When it comes to Kate Johnson and business, it’s in the blood. And while her business-minded ancestors might have long since closed up shop, Purfectly Chic by Kate Johnson continues to go from strength to strength.
So, Kate, tell us about your business…
Establishing Purfectly Chic has always been a dream of mine. Having a passion for business and design along with my love of the modeling/fashion industry meant only one thing – combining the two! I initially launched the company as a boutique graphic design firm that specialised in corporate branding and multimedia. Since then, and as my modelling career has grown, it’s evolved into a one-stop online boutique for products inspired by this new part of my life — the ultimate lifestyle store for busy women on the go.
Inspired by the model lifestyle, it brings a world of timeless elegance to work and travel with effortless sophistication. Whether you’re a student, industry-savvy fashionista, career woman or yummy mummy, you’ll LOVE the range. Stylish and practical meets affordability, and it’s cruelty free…so Vogue, darling!
Did you always dream of opening your business or was there something else you wanted to be ‘when you grew up’?
Running a business is in my blood, quite literally! My parents traced our ancestry back to the First Fleet, and each and every generation has produced a family of business owners – from blacksmiths, farmers and lawyers to real estate agents, pest controllers and business consultants. So it’s safe to say I’ve inherited my family’s strong work ethic!
The year I graduated from high school, I established my graphic design consultancy (after finding my love of desktop publishing and design in Grade 12). I then went on to complete my trade as a Graphic Designer, majoring in Small Business Management and Multimedia. As I wanted to travel and work abroad, I also completed my Bachelor of Visual Arts, majoring in Digital Design & Photography. From there I took my talents to Washington DC and London… the rest is history!
What inspired you to finally open your business?
My parents. The family business environment I was raised in ultimately prepared me for the ‘real world’. Compared to a lot of my friends in school whose parents had government jobs that they hated, it made me appreciate what hard work meant. What you put in is what you get out. Fast track to today, I have had the opportunity to pursue travelling for work and pleasure. The job I do and have now (my multifaceted career as a model and businesswoman) didn’t exist when I was in school – I effectively created my own market. Having lived and worked across three continents and travelled widely through more than 40 countries, there was always one great challenge – how do you live such a hectic life on a budget without compromising style? Cue the need for a chic lifestyle range, and all your essentials under one roof!
Establishing Purfectly Chic has always been a dream of mine. Having a passion for business and design along with my love of the modelling/fashion industry meant only one thing – combining the two!
What has been your biggest challenge so far? What obstacles have you overcome?
Conflicting priorities. When I re-established Purfectly Chic in 2013, I was strongly focused on my modelling career and charity ambassador roles. 2014 saw me crowned Mrs. Australia, a charity title through the Touch of Goodness Foundation. What followed was an unexpected journey of healing, self discovery and media commitments that would reach a broad range of people I hadn’t yet connected with. I’ve had mixed feedback from a lot of my family, friends and networks!
When I began to pursue my business career much more vigorously, people seemed to forget I had a life (and career) well before I got into modelling. It’s become my own personal joke when people are surprised that I know what I’m talking about – “I know right, what would I know, I’m just a model!?” Haha. Pushing past the ‘beauty queen’ and ‘model’ stereotype hasn’t been as rough as I thought. I put that down to my philosophy of always keeping it real, practising what I preach and leading by example.
And what has been your greatest business achievement?
Seeing the products resonate with women always brings a smile to my face! I love hearing about how much people love browsing the site or that they can’t get enough of their latest purchases.
Do you have any celebrity followers (fans of your business)? If so, who are they and what product/service do they love?
I’m not usually phased by the rich and famous, although I do have a number of companies that I love and follow in the fashion and health/fitness industry that also follow me (hashtag awesome)! Each time one of my favourite companies follow me, I always get a kick out of it. You know you’re a brand worth following so you’re doing something right.
There is so much more to life than striving for digital perfection.
Who is/was your business inspiration?
My parents. I’ve always looked up to them and respected their work ethic; their example is the exact position I find myself in today. They’ve made a lot of sacrifices and mistakes, and they’ve also had a lot of wins. I’ve learnt to always be grounded and when you instill a real sense of ownership and responsibility for your actions, it can set you up for life. The importance of patience, persistence, motivation and hard work is now what I teach a lot of the teens I tutor. Business basics doesn’t come down to who you know and what family you were born into. You’ll be surprised by the doors that open with common courtesies, too.
