INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY | #BREAKTHEBIAS
March 08, 2022
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’re championing two fierce female leaders - our very own Billini Creator, Susannah Khouzame, and fellow businesswoman and celebrity hairstylist, Natalie Anne. As two strong-minded businesswomen and mothers, Susannah and Natalie Anne joined forces late 2021 to create an exclusive collection of statement accessories: Natalie Anne x Billini.
Both ladies are well-acquainted with the trials of navigating a male-dominated business-world, and have faced countless hurdles, challenging stereotypes, breaking barriers and #breakingthebias along the way on their journey to success. This shared experience was the precursor to both women connecting and developing a collection that not only offers the latest in must-have accessories, but demonstrates the sheer power of women supporting women.
In anticipation of IWD both Susannah and Natalie Anne sat down with us at Billini HQ and shared their experience with #breakingthebias on their journey to success.
Q: Tell us about where it all started — early passions, any specialised study and how this informed your current career trajectory?
Like most young women in their early 20’s, I always had a love for high-end fashion, but I was studying a double major in Accounting and Law, so I needed to make a big decision around where my future was headed! I quickly decided to pursue my passion and start a brand around providing women with on-trend footwear and accessories at affordable prices as I knew very well what it meant to dream about those designer shoes or handbag but not being able to afford it!
My work ethic came from my family early on when I started working in my family’s takeaway shop after school and weekends when I was only 12. I knew I wanted to be a hairdresser from primary school actually; my step mother was a hairdresser so every opportunity I had I would spend in their family salon. I left school and started my career at Toni and Guy at the age of 14, completed my apprenticeship when I was only 18 & did my first cover of a magazine when I was 19.
Q: This year’s IWD theme is Break The Bias — how do you feel you break the bias as a successful woman in your field?
Believe it or not, the women’s footwear industry is very much dominated by men! Think Christian Louboutin, Gianvito Rossi, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, etc just to name a few successful designers to date! Seeing new influential women becoming more and more successful at what they are creating in the fashion industry makes me so proud, so creating a brand and company who’s purpose is to empower women by wearing fabulous product as well as mentoring and leading a team filled with passionate and collaborative women on a daily basis, makes me want to continue to achieve in this space!
I was a pioneer in the digital space here in Australia. I have always been passionate about education and sharing my knowledge with other women. My first tutorial was back before it was a trending reel with audio and that was in 2012! It went viral for its time and was reposted by the likes of Huda Beauty and multiple blog pages. I saw this as an opportunity to grow an audience on an international scale by sharing my knowledge with the world. I’m also one of the only female hairdresser product founders.
Q: Two brands collided for a pretty special collaboration — what drew you to one another as a collaborative partner?
When the opportunity arose to partner with another female founder, businesswoman, mother and friend, it made total sense as our values and goals around empowering women were aligned, we just did this in different industries! So this collaboration originated not only to support and empower each other to create a collection that we are so proud of aligning our brands to, but also making the woman wearing each piece feel fabulous and ready to take on their special event with confidence.
I was drawn to Susannah in my salon space - she was actually a client! I didn’t really know much about Billini, so I was so inspired by her success and drive. Every time she would have a colour appointment I would hijack her appointment and turn it into a growth session ;) ! Eventually I pitched the idea to her and here we are about to design our second collection.
Q: You are both the epitome of ‘having it all’; catapulting career, family & flowing creativity. How do you maintain a work/life balance & zest for what you do with such busy schedules?
For me, this has always been my biggest challenge and a skill that is still a work in progress! Being so hands on in such a fast paced and rapidly growing business requires lots of hard work, hours and travel, so ensuring you try and manage a heathy work life balance through a strong support network, setting clear and achievable goals and not being so hard on yourself is essential in order to do so. I have a passion for a healthy lifestyle involving regular exercise and clean eating to help me mentally get through my days, together with lots of family time to help me remember what the most important thing is, and to me that is my family!
I really struggle when I’m asked this question. I definitely feel I have it all because I’m blessed with an incredible husband and daughter. However work/life balance isn’t something I feel like I have down pat. I’m fortunate that I have an extremely supportive husband and family network that helps me juggle it all. My team is also so dedicated to the success and growth of the brand that it enables me to grow other areas of the business.
Q: How will you inspire your daughters & the women in your life to #BreakTheBias in their worlds?
I have an 8 year old daughter who wants to be just like me when she is older (and now to be honest!), so it is important that I encourage her to be the best version of herself every day and support her to achieve any goals she is passionate about, however challenging it may be. I like to remind her that when founding Billini, I had no experience in footwear or business, all I had was a passion and determination to succeed, and with this anything is possible.
I will teach my daughter as my mother did to build an empire with honey not vinegar. Being kind is free and feels amazing. I will teach her to be strong, fair and confident. If she decides to come into the family business I would want her to have her own path to walk and empire to grow.