Catherine van der Meulen has evolved from SUPRÉ heir, working in the fast fashion industry, to change agent. In mid-2019 Catherine launched Entrepreneurial Women with Purpose focused on supporting, educating and investing in purpose-driven female entrepreneurism.
Moving from Australia with her two children to Awatere Valley in Marlborough for a ‘trial year’ saw Catherine start connecting with business women from across New Zealand. All “successful, diverse, interesting, thought provoking, status quo challenging women, who were living and breathing many life roles on any given day,” Catherine explains. “Women who had created incredible businesses focused on more than just acquiring profit”.
Catherine has studied what role purpose plays in business, and how being passionate and purpose-driven are the keys to entrepreneurial success.
New Zealand is currently ranked fourth for women entrepreneurs at 33 percent behind Uganda (34 percent), Russia (35 percent) and Ghana (46 percent), and EWWP hopes to encourage women to grow that number over the next decade.
Catherine launched Entrepreneurial Women with Purpose to grow a community supported by events for entrepreneurial women offering education, empowerment and investment to harness growth that has positive social and environmental impacts. Catherine’s vision is to create a Women’s Impact Investment Fund, offering growth capital to businesses who deliver social/environmental impact alongside financial returns.
A highly driven and results-focused professional with twenty years’ experience, Catherine has worked across domestic and international business brands, primarily in the fashion industry. Her core skill set lies in leadership, stakeholder management, partnerships, business management, thought leadership, new revenue models, strategy and public interest. In 2018 she was accepted into the Observership Program, run in partnership with the Australian Institute of Company Directors as part of their Not for Profit Board course.
- Keynote Speaker
- Panel discussions
- Media commentator on purpose
- Workshop facilitator
Here’s your chance to learn more about one of New Zealand’s successful entrepreneurs
What is an entrepreneur?
For me an entrepreneur is really about a mindset. Someone who challenges the status quo, someone who takes calculated risks, thinks outside the square to come up with solutions to the most wicked problems, someone who doesn’t get caught up in others’ opinions or judgment and just gives it a go.
Entrepreneurs really take off their blinkers and look for opportunities to dig their heels into, try something new and engage as many people as possible to go on the journey with them.
Everyone has a little entrepreneurialism within them, we just need to nurture it for it to shine. Even if you don’t have your own business, or big projects, many influential people used their mindset to drive from a place of authentic leadership. This to me is an entrepreneur.
What essential skills led to your success of being appointed international brand manager at SUPRÉ early on in your career.
I had been with the business for seven years when we created this role. It was certainly a role that I designed for myself taking all of the components of the things that I loved about my role, the work that I was doing and the projects that we had developed. It brought a collective of skills together of mine including marketing, campaigning, partnerships, stakeholder management, strategy and building a future proof and sustainable organisation design with the BRAND as the centre piece.
We were working across a number of markets including Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia connecting to our predominantly female teen audience, developing a brand that had soul, purpose and a true reason for being, beyond just selling fashion.
What is your purpose and drive behind founding Entrepreneurial Women with Purpose?
First and foremost the purpose is about having a positive impact in supporting women across New Zealand and the Pacific in the growth of their organisations and building sustainable communities through three dimensional funding and investment, education and supporting them to develop a mindset to design businesses and organisations that directly meet the needs of the world socially and environmentally. We no longer have the opportunity to create businesses that have one sole focus, being profit, so by starting with the impact first for me was the most crucial part of the project development.
You grew up in Sydney working alongside your parents who were building SUPRÉ into a hugely successful business, how did your upbringing prepare you for business life?
I was five when I was unofficially an employee of the company. We would spend our weekends at our market stalls, in the factory and on the shop floor so it was a natural progression for me to go into the family business. When I started I had no idea which area of the business I would love and find my place in, so I spent time in lots of different areas in retail, online, marketing, buying and product development to get an understanding of all of the layers and mechanics of the business.
Mum and Dad worked incredibly hard to build the business, keep it all going and worked tirelessly to make it all happen and put three girls through private school education, so I am eternally grateful for what they carved out for us.
