Female Founders: Hikmete Morina of HMÉTÉ On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Don’t take no personally. Especially in the beginning I naively hoped everyone would be excited and supportive. I realized that was not the case early on but it is important to not take it personally. It has nothing to do with you as a person.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hikmete Morina.
Hikmete started out as an auditor and consultant in Switzerland. She was working in an office, sitting in the same outdated, HR-approved attire for eight hours every day. As a young professional, she realized the office wear currently on the market wasn’t designed to fit this lifestyle; it was designed to fit a dress code. Fortunately, she found a solution: she and her team spent the last two years creating a wardrobe that makes women in the workplace look and feel good.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
It was mainly my own need to find something comfortable, stylish and work appropriate to wear. I was working in finance and I found it so difficult to find something that I could wear all day from work to after work. I felt like I was not asking for too much, it didn’t need to be extremely trendy or special. However the fit and fabric were important and I wanted it to be something that moves with me throughout my day. I had a little black dress, which was my go to piece of clothing if I had plans in the evening and I was surprised that it was so hard to find something similar. Once I started doing research on it I realized there really was a gap and not many brands were designing with a working woman in mind.
For women in the workplace, our day doesn’t start when we clock in; it starts the moment we wake up. We’re expected to dress in a professional but approachable manner.
We commute to work, where we spend eight hours a day in a space with no climate control, then head to after-work events, cocktails, or dinner with friends.
As a young professional, I realized the office wear currently on the market wasn’t designed to fit our lifestyle; it was designed to fit a dress code.
We don’t want to have to choose between comfort and style, and we shouldn’t have to. I couldn’t find a company to fit our needs, so I created one.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Where do I start? If I had to pick one, I think it would be the story of how I found my main production facility in Porto. I went there with a few addresses of facilities to visit that I had found on the internet. I hadn’t been in Porto before, nor did I really know anyone there. I was set to find a partner to manufacture our line there and I had already been disappointed a few times by people trying to tell me what to do, people asking for too high minimums etc. This time I met my partner and it clicked right away. We both knew what we meant and after a few days I left Porto with an agreement set up and a first sample of my classic black dress that was exactly how I had wanted it. I was and still am blown away by that encounter.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In our first sample run I mistook inches for cm and therefore the sizes were all messed up. Way too long and way too wide in between sizes. Since then, I am very particular about having everything in centimeters.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That is absolutely true and I have had the help of several people and still have. The amazing part about it is, how happy and willing people are to help. I am so extremely grateful for everyone in my team and everyone who has taken time to review sketches with me, go through samples etc.
One story that I can highlight would probably be a photographer friend of mine who got the studio where he used to work at and spent a full day on a Saturday shooting our pictures for the website. He is one of the best product photographers and the rates to hire him or rent the studio were definitely not something we could afford. However, he spent a full day of his weekend shooting with us and everything turned out amazing. It was an amazing day and we had so much fun shooting. The team, the models, him — we all got along so well, and it was such great energy. Moments like these are so unique, so motivating and heartwarming.
Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think there are so many aspects playing a role in this. I think there is a historical component. For one, we can’t look back in history and see a wide range of success stories or stories of women starting companies and talking about their experiences. As the number shows we are still the exception not the norm. There is always a higher pressure to succeed if you are part of the first ones to do something that hasn’t been done before. Additionally, it is very important to have mentors and supporters. Many of us lack a circle that motivates and supports us in creating something from scratch. Creating a business is not an overnight thing, it takes a lot of time and energy and every founder needs to be ready to put in that effort. As exciting and interesting starting a business and seeing it succeed is, there are just as many challenges and fallbacks. Without the right motivation and support, it can be easy to give up.
And finally maybe there is a bias in what companies people invest in and maybe it is harder for women to obtain funding but focusing on what doesn’t work will not change the current status. I choose to focus on what is possible and what I personally can do to make a difference.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
As mentioned above I think being supportive of our friends who are starting businesses can make a huge difference. I think we as women need to start investing more. Most women have no problem spending thousands of dollars on a bag but unfortunately, I know very few that would be ready to spend the same amount investing in a startup, probably missing great opportunities.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
There are so many businesses offering products and services specifically for women and many of them are not designed to meet our needs. Many times, it is just because the people involved never had to think about those needs. I think we need to at least be part of the process to design and create services and products that are made for us.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
That it is all fun and you can do what you want. It is definitely a lot of fun but while you don’t have a supervisor to report to, you will have customers expecting you to deliver what you promised, you will have employees looking up to you and you will have investors holding you accountable for agreed upon milestones. I personally love to think that way and motivate myself to be better every day.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
The hardest part is being able to deal with the insecurity. I left a well-paid corporate job, with a clear career path and started my business not knowing what is going to happen next. As said earlier, there are so many fallbacks and challenges, if you don’t believe in yourself and your idea and are not willing to give it all, it is easy and there are always good reasons to quit. I don’t think one or the other is better, being a founder or having a regular job. There are great ways to succeed in whatever you do. I think the most important thing is that you enjoy the journey.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Trust your feeling. When something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. The feeling won’t change.
I have had this happen with decisions we made about production, designs, people we worked with and every time I had to come to the conclusion it wasn’t the right decision and I shouldn’t have agreed to it. I am not saying I know better than anyone else but this is a company I started from scratch so for me to fully believe in it, I need to be able to stand 100% behind it and that is hard to do if there are decisions made early on that you as the founder don’t feel good about.
2. Set deadlines but take the time you need. What leads me to this point. If something doesn’t feel right, change the deadline if you have one and take the time you need. Sure you learn with every mistake but if you already know there is a mistake you can avoid, avoid it.
3. Choose people you love working with. The first people working with you are crucial, they also will see a very vulnerable side of you. You need them to be your partners. You need to appreciate them and show that at any possible occasion. You will need their help but also their patience when you can’t move at the pace you promised, when you can’t deliver in time etc. On the other side it is the most amazing thing to see everyone you work with be as excited about the success achieved as you are.
4. Don’t take no personally. Especially in the beginning I naively hoped everyone would be excited and supportive. I realized that was not the case early on but it is important to not take it personally. It has nothing to do with you as a person.
5. Make sure you make enough money to pay your bills. I have heard so many times, there is never the right time to start a business and you should just do it. Sure, that may work for some people. I personally would tell everyone to have a safety net. Starting a business and growing it takes time and is stressful enough as it is. If possible, make sure you don’t have to worry how to pay your rent at the end of the month. It can be that you stay with the company you are with for a little longer or take on a side job or take out a loan, whatever it is, I think it is important to secure the funding you need for your day-to-day life.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Very early on I realized the importance of networking, especially when it came to female entrepreneurs. So, whenever I can I put people in touch with each other and I absolutely love doing that. I am always thinking of how I can connect people. If I am in a conversation with someone and I think of a person I know, who has a business or needs something I bring them up and offer to put everyone in touch.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I have made it my goal to make a difference in the fashion industry. We need to address the issues fast fashion has created and change the way we think about fashion. I am certain we will be happier with the way we feel about ourselves if we have brands designing clothing to meet our needs. As brands and companies we need to find our core beliefs and act upon them from design to the end product and beyond.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I am currently reading the book Shoe Dog. I have to admit I knew way too little about Phil Knight before starting to read it but I love the story and everything he went through creating this amazing company that is so omnipresent in our lives. I would love to have lunch with him and ask many questions about it.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.