Sydney based fashion designer and mother of five has managed to achieve in just a few years what many would say was not possible. Without any formal design or business qualification, Karen Gee has opened her first flagship store located at the prestigious Chifley Square Plaza in Sydney’s CBD and built a brand women love to wear.
The Karen Gee Brand provides clients with exquisitely crafted dresses for women of all shape, size and age. As a brand that embodies the philosophy of female empowerment and expression – the garments work to highlight that every woman is special and every woman is beautiful.
We caught up with Karen Gee to discuss the importance of creating not just a brand, but a truly exceptional experience for clients and how this has helped to define Karen Gee, the Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur.
Embracing the female figure in every form to ensure that clients both look and feel beautiful has rewarded the designer with a pretty impressive client base. Karen Gee, one of Sydney’s favourite designers talks to us about family, the world of fashion and her extraordinary entrepreneurial journey.
I have always been of a very motivated and self-driven character – particularly with the things I am passionate about. I was taught at a young age that, ‘a little hard work never hurt anyone,’ a mentality that has stuck with me over the years. To me, this brand is something that I truly love doing, so it has become less so about work and far more about passion and creating something special.
Helping women feel beautiful and confident is the primary driver behind this brand – I honestly believe that every woman deserves to feel elegant and special. Society does not always enable this concept and so my ambition came from my want to change this and break the boundaries that have previously been created. There is no one kind of beautiful, we are all unique and this brand is all about celebrating that.
The success of the brand can be largely attributed to the flexibility of the purchase and production processes. All garments are individually patterned and produced, ensuring that while there is the option to purchase our ready-to-wear designs, all pieces may be customized specifically for an individual client.
We offer a bespoke service – custom designs and the option to build a dress specifically for the client to suit their personal requirements. This service ensures there is truly something for every taste, shape and fit that will encourage women to embrace how beautiful they are.
Our one off design service ensures a flattering custom finish every time and a personal experience like no other ensuring long lasting client relationships. We listen to our customers – we make what they want.
I truly believe that passion and a strong vision is what every successful business is based on. Personally, it was never about breaking into the fashion industry for me, rather it was about doing something that I believed in and was passionate about. I wanted to create a brand that defined beauty in broader terms than what had been previously conceived. ALL women are beautiful and through my brand, I have been able to encourage, highlight and celebrate this. None of us are perfect, nor should we be! It is about loving who you are exactly as you are – if we can promote this and help even just one woman believe it, then to me, the brand is a success.
I came up with the word SET – Simple, Elegant, and Timeless – three small words, but three very important values.
I believed then and I believe now, that all women can look beautiful no matter their shape, size, colour or background. And so, with that vision in mind, born was the Karen Gee Brand.
From having sourced the finest fabrics and paying attention to the smallest of details, you can be sure your KG piece is of utmost quality. With the mix of thick jersey fabric, strategically placed zips for functionality, and flattering silhouettes, this collection has become timeless and as beautiful as its wearer – a dress for every occasion.
Additionally, at the heart of every design is the original sentiment of SET – it is of extreme importance to always remain faithful to your values and the reason why you started.
In our three and a half years, the brand has further expanded with a flagship store, new collections, media clients and an international market – successes that I never could have foreseen. With that in mind, I would encourage young entrepreneurs to listen to their instinct and to ignore all negativity. If I had of listened to those who said it was all too hard, then I never would have started and where would this brand be now? Certainly not achieving new goals every day!
Believe in your vision, have an immense passion and a ‘can-do’ attitude and you’re already halfway there. Do the roles in the business that you are great at and employ others to do those that you are not – you cannot be expected to know everything. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a strength within itself. In saying that, I also suggest to never stop learning or growing, and most importantly, to never forget why you started.
Of course, I am only human. I created this brand with absolutely no design training or idea of how to produce a dress. People told me I was crazy – opinions that definitely made me second-guess my intentions. In saying that, I was really passionate about my idea and truly believed it was something worth exploring. The vision was to create a brand that would celebrate women and make them feel beautiful, confident and happy. I decided that something this positive could and should cancel out any and all negatives – it was a goal worth pursuing. I reminded myself of my visions every day and gave it everything I had.
Launching a business from scratch is no small task – it takes hard work, persistence, resilience, patience and time. There were mistakes, and of course, fears – but to me, that is all a part of the journey. I am quite certain it will always be a rollercoaster ride, but as long as I am enjoying it and still passionate about it then I see no issue with that. I feel very blessed that I get to do what I love and call it work.
