#49 Katherine Parr: Designer & Founder of K.P. Jewelry & Parré Chocolat

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Katherine is an American artist, designer, and social entrepreneur based in New York City. She began her career as a fashion model, discovered by photographer Patrick Demarchelier after earning her degree from Villanova University's School of Business. She had previously turned down modeling opportunities to attend college. She has been featured in a variety of modeling jobs in domestic and international fashion markets, between television, magazines, and runway shows, for clients including Diane Von Furstenberg and Vespa.

Katherine left the fashion world twelve years ago, in a move which was featured on CNN World News. She left her private sector career to pursue her U.S. government teaching certification simultaneously with work as a schoolteacher of immigrant children in an inner city for over five years.

An artist since childhood, she developed a series of decorative arts and jewelry during this time which was featured in a show at an art gallery in Europe and has been shown in a variety of locations and worn by public figures. She continues her jewelry and art designs which express her interest in global culture and philanthropy, having worked with global artisans including those in Kabul, Afghanistan; Cape Town, South Africa. and New York City. Design partnerships have benefited UNICEF, the Edeyo Foundation, and Turquoise Mountain, NGO.

Katherine has recently co-founded and launched Parré Chocolat, an ethical luxury brand, and works directly with farmers in Latin America to generate economic and community empowerment.


What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

My top three core values are: Style, Substance, and Sustainability:

Style is paramount to my designs, both in the elegant visual aesthetic my creations as a designer as well as what the customer desires to make herself or himself look and sound more stylish and interesting. From the business perspective, is how the brand is represented from design to marketing, and beyond, all the way to the customer and how she is perceived wearing the jewelry.

Substance is critical to the journey and story of each piece. I don't just design products, I create visual representations of unique and interesting stories, with obvious and underlying layers of symbolism. The complexity of substance is rooted at the depth of each design, as well as the history and inspiration I use with a fluid theme of cultural motifs. We partner with non profits, such as Turquoise Mountain, to maximize impact through charitable donations to the communities where the artisans live, with a focus on education for children and artisans alike.

Sustainability: We focus on the people, from the artisans we work with in places from Afghanistan, South Africa, to New York, to the team members of the company in order to create an inclusive, supportive, and educational environment for all. I pay a premium to the artisans for their work, rather than working with factories that mass manufacture designs under often unethical business practices. Environmentally, we choose local materials from the regions where the artisans work as much as possible. In my Freedom Collection, I have sourced and upcycled a rare historical artifact from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Robben Island Prison in South Africa, that I electroplated in gold for a fine jewelry capsule collection of one-of-a-kind pieces with a jaw-dropping story I'm grateful approached me.

Can you share a time you either thought you failed, or actually did fail? How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

The main lessons I have gathered on this, Cher sums up in one of history's better quotes: “Women have to harness their power—its absolutely true. It’s just learning not to take the first no. And if you can’t go straight ahead, you go around the corner.”

Following a fascinating fashion career, I spent 5.5 years in New Jersey as an inner city schoolteacher and social entrepreneur in order to make a difference. Halfway through this chapter, I realized I was best suited to city life where I could have greater social impact, and unsuccessfully attempted to return and get re-situated. I applied to dozens of organizations over two years, including non profits, and nobody would hire me with my untraditional background as a fashion model and schoolteacher. I felt a great deal of defeat during this time. A mentor who has been extremely helpful to me, Peter Kellner, made calls on my behalf, including to the World Economic Forum that values private and public sector experience. In the end it was through the circle of friends and a man named Jeff Katz that I was able to secure a non-teaching job and return to the city where I now live and work. In Cher's words, it took dozens of "no's" and turning quite a few corners to get where I am today. I apply this to every challenge I face and hope other women might be inspired by this example.


What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

I'm proud to have just completed a TEDx Talk on Conscious Consumerism for Economic Empowerment which was one of the best invitations I've had recently. Since education has always been important to me, I decided to empower myself through education to take classes in Computer Aided Design to take more control of the entire product development process from my initial inspiration and sketches to final product. Rhino will also make it easier to close the loop in Circular Design, and design more collections more frequently, therefore providing more empowerment to the artisans and more interesting and meaningful jewelry to the world. I am happy to have begun a series of projects with Custom Collaborative, a Harlem-based non profit that helps low income and immigrant women gather skills for employment in the fashion and accessories sector, with a focus on education and marketing. Lastly, I'm traveling again to Guatemala in September to visit the farmer communities where my husband and I have donated to associations where we source our cacao beans for the chocolate business.


