Managing director Cathryn Wills is not one to shy away from her mistakes

Photo: Andrew Richie, Ripe Studios

A designer by trade, inspiration hits MIMCO’s managing and creative director at the strangest of times – be it during a David Attenborough doco, while soaking in the tub, wine in hand, or caring for her “hilarious cats”.

“My mind is constantly ‘on’ and this can be a challenge for the team,” says Cathryn Wills. “So I work on distilling my thoughts before barraging them with all manner of direction, inspiration and strategy.” This self-restraint was perhaps spawned from her first job as a recruiter in an office run by “gutsy, outspoken women”.

Foraying into fashion as a junior designer at JAG, she went on to study fashion design before working at Country Road and stepping out as a freelance knitwear designer. But in 2004, MIMCO wrangled her full-time attention, under the leadership of founder and former owner, Amanda Briskin-Rettig.

“[She] wanted to expand into knitwear, so my entrance into the business was to do just that [and] as time went on, it became evident to me that ‘building’ accessories was much the same as building knitwear – it’s about raw material understanding, technical nous, curiosity to experiment and a willingness to make mistakes…” of which, since taking the business’ reins in 2007, Cathryn fesses up freely.

“Not being consistent with brand messaging, staying in the trenches rather than employing experienced senior managers… the list is long and varied,” she laughs. “Having said that, we’ve grown each and every year, in sales and profit, we’ve got a loyal and passionate following and, thankfully, people tend to look at retail now rather than focus on yesterday.”

MIMCO recently joined forces with the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), to bring about change in Kenya by “empowering communities to finesse their trade”. It’s something Cathryn says is befitting because female empowerment underpins the brand’s “emotional goal”, while at the other end of business, the past two years have seen the brand really come into its own.

“Our stores have been refined… our visual merchandising is stronger and much more consistent than it’s ever been,” says Cathryn. “A lot of this change has come about through putting the right teams in place so I have the time and headspace to lead – rather than ‘do’.”

She’s leading MIMCO to the top of the digital abyss, where customers quite literally have the world at their fingertips.

“This means that retailers have to work harder at connecting with the customer and not take [them] for granted… A unique point of view is essential today in order to cut through the clutter and resonate.”

Up close and personal

1.     Signature fragrance: Christian Dior, Bois d’Argent

2.     Favourite travel destination: Paris and Bali

3.     Top styling tip: Be comfortable and a little glamorous

4.     Favourite flower: Peonies

5.     Latest fashion buy: Dries Van Noten shirt

6.     Won’t leave the house without: iPhone

7.     Can’t put down: Arianna Huffington’s Thrive

8.    Tunes I’m currently listening to: Sam Smith

9.     Tip for success: Own your job, be passionate, be resourceful and never stop learning

MIMCO’s Cathryn Wills also features in Issue 22 of the Collective, on sale now.

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