I try not to have regrets – I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Even if it is negative, we can take that as an opportunity to learn, grow and appreciate the positives far more. The one thing perhaps I would have done, is to have started this journey sooner.
I don’t look at it as running my own show – I think it is very much a team effort. I run certain elements of my brand, but have key people in place for other areas. I believe we have some of the best in the business on board – and it is a pleasure to be on this journey with them. I ensure that I nurture, give opportunity, set targets/objectives with my team to guarantee that we are always striving to do our best. I depend very much on these people, and I wholeheartedly trust them.
While there are benefits to owning your own company, there is also a responsibility with your name as the brand. It is essential that I do everything to the best of my ability and judgment, because at the end of the day, despite who is working for me – it is my name on the line. In saying that, in creating my own brand I have given myself the opportunity to do exactly what I love – something I am thankful for every day.
I would say unexpected rapid growth and management of this in terms of employees and systems. We have worked very hard over the past year and a half, and now have great processes in place. We have created manuals for each department, so that when we employ someone, they are able to turn to the manual for further operational information. We also document every stage of the process and follow set production and quality control procedures which assist us with the overall running of the business.
It would have to be my parents. I have lived and breathed business since the age of nine. I have so much respect for these two people who have incredibly successful businesses now. In saying that, over the past 30 years I have seen and experienced many ups and downs and bad business decisions among this incredible success. Although I will always be learning, I definitely have been fortunate to have a lot of insight into the running of many businesses.
Your business will grow and evolve naturally, but you must ensure you do so according to your values and the vision behind your company. We have created our core values around positive body image and embracing beauty that comes in all shapes and sizes. To do something that contradicts this would not be worthy – always align your brand with what you believe in.
- Yourself and your team are your biggest asset; regularly remind your employees how valued they are.
- Build solid systems and processes that are implemented by everyone in the workplace.
- Be Innovative, always one step ahead.
- Set the tone for your business and team. I consciously each day try to be very positive, this is infectious in a work situation. There is more productivity when everyone is happy.
- Have a good Finance Manager/Bookkeeper as well as HR advice.
- Do everything ethically. I truly believe that if you do things properly (regardless of cost), you set yourself a solid foundation for when you do grow.
From a face to face meeting with a very respected, successful retired businessman when I first launched:
You Must Have a Purpose Karen – What is Your Purpose? Either describe it in your tagline, or build your brand around this. I found this advice to be both incredibly helpful and true – when you look at some of the most successful and iconic brands they all have a purpose, they all have a tagline/core values and they are in sync.
Nike Just Do It
Toyota Oh What A Feeling
Skoda For those that buy the car not the ad
Karen Gee Simplicity. Elegance. Timeless.
The biggest thing you need is passion. To me, success is not defined by money, but by how happy it is making me, and of course, my clients. I had one significant goal to create pieces that would help women feel beautiful and that remains at the heart of the brand to this day. Don’t forget the reason you started and always have that passion to keep it alive.
What Does It Take
P A S S I O N and persistence. You can and you will.
Work & Life
In an ideal world things would always go to plan, but in reality, this is not always the case. As long as you have your priorities, the rest will all work out around that. For me, my family is my number one priority – they will always come first. In saying that, of course my business is another huge priority for me – I have a responsibility to my customers who have invested in my brand. My family understands this and are so supportive, a concept that is reciprocated in the sense that my team also understands that my family comes first. The balance will never be perfect, but by having supportive people around you, it certainly helps to maintain a consistency and the balance that works for you.
We have a set family meal every Sunday night. We all love this time together, as life can get so hectic. We have a tradition where we go around the table and everyone talks about two things. Firstly, what the highlight of the past week has been, and secondly, what they have planned for the next. This is a very open conversation between the 7 of us. Andrew and I will also talk about our businesses and travel plans we often have regarding work, and the arrangements that will come into play. We encourage each other, and are supportive of one another – this is one of my favourite times of the week. Blessed.
Influence on Children
I am a huge advocate of my children seeing my husband and I work hard. I guess that comes from my upbringing and appreciation that “money does not grow on trees” and “a little hard work never hurt anyone.” I would hope that they would follow in our footsteps, and know that what they have in life they have earned through hard work.
Resources & Tools
I think what has assisted me the most in this business is always being open to learn. I would like to say that I am inspired by runways and fashion magazines, but, it is often the most unexpected and sometimes even mundane things that gets my creativity flowing. Always give yourself that space to grow and be open to whatever may come your way – you never know what opportunities this could bring. I also find that having a team to bounce ideas off is a great resource and I really value our meetings.
