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Maggie Hewitt. Photo / Supplied

We Talk To Some Of Veuve Clicquot's Inspiring Local Community

Viva enjoys a series of Bold Conversations with Veuve Clicquot's Friends of the House

MAGGIE HEWITT

One’s a successful New Zealand fashion designer whose purpose-led business is disrupting the fashion industry. The other was a Frenchwoman who took over her husband’s small wine company and transformed it into an iconic brand. They are, of course, Maggie Hewitt, the creative mind behind luxury label Maggie Marilyn, whose sumptuous collections, coupled with her brand’s ethos to “use fashion to create a better world” has seen her dress the likes of Meghan Markle, Michelle Obama and Kate Hudson — and Madame Clicquot, the “Grande Dame of Champagne”, who led Veuve Clicquot to global success.

Maggie was recently named an ambassador of Veuve Clicquot’s Friends of the House programme, an accolade she shares with fellow female Aotearoa entrepreneurs Victoria Harris (co-founder of financial education platform The Curve), skincare company founder Emma Lewisham, artist Grace Wright and small business advocate Sarah Colcord (co-founder of Chooice).

“It’s such an honour,” says Maggie. “I turned 27 this year and Madame Clicquot was 27 when she took over the House, so we have a lot in common in age and ambition. She was bold with her goals and didn’t let anything stop her, and I feel I have similar traits. We have pretty audacious goals as a business.”

Like Madame Clicquot, who altered her industry’s landscape by inventing the riddling table (which is still used today to clarify wine), Maggie has made it her mission not to contribute to the devastating environmental and social problems — from pollution and emissions to exploitation of workers — the fashion industry has long perpetuated. Five years ago she launched the label, swiftly finding fans here, in Australia and the US who bought into her promise to be transparent, circular, regenerative and inclusive. She has also launched a pared-back sister line, Somewhere, and both lines are manufactured in New Zealand using sustainable materials and eco-friendly processes, their supply chains made apparent, so customers know they’re making responsible purchases.

Maggie Hewitt. Photo / Supplied

Over the years Maggie says she’s heard countless voices tell her it would be cheaper, more lucrative or easier to do things the traditional way. And she agrees there have been difficult times — including a period where she didn’t know if the label would survive. But her desire to merge the commercial with the responsible is one of the reasons Veuve Clicquot asked her to be an ambassador.

“We started to realise that a lot of these big goals we wanted to achieve around circularity — taking full accountability for every product we put out into the world — we could only achieve with a direct relationship with our customers,” she explains. “We realised three, four years in that it’s not enough to just stay where we are at.”

That recently led Maggie to make the bold move to a direct-to-consumer model, a shift she said could be perceived as either “brave or stupid”, but one she passionately feels needed to happen. Like Madame Clicquot, who ensured Veuve Clicquot’s ongoing success, Maggie says she wants to ensure her label is a “legacy brand”, still around in 20, 50, even 100 years’ time. That has meant pulling out of deals many would give their right arm to have, with stockists such as department stores Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman in the US, along with retailers here. In their place, Maggie Marilyn is opening a slew of brick-and-mortar stores, including their “home” store at Britomart, another in Newmarket, and several others around the globe. Maggie Marilyn has now become certified CarbonZero and plans are afoot to open a free repairs programme to help extend the life of her clothing, alongside a new take-back scheme to repurpose garments her customers no longer need.

“Now’s the time to be bold and to be clear about the future we want to build,” she says. “As an industry, we can be slow to move. A lot of the systems that were put in place long ago don’t necessarily work anymore in the fashion world. We’ve always been a leader that questioned things and worked out a better way of doing things that really put people and the planet at the forefront of everything we do.”

As she prepares to launch her second sustainability initiative, this Veuve Clicquot ambassador is on a steady trajectory to lasting success — and she’s not even 30. “I still feel like we have so much more to achieve,” she says. “It’s about redefining what luxury means in the modern world. You really can live a more conscious life through how you dress.”

