Marisa Hordern, Founder and CEO of Missoma, is next in our Women Who Win series...
You may not know the name Marisa Hordern just yet, but you'll certainly be aware of her brainchild, Missoma.
The British demi-fine jewellery brand is as popular as it gets, with its cool, high-quality pieces (all designed in-house) seen all over Instagram and decorating pretty much every cool-girl influencer out there.
This is the brand that influencers and celebrities choose to wear.
And it's not surprising, with Marisa and the Missoma team foreseeing or perhaps inventing the way we approach jewellery today.
'We started showing jewellery how we wanted it to be seen and how we wanted to wear it,' Marisa told MC Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot. 'It was layered and imperfect and it showed your self expression and individuality. Our jewellery is not just a product, it’s a type of lifestyle.'
Marie Claire's Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers who are unafraid to go against the grain, and Marisa Hordern and her strong determination and unwaveringly positive outlook is that in a nutshell.
Missoma launches its brand new fine jewellery collection this week. So, Jenny sat down with the wonderful Marisa to talk owning your confidence, trusting your gut and being a cheerleader.
Take me back to the start of Missoma...
It started as a kind of hobby on the side. I would take my wares in a jewellery roll around local shops after work - they were handmade one-off pieces. I decided to take a leap of faith and left my day job which was a bit corporate and dry to give this a shot. To be honest, it was totally crazy. I had no business plan, no idea of what I was doing and no training in jewellery. I found factories and would go visit them to make sure they were reputable, and I was literally going around Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Jaipur and Bangkok on my own with no idea where I was, knocking on doors. I don’t know what I was thinking.
It has been a long journey since then and I think it took a lot longer than it should have to get to where we are today. That’s partly because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing - I didn’t have a partner or anyone to help me build a business plan. But it was also because it took people a long time - years in fact - to understand what gold vermeil was and to accept it. Gold vermeil was not known at that point, and the Demi Fine category didn’t really exist. There was costume jewellery and there was fine jewellery, but there wasn’t much in-between. We couldn’t find the affordable pieces that we actually wanted to wear - it was either cheap quality or too expensive and we really had to carve out our niche. We wanted quality, longevity, cool fashion-forward designs but also for it to be affordable. It’s all about finding your sweet spot, but it took a long time for people to understand. There has been a lot of experimentation and it has been a coming together of everything - finding the right metal, the right finish, the right price point and then finding where your customers are, who they are, how to speak to them and how to show them your brand the way you want it to be seen.
How were you affected by COVID-19?
Oh my god, I feel like it’s a little bit more stable now, but that first week of lockdown, wow. I have never seen people come together so well. We had to cancel everything that was coming up - every single event, every bit of marketing, sponsorship, a huge campaign we had coming up on billboards and buses, our first store - everything. We had to pivot and figure out how to move forwards. We wanted to support our community and be there with things that really mattered to them at the time, from yoga and meditation sessions to home cooking tutorials. We really pivoted and tried to make sure that we were talking to them about things that were relevant to them, not just trying to sell them jewellery. And honestly I’ve never felt more proud of the team and their passion.
How did you keep team morale up over lockdown?
We did more Kitchen Tables - I started Missoma around my kitchen table with my mum so we still call our town hall 'The Kitchen Table' and we actually have my old kitchen table in the office to gather around. So we did more of those online. We had virtual pub quizzes, tea breaks and we now do team exercise classes - virtual yoga at Friday lunch, sweat classes on Wednesday evening, plus walking Wednesdays where we do a meeting on our phones walking and you send photographs of what you’re seeing. You need to keep creative and think outside of the box because for me, it’s all about protecting my team. I always say you have to start from within.
Tell me about Missoma Fine...
We actually pulled back the launch because we didn’t think it was appropriate earlier in the midst of the pandemic. And I know we’re still in the midst of the pandemic but there comes a point when you have to get it out there. Especially because this collection is a response to our customers' wants and needs. They wanted quality everyday essentials - something to wear with their fun statement Missoma pieces - in fine or solid gold, for your second hole, third hole, or that classic middle choker that you never take off. These are your essentials that you wear everyday and can’t live without. And you can wear them by themselves, with your more fashion-forward cool Missoma core pieces, your vintage pieces or pieces from other brands. We have some beautiful claw pieces that are part of our signature style and brand DNA and we've added in some black diamonds as well to give it that slightly cooler look, but we're going to evolve and build on it. It’s just about adding to and complimenting what we do, and it also maybe speaks to a slightly different audience.
And they are such quality pieces...
One of the most important things for us was the quality. Everything we do, from the Solitaires to the Huggies are designed in-house. I think there are a lot of brands out there that just buy in, whereas we make and design everything ourselves. For every piece, we have sourced the metal and we have procured the ethically sourced diamonds. There is a lot of greenwashing out there and so we’re not saying it’s 100% recycled gold because there are elements that aren’t. We’re saying ‘elements of recycled gold’ and wherever possible we’re trying to improve what we do.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
I wish I had received more advice over the years and I wish I had more mentors and advisors. If I have received good advice, I think it has always been to listen to your gut - even my CFO said that to me the other day. I wasn’t happy with something and she told me: ‘Your gut told you it was wrong, you’ve got to listen to your gut more’, and I think it’s that lack of confidence. I’ve also learnt about the power of no. I’m a yes person and I tell myself and my team, if someone wants something from you or you can’t get something done in time, you have to be able to say no. Twice, I’ve actually turned down big wholesale orders because it wasn’t right for us at the time and funnily enough they have come back to me later on even more interested. And another piece of advice, because you're never going to get just one answer with me, is to learn to delegate. You need to learn to give things to other people, and not try to do it all yourself. I think you should always surround yourself by people who know more than you, because you’re not going to be an expert in every area.
