Hello beauties! It’s already July and feels as though I haven’t really had a real summer! You know sunshine most days, wearing pretty dresses and open toe sandals. Ah well that’s the British weather for you and it just means I need to go visit somewhere hot soon! Any suggestions? Enough rambling, today’s post is the 2nd interview in my Women in Business series and it’s with the incredibly creative Meera Santoro.
I met Meera of all places, in a shoe store :). If you’ve been following my blog for some time, then you know my love of shoes. Turns out we share that love. Bonding over Lucy Choi’s shoe collection at the flag ship store on Connaught Street I thought, what an amazing woman! Perfect for this series! Interviewing Meera blew me away because she’s so full of creative energy and sharp as a whip! Read on as she shares her story and advice :).
How did you get started?
My background was in Advertising and, whilst working at The Observer with their Sunday Magazine, I continued to harbour grandiose dreams of working for myself. I wasn’t sure in what or how – just that I was useless at working for other people!
BUT, being from a traditional South African Indian family, I was encouraged by my lovely dad to think about finding a nice man to settle down and have babies with. Oh dear! Was this really the advice from my semi-bohemian father who, amongst other things, was a “glamour” photographer in North London?
However, I soon met a truly inspirational man who had grandiose dreams of his own – but he really wanted to hear mine. So I told him how I loved art, greetings cards, colouring books and stories and that I wanted to make the kind of products that I dreamed of owning as a child. Then he said “why not?”. Simple as that. Long story short, ‘Truly Inspirational Man’ and I got married, I started SANTORO, then baby number one came along a year later. I got what I wanted – and so did my dad! I was 21 years old!
You have an amazing collection that your company designed, how did you gain inspiration for the various parts?
I think, like many creative types, I’m a little like a magpie. I zoom in on bits and things that glint and sparkle for me. It could be a super colour, a great drawing, a fabulous font – even a great smell! We started out with cards, gift wrap and paper-based products – but my vision saw that developing into whole collections of products, which turned into brands, whose IP could be licensed ….. This is where I really got excited.
Our first collection we developed into a brand was Bang on the Door. Many will know it as Groovy Chick – she adorned many girl’s bedroom walls in the 90’s. It ran for a good 10 years+ and whilst it was mainly a UK phenomenon, we hit about £30 million in retail sales within the first 3 years. I won’t say what we were doing after 10 years but it was pretty significant. I am very proud of what my team and I achieved in our first foray in Licensing a collection.
Our new phenomenon is Gorjuss. This has worked in reverse. She is now selling in 62 countries worldwide and only just emerging in the UK from mainly high end independent stores. She will soon be gracing the shelves in Harrods and Selfridges. Gorjuss is arguably our biggest brand yet – she is ‘the treasure of tomorrow’. A true evergreen in the making.
What do you enjoy about designing?
I am an Art Director. I cannot draw. I do, however, have an amazing knack of knowing precisely what I want and how I want it done – And woe betide those who step in my way! I have been known to have thrown a few wobblies in the early days. However, if you asked my Team now, they would say I was as serenely agreeable as a pussycat.
Tell me about your philanthropic endeavours.
I don’t think I’m any different to most people. When things go well, one feels the need to ‘give back’. Even when things don’t go well, we ask ourselves in life, ‘is this it?’ We are born with the desire to live, to preserve our health, to save our lives and others. Why wait for a disaster to act? I support and am on the committee of Caudwell Children – a UK based charity founded by my friend John Caudwell. His desire is to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children in this country. Charity does begin ‘at home’ – and I adore children. I also support CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) through my son’s school Reeds, Breast Cancer and The Lady Garden charity. This list is growing. I know one can’t save the world, but we can all do our bit! I am also a committed Christian.
”learn, learn, learn”
What advice would you give to women wanting to get into this field? Or starting their own business?
Go for it! But first, make a sound business plan. No one person can do it all. You can make a start on your own, but in order to grow, don’t be too proud to hire people who are better than you in the areas you need. Keep your mind open and learn, learn, learn. Actually don’t be too proud. Full stop.
What’s a typical day if you have one?
I do not have a typical day. These days I embrace every beautiful day as it comes. Every day comes with new hopes, new dreams, new opportunities – and new challenges and challenging people! I HATE the word routine. I’d be bored silly with a routine job like working in a bank! However, when I started I was newly married with a bambino on the way. So everything I’ve done was with babies in tow – our 3 best ‘products’ EVER!
Do you have a dream goal that you’re working towards?
Yes. To relinquish some of my proverbial teats. Sometimes I’ve felt like a cow with a hundred of them!
What makes your heart sing?
You and your husband built and designed your homes, where did you get the inspiration?
From Thunderbirds and 1960’s Star Trek! I always used to love the glamour of Lady Penelope’s house and the minimalist style of the Starship Enterprise. My dad bought me some dolls house furniture when I was 8 years old. A little grand piano with chair and a dressing table with mirror – in cream, shiny plastic. I dreamed about having a house glamorous enough to suit that furniture. We designed and built Swallows Drift in Oxshott, Surrey. My cream and silver bedroom with deep pile white carpet (no polar bears were harmed in its making!), is a true testament to that dream. I had the cream furniture made almost exactly!
What did you learn about yourself and each other, in the process of designing and building?
SANTORO literally means Saint Bull. We both took it in turns to play both parts in the design and build of the house. But we did it. We built the dream house. And yes. We are still married! (I’ve heard people get less time for murder!)
Told you she was amazing 🙂
I would love to read your comments on your take away from Meera’s life and advice. Also, what do you think of this interview series so far? What else would you like to know about these amazing women? Comment below!
Until next time be well