EMMA LEWISHAM

In less than two years since launching, Emma Lewisham is the beauty brand on everyone’s lips — or rather, skin. It is one of the fastest-growing skincare businesses in New Zealand, its natural skincare range shipping from Auckland to 22 countries around the world, including Australia, its biggest market.

Plans are now afoot to open a warehouse across the Ditch, where in seven months the New Zealand brand has swiftly become the fifth most popular line sold in David Jones making Emma Lewisham the most successful beauty launch the department store has seen. In September the brand will launch on one of the world’s most luxurious global online retailers.

Now, its trailblazing founder Emma Lewisham has been named by Veuve Clicquot as an ambassador in its prestigious Friends of the House programme. Emma joins an esteemed list of successful New Zealand women — alongside Chooice’s small business advocate Sarah Colcord, fashion designer Maggie Hewitt of Maggie Marilyn, artist Grace Wright and Victoria Harris of financial education platform The Curve — who embody the bold, entrepreneurial spirit of Madame Clicquot. The Frenchwoman took over her late husband’s small wine business in 1805, a time when women were all but shunned from the business world, and through her innovative leadership, turned it into the global success it is today.

Prior to founding her eponymous skincare line, Emma found meaning as the sole female executive of a global technology company. Aligning with the ambitions of the “Grande Dame of Champagne”, Emma says, “I am very tenacious, highly inquisitive and I’ve always searched to prove the impossible possible. I’m not afraid of a challenge and find purpose in discovering solutions for what I know is right, even when what is right isn’t always what is easy.”

Emma Lewisham. Photo / Supplied

Emma attributes her entrepreneurial spirit to growing up with strong female role models, her grandmother being one of the first female CEOs of her time.

The idea for the scientifically backed, natural range came following a visit to her doctor who highlighted that the product she was using to reverse signs of hyperpigmentation had the controversial ingredient hydroquinone, which is banned in the UK, Europe and Japan. “I began searching high and low for a natural, scientifically proven alternative, only to find it didn’t exist,” says Emma. “I was used to using luxurious, high-tech products and wanted the natural equivalent. What I found was that there seemed to be a need to compromise between having natural formulations, and ones that actually worked.”

Seeing this gap in the market, desiring the product herself and genuinely wanting to create something better for people led Emma to begin the lead-up to launching Emma Lewisham. Emma and her team prioritised the development of formulations that used premium natural ingredients, such as well-researched plant stem cells, ceramides and phyto-retinol bakuchiol, an alternative to synthetically produced retinol. “We’ve been conditioned to think synthetics are more powerful but there’s nothing more powerful than natural living extracts.”

The three-year “problem-solving” period involved research, development and lab testing to prove the formulations work at a cellular level. Emma was committed to uncompromising results, with the brand’s best-selling Skin Reset taking 52 iterations to perfect. “We actually convinced a leading biochemist to come out of retirement to help us crack this,” she says. “We were determined not to give up.”
Emma’s products are independently scientifically tested, with the Supernatural 72-Hour Hydration Creme tested against several cult (non-natural) products, and found to be significantly more effective at stimulating collagen renewal in the skin’s cells than other leading luxury cosmetics.

The Veuve Clicquot programme also recognises entrepreneurs’ ethical considerations. Emma says her company’s mission was always to “completely disrupt” the beauty industry by moving to a circular model, rather than contributing to the 120 billion units of new non-recyclable beauty packaging produced every year.

Last year, the company launched its circularity initiative The Beauty Circle, a take-back programme where all used containers are refilled and resold, before being recycled through recycling partner, Terracycle.

“It’s important for customers to understand that even beauty packaging that says ‘100 per cent recyclable’ isn’t being recycled through our kerbside systems,” says Emma. “It’s an area where we aim to do a lot of education, but this is why it is so crucial for brands to be taking back packaging to ensure it is recycled.” Through The Beauty Circle, Emma Lewisham also accepts empty packaging from any facial skincare brand.

