SHIFTING GEARS
Fairlady|January/February 2022
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE FOR CHANGE. THESE FIVE INSPIRING WOMEN MADE A SHIFT IN THEIR PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL LIVES, TAKING ON ADDITIONAL ROLES OR BRANCHING OUT INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.
SHIREEN FISHER

MARIAN GAYLARD

LAWYER – OWNER OF THE FIRST SOUTHERN AFRICAN OUTLET OF THE SPANISH FASHION BRAND DESIGUAL

A trip to Spain planted the seed for lawyer Marian Gaylard’s entry into the world of fashion. The 49-year-old, who lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two teenage children, has an honors degree in economics and an LLB from Wits. She’s spent the past 25 years providing corporate finance advisory and JSE regulatory advisory services in the investment banking industry. For the past 10 years, she has also been offering training, in conjunction with the JSE, to listed companies, directors, JSE sponsors and advisors, banks, and law firms on listing requirements.

On a 2013 trip to Barcelona, Marian fell in love with the clothing brand Desigual and returned home with more than just a new wardrobe. ‘I had a dream – prompted by my dad, who has always encouraged me to take great leaps of faith – to bring this unique fashion brand to South Africa.’

‘I mulled over the idea for a few years until I got to a point in my career where I felt my creativity had been stifled. I wanted to express a different side of myself. I believe that sometimes the universe aligns in one’s favour: when I called the Desigual headquarters in Spain, it was at the most fortuitous time – they were in the process of looking for a franchise partner for Southern Africa! And we immediately clicked.’

Negotiations and development for the brand’s first outlet on the continent took about a year. Marian opened the first Desigual shop in Sandton City on 5 September 2020.

She still provides JSE listing requirements training, but spends most of her time focusing on the shop, building awareness of the brand and making expansion plans.

‘Given Covid and a challenging economy, it’s been a tough year – possibly the worst time to launch a new retail brand! But we recently celebrated our first birthday, and I’m now considering expansion and more stores, so overall I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far.’

Marian’s background in banking and her legal and business skills have helped her to navigate this new territory. It also helps that Desigual is an established global brand.

There are many similarities between the financial and retail sectors, she says. ‘Customer relationships are key. It’s also vital to have great staff and a firm support structure. And, of course, you need to have drive and determination! I think some people thought I was mad: I had established my expertise in one area, only to move into a completely unknown sphere. But, generally, everyone has been very encouraging.’

Marian says her lifestyle changes have been significant. ‘Although I now work the occasional weekend, I have a lot more flexibility in my routine. This gives me space in my day to enjoy things like picking up the kids and going to their sporting and cultural events.’

She has no regrets about her career shake-up, despite some hardship. ‘There was no way anyone could have foreseen Covid, and my journey had already started by the time the pandemic hit.’

Her advice to anyone considering a change? ‘If you have an unrealized ambition, go for it. You need to believe in the dream and yourself, and make it happen. Don’t get too disheartened by setbacks. Pick yourself up, learn and then push forward. I’ve always lived by the Desigual philosophy: Love yourself. Love others. Love the world. And laugh a lot.’

WARAWADEE ‘EED’ SUKONPONGPAOHARBICH

PROPERTY MANAGEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT – SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR

Warawadee Sukonpongpao-Harbich, known as Eed, was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and moved to the UK at the age of 15 to further her education, earning a BA in multimedia and a master’s in hypermedia from the University of Westminster, London. In 1999, she moved to Cape Town, where she still lives with her husband and their twin daughters. The couple have been running a property management and development company for the past 18 years, but a few years ago Eed felt compelled to take on another project.

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