Carolina Giraldo on social responsibility and saving her business in a pandemic

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Eight months pregnant, coming to terms with the fact that she was going to have to give birth in hospital alone because of hospital restrictions, Carolina Giraldo was also facing the prospect of losing her business, Carolina Lifestyle.

Retail had totally dried up because of covid and sales were dropping to nothing. She owns a factory back in her home of Colombia where she employs almost 100 people, as well as having 10 retail stores in Australia and she could not see how everything was going to work out.

In a true story of reinvention and redemption, Carolina brought her business back to life at the same time at the same time as she was birthing a baby. This is a really interesting conversation with Carolina about her experience of coming to Australia, starting her business, building it, and facing the challenges of the pandemic.

She shared that the proudest moment in her life was being able to keep everybody employed even when she was counting the days between payroll.

I really hope you enjoy this conversation. Carolina is really passionate and interesting and I loved chatting with her.

In this episode we discuss:

  • Her story of building a business from wholesale trade where she would carry things around in suitcases, to small kiosks in shopping centres, to ten stores and a huge online presence.
  • The connection to her home country of Colombia, where she owns the factory and employs 80 people full time.
  • The job security and opportunity to grow and contribute that they offer workers, which is why employees are so connected to the business.
  • How she had to have her baby on her own in hospital because of the start of the pandemic, while at the same time sales completely stopped in the business, so she was worried she was going to close the stores and have a baby at the same time.
  • The support she needed to give to Colombian employees who had very little government support during the pandemic and were desperate to not lose their jobs, all while she was worried she was going to lose the business.
  • The life highlight for Carolina that she was able to keep everyone employed during the pandemic and didn’t let a single person go.
  • The change in consumer attitude to understand that workers are being properly paid and looked after and buying less disposable fashion.
  • How Carolina manages her life and business, so that she can be involved in raising her two small children. The challenge of balance, and the fact that she chooses quality time and is always reassessing her priorities.

About Carolina Giraldo

Born and raised in Manizales, Colombia, from an early age Carolina Giraldo’s heart was set on owning her own business. By grade two she was earning pocket money selling artwork to neighbours and family. Later she sold baked cookies and chocolates to friends, classmates, and locals.

In high school she recruited her parents’ and grandmother’s housekeepers to assist on her successful baking business, matching their present salaries.

She saved enough to travel to Australia for six months, and despite not speaking English and never having held a “real” job, Carolina bought a one-way ticket to Sydney, viewing the prediction of family naysayers that she “wouldn’t last a week” as a personal challenge.

Carolina’s six month jaunt with friends soon turned into 18 months. Working odd jobs in order to stay in Australia on a student visa, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Business at UTS, and later a Masters of Business Management.

“Between studying in my still broken English and working any job I could get my hands on, I was exhausted. I loved that in Australia, if you worked hard, you could achieve whatever you set your mind to, in contrast to Colombia where it’s more about your connections than anything else.

“I was determined to do whatever I could to realise my dream of having my own business.”

She spent a number of ears in sales for a major FMCG company and then a smaller business where she got the opportunity to learn everything she could about running a small business. In 2011, after a sabbatical spent studying Fashion Buying and Merchandising in London, Carolina finally realised her long-held vision: the creation of her own brand. She started selling wholesale, then opened up a number of small kiosks before moving into retail stores.

She also purchased the factory in her hometown of Manizales, Colombia that had been manufacturing for her, employing 80 Colombian sewers. At eight months pregnant, with 160 staff across Australia and Colombia depending on her, the COVID pandemic hit and Carolina was facing the reality that she may lose her business.

She reinvented the business, started selling PPE in the short term and expanding her online presence. So as she created a baby, she also recreated her business.

More than just another fashion label, Carolina’s approach to design is simple – create a garment with love, by craftspeople who love what they do, using only the highest quality materials, and the rest will follow.

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