Today, this talented Veuve Clicquot Friends of the House ambassador continues to build her global customer base, while working up to the launch of a world-first sustainability initiative to be announced next month. The brand’s mission is to set a new benchmark in beauty, showing that it’s possible to merge luxury with sustainability, and natural with science-backed. Like Madame Clicquot, Emma Lewisham says her brand embodies a new way of thinking — endeavouring to pioneer a better way with beauty that has a positive effect on our skin, our wellbeing and our planet.

 

SARAH COLCORD

Sarah Colcord still has vivid memories of the day she knew her online venture was a hit. She’d initially set up her Facebook page as a way to keep her floundering events and projects business afloat during last year’s level four lockdown. Then it went viral.

“When your Facebook group goes up by 60,000 members in one day, it’s pretty bewildering,” says the co-founder of Chooice, an online retail platform for small local ventures. “Every time I’d approve a membership, the screen would reload and another 1000 would be sitting there waiting to be approved. It was just endless.”

The Facebook page has since evolved from the volunteer-run New Zealand Made Products into a popular business that has facilitated sales of $2 million (or 36,000 individual products), as post-lockdown, New Zealanders continue to show their support for local businesses online. Its ongoing success has attracted the attention of luxury Champagne House Veuve Clicquot, which has named Sarah as one of its five New Zealand ambassadors for its prestigious Friends of the House programme, an initiative that recognises bold young entrepreneurs. “For a young Pasifika woman from South Auckland it’s such an incredible honour,” says Sarah.

The Samoan New Zealander joins an esteemed group of fellow local entrepreneurs, including Victoria Harris (of financial platform The Curve), Emma Lewisham (of her eponymous skincare line), fashion designer Maggie Hewitt (of the label Maggie Marilyn) and artist Grace Wright (known for her large-scale Renaissance-inspired paintings). The ambassadors will speak at Bold Conversations by Veuve Clicquot, a ticketed event in August.

Like the Champagne House’s Madame Clicquot, who took over her husband’s small wine business when she was just 27, Sarah, 24, has proved she has what it takes to leverage her early success. Since partnering with innovation company Indigo, Chooice now boasts 550,000 members, 50,000 of whom are based abroad, and whose numbers mostly makeup shoppers eager to buy local, whether they’re looking for beauty products, homewares, toys, clothing, food and much more. The page is the largest in the country on Facebook, its rapid rise taking even the social media platform by surprise.

Sarah Colcord. Photo / Supplied

Based in Ponsonby, the exponential sales growth in under a year of operating is as much down to great timing as it is to Sarah’s business savvy. With Indigo’s guidance, she launched the Chooice website in August, rebranded the Facebook group and kicked off a variety of campaigns.

The level-headed leader grew up watching her dad run his automotive business by himself, setting up her first company when she was 16, selling second-hand clothing on an e-commerce site. From there she started selling imported jewellery on Etsy, before launching an events and project management company. But when last year’s lockdown meant her two biggest jobs were cancelled and it was looking like she was going to be out of pocket for the rest of the year, the enterprising young business leader started brainstorming ways to market herself and other struggling businesses.

That sense of helping others is a reflection of her work in the community, including founding Manurewa’s first creative youth hub, and as a former member of the Manurewa Local Board who was elected to Auckland Council when she was just 20.

“Watching my dad be so generous with his own business, fixing people’s cars for free — it’s given me really good principles and influenced how I run my own businesses,” says Sarah.

Today Chooice has nine full-time staff, and a team of moderators who work around the clock. Sarah’s goal is to continue building up the content creation side of the business, and plans are afoot to rebuild the Chooice website so it can better support its huge number of users, along with the 40,000 listed products, which it wasn’t initially designed to do.

