12 questions to:
Kasia, it’s a real pleasure to have you on my 12on12 project!
Let’s start at the beginning ☺e. with your surname. How is it that you do not use the feminine ending of your surname (as typically in Polish language) but the masculine one? What is the reason?
Haha. My surname is indeed controversial at times. People even correct me, suggesting that I don’t know what my name is ☺. I spent half my life in Germany and have dual citizenship. When I got married I had to choose a surname without a feminine ending, otherwise I wouldn’t be married to my husband in Germany. And as you know, that can cause a lot of paperwork problems in this country. To be honest, I love Germany for this order and clarity.
Exactly, Germany … you left your home town to study economics in Bonn. What drew you to another country?
The trip to Germany was a complete coincidence. Having failed to get into my dream university, SGH (Warsaw School of Economics), I fulfilled my father’s dream of pushing me to study abroad. You have to remember that at that time going abroad was not an obvious choice. Poland was not a member of the European Union and very few people decided to study abroad. Everything was expensive, inaccessible and mentally very difficult. We had friends who were in control of that process and jumping into the deep was the only alternative. The jump was really a big one because my knowledge of the language was at a very low level. But, as it happens, such extreme actions imprint a mark and teach a lot about courage.
You have been incredibly successful in Germany, working for institutions such as UniCredit, Lazard, Rothschild and Berenberg, mainly in the financial capital of Germany, Frankfurt am Main (FFM). How did you approach the recruitment process? Which of your strengths did you use to get to the top?
During my studies I intensively searched for my place in business. I have always been interested in running a business, entrepreneurship, trends. When I came across people from investment banking, I immediately knew that this was where I belonged. I was attracted to agility, persistence, courage and teamwork, the incredible ability to build relationships, anticipate moves, come up with strategies. And I think these qualities that I liked so much were my key to success both in recruitment and later in the industry.
Many people dream of working at FFM. What advantages do you see compared to London. Is it a diverse working environment?
The working environment is certainly not as diverse and multicultural as in London. The transactions are also generally a bit smaller and less recognisable and less covered on the front pages of newspapers. Sometimes you definitely get the impression that the big world is there in the UK. But you have to appreciate the German economy and all the „hidden champions”, amazing family businesses with long traditions. In terms of living conditions: London is always fascinating, I love going there, but Frankfurt is easier to live in – it is smaller and cosier, which I think is an advantage when working in a bank.
Having achieved great success abroad, you returned to your home country, to Warsaw. Was it an easy decision to leave such an important financial centre?
It was not an easy decision, but at one point I was fixated on opening my own business. At the time, Poland seemed like a land of opportunities. As The Economist wrote, the country was on the threshold of the second golden age of the Jagiellonians. There are many start-ups here, not everything has been achieved, Poles believe in the possibility of achieving spectacular success, some things are easier. Besides, my vision for life is to be a citizen of the world and live and be active professionally and privately in several countries. It is not easy and I am still building this position, but nevertheless it is rewarding and gives great satisfaction.
When you came back to Poland you fulfilled the dream of many women, that is, you started your own apparel brand. What pushed you to become an entrepreneur? Where did the idea for the apparel brand come from?
I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was attracted to the prospect of creating, building something from scratch, dealing with challenges. This was also one of the main motivators for choosing the M&A department, i.e. answering the question „What makes the company tick”. The idea for my apparel brand came purely from identifying a problem on the market. Despite the huge amount of clothes in the shops, I believed that there was nothing for women in business to wear. I noticed a growing group of female customers totally ignored by designers and fashion brands.
I wanted to create clothes that would be reliable, comfortable, in which women would feel confident throughout even the longest day. I thought about my daily routine and the different life roles and activities. Travelling. Going out for drinks. Men, colleagues always look comfortable, appropriately dressed, whatever the situation, in their suits. And that’s the idea that guides me to this day. It has to be comfortable, fresh and at the same time emphasise our competence and say „I mean business”.
Please give us a glimpse behind the scenes of creating a retail brand. Is it a simple job or is it the opposite? How many elements of the supply chain do you have to think through and bring together to make a blouse or dress?
Making clothes, seemingly simple, is very complicated. Especially if you are committed to uncompromised quality. It all starts with sourcing the material. For us, apart from the fact that the material has to be comfortable to wear (i.e. not restricting the freedom of movement, breathing, not creasing), it has to be long-lasting and meet the highest standards in terms of sustainable production and environmental protection. The next step is the construction of the garment. We don’t give up on quality here either. Interestingly: most models in well-known chain stores are never measured on a real woman model. So it’s hardly surprising that most women with normal curves can’t get into the clothes and feel uncomfortable. Finally, we still have to fit into the production process of our partners. Everything also has to be coordinated with marketing, photo shoots and sales, so that the product reaches the customers at the right time. Fortunately, things are a little easier here: our clothes are not seasonal. They often remain in our offer for many years. So delays are not so painful.