Were you among the first in your family and friendship group to run your own business? If so, were you supported or discouraged?
Among my family, no – there’s a long line of business entrepreneurs and I felt like I just had to find my niche before taking off. I got there! Among my friends though, different story! Most of them met me and have only known me as ‘Kate Johnson the model’ and have always assumed I’m their age (early 20s). Now that they’re looking at career diversifying, it’s wonderful to be able to give them some support and pointers. Sometimes I feel like a mum because of the life experiences I’ve had compared to someone else my age. I went into business quite young, so I’m happy to help where I can.
I was predominantly supported. With strangers, once we get past the, ‘Oh, you’re not just a model’ line of talk, it’s always smooth sailing with all my networks and colleagues. The fact that I can hold an intelligent conversation on just about any topic (the joys of a very diverse range of clients, projects and countries over the years) is typically a dead giveaway, though I don’t mind educating the unassuming. Starting with my truck license is always a good icebreaker!
Do you have a mentor? (Or did you have a mentor during your business-building phase?) If so, how important was this relationship to your success?
My parents were my first mentors in helping me get my business up and running straight out of high school. Over the years, I have built on that and now have a company with three distinct business arms. It was high time I invested in a business coach and I was fortunate to meet my New Zealand comrade, David Sutherland, at an event in Sydney about a year ago. His life experience and expertise is second to none and this has provided me with a wealth of knowledge ideal for the direction of my business. He has built, developed and sold numerous businesses around the globe, and his philanthropy efforts are how we originally met. It’s like it was meant to be!
Are you a mentor? If so, who do you mentor?
Over the years, I have inadvertently become a mentor. You don’t ever get up in the morning and say, ‘I want to inspire you’ because, really, what happens is you get up in the morning and water your own grass without worrying about what everyone else is doing. Ultimately, what you do and how you do it inspires.
For the last 10 years, I have been working with teens aged 13-20 in the Australian Air Force Cadets, and mentoring aspiring models since 2008 — face to face across Australia and internationally via my social networks. My model and lifestyle blog, Chic Nation, has had more than 8 million views since the content and directions evolved in September 2013. The content is based on topics that would help my 15-year-old self and is full of tips and tricks about the industry to help others in leading their own healthy and happy lifestyle.
I was named a celebrity guest speaker at Girlfriend magazine’s Beautiful Minds event in Sydney, and a Celebrity Ambassador for the Beautiful You Australia campaign. Both ambassador roles involve me sharing my journey with women about my life, business and modelling career, travelling and the journey that has made me the person I am today. If that inspires others to be the very best version of themselves tomorrow, and for every tomorrow, that makes me one happy gal!
Predominantly, I mentor my readers via my blog and the teens I tutor face to face here in Sydney, Newcastle and Darwin. My audience is very open ended though – I’m happy to talk to anyone who asks the question to get a better understanding of modelling, the creative industry, media, pageants, and even online business. I have received messages and emails through my social sites and website www.katejohnson.com.au from young girls in Europe, North America and the United Kingdom wanting to get into modelling or pageants and asking for advice. It’s a privilege to have such a reach and I always make time where I can to respond.
Why do you mentor?
To help my 15-year-old self. As a teen, I only had a limited number of role models and while my parents were pretty amazing with giving me some coping mechanisms to deal with the school yard bullies, the frizzy hair, severe acne and braces was just a walk in the park for what the years following had in store for me. Being raised by a quadriplegic mother on a single income, family business environment, surviving a sexual assault and enduring a late term miscarriage in a toxic relationship, I needed to learn what it was like to live not just to exist. Building my own self-esteem, body confidence and finding my ‘why’ has taken time.
The thing about life is that it’s unfair for everyone. I wasted my teens (and more of my 20s than I’d care to admit) just wishing I could live a different life, to make it all go away — and yet all along I’ve had this gift! More than 80% of women across Australia and the United States say the images they see of women on television and in magazines make them feel insecure. My role? Kick starting a revolution to encourage more models, public figures and celebrities – the very people our youth look up to and aspire to be – to ‘keep it real’. Offer more than just a picture perfect social media feed all the time. Give a little more substance in your interviews than talking about how to deal with a chipped nail on their way to work. There is so much more to life than striving for digital perfection. If I had known that as a teen I wouldn’t have wasted all those years wishing I were something that not even the models in the magazines and the pageant girls on stage are (I don’t look like my campaign images when I roll out of bed)!! And that’s why I mentor.
