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Steps To Success: Donna Ida Thornton
January 14th 2015
London’s jean queen shares the secrets to her success, her top career advice and how she’s overcome her biggest challenges
Merging fashion with entrepreneurial prowess, Donna Ida Thornton has fast become one of the most aspirational and glamorous business figures to hit the London scene. CEO of luxury denim boutique and e-store, Donna Ida, her journey to the top acts as ample inspiration for anyone looking to turn a vision into a lucrative company.
Capitalising on the idea that every woman should be able to find a pair jeans that actually fits no matter their body shape, the company offers an innovative Denim Clinic to provide a comprehensive masterclass in finding their perfect match that caters for pear, curvy, boyish, apple and petite body types and more.
With a bevy of boutiques and an e-store now under her belt, we caught up with the Sydney-born fashion mogul to talk motivation, leadership, breaking into the industry and overcoming her biggest hurdles.
GTG: What attracted you to your role?
DIT: I worked in marketing previously and I really didn't enjoy it, though I actually learnt a lot which I now use in my job every day. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and have creative freedom, and that meant starting my own company. To me, having ultimate freedom was very attractive.
GTG: What has been the toughest part of your career to date?
DIT: From having the idea, writing the business plan, raising the money and getting the doors of the first boutique open - that 12 months was hard. Getting it off the ground took a big push and there have been harder things since then, but that first part I wouldn't want to have to do again. It was lonely and hard - that really tests you and you have to WANT to do it. That first stage really sorts the men out from the boys.
GTG: Do you have a mentor and how have they helped you?
DIT: I don't have a mentor but I take advice and learn from a lot of people along the way, always people who have learnt through trial and error and made good decisions and bad decisions. I have always been attracted to people who are older than me, both in my business and personal life, because I know that experience is one thing you can't buy or teach. You just have to live and learn, and I am always looking for that glimpse of truth or nugget of knowledge that I can take from someone else. But there is no easy way, the best way is always the hard way, and you just have to get in there and do it yourself.
GTG: What was the worst job you ever did?
DIT: I don't know about the worst, but certainly the hardest was waitressing. Before I left Australia in 1998, I had to clear the wake of credit card debt that trailed behind me so I worked about 5 jobs for a year to tidy everything up and save money. Every night I worked at The Keg (not the chicest of establishments) waiting tables and it is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. Keeping in touch with the kitchen, how fast it is moving, how fast your tables are turning, it was a living nightmare. Never mind the drinks I spilled - all into laps of course. But my competitive nature kept me there and I lived for the tips and woke my sister up every night when I got home each night and made her rub my feet while I counted my tips. She was hugely relieved when I finally left!
During that time I also sold advertising for a used car magazine (I lasted one shift but I sold! And earned commission!) and I also worked in the call centre for Pizza Hut taking the orders for home delivery. That was horrific. Ok, maybe that was the worst job.
GTG: What has been the biggest learning curve of your career?
DIT: Understanding the management structure at Donna Ida. Every business is different when it comes to management and different things work for different people. There is no cookie cutter solution.
For us, I like to be in close contact with every member of staff and for us all to work together as a close team. Although I am the most senior person in the company, I don't like to play the boss lady and I'm really interested in the opinions of everyone I work with. That understanding has come to me slowly over the years and it is probably born from me being in the business all day every day and very hands on. Everyone is used to seeing me every day, so they expect that and are used to an open conversation. When I started the business my own perception of companies was actually very structured and corporate, but it hasn't worked out like that for us.
GTG: What was the best advice you have been given along the way? And why?
DIT: It wasn't really advice, just a comment that a supplier made when I was first launching. She took pity on me because I didn't have a boyfriend or anyone to lean on through the process. And then I met my husband two weeks after the first boutique opened and I then understood what she meant. Having someone who is hugely supportive of what you are doing when you are running your own business is a huge gift. If you don't have that, try to get it!
GTG: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry?
DIT: Always be nice, always say please and thank you. Build relationships and take the time to talk to people and be interested in what they are doing.
GTG: What is your team management strategy?
DIT: I don't know that I have a strategy but there are qualities that I look for and an attitude I believe in. 1) I look for passion over credentials 2) No one works for me, we all work together 3) It can be whatever you want it to be; if you are passionate and enthusiastic at Donna Ida, then the world is your oyster.
GTG: What is the one piece of advice you would give to your 17-year-old self?
Don't wait. Follow your heart and embrace the fact that you are unemployable and you value your freedom above all else. Recognise that about yourself. Being unemployable is great for an entrepreneur. Employ yourself!
GTG: What does the future hold?
DIT: Literally anything I want it to be. That's the great thing about life and business. If you want something to happen, you can make it happen. Invent yourself.
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