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It isn’t about women overtaking men, it's about equality across gender, race and sexuality.

Women That Inspire Us Today (& Every Day)

Here at SurfStitch, we stand by women - whether it’s in our workplace, local community or wider circle. We’re lucky to have a workplace built on empower and know that we would be nowhere near where we are today without the passion, intelligence and ethic the women in our team possess.

Sadly, women and girls have had to fight a constant battle to narrow the gender gap and free the limitations, stereotypes and prejudices they’ve dealt with since birth. Thankfully, Australia and many other countries have made breaking ground towards gender equality in the last few decades. In the last few decades, the voices of women have started to become heard loud and clear - finally!

When we found out that this year’s theme for International Women’s Day was #EachForEqual, we were all in! SurfStitch appreciates the annual reminder to collectively commemorate the success and importance of women. We also stand for promoting gender equality and making sure that women are able to reach their full potential in all aspects of life.

So, as the 8th of March quickly crept up on our calendars, we thought it was only fitting to reach out and shine a deserving spotlight on three inspiring women who have had some incredible wins in the workplace. Not only are they killing it in their chosen career paths, but they’re chipping away at some stubborn gender-bound barriers.

We had the absolute delight of chatting to Alison Thomas, Pippa Hallas and Becky Morton and gained some insight into how they got to where they are now, challenges they’ve faced being a woman in a patriarchal society and what they would tell young females who are starting out in the industry.

An equal world is an enabled world. Keep reading and get inspired!

Alison Thomas - General Manager, Volcom Australia NZ

Thanks for catching up! For those who may not be aware, please introduce yourself and give us a rundown of who you are and what you’re about.

Hi there! I’m Alison Thomas, General Manager at Volcom Australia NZ. I had a nomadic upbringing, moving around Canberra, Melbourne, Torquay, Northern Beaches NSW, ski fields in Australia, Canada and the US. I almost got trapped in the back-to-back snow lifestyle before an injury redirected me into the real world! The land of the surf industry is where I feel completely at home and have since established a career doing what I love. I absolutely love my job, the industry and, most importantly, the amazing people I get to work with every day.

How long have you been at Volcom?

Coming up to 15 years now, can you believe it?! I’ve had the privilege of seeing out so many different versions of Volcom. I started when it was a licensee arrangement and had full local design and development infrastructure, running independently from the other regions. Volcom USA bought us back and, not long after, Kering purchased us. The company went through some amazing transformations through this time working on globalizing and streamlining efficiencies. Perhaps the best part of this current chapter is becoming a synergized brand that has consistency across all regions. The current chapter is perhaps the most exciting in my view. ABG purchased us last year and Liberated Brands owns the operating company. Since this acquisition, the brand seems to be getting stronger and stronger, continuing to make power moves across the globe.

Run us through your career journey from first starting at the company to now heading up Australia and New Zealand as General Manager?

I had a pretty fast-paced and diverse career before hitting the Volcom house. Competitive Snowboarder, Owner Operator of an Import Jewelry Business, worked in a Bank, Sales Rep and Product Manager at Rip Curl for a variety of divisions. When I hit Volcom I worked as a Product Manager as well as in Production originally. As the company changed and evolved, I moved with the change and took on all opportunities that were up for grabs. I tried not to get too fixed or emotionally attached to positions which allowed a broad range of titles and experiences from Product Manager, Operations, E-comm Manager, Sales Manager, Retail Manager, Product Director and most recently General Manager, taking over from Dougall Walker. Working across so many areas is great and allows you to learn quickly and broaden your skill set. As a Manager, I know how to lead the team better as I have been fortunate to live in the detail.

It’s that time of year again where we celebrate International Women’s Day. What does this mean to you as an individual, both personally and professionally?

International Women’s Day is a day to honour and celebrate those women who are trail blazers and have forged paths of equality, leadership and achievements within their careers, and to hear their stories and ignite the fire for those it inspires. For me, it is a moment to pause and reflect on how far we have come from only a few generations ago where opportunities were not available so easily as today. There are many disparities globally and we still have a long way to come for full equality. A look in most boardrooms will show you this, however, I feel progress is happening and we should be proud of the stories being made. Rebecca Solnit puts it perfectly: ‘“Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.

Some people still perceive the surf industry as being a bit of a bad boys club. What challenges have you faced as a woman, whether at Volcom or beforehand and how did you overcome them?

