… Listen. Be aware of the fact that you can learn from everyone. The other day I had a conversation with a salesman. His expertise lay in neckties; he could distinguish all brands, shapes, and sizes, and he was excellent at matching colors. During that conversation, the world of ties unfolded in front of me. I learned a lot.
I had the pleasure to interview Kate Broug. Kate is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and client-change activist. After a series of inspiring trips to Bhutan, she decided to bring the magic of the country to the rest of the world with ‘Anna in Bhutan’. Though the brand, Kate has created a business that is sustainable, carbon-negative and supports local female artisans. In the process, she has forged strong relationships with members of the Bhutanese people and the royal family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you so much for having me! I never set out to set up my own company. I have an extensive background in contemporary ballet; I started dancing when I was three years old. I worked in the dance scene for several years before I visited Bhutan for the first time. When I experienced the traditions, their incredible weaving and the precision of artisans and craftsmen, I decided to dedicate all of my time to this company. Even though dance and business are two completely different disciplines, an education in dance taught me focus, precision, and resilience — which are things I now use a lot in the process of building my companies. My fascination with learning, aesthetics, intellect, and art are all coming together in a different way than I expected, and I relish every moment of it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve had several moments throughout this journey, where things seem to come together at precisely the right time.
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?
I had dinner at a Japanese restaurant with a group of people from work. The men at the table were mostly wearing white shirts and suits. One of them was a possible investor, and I felt that this evening would be the perfect moment to initiate a conversation about my company. We were having sushi, and it was one of the first times I used chopsticks. There was a bowl of soy sauce in the middle in the table, and right after I dipped my salmon-avocado maki in the soy sauce, I dropped it. All the white shirts around the table had brown soy stains on them. I was quite embarrassed.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We create our scarves in the only carbon-negative country in the world, and we’re actively trying to make a shift in the fashion industry by shying away from fashion and introducing sophisticated slow fashion. We use natural dies; there are no chemicals involved in the creation process. On top of that, we focus a lot on aesthetics: Anna in Bhutan scarves have a natural elegance to them: they dress up any outfit and give the wearer a sophisticated touch. I love seeing women and men who appreciate artistry and style while keeping our planet in mind; those people are the ones I want to see in an Anna in Bhutan scarf. In addition, all of our scarves undergo a 2.5-hour blessing in a Buddhist temple in Bhutan. The blessing is believed to provide the future owner with prosperity, good luck, and positivity.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are currently working together with One Tree Planted, an organization that focuses on reforestation. For every scarf we sell, we plant one tree. Inspired by Bhutan’s matriarchal society, we are also working on an initiative that supports and connects women entrepreneurs in NYC… stay tuned!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I think it’s very important to work in a space where you physically want to be. One of my goals for when we grow as a company, is to have a pleasant office. A place where people feel comfortable, and productive.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I work with a large number of independent contractors. I spend much time on creating plans and structures. My advice: be very clear and communicative in what you want from whom, and when you want it.
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?
My father has been a huge inspiration throughout my life. He has always supported me in whatever I wanted to do. He is a sculptor, and although he has never been in business, he has given me great advice along the way. He has given me much love throughout my life and a safe place to come home to.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We use our success to make sure the Bhutanese weavers and artisans Anna in Bhutan works with are well paid. They work because they want to and not because they are forced to. This is an approach I’d like to encourage throughout the fashion industry.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Lesson no 1. Don’t let the fear of the outcome influence the way you act. I can assure you that when you look back in ten years, the things you’ll regret is not taking that step.
When you tend to overthink things (like I do), it’s easy to catastrophize situations that are about to happen in the future. I learned not to care about the outcome. I come from a very low-income family. We lived on a minimal support system, and whenever I catastrophize, I know I can be happy and content in a situation with much less. It’s also great to listen to Nina Simone’s “Ain’t got no, I got life.” It puts everything back in perspective.
Lesson no 2. Find time to be alone, do nothing, and mull things over. I think it’s important to let things sink in so you can reflect on what happened that day, week, or month. I like to take a bath and think things over, and I have to say I came to the most astonishing realizations in the bathtub.
Lesson no 3. Get into the habit of learning continuously. Study, read, and spend all the time you have on what you want to achieve.
Lesson no 4. Know what you’re good at and outsource the things you’re not good at. I used to break my head over tax issues and financials. I was able to do it, but it took a lot of energy and effort. The day I gave that responsibility to someone else, a huge weight fell off my shoulders, and I could finally focus on the things I was good at.
Lesson no 5. Go with your gut. If you have an iffy feeling about a situation or person: take it into account and make a decision. I found that most of the time, my instincts have been right.
Lesson no 6. Listen. Be aware of the fact that you can learn from everyone. The other day I had a conversation with a salesman. His expertise lay in neckties; he could distinguish all brands, shapes, and sizes, and he was excellent at matching colors. During that conversation, the world of ties unfolded in front of me. I learned a lot.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I believe it’s incredibly important that we start shifting our focus from fast fashion to slow fashion. If everyone takes a moment to think about what they buy, think about the country of origin, and materials and chemicals used to make the product; we can make a big difference.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Without wanting to sound repetitive: leadership lesson number one: Don’t base your actions out of fear for the outcome. It was an eye opener for me to realize that most of my worries were all in my head. I believe that the main goal in life is to feel free within yourself, which is something that doesn’t conflict with having a set position in a structure like, let’s say, a family, a company or a society.
Some of the biggest 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 :-)
It’s a close tie between Elon Musk and Tory Burch! Elon Musk is an innovator, entrepreneur and the mind behind game changing tech ventures. The Tory Burch inspires me as a woman entrepreneur. She’s a great businesswoman, philanthropist and has created empire which simultaneously supports women in business. I think that’s really admirable.