The key to growing retail brands, in my opinion, is to understand your customers’ needs. You come into contact with wonderful women who are your customers every day. Tell us who are the ENNBOW women? How diverse are they?
Since the beginning of the brand, my priority have been and still are women in business. Women whose lifestyle requires activity, mobility, daily business appearance regardless of age. Clothing is an important aspect for them, but mostly they want to get it done quickly and efficiently. Our #ENNBOWoman is focused on purpose, on priorities, on combining different life roles efficiently. She travels a lot, often hangs out with men and is often judged by the way she looks. As ENNBOW’s clothes are quite minimalistic, the collection leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation. Both to transform clothes for many occasions even in one day and to express your individual style and personality.
Being an entrepreneur means constant innovation. As an ENNBOW customer, I feel positively surprised – by new designs and colours of clothes, but also by the brand’s adaptation to the changing reality. How has ENNBOW changed during the pandemic and what does it offer women in the current hybrid reality?
We constantly strive to surprise our customers with the quality and the way they feel in our clothes even when they are having a difficult and intense day. A product has to impress no matter how long it has been in the wardrobe. When we release something new, we think in terms of how to innovate the cut, about body shaping elements, how to make the clothes even more comfort. How to transform a dreamed-of fashion classic, rarely available to businesswomen, into something they can wear to work. Our Cat Woman Suit is such an innovation, a glimpse into the future. A modern business suit. A hybrid of elegance and comfort. As it turned out – an outfit perfect for home-office. In the spirit of combining different life roles. We have also recently innovated on the service side for our clients. Thinking about the lack of time, the time-consuming process of shopping whether online or offline, you can complete your wardrobe with us in the mode of the so-called ENNBOX home fitting room. This personalised shopping service saves time and allows you to make more informed decisions.
I think that the strength of your business lies in you personally, your woman power and your support for women! We met in W2W which is a group of women leaders in their areas of specialty. You work with many organisations supporting women. I am very happy that you are also a 30% Club Poland Ambassador. What attracted you to this initiative?
I hadn’t planned for this from the start – I didn’t see the inequality and I thought that women’s career paths were dependent on their own attitudes. However, interacting with women, observing the work environment more closely and analysing my own experiences made me realise that it was different. We have our own prejudices, preconceptions and boundaries that we impose on ourselves. My second mission became to create awareness among women and to support the movement for equal opportunities and balance in the work environment and on the public stage. I strongly believe in the power of female leadership and the importance of female input, intuition and management style in actions and decisions. I believe that nowadays, when problems are piling up and have a global scale, women’s participation is essential. That is why 30% Club Poland is so important to me. What I really like about the campaign is that it’s based on hard data, hard commitments and it involves men in action.
Thank you for your kind words about 30% Club Poland. This social campaign fits into the so-called ESG trends i.e. environmental, social and corporate governance. How does ENNBOW fit into sustainable fashion?
Quality, sustainability, avoiding excess and being ethical have always been part of my brand vision. We produce not for seasons but for years. Did you know that we never sell-off our clothes? We educate consumers about our products and that the purchase of these clothes is an investment. We only work with suppliers share our values and act in frames of ESG spirit. ENNBOX is also part of this strategy. These include targeted purchasing, a reduced carbon footprint in delivery and reusable packaging. As has been mentioned many times, ENNBOW has a social element in addition to the clothes. We are involved in initiatives that support the development of women and their careers, as well as supporting girls at the beginning of their journey.
ENNBOW is a woman, but not only a Pole. Your clothes sell in many European capitals. You are also active not only in Poland but also in Germany as a lecturer in Cologne and in Zurich as a partner in KMK Venture. Are the needs and challenges of European women similar?
Our needs are definitely very similar. We are all connected by an intensive lifestyle, dreams big and small, search for some kind of balance between work and life, finding balance, rest and regeneration. Thanks to this international aspect, I can observe differences in style, level of consciousness and emancipation. And to combine and pass on the best of the Polish women, the German stability and perseverance, and the Swiss ability to cooperate and their natural flair for business.
Kasia, thank you so much for the great dose of inspiration and positive energy!