The Only Way to Predict My Future Is to Create It

Netherlands

My name is Monique Bodegom; female owner of an exciting but struggling start-up, and single mum. Five years ago I decided that the only way to predict my future is to create it! So...ok, let’s start in 2002 when I sold my perfumery shops in the Netherlands and moved with my retired husband, toddler and little baby, to Italy, to live our dream of restoring an antique villa.

In 2004 my husband lost all his money on derivatives and there we were, in a foreign country with only a half-restored, unsaleable, Italian villa and no money. Since my husband had never learned to speak Italian, I had to find a job and become the bread winner, while he stayed at home with our small boys. I found a job as Italian country manager for Marlies Dekkers, a Dutch lingerie brand. After one year they decided to fire all the country managers and continue with distributors only. I had to become a distributor; I had no funds to start with, but somehow I managed.To differentiate and spread risk I started a sales agency for the Dutch jewellery brand Rodrigo Otazu and later added Pilgrim, Friis&Company and Axel Accessories.

I opened two shops. We didn’t make a lot of money but we survived – until the 2008 crisis when our sales decreased and our clients couldn’t pay their invoices. Marlies Dekkers, Otazu and Friis & Company went bankrupt, leaving us with the damage and unpaid commissions. In 2011 my marriage ended in a nasty divorce and now I had to financially take care of two households and cope with a life-threatening stalker and two damaged, innocent kids. It was very difficult, both emotionally and financially.

Then, one day, in 2012, I wanted to put on my favourite black heels and found they didn’t match with my favourite black dress. I thought about all the customers entering my shop but leaving without buying anything because they couldn't find what they wanted. I realized “personalization” was the key!

I asked myself why a small group of – mostly male – designers still dictate the trends, and do we really want thousands of other women wearing the exact same stuff as us? Don’t we all want to feel unique?

Using my 25 years of experience in luxury goods, the idea for a new Italian brand, based upon personalization and a fun, new and innovative shopping experience started to form in my head. Inspiration was found in other succesful personalization examples such as IKEA, LEGO, NIKE and SMART. Because, if we can personalize our cars and our kitchens, then why not something so personal as our shoes and bags?

I started up CIAOBELLA, an Italian fashion accessories brand that makes bags and shoes and delivers them in “modules”, which allows women to design their own unique bags, using an easy 3 D designing app on their smartphones or computer, or on a touchscreen kiosk in a store. They are ready to wear in five minutes, and customers can keep changing the design and colour combination as often as they want by just adding or taking away modules. This is like Lego for fashionistas. It gives women the opportunity to be creative and unique.

Developing this brand, software and concept was challenging enough but the most challenging part had yet to come – fundraising! I have worked on this concept for five years, and invested everything I had, plus money I have borrowed.We are ready for launch now, but I can’t find the business partner/investor to make the last step to production. What I didn’t realize (as I have never felt disadvantaged as a woman before) was how hard it would be in a man’s world to raise money for a project made by women for women. “Female entrepeneurs” and “fashion” are not what most male venture capitalists feel affinity with, to say the least.

Most investors have very effective gatekeepers, who make it very hard to contact them without an introduction. But what if you don’t know the right people to introduce you? Does that make you a less competent entrepeneur? In short, some of the best ideas will never be realized because they never reach the right desk.

Let me not get started about the insulting or plain ignorant reactions I have received. When I explained how my concept is based on IKEA’s success, one investor told me: "But you know how many people DON’T buy at IKEA because they don’t like the DIY idea?” (Yes… But I was looking at the millions of people who DO buy at IKEA). Another one suggested: "Why don’t you just buy a sewing machine to start making bags?" (Maybe you should have read my business plan, it is about a omnichannel retail concept, not about selling 10 bags.) Then there was the man who announced : “I don’t know anything about bags or your business...But I don’t want to invest because I don’t like your bags"

I was even told: “Bring a man with you when you pitch, doesn’t matter if it is only the boy from the post room.”

I lost count of the number of times I was told: “Come back after you have launched the product, we might want to invest in the next round”. Er… but how exactly can I launch without a first funding?

I was told numerous times to change my project into a “tech” project. This completely ignored my background (retail), my strength (retail), my experience (retail), my concept (retail) and my business plan (omnichannel). E-commerce is, indeed, very important and certainly an important part of my business plan, but CIAOBELLA is not a tech project. Some 80 % of fashion is still sold in real, bricks and mortar stores.