She recently launched a fundraising initiative within her Chooice community, to help take the business to the next level. Like Madame Clicquot, who led her House to global success while still in her 20s, Sarah says her youth gives her an advantage.

“I experience the world so differently compared to my business partners,” she explains, “and that gives me some really good insights they typically wouldn’t have in terms of emerging trends, as well as our values as a generation, and the nature of our consumer behaviour.

 

GRACE WRIGHT

It was during her studies at Elam that Tauranga-born artist Grace Wright had a creative epiphany. In her spare time she’d been experimenting with the size of her abstract works, making vibrant gestural strokes on wall-sized canvases. One day she realised her bigger pieces shared the depth of the smaller, baroque-inspired oil paintings she’d been doing at university, works marked by her proficiency of the chiaroscuro shading technique and dramatic narratives, her vibrant, worm-like forms reminiscent of Renaissance scenes traditionally painted by men.

It was a breakthrough for the Kiwi artist, whose exploits both here and overseas have been recognised by Veuve Clicquot. Grace has been named one of five ambassadors representing the luxury brand through its prestigious Friends of the House programme, which celebrates trailblazing female visionaries.

“I feel very honoured to be recognised by the House and to be included with this group of powerhouse women,” says Grace, from the Three Kings studio she shares with eight other artists. “It’s very exciting.”
The attributes these women share — among them, fashion designer Maggie Hewitt of the label Maggie Marilyn, small business advocate Sarah Colcord of online marketplace Chooice, Emma Lewisham of her eponymous skincare line and Victoria Harris of financial platform The Curve — aligns with the ambitious nature of the House’s “Grande Dame of Champagne”, Madame Clicquot.

READ: Bold New Zealand Businesswomen Are Joining Veuve Clicquot’s Global Network

Like the Frenchwoman who took over her late husband’s small wine business in 1805, a time when women were all but excluded from the business world, Grace has broken with expectation by creating large, audacious works, the scale of which, throughout history, has traditionally been associated with male painters.

“There was a widespread belief that women, because of their ability to reproduce, could only ever be imitators, and only men could be a genius with true original innovation,” she explains. Although things have undoubtedly improved, even today female artists get less recognition than their male peers.

Grace’s work to change that comes from years of tenacity, first from her early days making her own clothes, designing objects and playing the piano, to 2019 when she graduated with First Class Honours in a Master of Fine Arts. Her work is big and bold — each canvas exudes the energy of her post-abstract expressionist hero, Swedish painter Hilma af Klint, with a character that is all her own. Yet despite each painting’s visceral nature, they take weeks to produce.

Grace Wright. Photo / Supplied

First, Grace creates panes of colour to “backlight” the painting; then come several 20- to 30-minute sessions, in which she painstakingly layers her dimensional and dynamic forms in surprising colour combinations. Although their application might seem random, Grace says they come from subconsciously absorbing things around her, anything from a sunset to what she sees online or the palette of a TV show.

Today her work is displayed at Auckland’s Gow Langsford Gallery (home to established artists including Judy Millar, Karl Maughan and Max Gimblett), Parlour Projects in Hawke’s Bay, Gallery 9 in Sydney and online at Gracewright.net.

“I’ve managed to create what I hope will be an enduring career,” Grace says. “I’ve carved out my four days a week in the studio just for painting. I think it’s really important that I’ve given myself that time — it’s helped me get to where I am now. My mindset the whole way through has been to realise that painting is a commitment. I’m pretty consistent.”

Like Madame Clicquot, who invented sparkling rosé and the riddling table to clarify wine (a device that continues to be used today), Grace has had many bold moments in her career. Rather than showing off a body of work accumulated during her two years studying for a Masters at Elam, she entered only two paintings in her final examination, one of them a 4mx3m altarpiece.

Then there was the time she worked directly on to a vast gallery wall, knowing her efforts would eventually be painted over. “Especially as a woman doing that, I knew it would have significance,” she says.
Like Madame Clicquot, who brought Veuve Clicquot Champagne to the world, Grace’s goal is to grow her career internationally. “I’d like to be showing in New York and London, places like that. That’s where I’m focusing my attention in the next couple of years.”

