Video Interview with Louise Hvala, Gatehouse Legal

TRANSCRIPT

Louise:

Kate, thank you so much for joining me today. You’ve had such an incredible career. Can you tell us a little bit about it so far?

Kate:

Legal or She Lion?

Louise:

Both.

Kate:

Or a bit of a mix? Well, currently I work part time at Gilbert + Tobin, which I love; as a Knowledge and Innovation Lawyer, which is the most spectacular role. And the rest of the time I run She Lion, which is a handbag company for working women, with distinctive interiors for laptops, technology, paperwork, two phones; all the things we regularly carry as working women but don’t always have designated compartments for. That’s where I am now.

I started my legal career back in 2008 and I’d been working at a boutique firm for an incredibly supportive partner who knew that I had a real interest in fashion. And I ended up settling in financial services and doing a lot of the Timbercorp and Great Southern litigation. This partner was instrumental in allowing me to really pursue my passion. So, I started studying a MLM in Intellectual Property and he helped me transition into a top tier firm in an IP practice, because that was the closest thing to fashion law at the time!

I had also studied the bar exam in New York with high hopes of wanting to be a fashion lawyer in New York. Unfortunately, when we went over there to visit; my husband and I, the GFC had just happened so it ended up being quite complicated to try and get a job for both him and I. Although he would have been very happy not to work while I worked! I was not sure that that was going to be the best situation. So, we came back, and he started his business; and then I think I had an epiphany basically; after about six or seven years of practicing, I realised that I probably wanted to start my own fashion business. And that I just really couldn’t find a handbag to carry everything I needed. And spoke with a whole lot of colleagues and friends and realised that there really was a niche market there. And started working part time as a lawyer and started She Lion. 

Louise:

That’s incredible. Going back, you’ve always had a passion for fashion.

Kate:

Yes, that’s how my mother describes it, so embarrassing. ‘Kate has a passion for fashion’ (*It’s terrible). Yes, but I do..."have a passion for fashion".

Louise:

What got you into law? What made you study?

Kate:

Drama, I think. I always loved drama and acting, and my family has always been very keen for all of the children, and all of the, sort of the children like in the whole family, extended family, to get a ticket sort of speak. So, a lot of people have done medicine or law or something like that, and then also pursued other things. And law was the closest thing to acting. So, I did a drama major in my Arts degree and a Law degree and then became a lawyer.

Louise:

And when you decided you were going to pursue She Lion, start your own business, did you face any challenges or any hurdles that you had both personally or from family or friends?

Kate:

Yes definitely. Definitely. I think running your own business you face challenges every single day. You’re very lucky if you have a day where you don’t have a challenge. But yes, I think after doing so much study in the legal arena and then turning around and saying: ‘I’m going to dedicate a lot of my time to a handbag business.’ shocked quite a few people. But it definitely didn’t shock my family. I think my family had known from the outset that I wanted to do something creative and that although I really enjoy the intellectual stimulation of law, there just isn’t that creative side that you get from making handbags. And then that whole business side, the more commercial flexibility, and to be able to run your own business is fabulous. So, to combine the two is something I wouldn’t relinquish easily. It’s really, really amazing.

Louise:

And how have your experiences practicing law helped you with She Lion?

Kate:

In every way. In every way. Attention to detail, due diligence, knowing that you can find the right answer even if you have no idea what it is, but you just have to keep digging to find it. Knowing that you can ask people for advice, having amazing networks and knowing that you can go and tap people on the shoulder that you know or don’t know because you have the confidence to go and ask them the question. I think giving you a good way of thinking about things and being a problem solver. Really, sort of every part of practicing law helps you run a business I think.

Louise:

Yes, that’s great. And with the name She Lion, it’s quite unique.

Kate:

It is quite unique.

Louise:

How did it come about? What was the reason for the name?

Kate:

Well, She Lion is so much more than handbags. It’s really about empowering women to "walk fearlessly". So, She Lion is built on three pillars which is fierce elegance, premium practicality, and bold ambition. And so fierce elegance is a look and an attitude. Premium practicality is that thing that all women have, they’re amazing multitaskers, they can do a million things at once and they still look really beautiful and elegant, and that’s what you need in a handbag. So, you don’t want your handbag to ever let you down. And then bold ambition is that untamed ambition that pushes you to do things and know that anything’s possible with guts, determination, and persistence. I wanted all that to be reflective of the bags and the women who wore them.

And so, She Lion came out of the fact that we definitely still live in a bit of a boys’ club at the moment in terms of the business world. And I think women can do anything that men can do and I’m a very strong feminist. I truly believe we should have equal rights. But I think a woman can do anything a man can do and so lion was something that was really strong because it was head of the jungle, head of the kingdom. And She Lion is about bringing that together because lioness just didn’t have enough "umph" for me. So, She Lion is what it comes from and that’s why walking fearlessly is an important tagline because anything is possible if you really set your mind to it.

Louise:

When do you think there will be equal rights for both women and men?

Kate:

Oh, I hope soon. I hope soon. I think we’re taking reasonable steps towards it, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Yes, it will be a bit of a time still, but we’re on the right track at least because it’s definitely in focus in the media and it’s definitely being talked about a lot so that’s good.

Louise:

That’s awesome. And your bags. They’re all beautifully made. What’s the material you use and where do you source all the material from?

Kate:

All around the world actually. It’s all premium leather. I was absolutely adamant that the quality had to be amazing and the leather had to be spectacular. And I went to night school and did a whole lot of different classes in bag making and pattern design. And to learn about different leathers and different stitching techniques and different reinforcements, because obviously my bags carry a lot more weight than most handbags. But the leather is really sourced from everywhere. So, I’ve got a couple of different wholesalers of leather that I also have connections with in Australia and they source worldwide. And then I also work with a portfolio of factories in China and they also source leather from a whole lot of different tanneries worldwide. So, it’s really sort of very different places rather than it all being from one country.

Louise:

And for women wanting, or men wanting to buy for their partners, and women wanting to purchase your bags, where can we buy them from?

Kate:

So, you can buy them from www.shelion.com.au. You can also buy them with frequent flyer points. Yes, which is fabulous, from the Qantas store. And you can buy them on The ICONIC website. And you will soon be able to buy them from Bags of Distinction at Chatswood Chase in Sydney.

Louise:

Great. That’s really good.

Kate:

Yes.

Louise:

For the lawyers wanting to pursue their passion and pursue it part time as you did, what is one bit of advice you would give them to go ahead and do it?

Kate:

I think the thing is, most lawyers are perfectionists. And you’re never ready, and you just need to take the punt. You just need to do it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect the first time because you can refine and keep going. I think the most important thing is to just start, whatever it is, even if it’s just something little. Just go and do it. Just start.

Louise:

Just start. That’s good advice. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Kate:

No, thank you for having me!

Louise:

I will put all the details about purchasing the bags in the link below.

Kate:

Thank you.

Louise:

Thank you once again.