The words “female founder”, “retail” and “fashion” don’t seem to be what investors want to hear, so I am told over and over again (by men who often turned out to have never read my business plan) to change the plan into something investors DO want to hear. Tech is the buzz word. I am called stubborn many times, but how can I launch my project, adjusted to what the investors want, knowing it won’t work that way? It is my blood, sweat and tears; my dream, my project, my baby, my life, my financial future.

I have struggled, fallen, kept going, been mislead, been sexually harassed, fought off scammers, been given false promises, and been let down by people I trusted. I dare say that very few people would have resisted this long, or would have had the courage, determination and strength to stay on their feet. But unfortunately it was not enough and I can’t share a success story with a happy ending. I think it’s a bloody shame that a capable, experienced and determined woman, who in the past has proved to be more than qualified to set up businesses from scratch, has to give up.

Sad conclusion; a lot of great female entrepeneurs will never realize their projects because they lack the right network – even though it is proved over and over again, that female-led companies are more successful and produce higher returns on investment, socially and economically.

This is why women's economic empowerment means so much.

Photographer & Videographer Credit: Monique Bodegom
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  • Uzoma Katchy
    IRRESPECTIVE OF THE CHALLENGES, WOMEN MUST BE THEMSELVES AND LIVE THE LIVES THEY TRULY WANT. WOMEN MUST CREATE THEIR FUTURE.
  • Betty Mbithi
    What a story,very inspiring.A spirit of persistent against all odds.I like the statement,the only way we create a future is to predict it.Go go go you are a living inspiration to many women out there going through the same challenges
  • Wanyana Racheal
    What an enthusing beautiful story! I wish you the very best in your endeavours!
  • monique bodegom
    I want to thank all you great women for your encouraging words!
    I am not giving up yet! It ain't over till it's over!!

    There's a reason I have printed this text and put it on the wall in my office: The best revenge is SUCCESS!
  • Lembie Mmereki
    A woman after my own heart!! I think that is a line I will be quoting for years to come...'the only way to predict my future,is to create it..'
  • Dr Rejoice Shumba
    Very interesting story Monique. The only way to predict my future is to create it. 

    You are right. Entrepreneurship is not always a success. We can however learn from those who tried but never made it. 
  • Moureen Njule Eseme
    Very inspirational!Thanks for sharing.
  • Danayi Musamirapamwe
    Thank you for inspiring us Monique. I completely agree, the right network can make or break you.
  • Basant Hussein
    you are strong and amazing woman .. thanks for sharing your story . #EmpowerWomenRally #EWChampion4Chang
  • Vanessa Avila
    Such resolve and tenacity! Thank you for sharing your story. Many times women feel intimidated by entrepreneurship, you are a strong #breaktheglass example, proving that with dedication and commitment all is possible. I wish you much success in your business endeavors. Continue inspiring future women entrepreneurs to break through that invisible glass!
  • Napogadi Morethe
    This is a very touching story, still puzzled that even in business men supress women. Indeed you are a rare qaulity. Persevere on.
  • Neatness Muze Msemo
    Thanks for sharing to be honest it touch to the maximum we need not to give up. I hope will as far I am not alone
  • Dhara Patel
    Its inspiration for other women who are struggling. please, don't give up. you will win for sure.  Thank you for sharing this story.
  • This is a clear indication of what is obtaining on the ground. To get hold of something you must be connected with someone preferrably a man who will speak on your behalf. I find this rather disappointing because it demeans one's creativity and innovation.
  • Josephine Adeti
    a lot of great female entrepeneurs will never realize their projects because they lack the right network – even though it is proved over and over again, that female-led companies are more successful and produce higher returns on investment, socially and economically.
    VERY POWERFUl
  • Abiodun Oladimeji
    Thanks for sharing your story to make people realize the obstacles women have to overcome when starting up a buisness and thanks for not giving up.
  • Valentine Kamau
    Powerful story! Starting a business in a foreign land. You go lady! Bright future ahead
  • Mwabi Moyo
    Thank you very much Monique. You have shared an inspiring story. 
    Indeed the best way to predict your future is to create it. Dreaming alone is not enough, we need to take action, be determined, and focused. 

    As Women we need to know that challenges will always be there but we should press on. We should not be moved by what people think of us. 
    It is you who knows your self better than anyone else. So if you think you are capable, then you are. Don't wait for people to tell you that you have portential, before you do something.
    I like Monique's attitude. She kept pushing.
  • Rachel Odhiambo
    Thank you for sharing your story Monique. You are an inspiration!
  • Grace Pisirai
    Powerful and intense piece of work Monique, thank you.  Your story just brought out so many aspects of the challenges women face in a nutshell. Very true;investment gatekeepers, critics all of it.