#48: Caroline Codsi, President & Founder of Women in Governance

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Caroline Codsi is the President and Founder of Women in Governance. A Citizen of the world having lived on three continents, Caroline was born in Beirut. She was only 7 years old when the war started and 22 when it ended.  A highly sought-after speaker, Caroline has addressed audiences across Canada as well as the four corners of the globe. She is the recipient of numerous national and international awards and was recognized as a Top 20 Diversity Leading Figures in Quebec, Top 75 Canadian Immigrants and Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.  She is also the recipient of a Gender Equality Award by the United Nations Women’s Committee and was nominated Leader of the decade for diversity & inclusion at New Delhi’s Women’s Economic Forum.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

My 3 core values are Justice, Perseverance and Authenticity. The first one, Justice, is definitely the most important one and the mere reason why I do everything that I do today!  

Justice…

I strongly believe that there can be no peace without justice.  It is not only true in areas of this world with armed conflicts, it is also true in our society… why should we accept any injustices? Ever?  Some injustices are so rooted in our society we have become completely blind to them and tend to think that there is nothing that we can do about them and if there were, that somebody else would figure it out for us.  Well if everyone thinks this way, how are we ever going to progress?

I began my quest for justice at a very young age when our family’s circumstances changed drastically because of a terrible thing called WAR.  It was 1975, I was only 7 years old and too young to understand how what seemed to be only sectarian tensions turned into a full-scale civil war in Lebanon that lasted more than 15 years.

I will not get into the details of one of the most complex conflicts of modern history, it was also one of the most covered by the media worldwide…. but let’s just say that like in any conflict, it is the civilian population who suffered the most and had the least to say. A handful of decision-makers had full control and brought the country to its knees. 

During that time, the little girl who already had a very strong understanding of the difference between wrong and right, who was forming her own set of beliefs and values, was beginning to build up anger against these adults who were behaving in such disappointing and erratic ways.  I started paying more attention, observing more, and some of the injustices I saw still follow me to this day. I had this distant dream that, in the Western civilization, all notions of unfair treatment of women, inequality or injustice would be banished. I was convinced when I arrived in a beautiful and peaceful land called Canada that the young feminist that was stemming in me would finally be relieved and have no more battles to fight.

I quickly realized that my view was way too idealistic. What was in fact closer to the truth was that, even in this wonderful country, 8 out of 10 victims of violent crimes, particularly domestic violence and sexual assaults, are women.  I also discovered that, worldwide, more than 1 out of 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Those who are supposed to love, cherish and protect these women, their intimate partners, commit 38% of their murders.  The United Nations declared that Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions.

I felt once again so helpless but I decided to take the negative feelings and the anger bottled up in me during years of war and channel my energy in a positive fashion, to help make a difference in the lives of women who had nothing left but a glimpse of hope. For the past 15 years, and until this day, I have been heavily involved on boards and committees of 3 different women’s shelters.

In parallel to all this, my insertion in the Canadian corporate world was going wonderfully well. I very quickly climbed the ladder and discovered that even women who seemed to be powerful and have it all, were also discriminated against.  Although they compose 51% of the population, only 5% of CEOs are women and they account for an average of 14% of public and private board seats. These statistics are alarming and it is everyone’s responsibility, both men and women, to make a change.  Not only because it is the ethical thing to do but because companies with a greater number of women at the executive level or on the board are more innovative and perform better financially. There is nothing more powerful than men and women who put their brains and their visions together to get results!

Perseverance…

At the age of 17, I fled war-torn Beirut and moved to Paris, no parents, no money.  It was an amazing experience which certainly shaped the woman I am today. I have always been passionate about my roots, strong about my motives and perseverant about my approach.  I never give up, never take no for an answer, never wait behind a closed door, I actually never wait period. Having to make ends meet in a big city like Paris at only 17, putting myself through school and then university, figuring out a way to pay rent for my tiny maid’s chamber has made me very resilient and it would have never happened without a jumbo dose of perseverance.  It was a swim or sink situation, I had no safety net, no Plan B, I simply had to succeed. At that time, war was still raging in Lebanon and I couldn’t even reach my parents on the phone if I needed to. I had little to no advice from adults and had to make my own decisions. I never felt worried or thought that I could fail; somehow, I was convinced that everything would turn out just fine in the end, and it did; probably a little bit better even than what I had anticipated!

