When it comes to reimagining your career, it’s not usually a case of throwing out everything you’ve done before to start anew. Leveraging what you already know and applying it in a different way is often a smart way to take a leap. Couple that with taking an old concept and bringing it to life with a modern twist, and you’ve got a unique offering in the making.
In 2011, Kate Vandermeer founded homewares and gift mobile emporium TheSuperCool, after 14 years in fashion retail, consulting and teaching. Inspired by the idea of vintage peddlers travelling from town to town with a mobile trove, Kate pulled her consultancy business back to part time, while she started a series of popup stores around Melbourne.
Today Kate and her hubby work full time in TheSuperCool, which includes a flagship store in the South Melbourne Market (operating four days a week), an online store, occasional pop-ups and a string of creative collaborations. In an industry that is constantly challenged by aggressive sale cycles, long hours and commoditisation, Kate’s curation of super cool wares, retail savvy and energetic sass has seen her leap go from strength to strength. She recently extended their flagship to include a fully stocked kids section.
Kate is a keen communicator and dot-joiner. She’s tenacious and finds a way to make things work. But perhaps her biggest strength is seeing the world as one where there really is no such thing as failure – where the idea that the very fact that you tried, means you didn’t fail. When you look at the world that way, the possibility of taking a leap turns into reality.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
A nun when I was young because I went to a Catholic primary school and had the loveliest, sweetest nun called Sister Rose and I just wanted to be her! Then, a primary school teacher when I realised nuns couldn’t have boyfriends and had to wear uniforms!
Then the Fashion Editor of Vogue from age 14 to 20 (until I did an internship at Vogue and realised it wasn’t all I thought it was).
What did/do you study?
I studied fashion at RMIT (merchandising stream which was more business focused than purely creative). I’ve since studied Spanish, Adobe Illustrator (Creative Suite) and training and assessment (in order to teach at universities).
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
To move out of fashion after a successful career in it for 14 years and into launching a mobile retail emporium in homewares and gifts, called TheSuperCool.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
I had my own consultancy focused on assisting small business in branding, marketing and digital strategy. I also taught fashion business and e-fashion courses at university.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My dad. My father (who has run an extremely successful business in timber and steel) has always encouraged my love of business, taught me a heap about riding through the bad times, thinking big about how to create good times, how to make margin and how to buy and sell creatively. He is an incredibly humble man and has never flashed his material success around and for that I think he is pretty special!
Amanda Briskin, former Mimco Creative Director and co-creator. I worked with Amanda across visual merchandising and created exclusive costume jewellery ranges for her when she moved from wholesale into retail. Amanda looked at creativity in a business sense I’d never seen before and I absorbed a lot of knowledge and understanding of business from my time there.
Karen Webster, Dean of RMIT Fashion (at the time I was studying) and also LMFF Creative Director. When I was studying, Karen understood that my strengths weren’t in creating clothing but in trends, business and marketing. She helped me understand that there was a world of options in the business of fashion and that gave me a lot of confidence to pursue those options.
Mary Portas, Queen of Shops. Let me begin by saying I haven’t personally met her (I would love to) but I love what she’s about, her personal tough love vibe and her ability to create real change in the industry. Her personal brand of understanding retail helped me structure a series of seminars I ran under my old consultancy, iSpyStyle.
Amanda Henderson, Gloss Consultancy. Amanda may not know this (although I think she knows I think she’s ace!) but her drive, passion and true creativity without having to play the fashion game has always impressed me. Her whole persona has always made me think she’s pretty special and a great role model.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
Years of experience in retail working for small and large companies and sound financial data from six months of running TheSuperCool (whilst still running my consultancy part-time) and the support of Noonie (who ran it on the weekends and took annual leave when we had a particularly busy time coming up) before he took the leap from a very well paid corporate job to join me full-time.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
It wasn’t a melt down or a ‘this is too hard’ moment, rather I could see the world of small fashion business in Melbourne and Sydney was changing with all the internationals coming in and that there were less clients to help and less clients with money to spend on consultants. There was also a real awareness I wanted a career change out of fashion.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
It was a combination of listening to my intuition to understand when was the right time and looking at my enjoyment levels and enthusiasm for fashion. Since I was a teenager I had been obsessed with fashion. I read all I could (magazines, books, online), I would study retail cycles, what was selling, what and who was going on sale, what was happening in terms of trends in window displays here compared to internationally. I was completely absorbed by it. After some time, I realised I just didn’t care to the same level anymore. I felt like I had ‘fashion fatigue’! And that’s when I knew I had to change course; because if there’s one thing I am, it’s super motivated and enthusiastic. So if I’m not feeling motivated, I really have to reassess why.
Once I’d acknowledged this feeling, I realised that the same enthusiasm and motivation I used to have with fashion had now transferred to TheSuperCool. I was using the business skills, retail knowledge and trends I’d learned in fashion but applying it to a different industry and enjoying the challenge of working amongst creatives with homewares, gifts, textiles, publishing etc.
How did you fund your leap?