    I commend you for your courageous actions and  i concur @ Mildred Kujinga, girl  you have come a long way to give up, go on and shatter the glass ceiling!!!!!!
  • Simche Robert-Lebbie
    You have done well by sharing your story. The most important thing I learnt is you raised above being a victim of circumstance. You never allowed your circumstances to defined who you are. Bravo!!
  • Erisa Kreshpa
    What a brave woman :) Thank you thousand times for sharing your story.
  • Zanele Xaba
    wow Monique , I am so Inspired by your story.

    the easy way out was to give up on everything, be vulnerable and blame it on divorce and finacial difficulties.

    you are such a brave and results oriented women, I salute you for the steps you took
  • MacDonald Nyirenda
    A very inspirant story social and economic self-empowerment. It's really import to stand firm on what you have destiny in it. People are there to clap hand only after you get succeeded; only very few would go along your vision. Let's keep nursing our vision being it women, the only difference is sexship status of being called man or woman. We both have the same capability; She can do as He does; She can succed while He fails as He succeeds when She strugles. 
  • Mildret Kujinga
    Very touching story, I can relate, never give up go on and shatter the glass ceilings
  • Foba Akom
    Thanks for sharing your story.
  • Gaofenngwe Kabubi
    Thank you Monique for your bravery. 

    This was a very interesting read,painful reality but also encouraging.

    I believe we have done relatively well when it comes to skill development even though more work is still needed.But i beleive that aswe provide this skills it is also importnt to create platforms which can help in propelling women in the business arena.

    From what you have shared Monique,it is very evident that we need investors forums just for women, othewise the efforts we are putting in skills development and entreprenuership will never achieve what we hoped for. Instead we will have skillful and capabale women roaming around the streets depending on men for a living or with the so called small scale businesses which can only help her feed her children from the sales of yesterday.

    I know for sure I don't want to be part of that world.
  • ISABELLA MUTHONI MURIERA
    Dear Monique,

    It's so sad that your story has reached where it is now, but just so am clear, it has not reached the end. And the sad part of it is, this is the narrative for most female entrepreneurs all over the world. CIAOBELLA is such a unique concept that I am perplexed that you had such a hard time financing (The way I unedrstood your concept is exactly the way LEGO works, that you produce bags and shoes in parts/modulues then one can do a DIY to assemble it in preference to what you want to wear, mix it up to one's own liking. Am just wondering whether the bag that you are holding is a product of CIAOBELLA). 

    But all is not lost Monique, there are things that we have at our disposal in this time and era that the people who came before us did not have. One of it is Social media and online marketing platforms. The good thing about these platforms is that you can start small, or even just with a sample then market them online. This gives you visibility, with not necessarily undermining the works of the important networks. 

    I guess my point is that you can always start small and anywhere (and this is not at all in any way to undermine the efforts that you have put in for your product), all I am just trying to tell you is that all is not lost yet, and this is not the end of CIAOBELLA. 

    If anything, thank you for sharing your story. The challenges and biases towards women founders still exist and it will take a lot of work to water it down. You are one strong woman and surely, the worst is behind you. You have withstood a lot and there is still hope for CIAOBELLA, including something called crowdfunding for finance to get the business up and running.
  • Melinda Nyaradzo Chakurira
    Thank you Monique for sharing your story,never give up your dream,one day it will come to pass.
  • Wonjeong Chae
    Thank you for sharing your story. I just started a start-up organization about 2 month ago. It was a big step for me to even start one. Your story inspired me and sure others as well! 
  • Sharda Vishwanathan
    Thank you for sharing your story Monique. Indeed women's economic empowerment is central. The fact that you chose to write your story and share your experience itself speaks about how strong and courageous you are. Don't give up and I am sure you will get there and find success in what you are doing
  • Dr Ishrat Bano
    Thanks for sharing your story Monique!
  • Srishti Bakshi

    Every start up needs a miracle! And I am sure you will find yours and soon. It’s a brilliant concept and your strong will to reach the finish line is going to get you there. 

  • Rupande Mehta
    You're an incredibly strong woman and although your sorry doesn't have a happy ending yet I am sure it will come. Economic empowerment is very important for women and your post highlights all the reasons why. Only thing I would say is sometimes to get a little you have give a little. Taking two steps back to take three forward is still progress. 

    I skncerely hope you find what you're looking for! Good luck. 
  • veronica portugal
    Hi Monique, dont give up. Sorround yourself with positive people. Thank you for your story
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