They do not want to be this mass market brand that overproduces. They just want to pick people like me who are very conscious about how the product gets out and not over consumption. And then I have an organic brand Maria Akerberg, and she is outstanding in her field. So the things that we're talking about now they were doing ten or fifteen years ago.

So, I get inspiration from there, but then I have to come and look at my own backyard as well as to how I run my business, no just from the little activities, but the big principles. So I’ve just started a partnership with a company to make sure that non curbside recycling products will go somewhere and gets repurposed, and so I’m really excited about that journey, cause that was something that was I was very conscious of and they've just launched beauty boxes in New Zealand. I reuse the packaging that comes from Sweden. I very rarely bin things, so I leave a really small footprint but every time I do something I’ve got that little person on my shoulder saying, oh, but what about this, but what about that. So it's a continuous journey every day. You have to wake up and ask yourself the hard questions, and I hope that that continues right throughout The Skin Wardrobe journey.

Good Change

And you've mentioned some of the brands that you work with and the journey on sustainability in terms of overall trends overseas. Do you feel like they are ahead of the eight ball? Ahead of New Zealand?

Catherine

I hate to say it, but stepping into Scandinavia, as we did a couple of years ago is really like stepping into the future. I mean, when we lived there (and we left ten years ago), plastic bags were banned, so they're literally ten to fifteen years ahead of where we are. It's no disrespect to New Zealand. Our progress was hampered because we just don't have access to the same resources. We're not part of a global community like Europe is. So, they are doing amazing things in Europe, and I seek a lot of inspiration there. They have curbside recycling but they also have, remember when you were children and you used to take your coke bottle to a bank and get five cents or whatever? Well, they have these sort of banks that sit on the curb side and you can scan your products. That’s got a little computer in it and you scan it and you dump it in there and get a credit back. You can either donate to a cause or you can get a credit back to the place that you shopped, so it's just the future. I mean, if I wasn't doing Skin Wardrobe, I’d probably be looking at that for New Zealand, and I hope someone does. But all these amazing initiatives that are happening over there inspire me and make me ask the hard questions every day.

Good Change

Do you have any groups that you're part of where you meet like minded woman who have sort of parallel ethos or principles to you and what's the importance of meeting and talking to other like-minded women to feel the positive change, not just in terms of sustainability but in terms of making any sort of positive change within your field.

Catherine

Yes. Well, first I will say it's so important to get out of your own head and your own office and environment when you're working solo because it can be all consuming and it's so inspiring and motivating to meet others, and yes, women, of course, because it's you know, part of my ethos. So we have a small women in business, creators and bosses, type group that myself and my girlfriend Charlotte who owned Airs and Graces and Raw Artistry started, and we just gathered up like minded women who were running small businesses and we meet every six weeks and we have an external speaker that comes in and talks for half the meeting and the other half we just totally cannot stop talking. And so we share the highs and lows of business, we inspire, we collaborate.
And then I try and go to other charity events. You know, pink ribbon breakfast things where a lot of women are together in one place. I always try and give something otherwise it can be really lonely. I mean, I now have a couple of amazing people supporting me part time in my business, but it's really important to get out and about.

Good Change

Especially after being in the corporate world as well, when you've been surrounded with these big teams and leadership groups.

Catherine

And so I have people needing me all day long, and then no one talks to you for days, and you have to find it within yourself. So do look external. There's so much inspiration in New Zealand as well.

Good Change

For those of us who may be going through a change right now or know someone who is that they want to support we would love to hear what would your top three tips be on how to spiral a change into a positive impact based on all we've talked about with your story and what you've achieved.

Catherine

I think, seeking advice and constructive feedback from others and not everybody because if you go for advice from everybody you will never survive. But those who you trust and believe and those who are successful in the field that you may be entering or successful in the sort of change that you're facing. Do seek advice from people that will encourage and nurture you and give you constructive feedback if they feel that you could be molded in a different way or think about something from a different angle. My husband has been a huge part of my inspiration and he has all the skill sets that I didn't think I have, and he inspires me and motivates me every day to do this business. So that would be my first piece of advice. A second piece is recognize if you're struggling and not coping because there have been times that it's been really hard and I think, oh gosh, do I need support in some way. Don't be afraid to ask for support and whatever you need when you're going through change, but also, on the other hand, if it's just you having a moment, have a little conversation with yourself and tell yourself to just suck it up and get on with it. So sometimes you think too much about things. One of the reasons for my success so far has been that I just do it. It doesn't have to be perfect. If you have a task or something, or you want to launch a conversation with your customers, just get up and write a list and do it. And they often put you in a bit of mindset anyway. Just action it. That really gets me going and then helps me tackle the difficult things, too.

Good Change

Yeah, that really resonates with us because at Good Change we talk about doing things eighty percent. If it’s not always one hundred percent, don't worry, because if you search for perfection and then you don't actually achieve that perfection that can be incredibly disappointing.

Catherine

It can be a downward spiral because then you beat yourself up and then you say you can't do this and that, but if you do lots of little things that you can tick off and set you on a good path for the day, that really helps me.

Good Change

Brilliant, amazing. thank you so much, Catherine just so much learning there in terms of the energy that you can get from change and how to remain positive through different areas of change in your life.

Catherine

Can I say I love your business and I’m really inspired by you. We met you quite early days for your business and mine. I use your cloths every day, by the way and I’m super inspired by. I love that you guys are such a great team. I think you complement each other so beautifully and you really inspired me, when we first met. You're both amazing to doing great work.

Good Change

Thanks Catherine

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