By watching their strength, courage and abilities day in and day out, it set the tone of what my nature is, not giving up and making things happen. If one thing doesn’t work or go to plan, come back to the reason you are in it and what you are wanting to achieve and find another way to make it happen. These are definitely attributes I am constantly navigating with the launch of Entrepreneurial Women with Purpose and moving from Australia to live in New Zealand.
Why is supporting other women, especially with business ideas in the sustainability space, important to you?
I truly believe that we can no longer afford to create businesses that are purely designed to generate an income and create profit. It’s a business model of the past and not one for the future. My passions and interests are around creating businesses or organisations that actually solve a problem or that a customer actually needs not just for the sake of another organisation. Taking it back thousands of years to the origins of trading, it was the need to solve an issue. We have gotten carried away designing lots of new things, but we need to take it back to the basics to ensure that it aligns with creating an environment where all stakeholders win – including employees, management, the environment, shareholders, governments and everyone in between.
In creating sustainable organisations for the future, there are a few key and fundamental rules of the new model which are based on love, happiness and emotional contracts. For me, working with women was never something intentional or deliberate, it was just more so what I enjoyed and followed that route. There was always a candid and fluid conversation with interconnected interests with women, so for me I just continued to connect on this path.
How did you end up settling in Awatere Valley in Marlborough?
Our family bought a house here 12 years ago, when SUPRÉ was in its height and last year after a few life changes, and a desire for change I decided that we would move here for the year, and give the children an opportunity to immerse themselves into a country and rural upbringing which is bound by the values I want them to carry for their future.
The year has become an indefinite future, as we are all very happy here, it’s a great lifestyle and there are amazing opportunities here. New Zealand is being run by a dynamic and admirable woman and until the day that she says yes to speaking at one of our events, we will be here in that pursuit.
What has been the biggest career (or life) lesson you have learnt so far?
Know who YOU are. By getting to the truth of who you are, what’s important to you, your reason for being and being on your own life path, not someone else’s journey or plan for you, this creates the best version of you to lead you to a successful future.
When I truly connected to who I was, what was important to ME, my life completely changed in a positive way, filled with success and abundance but not in a material sense. Success for me means so many things but ultimately, it’s about happiness. If I am happy, my children are content, my business is successful. If my business is successful, I can create more positive impact, travel the world, create experiences for our family and to have the freedom to make decisions on a whim.
What advice would you give to other women wanting to make a change in their life but finding themselves held back?
My catalysts for change were two incredible books that I have preached about all year – The four-hour work week by Tim Ferriss and The Universe has got your back by Gabrielle Bernstein – download them or buy a hardcopy and enjoy the process
If you weren’t a director, businesswoman and business coach what would you be doing and why?
My ultimate life role is to work for the United Nations. I have my eye on many great organisations, agencies and coalitions within the UN and I know when the time is right, that the universe will guide me to connect those dots further. For me it’s ultimately about where I can have the most impact, with the skill set that I have, and combined with the passion and drive to see change.
What are your top three tips for juggling work and family?
1. Outsource everything that needs to be done, but doesn’t contribute to your ultimate purpose
2. Love what you do and then it all just feels like life – with work and family the most important parts of living that great life
3. Have 8 hours of quality sleep every night – without it we don’t think clearly or act like humans in either environment
How do you keep healthy and balanced in your life?
There are things that are entwined into my daily routine that help me to be healthy and balanced including
- Eating well
- Working enough to keep everything moving, but not too much that takes away quality time from the people I love
- Meaningful conversations with interesting people – let’s call them a Circle of Influence
Q: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
Not much. I have been told that I share too much, and often am too open and too vulnerable but I don’t think we can get to our truths if we aren’t open to sharing this with other people – even if they are strangers.
But honestly, one thing hmmm – I have been considering moving with my children to Taranaki for them to go to The Green School, something that I have been admiring in Bali over the last few years. With their New Zealand location opening in January, I thought it was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.