I can honestly say that I can only share positive experiences in the Snow, Skate and Surf Industry. Dougall Walker, Steve Kay, Dane Oshanessy, Todd Hymal, Ryan Immegart, Andrew Burton are some of the industry greats that have helped open up doors, guide me and allow me to seize opportunities. I never considered a separation of gender or inability to pursue any challenge. If it was there, I guess I ignored the cues and pushed ahead regardless. Yes, there are more men in the businesses, particularly in our industry. You could say a lot of this is about where the industry came from and who founded the retail stores and brands at the time. Today, I feel it is about the hustle and the drive to get to the next experience regardless. You are going to get knockbacks and be overlooked, regardless of gender. You have to get used to this and be resilient. Pick yourself up, learn from it and don’t get bitter. Make it noted to be considered in the next round (there is always a next round). Be relentless!

If you could change anything within the surf industry and the way it runs, what would you change?

Evolution needs to be faster and we need to be willing to change more quickly. An example is the need for salesman samples in the process. This slows us down by 6-10 weeks and as a result, there is an inability to compete with other industries, not to mention the environmental impacts.

I think more companies should consider women within management as the positions open up however not because they are women but because they are the best person for the job. Within the Volcom global team, we have one of the strongest appointments I have ever seen. This person runs all of product globally for all divisions globally. If you are not willing to change and move to process, move out of her way! Oh yeah, Christina Koutras is a woman. Irrelevant, really.0

I also think that we need to change on who we cater for. Most brands and stores only offer sizes 8-14. This is crazy as we are cutting away half of our tribe. Volcom was one of the first surf brands to bring in curvy sizing into the product offering. I feel more brands should adopt this approach and more retailers should cater, so that we can be truly inclusive.

What advice would you give to young females beginning their career journey who look to you and other successful women in the industry?

There are so many successful inspiring women in the industry. Kimberly Reynolds, Christie Lockyear, Gabby Bates, Lyndsey Roach, Elena Height, Terry Hawkins as an example of a few. An observation of these women, I feel they concentrate on their own game and being the best that they can be at any time. Don’t wait to be asked or 100% ready. Look for your path and go for it. Be strong and resilient. Stay positive and don’t take things personally if it does not go your way. It is not always going to fall your way. Look after the team around you and be respectful and empathetic. Don’t worry so much about climbing the ladder but look at accomplishing the task at hand, and always provide the best result. Results are rewarded. And passion is the fuel.

Pippa Hallas - CEO, Ella Bache 

Thanks for catching up! For those who may not be aware, please introduce yourself and give us a rundown of who you are and what you are about.

My name is Pippa Hallas and I am the CEO of Ella Bache.

I am fortunate enough that my position allows me to be able to help all Australians learn what their skin loves AND feel comfortable in their own skin. Running an Australian business that has been part of the industry forefront for 65 years has given us impeccable knowledge on the skin, products and treatments. We are a family affair and I am now the 3rd generation to drive the business. I am also a mum of two young boys and love the ocean, yoga and hanging out with family and friends.

How long have you been at Ella Bache?

I have been CEO for 10 years now. Previously, I had a career in advertising and spent time working in London. Ella Bache is my great aunt and with the brand being a family run business, I spent much of my younger life learning the ins and outs of the company!

Run us through your career journey, from first starting out to eventually ending as CEO?

I have always valued hard work and commitment, I think a lot of kids learn this growing up around family businesses. My true passion was brands, communications and travel. After university, I spent years working for big advertising agencies in both Sydney and overseas. It was all ‘work hard, play hard’ and, back then, you used to have food trolleys come through the office so you didn’t have to leave your desk to eat!

The years spent working in agencies set the foundation up for my work ethos. I wanted to ensure when I took on the role of CEO that I was able to unpack the philosophies and beliefs my great aunt set up whilst putting a relevant spin on it – 10 years later I am still here driving the heritage of Ella Bache and taking it into the future.

It’s that time of year again where we celebrate International Women’s Day. What does this mean to you as an individual, both personally and professionally?

Good question… My wish is for us not to have to celebrate this day, and that every day was equal for women and men. We have come a long way, but still have a long way to go for women to have equality in business, sport, politics and in many other areas. I am so passionate about driving equality and I hope one day that the many years of women and only women sitting in business events, boardrooms, etc. will pay off. It isn’t about women overtaking men, it's about equality across gender, race and sexuality.