What is the bravest thing you have ever done?
Taking a leap of faith, leaving my day job and starting out on my own. I tried to go down the route that was expected of me and I came back to this knowing this is what I really want to do. Then, finding our supplier partners and going around the world to knock on their doors on my own. And even knocking on doors when we talk about wholesale stores. Getting turned down and continuing on anyway makes you stronger and more resilient, and I think that resilience is what you need if you’re going to start anything. Whatever business it is, you need resilience.
Have you ever felt discriminated against as a female founder?
I really haven’t - sorry! I think the only thing that has ever held me back is my own lack of confidence. I still have self-doubt to this day. 'Did I sound confident enough?' 'Did I show weakness?' But my god, with the years, age and experience, I have learnt to own my confidence, or at least show up and put my best foot forward. I think that lack of self belief was what was holding me back for so many years, and I believe that only when you start to really own your confidence does it allow you to emerge from within.
What is the secret to a work/personal life balance?
I’m still searching for the answer. Whoever works it out should sell it because it’s the holy grail. I recently got engaged and he told me, ‘You know that I’m a distant number two to Missoma’. I think that when you have children, it helps put things in perspective. That’s what I hear from my friends, my work colleagues and my sister. I think you know what comes first, you know what’s important and you make things work. I don’t have children yet, and so I just give too much to work, but then again, work is my baby. If it’s your own business, there’s always going to be blurred lines and it’s always going to seep into the rest of your life, be it your evenings, weekends or holidays. Especially during the stress of this period and trying to navigate these unchartered waters.
What will you never compromise on in business?
Authenticity and values. We always try to think about our customer - what they need, what they want, what price they can afford, what’s important to them etc. For example, we have changed all our packaging to recycled and recyclable packaging, we’ve brought in a CSR team to help make sure that we’re always moving towards better practices, and again, we’re not perfect but we are very conscious about what we’re doing. There are probably so many different answers that you could give but I think you can always hold your head up high if you try to stay true to yourself. You can’t try to be something for everyone, you just need to try and do what you do well.
Do you have a tip for asking for more?
Think it through, write it down and practice asking for it - practice will really help you gain that confidence you need. And always remember that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I will say that you can’t always give a promotion - and so if somebody can’t give it to you when you ask, they will be able to give you a road map of what you need to do to get there. Then you’ll have a goal with milestones and you'll know what you need to do to achieve it. It's all about your growth path.
What is your super power?
I consider myself the team cheerleader. I literally think that’s one of the most important roles I have, to keep the team motivated and to lead them with confidence. I know that we can’t always be positive - especially in these difficult times - but you need to get everyone to think in a proactive, resilient and as upbeat a way as possible, so I try to make sure that I am cheering everyone on.
What has been your proudest moment?
Some of my proudest moments are the impact of our charity partnerships. We can say hand on heart this year that we have planted quarter of a million trees, and that partnership that we set up three years ago with Tree Sisters is really making a difference. But ultimately, my proudest moment comes back to the team. When I look around and see how passionate they all are about something that I created, how hard they work and how much they enjoy it, that gives me the most pride. I remember when it was three of us, 10 of us, 15 of us, and now we’re going to be 80. And I hope that I can continue to grow our team without losing that magic. So, yes I’ve created a great Missoma team on the outside (our followers and customers), but closer to home I’m so proud of what we’re achieving internally.
How do you celebrate success?
I’m always telling my team to celebrate their successes and the small wins, but I’m not sure I do it myself. I’m always scared about what’s coming around the corner and I don’t want to tempt fate. I have had so many ups and downs in this journey that all I think about is the potential pitfalls and I’m very aware that you can be up one minute and down the next. My biggest thing is not to become complacent, so the problem is I then close myself off a bit to celebrating success. There’s ups and downs for everyone in personal life and career and you have to take the hits as well as the wins.
What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
Oh my god, I have made so many but I am a big believer in the fact that you learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes. I think the biggest mistake you can make is getting into bed with the wrong people. If the wrong people come onboard, they can lead you down the wrong path and if you don’t have the confidence to stand up to them and say ‘No, this is what we’re doing, this is what’s right for us, this is what I believe’, then you’re in trouble. Again, it all comes back to having that innate confidence and self-belief to say ‘I know what’s right for this brand’. Sometimes when you lose that confidence you get led down other pathways because you think people know better and more than you. And they might have more experience than you, but funnily enough it doesn’t mean they know better.
What is your mantra?
I have so many mantras, but I really do believe in the power of positivity. I think you can very easily go down a rabbit hole of dreading the problems that are going to come up each day, so instead I go into each day thinking, what problems can I solve today? You have to manage it in your own mind and turn it around to be a positive. It’s all about having the right attitude, and then that attitude is what you will give out to the rest of your team.
What would you like to change for women?
I would like to see more women in tech. We have this really powerful and inspirational c-suite that is all women at the moment. We have got myself, the CFO and the CMO, and we would love to have a fourth woman. We have currently got an interim Chief Technology Officer (CTO) who is a man and we have been going out to market looking, but we cannot find a female CTO. We just don’t get female applications for that CTO role and we would love it to be an amazing tripod of women. So I think I would like to see more women in tech and senior leadership in general.
What could we all achieve if we supported each other?
I think we could just get further and faster together. We’re only as good as our team and I feel that while there’s a lot of talk about supporting each other, it too often is just talk. Women always speak about supporting and upholding other women, yet when you are being attacked or torn down, it’s actually often women who are doing it. I think we need to accept our differences, our strengths and our weaknesses, and by doing that, I think we will lean on each other because our differences can compliment each other.
Missoma Fine is available to buy now.
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Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.
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