 

VICTORIA HARRIS

Victoria Harris is used to being the only woman in the room — during the 10 years she’s worked in finance, she’s seen first-hand the divide between the sexes when it comes to confidence and knowledge around investment. But even she couldn’t have anticipated the popularity of The Curve, the female-focused educational platform she launched with co-founder Sophie Hallwright late last year.

The portfolio manager now has 800 women on her database and 4000 followers on Instagram. Every few weeks, hundreds of women pack out their sold-out events, at which Victoria aims to dismantle the often intimidating world of finance and investing, whether in stocks, KiwiSaver or business.

Now, Veuve Clicquot has acknowledged Victoria’s positive impact, naming her one of its prestigious Friends of the House ambassadors. Victoria joins an esteemed group of young New Zealand female entrepreneurs including skincare company founder Emma Lewisham, fashion designer Maggie Hewitt (of the Maggie Marilyn label), small business advocate Sarah Colcord (co-founder of Chooice) and artist Grace Wright, each of them recognised for their ambitious nature, innovative thinking and ethical approach.

READ: Bold New Zealand Businesswomen Are Joining Veuve Clicquot’s Global Network

Like her peers, Victoria shares many of the attributes of Veuve’s Madame Clicquot, the 27-year-old French woman who took over her husband’s small wine business after he died in 1805 (at a time when women couldn’t even hold a bank account) and transformed it into the globally successful company it is today.

Like the Grande Dame of Champagne, who has inspired many female entrepreneurs since, Victoria has found success in a male-dominated industry. Being named a brand ambassador is exciting “because it means being part of a broader conversation around female entrepreneurship”, says Victoria, who will join her fellow ambassadors when she speaks at Bold Conversations by Veuve Clicquot, a ticketed event in August. “Just as Madame Clicquot did, we’re really just trying to break down the barriers women face.” That includes dispelling the notion that engaging in the investment process is too overwhelming, something her relatable and approachable nature is helping to change.

Victoria Harris. Photo / Supplied

Having studied a B-Commerce majoring in finance at university and working since in finance, including her current role at Devon Funds, Victoria became accustomed to female friends coming to her for financial advice. She also came to recognise that women are often on the back foot due to pay inequities, stints out of the workforce to have children, and the fact that women often live longer, requiring more money into retirement. So she set up The Curve, a “go-to” place for women to find support and learn investing basics in a non-intimidating, jargon-free way.

Women can join the community, attend events and ask as many questions as they like. If there’s one piece of advice she tends to give repeatedly, it’s that while you can’t expect to become an expert overnight, there are lots of easy ways to get started. Investing in what you know is one, and keeping your ear to the ground when it comes to what’s trending. She gives the example of an athleisure fashion brand that took off exponentially, particularly among women.

While she’ll stop short of advising on exactly where women should invest, she will motivate them with some compelling numbers — how to treble $20,000 in 30 years, for instance, or by taking a slightly higher risk, reaching a potential outcome of $350,000.

Victoria credits her mother’s forward-thinking for kick-starting her interest in finance when she bought her daughter shares, the money starting to roll in soon after. Victoria says her investment habits since have helped to lay the foundations for a comfortable retirement, allowed her to buy a house and travel the world and put her in contact with other high achievers.

“Small changes we make today can make a huge difference to our futures,” she says. “It’s fundamental to women they set up for the future they want. Investing shouldn’t just be for people in the finance industry.”

The Curve has since expanded into a podcast, and Victoria’s goal now is to take the platform to the next level, expanding from its educational format to give women an additional level of service. Eventually, she’d like to introduce The Curve to schools. She also plans to take it abroad, just as Madame Clicquot did with Champagne. “It’s really about reaching as many women as possible.”

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