By working part-time in my consultancy for around eight months before winding down it down properly and then doing TheSuperCool full-time. During this time, my hubby/business partner in TheSuperCool was also still working full-time in his well paid corporate role and working on TheSuperCool after work and on weekends. He left his full-time role around one year after we began. Anyone who has been in this zone knows how incredibly draining it is: working 24/7 between your day job and your dream, saving money so you can quit the day job, feeling like you’re not spending enough time on your dream but not knowing when to just leap…it’s a hard time but a necessary step in the leap.
What other leaps have you made?
1. Instead of graduating and looking for work, I began freelance styling and started my own accessory label at age 20 (no fear and youth helped there!).
2. I leapt into full-time work for a company (shock horror) after working for myself for so long as State Visual Merchandiser at French Connection This was a leap in a different direction (learning to take orders, deal with corporate culture and office politics after working for myself and determining my own schedule was a different sort of challenge at age 23)!
3. Starting iSpyStyle, my own consultancy offering branding, marketing, retail and digital advice, after working in corporate culture for nine years and earning good money climbing the corporate ladder of fashion.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
I believe all leaps work. They may not appear to at the time for whatever reason (health, finances, people) but all leaps teach you important lessons and experiences. I’ve always believed in not having regrets and just trying things. You can always change course. I’ve tried lots of different roles and worked for small and large businesses and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have discovered where I fit and what kind of working environment I like the most. I wouldn’t have learnt valuable lessons about people and how to deal with lots of different opinions in a working environment. So I think everything I’ve done has taught me something (sometimes a hard to swallow lesson at the time) and with some wisdom, age and retrospect, I’ve seen their value.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
I’m most fearful of not trying all the things I’d love to. I’m most fearful of running out of time. I fear not being satisfied. I deal with this by trying lots of things, having a go and reviewing experiences.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap? 1 being sad, 10 being rad.
100 – SUPERCOOL RAD. It was the best decision to move away from fashion, to begin a business with my hubby and to create something that has resonated with so many people. We DEFINITELY have days where I wonder what we got ourselves into but overall, it’s being the most satisfying role I’ve done yet (next to motherhood which is equal parts RAD and SAD depending on how much sleep I’ve had)!
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
There are many. Feeling a sense of freedom, not knowing what the future holds, wondering what could happen, who you might meet, what could come of that meeting, opportunity, excitement (not routine). I do plan and mostly have a type A personality but I don’t like knowing the future, I find it limiting.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
I used to think failure, but I actually disagree with that now. Because the very fact you tried, means you’ll never fail. You gave something a go which is more than most of society would ever do, those who value safety, security and knowing their future more than feeling scared, vulnerable and afraid.
What might be your next leap?
Well I would like to sell TheSuperCool in the next couple of years, have another child and then see what happens. I am excited not to know my future, what opportunities may come from meeting people and using my knowledge in different ways.
What are your favourite words to live by?
I don’t really have a specific mantra, but let’s go with ‘try something new’. This one simple sentence means moving from indifference, insecurity and lack of decision, to taking a step towards new. New is always better, more exciting and fun.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
There are many people I admire who have made the leap, but of recent times I do admire Zoe Foster Blake. As a SuperCool mum, a creative spirit who works across many worlds (beauty, business owner, author, ambassador) and a downright lovable identity, my goal is to meet and befriend Zoe because I think she’s ace and I have a huge girl crush on her!
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Work out what you are most afraid of and confront it. Is it other people’s perceptions? They’ll probably secretly be jealous you tried. Is it money? Have you got savings and the ability to live off less? Then give yourself a number that is your rock bottom amount and make this your decider for when you need to change things up and move in a different direction.
Right now I’m:
Lying in bed with my two and a half year old daughter on holidays (watching her sleep) as I haven’t had the clear headspace to answer this succinctly.
Hearing: Chef soundtrack. Latin, funk, soul. The best combo (and an excellent film).
Eating: Incredible chicken pot pie and fresh, healthy salads from Home Slice (an awesome take away place in Brisbane that I wish was in Melbourne!).
Drinking: Healthy Kate: cacao, avocado, raspberry, banana, chia, greek yoghurt homemade smoothies. Naughty Kate: mojitos.
Reading: I love reading but in the last couple of months, I haven’t had a book on the go. I have found it harder to find time to read since having Lola. I’m so tired at night, I often have no energy to read before sleep but when I do,
The Sunday Magazine from Sunday’s Herald Sun (love the indulgence of reading this on a Sunday night in bed before sleep) and online, The Grace Tales and Extraordinary Routines.
Loving: Watching Lola grow into a real human with her own personality (it’s extraordinary and a real miracle). New Girl (we’ve been watching all the seasons back to back and you fall in love with the characters more when it’s sequential watching I think). Learning to trust my intuition more, trying to master meditation, Go-To Skincare (really has changed my skin, loving the way my skin feels from using it), overalls, they suit my lifestyle (I can wear them at work and still feel cool and I can play with Lola at the park and feel comfortable).
As you throw on your own overalls to get to work this week, can you reimagine what your working life might look like if you took what you already knew and reconfigured or repositioned your skills, talents and energy in another realm? What ideas show up? Let your mind conjure up all the super cool possibilities, just for a moment or two, and see where it takes you.