I am a very demanding but very fair leader.  I expect everyone on my team to have certain qualities that may not be natural to them but I know can be developed.  I tell my team not to come to me with a problem but instead to come to me with a solution or multiple solutions if they need me to help them chose one. I get irritated when someone just says I tried but it didn’t work instead of giving me the list of creative things that they did before hitting a wall.  I will then gladly help them overcome the obstacle and this is how we all learn and grow together.  The fantastic thing about being at the head of a nonprofit for such an important cause is that everyone around me is so engaged and dedicated. I never recruit people who are looking for a ‘job’, I recruit people who want to make a difference and have an impact. 

Authenticity…

I was always well known for my authenticity, for meaning what I say and saying what I mean! When I was younger, I thought everyone was like that and did not realize that people could be telling me something they didn’t really mean.  I have had a few disappointments but learnt to cope and decided to never change my communication style simply because I have a very hard time faking anything. I also highly appreciate being surrounded by people who are like-minded and say things as they are.  I much prefer an employee or a client who tells me things to my face than someone who complains behind my back because how constructive is that?

The funny part is that when I was in the corporate world (during 25 years, include the last decade in VP and SVP roles), the executive team often told me that I had to be more guarded, put a distance between me and my staff, I even received coaching (that I did not solicit) on political abilities. 

Now that I am President of my organization, I am thankful that I never listened to that non-sense. People deal with people. They need to know the human behind the title or position if they want to feel a connection.  They also need to know they can trust you and that they are confident about where they stand. 

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

I founded Women in Governance (aka La Gouvernance au Féminin) in 2010, a nonprofit organization with mission to encourage women to develop their leadership, advance their career and sit on boards. Women in Governance’s programs have a deep and concrete impact for equality in the Canadian society:   we organize major events, offer a high-level mentoring program, governance training, a networking platform and a robust Parity Certification which has quickly become our flagship activity.

Women in Governance’s Parity Certification, developed with the pro-bono support of McKinsey&co serves to help Canadian organizations increase the representation of women in sectors where they have historically been underrepresented, as well as in senior management positions. This innovative certification not only evaluates parity at the decision-making level of organizations, but also assesses the organization’s commitment to the implementation of mechanisms that enable women at all levels of its hierarchy to achieve career advancement, thus creating a pipeline of female talent.

Organizations with over 400 employees are eligible to participate regardless of the location of their headquarters or board of directors. With 31 certified organizations in 2018, this initiative had an impact on 258,127 employees across Canada; they will benefit from the best practices established by their employers to enable women to progress without glass ceilings or sticky floors.

Every year, certified organizations are recognized at our prestigious Gala events, which are currently held in Montreal in the fall and in Toronto in the winter. They are always co-chaired by a man and a woman who are senior executives (CEO or Chair of the Board) of a certified organization.  With the support of our founding certifying partners, McKinsey&Co but also additional partners who joined us in 2018, Mercer and Willis Towers Watson, we are now further growing the certification throughout North America and you will certainly see more of us around Canada, the US and even the globe!

#47: Jaya Oleksnianski, Founder of Jewelry Display of NY

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Jaya Oleksnianski is the founder of Jewelry Display, the first choice for all your jewelry displays, jewelry boxes, jewelers tools and jewelers supplies. We have the largest selection of jewelry displays on the web with over 3000 different products including ring displays, necklace displays and necklace stands, bracelet displays, earring displays as well as earring stands, watch cases and watch winders, showcase risers and all types of acrylic jewelry displays.

What do you consider your top 3 core values and how do they affect how you lead your business?

My 1st core value is providing excellent service to every prospect regardless of the size of the opportunity.

Being in a service industry enables me to differentiate myself and Jewelry Display of New York by providing my prospects and clients with the most customized, personal and technical level of service possible. Making my customers feel comfortable and confident that I understand their needs makes them feel at home and not pressured to just buying any item or product.  I strive in my approach to make our conversation about their needs collaborative and consultative to realize their vision or create one for them. My goal of this level of service is to ensure that my solutions are the ones that best represent their brand.

