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Women@Work: Karen Gee
08 May 2013
In a high-rise Sydney CBD apartment building in an area assumed to be more about big business than a family home – Karen lives with her husband and five school age children. The apartment’s decoration highlights the hundreds of family photos covering the available surfaces. A steel shop rack of simple, elegant black dresses stands in front of a full-length wall glass mirror: samples from the new Karen Gee Platform Collection.
Karen, who freely admits she’s “wonderfully imperfect”, would never presume to think her shoes are too big to fill. However, her journey from stay-at-home mum to pageant winner – with all the contingent media, speaking and presentation work that accompanies such a win – her spokesperson and ambassadorship roles, and now, her new business life as the creative director of her own eponymously named fashion label, might prove otherwise.
“Rewind to 2011, that’s where the journey begins for me,” says Karen, explaining how her second eldest son, unbeknownst to her, nominated her for the Mrs. Australia contest.
“I was a very happy ‘at-home’ mum but very much in a comfort zone. Andrew and I had decided when we married he would work and I’d be with the kids. We had a great process in place,” says Karen, who acknowledges her son’s actions came at a time when she was on a path to change though not fully conscious of it happening.
“I knew there was something in me I needed to bring back. I don’t know what prompted Oscar [Karen’s son] to nominate me, something at school, maybe, or he’d read about the competition, but the first I knew of it was when the competition organisers rang me in early 2011 and asked me to consider being a finalist for NSW.
“Pageants aren’t my thing, but Mrs. Australia focuses heavily on supporting women and children in need and was aligned with two charities Women in Need Australia foundation, and the Project Dovetail Children's Organisation. If I wanted to run I was going to have to do some intensive awareness and fund raising – nine months of it. Something about that really appealed,” explains Karen of her decision to run her own race as a finalist, her passion for selling something she believes in and her love of “a bit of hard work”.
Fifteen finalists later, having acquitted herself admirably in all aspects of the competition, as well as raising well over $50,000 for the two charities, Karen found herself at Crown Casino – cameras snapping, journalists firing questions, TV channels demanding interviews – the new Mrs. Australia Globe.
“I was stunned,” says Karen, who had also come to the realisation that she now had two options ahead of her.
“I could either sit back, wear the crown and sink into early obscurity or use the opportunity to get out and work it. I wanted to be an ambassador for the people and sponsors I’d met on my journey,” says Karen, who began to see in the process the opportunity the platform afforded her to build her own personal brand with which she could do something down the track.
“I have great relationships with Hilton Worldwide Hotels, LivingWell Health Club, Saka Water, BMW Sydney Carnival, and Good Work(s) Make A Difference,” says Karen, about her predominantly volunteer roles for the organisations with which she is associated.
“I think the fact that we’re all still working together, and that Good Works approached me because they saw my work and me as a good fit, says something about my credibility.”
Goodworksmakeadifference.com was originally founded in Los Angeles. It creates inspirational wrist-bands, which the likes of Demi Moore, Cyndi Crawford and Justin Bieber sport. The business donates 25% of net profits to help people in need.
Dressed by various fashion labels seeking public exposure and red carpet moments during this period, Karen began to formulate an idea about how she could use the platform and brand she was beginning to create around herself.
Why not create her own brand, adhering to her three simple rules of “simplicity, elegance, timeless”. And why not plough some of the energy she had for her public commitments into her own business idea. It was a win-win situation.
Platform Black forms the basis of the Karen Gee Collection. Pieces can be worn year in, year out, updating or varying the look through accessories, a jacket, a beret or created in Platform Unique, the standard piece done in a range of fashion colours.
“I spent a long time getting the production and the fabric perfect. The double fused construction hangs beautifully, flattering the body.” explains Karen.
But it’s the price point that stuns everyone.
Starting at $300, it is clearly affordable.
“Simplicity is the basis of elegance and that’s timeless. Every one of my pieces has that at its creative heart and it is the model for my business. I want my vision and the reality of that vision, the clothes I create, to empower women. It’s that simple. I only design garments that I wear myself,” says Karen.
“My message is not look at me and be who I am, but look at yourself and think through what you’re capable of being, because it’s more than your giving yourself credit for, and then get out and do your best. It’s a confidence thing but once you step out of the little circle you quickly come to realise you’re someone very special,” says the newly minted creative director who’s already been branded by some as Australia’s answer to Victoria Beckham.
Certainly, Karen’s been brave enough to both own the ripples she’s created and make something of them. Her hope is that the natural extension of that momentum is a force for the empowerment of women and to build a brand recognized for elegance and sophistication.
“It's a wonderful feeling to have my husband, Andrew, as my biggest supporter and fan. He says he’s in awe of the energy and passion I have, although he always knew it was there. To see the emergence of the brand, he says, has made him incredibly proud. That means a lot to me. Who knows where it will take us both, but my gut instinct is the brand will be a great success and I’m ready for the hard work that will involve,” finishes Karen.
The Karen Gee Collection
Karen Gee launched recently with 11 elegant designs, available online. Six other designs are in production and will be available over the next eight weeks. Karen’s team of 15 is growing steadily as demand increases. Following the recent TV Week Logies 2013, at which Silver Logie nominee Demi Harman from Home and Away wore a special Karen Gee creation, the newly launched site was inundated with customers filling their shopping carts and looking forward to the arrival of their custom made garments in a black ribbon-tied box.
WIN your spot at Karen Gee’s trunk show
Thursday May 30, 2013 from 6.30pm Karen Gee is opening her home to 40 lucky women to join her for an exclusive designer trunk show featuring the Karen Gee Collection including new additions.
To enter for your chance to WIN a spot, click here