Marie-Gon (interior stylist)
Her tip for women entrepreneurs
‘Don’t limit yourself. You can do anything’ Pippi Longstocking always says: ‘I’ve never done that before, so I think I can do it.’
“Just do it. If you keep waiting until you feel brave enough, it won’t happen.” That’s what interior stylist Marie-Gon often tells people when they say: “I want to start my own business, but I find it so daunting.” “And then I also explain to them how I started out. I started my own business before I had even one customer. But I was very confident it would be successful.”
Marie-Gon is not someone who sees many obstacles to plans. Her attitude is more like: roll up your sleeves and go for it. “As an entrepreneur I have three examples I look up to. My heroes, I call them. They are Pippi Longstocking, style icon Jackie Kennedy, and Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola.”
‘Don’t limit yourself’
“Pippi Longstocking always says: ‘I’ve never done that before, so I think I can do it.’ I apply that quote to female students who are doing an internship with me too. When they’re feeling insecure about their abilities, I say: ‘Don’t limit yourself. You can do anything’.”
Marie-Gon has been an entrepreneur for almost twenty years now. She gives style and colour consultancies, provides lectures and training courses and has a number of interior design books to her name. Her customer base is very diverse; she advises individual clients on redesigning their homes, but she has also done the restyling of a great number of Landal GreenPark holiday bungalows, for example.
‘Yes, let’s do it’
When her husband Jasper was offered the chance two years ago to work for KPN in Pune, India, and asked her what she thought, she didn’t hesitate for a second. “I immediately said, ‘Yes, let’s do it’. Then I started thinking about how I could continue to work for my Dutch customers from India.” Because for Marie-Gon it was obvious that she would keep working. “I enjoy my work far too much to stop.”
As a digital nomad, she now advises her clients sitting at her dining room table, looking out at two large mango trees. “Working remotely is working out wonderfully. I consult a lot via Skype and Facetime. And clients send me movies and photos, or walk through the space that I am going to restyle while I’m Facetiming with them. Four times a year I go to the Netherlands for about five weeks. Then I meet face-to-face with all my clients and do the work that really can’t be done from India.”
Marie-Gon even sees some benefits to working remotely. “I am more focused, because in the Netherlands my daily agenda was often influenced by my clients. I would often get phone calls: ‘Marie-Gon, I need your advice.’ And pretty soon I’d be driving out there in my car. Now it’s becoming clear to me that it’s actually not always necessary at all.”
While other interior designers often say that they were already rearranging the furniture as children, it started later for Marie-Gon. “But then again I shared my bedroom with my sister, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity to move the furniture,” she says, laughing. Drawing was her favourite subject at secondary school in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Then she went to the textile college in Doorn. She wanted to go to the art academy, but didn’t get in. So she started working, first at fashion group C&A and then at Ikea. She was having a good time at Ikea, but running her own business had a stronger appeal: so on 1 January, 2000, she started working as an independent contractor.
‘I pay attention to the 3 Ps: price, prestige and pleasure’
In the almost twenty years since then, she has always had plenty of work. Often even too much. “Working all night to get everything done – I don’t want to work like that anymore. I’ve also learned to say no to jobs that I think don’t suit me. And to say instead: ‘I’d be happy to help you find someone who can to do this job for you’. That feels a lot better. With each job I take on, I pay attention to the 3 Ps: price, prestige and pleasure. These must be in balance.”
The quality that helps her most as an entrepreneur is that she isn’t scared of doing new things. “When I had been working as a stylist for just one year, a friend who worked for the Ariadne at Homemagazine told me: “We’re looking for a columnist. Would you like to do that?” and I immediately said yes. Afterwards I did think: am I actually able to do that? But that decision paid off wonderfully for me. As a style columnist for Ariadne, you no longer have to prove yourself as a stylist. You automatically become an established name.”
‘I’ve done a lot of things for this that I had never done before’
Marie-Gon also stepped out of her comfort zone for the assignment she is most proud of: the annual Dutch VT-Wonen Furniture and Lifestyle Fair. For five years now she has been designing and styling all of the public spaces, lounges and restaurants for this six-day lifestyle fair. “This is a huge job. I’ve done a lot of things for this that I had never done before, such as budget control and thinking through the details of technology and fire hazards.”
She also always tries to deliver more than she has promised. “It is always appreciated. When I restyle a showroom, I may also add on the little entrance for free. And at a beauty salon that I have designed, I’m quite likely to bring a beautiful vase with a flower bouquet to the opening and put it on the counter.”
Style icon Jackie Kennedy is her second hero. “She used her influence to prevent the demolition of a large number of historic buildings in the US. She really worked hard for that and I find her so inspiring.” Marie-Gon herself exhibits a similar social engagement. Just before she left for India, she heard about the Dutch organisation Women on Wings (WOW), which helps Indian rural women to get work. Not much later, she gave a presentation for WOW to Indian silk producers about trends in the European market.
“WOW wants to create 1 million jobs. At the moment they have created over 250,000 after 11 years. Change has to be brought about faster and that’s why we have set up the Something Good label, which encompasses many kinds of Indian products that are suitable for the European market. I also went to the Indian countryside to advise women to make their products more western. Their surprised response was, ‘They really like those boring colours there?’. And then they started embroidering in the blacks and browns popular in the west.”
‘That was such a big compliment for me’
Marie-Gon has another hero besides Pippi and Jackie: a professional from her own field, Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola. “Every time I walk around the annual Salon del Mobile in Milan and see something that I think is fantastic, it’s by Patricia. She really has her own signature style. It has happened to me once too, that people at a style fair had seen a colour combination and asked me afterwards: ‘Marie-Gon, was that yours?’ That was such a big compliment for me.”