A quick anecdote; Sometimes, my clients come in just to say hi, talk, to laugh and to have chocolates - I always have chocolates in the showroom.  A client of mine was once with another client at another location when they noticed they were both eating Hersey’s kisses (my signature chocolate) and the other client simply said, “were you just with Jaya at Jewelry display?”

My 2nd core value is developing a true repertoire to understand my clients need is extremely important.

I must get to know my client to be able to realize their needs.  It’s critical to understand their business, where they are located, their customer segment, their competition and what are they trying to accomplish. Whether it be just buying stocked goods or determining if they are looking for made to order displays – this process enables me to develop a plan for them that is unique and distinguishes themselves from other jewelers.  They need to feel confident that my creation for them will showcase and be an extension of their brand equity.

Our clients are television shows, movie sets, up and coming jewelry designers, fashion houses, stylists, assistants and anyone trying to sell jewelry.

My 3rd core value is the importance I place on the attention to detail of custom orders.

My client is relying on me to be the specialist, the creative and inspirational support to showcase their brand. Custom orders require a significant amount of detail and specifications that a client usually isn’t aware of. It’s not simply crossing “all the T’s and dotting all the I’s” but it’s my job to make my client feel it is.  Making sure my clients’ needs, desires and deadlines are met with ease so they don’t have to worry about the execution of the order is my job. They need to feel excited about what we have created and know it will arrive in their store ready to showcase their brand with the vision we created together.

A client once said to me, they love working with me because I make them feel at ease by insuring that I will take care of every detail possible and they don’t have to worry about their opening deadline and the ordered goods will be exactly as they had requested.

Can you share a time you either thought you failed, or actually did fail? How did you react and move past it, and what impact did it have on business decisions?

I find the word failure to mean “game over” or a giving up sort of way. I never give up.

Life is a journey full of ups and downs.  Every day is a new learning experience with hiccups and mistakes along the way. Mistakes are just setbacks in the moment that teaches us and allows us to work better moving forward.

My biggest mistake was telling a client “don’t buy from me ever again”.  To this day, that moment haunts me. I feel that I should have found a solution to the problem.  But, in the moment, I couldn’t deal with the client’s rudeness and unprofessionalism.

The jewelry industry has always been a man’s industry.  Many men don’t believe a woman is the one in charge of running a store.  They always come into the showroom and say can I speak to the man in charge?

The client that I turned away wanted to return made to order goods that were bought six months prior, only because he no longer had use for them.  He was always condescending in his demeanor when talking to me. I always tried to accommodate his requests and demands. That day, about 15 years ago, I had had enough.  I always felt that if I was man, he wouldn’t talk to me as if I didn’t know what I was doing.

That day taught me to formalize my processes; to make sure all requests are documented with terms on paper and signed off by clients so that there are no misunderstandings.

I learned to be strong in a profession that favored men.

Not related to failure, but I’m so pleased to watch our industry changing.  Only in recent years has the industry become more friendly to woman entrepreneurs like me.  I love to see more women designing jewelry! Working with creative women is amazing. They inspire in finding new ways to showcase their goods. I feel camaraderie when I work with them. I always try to go the extra mile for those starting out. Having started this company at a young age with no little support along the way allows me to use my knowledge and experience to provide them with guidance and support.  Whether their budgets are large or small, I try to do whatever I can to accommodate their needs and requests. I was once in their shoes.

What types of projects do you have coming up that we can look forward to seeing in the future?

Aside from my wholesale showroom and made to order design work (which has been growing in the past few years through referrals), I am focused on steering my company into a new market segment, one-on-one design of closet interiors specifically created to organize client’s jewelry collection.

I have worked with stylists and personal assistants organizing their client’s jewelry in effective designs and methods that enables them to configure their jewelry with their outfits. I am working with architectural firms to manufacture made to order inserts for client’s closets for jewelry and upholstering the interiors of their drawers.

I would love to get more referrals in this offering to continue and use my creativity and skills developed over decades to reach new markets and grow this division of my company.  I truly love the design and build aspect from start to finish.