What have been some of the standout moments in your career?

For me, standout moments in my career have always been the ability to support women and the belief that they deserve an equal go. In 2009, I met Jessica Watson and I was intrigued by her vision of sailing solo around the world. She was gutsy, pioneering, focused and extraordinary – we became her main sponsor. To this day, remembering her sailing in on ‘Ellas Pink Lady’ after 7 months at sea is something that still gives me goosebumps!

What about the challenges faced? How did you overcome them?

When I first started working at Ella Bache, there were so many moments where I didn’t feel I was being heard. I was misunderstood and I certainly didn’t get the traction I had expected. I had no voice, no credibility and in the early years, faced countless barriers that prevented me from owning my voice and truly being heard. In 2009, just as the GFC hit, I got my chance to take on the role of CEO of Ella Bache. The media made it all ‘doom and gloom’, but I knew I needed an insane amount of courage and perseverance – reverting back to embracing family values and decorporatising the business was the first start to overcoming the challenge. Next up, encouraging innovation and collaboration. I ensured I made the role my own and knew that in time I would form the right relationships around me.

You’re known to be an empowered role model to women across the globe. If you could change anything within the industry and the way it runs, what would you change?

Still to this day, there are sadly not many female CEOs or female CEOs who are mums too. I would like to see an increase in female leadership as companies evolve. With the right support and mentoring, women can have families, careers and the rest!

Adding to this, what advice would you give to young females beginning their career journey who look to you and other successful women in the industry?

My advice would start with 2 words – ‘be bold’. It’s all about standing up and stepping out of your comfort zone. Find the fire in your belly that allows you to be truly passionate about what it is you’re after and go for it; if you follow your heart and your passion, your energy will bring the rest. Stay focused and determined, cutting out all the outside noise. There will be setbacks, but if you back yourself, own your decisions and work your absolute ass off you will get there. Anything is possible, live in the experiences and turn your story into the journey you desire.

Becky Morton - Founder & Director, peony

Photo credit: Courier Mail

Thanks for catching up! For those who may not be aware, please introduce yourself and give us a rundown of who you are and what you are about.

I’m Becky Morton and I am the Founder and Director of peony.

peony is a luxury Australian brand consciously creating beautiful swimwear and resortwear pieces with heart and substance.

Run us through your career journey, from first starting out to eventually biting the bullet and starting your own label?

I have always been passionate about fashion and design. As a kid, I would sketch garments on notepaper during class and on napkins at restaurants. Swimwear design was particularly appealing to me because growing up it seemed that that was all we wore for nine months of the year. Although I had dreamed it, I never imagined that one day I would actually turn my passion into a career.

After school, I studied a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Business. Following graduation from university, I went on to qualify and work as a lawyer. Although I loved studying law, I found legal practice personally unsatisfying. I felt a fire in my belly for something more and it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was time to pursue my dream of starting a brand.

It’s that time of year again where we celebrate International Women’s Day. What does this mean to you as an individual, both personally and professionally?

It’s a day to reflect on my life and career, give thanks to the incredible women who have supported me along the way and think about the ways in which I can support and encourage the women around me to reach their full potential. It’s a day for everyone to refocus on gender equality, contest stereotypes, challenge the status quo and work together to drive meaningful change.

What have been some of the standout moments in your career?

We know you and the peony team are super proud of your sustainability messages! Transitioning all of our custom fabrics to recycled content is a huge feat that my whole team is incredibly proud of. Our fabric offering is truly extraordinary on a global level, with 100% of our swimwear styles are made from recycled content. This includes all of our printed fabrics, custom textures and even our inner linings! We are also incredibly proud to be partnered with the world’s leading retailers who believe in the brand and our commitment to a more sustainable future.

What about the challenges faced? How did you overcome them?

Early in my career, when I decided to do a 180 from law to fashion, I faced quite a lot of opposition from family and friends who thought the move was a bad idea. Navigating this shift was pretty challenging and I sought support from key mentors and people that believed in me. Since then, the business has been fraught with challenges, as all businesses are. I try to tackle challenges head on, with hard work, self belief and an optimistic outlook.

What advice would you give to young females beginning their career journey who look to you and other successful women in the industry?

Work towards finding the overlap between what you are passionate about and what you are good at. When you find it, pursue it wholeheartedly and don’t let anyone or anything get in your way.