With some newly acquired media customers in New York, we are now shipping to LA, London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong. We hope to further branch into this international market as our brand continues to grow and flourish.
Sum It Up
Just enjoy the ride. While you need to work hard to create your business, you need to also love what you do.
I love what I do because… It not only makes me happy, it makes others happy as well.
Never be afraid of… Making mistakes.
My greatest talent is… Creativity.
My biggest challenge is… Managing Conflict.
I overcame that challenge by… Dealing with it head on – sometimes the things that scare you the most are the greatest lessons.
When starting a business one must… Have a clear vision and PASSION for it.
Most rewarding career moment so far… Seeing someone on the street wearing Karen Gee. I think they thought I was stalking them, but I was so excited, I had to follow them for a few minutes just to make sure this person was really wearing my design!
Best gig … Meeting inspirational and wonderful women. This business has brought so many incredible people into my life – I am forever grateful.
Celebrities I’ve loved styling… Too many! I have loved them all in their own individual way. It is always a pleasure.
I never go to work without… A positive mind!
I hope to one day… Reflect and know I created something that brought confidence and happiness to others. I would love people to wear my brand and think, I am worthy, I am beautiful and I feel beautiful.
In my spare time I like to… Be with my family! Followed by a big training session – up to three hours – then a massage and a facial.
My favourite fashion designers are… Those that have a defined look every collection.
My favourite beauty products are… Vitamin A, C, and E – a great eye cream and moisturizer for both day and night, and a super hydration mask. I love the luxury of Sodashi Masks and La Praire Skin Caviar – which is a big treat. I have a wonderful lady that has done lymphatic massages regularly for me on my skin and body; I find this helps immensely for circulation.
Additionally, we all know the benefits of water, exercise and great eating habits when it comes to laying the foundation for great skin. I exercise every morning and most nights, mentally it is super wonderful for me.
Every girl needs… Confidence and a smile. You can tackle anything with a smile.
On perfection… It does not exist. The minute you stop striving for perfection and embrace your unique qualities is the minute you can be truly happy. We are all beautiful, and we are all entitled to feel it.
On every day… Wake up with a positive mind set. Every day is a new day to accomplish something, even if it is as little as getting out of bed! Remember to give yourself a break and listen to your body. You can’t take on the world without first looking after you.
On styling… I love the quote, “fashion changes, style endures.” Always opt for what makes you feel comfortable and beautiful – and don’t give in to a trend just because it is there. Style is a personal thing – and it isn’t anything without a smile.
On attitude… Stay positive!
On purpose… Have a purpose to strive for and build your business upon, and have a personal purpose – to be happy. This is always the ultimate goal.
On living… Don’t forget to enjoy it! You only have one chance to leave your mark on this world, make sure you surround yourself with nothing but love and happiness.
I absolutely love… My family!
Happiness is… Being surrounded by the ones I love, and doing what brings me joy.
My definition of success… To be happy!
Living the dream means… To be happy, and content with your life. It has taken me a very long time to realize this. True happiness has nothing to do with money, but has everything to do with being grateful.
My favourite quote is… In the morning you have two choices, you can go back to sleep and dream your dreams, or bounce out of bed and live your dreams.
What’s Next … There is plenty more to come for Karen Gee. I am excited to continue to grow and see where this brand will take us.
Each Karen Gee piece is hand drawn, designed and proudly created in Australia from the highest quality fabrics, flattering shapes and superior cuts. These sleek, comfortable and stylish garments are customizable for the individual.
Karen Gee Offers:
- Beautifully structured dresses for every woman and every occasion
- Appointments with the designer
- Custom measurements and designs
- The option to look over visuals prior to production
- Samples to try prior to order/purchase
- Professional courier service
- One-off garments tailored specifically to you
- Outstanding customer service
Karen has the pleasure of dressing many wonderful women including some more well-known celebrities such as Melissa Doyle, Lisa Wilkinson, Samantha Armytage, Shelley Craft, Erin Molan, Georgie Gardner, Tammin Sursock, Kate Ceberano, Sally Obermeder, Jacqueline Felgate, Jane Bunn, Alice Monfries just to mention a few and invites you to contact her directly with any enquiries.
I always make myself available as it is a privilege to connect with people. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Karen Gee at her Chifley Square Plaza store in Sydney’s CBD.
Thank you Karen Gee for sharing your beautiful journey with us and our readers. We believe you are a truly fabulous inspiration for all women passionate, successful & gracefully grounded. – Demi Karan – CEO/Founder, Heels Agency