Do you have a favourite product that you have designed? Please tell us about it.
I’ve put so much time and love into my collections that it’s a tough choice! The Purfect Pout Lip Glosses are just divine; I spent a solid six months developing the product to ensure it does what I want it to (collaborating with firms in the US, Germany and China) and securing the signature PETA ‘cruelty free’ bunny tag was a big win. I think my favourite though is the Glamazon Portfolio Clutch. It’s got such a chic and polished look; small enough for simple sophistication, large enough to be practical and carry all your essentials. Winning.
Do you have an exit strategy? Do you think you could ever sell your business and move on to something else?
At this stage, it’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else! I’m combining two career paths that I LOVE and I feel like I’m in a great place. Everything I’m passionate about has come together perfectly; now it’s a matter of building on that. I’m happy to put the hard yards and crazy work hours in now — when I have a family one day, I want to have an ideal work-life balance to raise and spend time with them.
Are you involved in philanthropy? If so, what causes are close to your heart?
Yes, and I love it because it’s so rewarding! I have been involved with a number of charities across a broad range of areas since the age of nine. Closest to my heart have been cancer organisations and animal welfare charities, together with spinal cord injury and disability advocacy due to my mother’s car accident in 1992 that left her a quadriplegic.
I am proud to have been affiliated with the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. More recently, I have become a National Community Ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia (carrying on my late aunt’s legacy of ensuring no woman walks alone), an Animal Advocate for the RSPCA and a Taronga Zoo Meerkat Mummy. I’m also a Global Ambassador for the Touch of Goodness Foundation, a charity dedicated to assisting those less fortunate and ‘spreading the goodness’ in the community through fundraising and volunteering.
Why do you think it’s important for women business owners to be philanthropic?
It’s important for both male and female business owners to be more philanthropic. You have two hands — one for helping yourself and one for helping others. A lot of us wouldn’t be where we are today without the help and support of friends, family and those around us. The sad truth is that some people don’t have these same privileges, so I’m all for giving back to the community and helping to make a difference in someone’s life.
You have two hands — one for helping yourself and one for helping others.
What’s the best business advice you’ve been given? And by who?
“Always go with your passions. Never ask yourself if it’s realistic or not.” My uncle gave me that advice when I first asked him about his business success as a teen. Of course, there are pros and cons to making quick decisions based on passion and not realistic expectations and outcomes. Though, you know what, what if you don’t fail? Thank you, Darcy!
What’s the best business tip you can offer our readers?
Do what you love. Love what you do. If you believe in yourself, everything else will fall into place.
What’s next for your business?
I always have big and bold plans! Later this year, I have a number of items set to launch for the 2014/2015 Australian summer season with more lifestyle collections building over the next couple of years. My ideas and goals are endless and I love it! I don’t plan on having thousands of products under one roof, more a boutique range of quality items, so I am more than prepared to spend the time in road testing before launching…watch this space!
At a Glance
Business name: Purfectly Chic by Kate Johnson
Location: Sydney, NSW. Currently shipping to all states and territories in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Your position: Founder
Year business established: Founded in 2007. Re-established in 2013 as a boutique online lifestyle store.
Typical work week/schedule: My career overflows into my everyday life so each day blurs into one crazy lifestyle that’s a combination of my modelling, graphic design, youth and charity work. It’s always an early start with my personal trainer, Blake Worrall-Thompson (www.6weekstosexy.com) as I love feeling fit and healthy; followed by a shoot, interview or meeting, and any number of hours on my computer with my business hat on. I work on trade design and manufacturing collaborations with my suppliers both in Australia and abroad for my online boutique. There is also prep for or attending a red carpet event or launch where I can focus on fundraising for charities close to my heart and boosting their profile. No day is the same so it’s a constant challenge, which I love!
- Beautiful You Australia, Celebrity Ambassador
- National Community Ambassador, Ovarian Cancer Australia
- Touch of Goodness Foundation, Global Ambassador & Mrs Australia 2014
First published September 2014.