Carolina Giraldo is the founder and Creative Director at Carolina Lifestyle, an Australian brand that merges Australian style with Colombian craftmanship.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
Born and raised in Manizales, Colombia, from an early age my heart was always set on owning my own business. Both my parents were successful career doctors and despite being part of the relatively well-off middle class in our town, my parents never handed anything to me on a platter. I was taught that if I wanted something, I’d have to work for it.
By grade two I was earning pocket money selling artwork to neighbours and family. Later I sold baked cookies and chocolates. In high school I recruited my parents’ and grandmother’s housekeepers to assist in my successful baking business, matching their present salaries.
Fast forward several decades and I land on the shores of Australia, still with a dream to own my own business, yet with little knowledge of the English language! Working my way up from a cleaner, into a big corporation, I learnt the skills necessary to kick-start my own business and so, after undertaking a visual merchandising course in London, I returned to Australia to launch Carolina Lifestyle.
Now a decade on, Carolina Lifestyle boasts a hugely successful online e-commerce platform and 9 boutiques across NSW and Victoria. As the creative director for the brand, I am responsible for pulling together each range, designing and making sure there is flow and consistency across our collections. I am also responsible for managing the Colombian operation, managing our warehouse over there to ensure there is high quality production and staff are taken good care of.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
No two days are alike either in my work or personal life – but when you’re a mother to two young (and very busy) children! That being said, most days start the same, getting the kids up and ready for the day and checking in on the Colombian team, due to time zone differences.
I’ll use this time to liaise the design team to keep prototypes moving and provide feedback so adjustments can be made to upcoming collections as quickly as possible. I’ll also sign off on samples and check in on the production line.
After this, I’ll either usually head into our office or stop by one of our boutiques. My philosophy for each day is to do the top priority first, so that no matter which way the day pans out I’ve been able to cross off that one big thing.
After a quick lunch – at my desk, of course! – I’ll usually check in on operational elements or if I’m out at the store, I’ll ensure that the visual merchandising is on point, one of my favourite parts of the job is bringing to life our collections through a gorgeous display.
The absolute best part of being in the boutiques is connecting with the customers, helping to style them in a new favourite outfit and get the feedback on the product so I can continue to evolve our ranges and ensure what we’re producing is inline with what customers want.
By mid-afternoon, I’ll regroup with marketing to capture content and ensure we’ve got what we need for the next campaign be that content for Instagram videos or hosting a live show to showcase the newest pieces in-stores.
Despite the chaos of my days, I always try to be home by 4pm to spend time with the children before they go to bed, at which time I’ll hop back onto the laptop to cross over with Colombia again and keep trains moving while I sleep overnight!
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
I’m fortunate as my own boss that I can be flexible with my time, and as a creative director I’m also not attached to a desk and can do my job remotely, or wherever I need to be – at home with a sick child, or in one of my boutiques!
There are of course times where I am committed to attending photoshoots, etc, but I plan for this to ensure the balance is there. Similarly, I commit Mondays as my in-the-office day, so the team knows they can catch me if they need.
While naturally, life with young kids does compromise productivity, I realise that my kids are only going to be little for so long, so their needs will always come above the business. To manage this, I’ve built an incredibly supportive and understanding team around me, with great leaders in the business to support our 170 staff across Australia and Colombia.
When things don’t go to plan and I need to be home with the kids, the team is always happy to come to my house for meetings if need-be and are always willing to work flexibly around my needs and the needs of the business. In return, the staff get the flexibility they need to have the balance to juggle their own families and personal lives.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work life balance is incredibly important to me. I think any business owner knows that when you run a growing business, you don’t get to work nine to five and you are going to be required to go above and beyond. Often there is no switch off button. But I think once I had kids I had to put some strategies in place to ensure that my life was more than just work.
Mondays and Thursdays are my craziest days. On Fridays I try to finish early to be with the kids. Weekends I don’t work. I know that I could be out at stores, but this precious time is for family and friends and having that balance means that come Monday I’m ready to go.
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
The last 12 months have been transformative for myself and my business. When COVID arrived, it was as though someone turned off the tap. I was bedridden with stress, but implementing small changes have paid huge dividends not only to the business, but to my mental health too.
I started small, leaving my mobile in the kitchen when I go to bed. It’s honestly been the best thing I have ever done – my sleep quality has improved so much.
I’ve also started unwinding while watching Spanish TV, I find it strangely more relaxing, and it helps me to unwind – time that I wasn’t allowing myself when my phone was on my bedside table.
Finally, I’ve been putting effort and time into meaningful friendships. What I realise as a busy working mother is that it’s all about quality over quantity.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I love Mia Freedman’s “No Filter” podcast. Mia is an excellent interviewer and has a real ability to get guests to open up about their vulnerabilities in a real and authentic way.
Skilling Up Your Life by Danny Forest has also been a game changing book for me.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
This is really basic, but WhatsApp keeps me connected to the team while running an international operation.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Emma Isaacs from Business Chicks is a major inspiration of mine. She relishes the idea that work life balance doesn’t exist and you simply must embrace the journey. I feel this is a similar approach to me and helps to keep things in-check when I start to get overwhelmed.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
When you consider that close to a third of your life is working, it’s so incredibly important to make sure that you’re doing something that you absolutely love doing. Not only does this help to keep you inspired and fill your days with joy, but this happiness will seep into all aspects of your life – from your family to your relationships.
This is also something I try to really bring to the culture of the staff at Carolina Lifestyle, whether in Australia or Colombia. I want my staff to come to work and love what they do, who they work with and be proud of what they produce, all while having balance with their own personal lives. This is the top thing, but as a by-product, passion will also help to drive results for the business and the more successful we are, the more we can continue to build this important culture.
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