“Setting a good example is a far better way to spread ideals than through force of arms.”
– Ron Paul
My visit to Kopenhagen Fur Studio a few months ago left me with a feeling of contentment. Not only because of the beautiful surroundings and work this talent hub has gifted the fur industry with but also because this Guru noticed that, in the heart of it, a big group of women are directing, promoting and supporting the creation of outstanding work.
Catja is in charge of Design and Production and, every day with her daily endeavour, she manages the team of some of the worlds most skilled furriers and furrier apprentices in diverse projects within fur development at Kopenhagen Fur Studio. For more than two decades she has been working with design management, product development and production. Her background as furrier is the backbone of her professional career.
Catja is a knowledgeable crafter and a gifted creator herself but also, among her affections, is her passion for sailing the sea and exploring the outdoors. You can tell when you meet her how she has adopted the pace of nature which provided her with familiar politeness and the secret of patience. She’s a peaceful spirit which finds in her surroundings, not only inspiration but, also reserves of strength.
The Fur Guru finds all this difficult to believe. You know her, she’s quite the opposite and, quite frankly, pretty unaware of how to keep her “cool”. The city life since birth has provided this writer with a high-paced walk and a limited amount of serenity (only achievable by her so much needed glasses of white). So, how does Catja do it???!!!! That’s a super power this Guru wants to cultivate and she’s going to find out.
Now, listen carefully and learn from this queen that has managed to achieve a successful career, a balanced life-style and still, makes it look as a piece of cake!
Catja tries to energize as much as possible by sailing and spending time at her weekend house at the seaside. For many years she had the passion for historical boats crafted from wood. She has her own boat which was built in 1942. The boat is of stunning beauty; a piece of elegant handcrafted furniture. To keep it in good condition requires many working hours. Sailing and maintain the boat brings a lot of peace to her mind: “to me this is more healing than yoga.”
Catja feels inspired by any woman who aims to follow her dream. “No matter if the dream is building a strong career, raising a family of five children, run a Marathon or even organizing orphanages in India. Achieving higher goals very often requires a lot of sacrifices to be made. When I meet women, who have achieved ambitious goals and lived their dreams, I feel very inspired and try to understand the power which drove them to those realisations.”
Catja also explained to the Guru how she got involved with fur and how since she was a little girl, she was passionate about designing and sewing. “Originally, I wanted to learn tailoring however, by coincidence, I ended becoming a furrier apprentice in a highly reputable fur company. From that day, I totally fell in love with this fantastic material not to mention the actual craftsmanship it involves.”
About the advantages of working with fur she mentioned: “I’m totally convinced about the sustainable elements that naturally comes with fur. The longevity is amazing and beyond any doubt.”
It’s difficult with successful people like Catja to pinpoint a particular moment of professional accomplishment (as she has had so many). But, the Guru wonders if there’s any of so many moments she considers as the “professional Nirvana”:
“I remember the first time I realised that not only were my collections sold but also copied. From a business perspective, it’s always problematic when your products are copied, but for me personally, it was a source of great satisfaction to learn that my designs and ideas were considered worth copying and to inspire other professionals.”
Wow! That’s lucky (ehem, not, that’s talent!) but aside from this aptitude I wonder if she has noticed any particularity of being a woman to become a prosperous leader:
“Now that’s a very good question…” (yes, I know, I’m quite clever). “I have had the pleasure of working with just as many skilled male as female leaders from whom I have picked up a lot of valuable inspiration. Maybe there is a general assumption that women are more sensitive but frankly I don’t know if it’s true. I think that the expectations for how women should carry out leadership maybe has a larger impact than the actual double X chromosome in our DNA. I find that my most important task is to secure that the individual skills of each team member are being used the best possible way to secure specific motivation to succeed with the strategic goals of the company. Doing this requires both; professional knowledge but also engagement on a certain personal level. Me being a woman might lead to expectations to pay a higher interest in employee’s spare time activities by asking questions like “how was your weekend”, “has your dog recovered” or “did your sons graduation party went well”. Showing an extended degree of empathy, I believe this is somehow expected from a female leader and I’m not sure if male leaders meet with quite the same expectations in that scene.”
Aside from the pretended concern about your co-worker dog’s health (and in a more serious note) the Guru wondered if there were any particular obstacles that Catja found throughout her career because of being a woman. “Maybe years back. Originally the furrier handicraft was divided into sorting/cutting and sewing. In general, the men were handling the sorting/ cutting and women the sewing part. The wage and status for men was considerably higher which I never really understood as I found the handicraft of the women to be of higher quality and engagement. Nowadays a furrier is trained in all the processes and from what I see the gender issue is no longer present.”
Ok, so not major drama (as it should be) with being a female leader, what about the advantages? “To be honest I have never considered female leadership as an advantage – or the opposite. Again, I can’t help wondering if the big difference lies in the distinctive expectations towards male and female leaders. I don’t think that these general assumptions necessarily reflect reality. Personally, I have meet leaders of both genders that showcase the opposite. Rather than gender-specific competencies, it may be the culture that has changed. The number of female leaders is increasing, and by this maybe also the perception of headship in general. I have a strong belief that diversity leads to better problem solving. Gender diversity in management improves the ability to illuminate obstacles and challenges. For that reason alone, I find it as an advantage for any company to consider females alongside men in the leadership pool.”
You work on a daily basis with new talents and a new generation of female furriers, do you notice any main differences between them and you? “The younger generation of women has such an open approach to their careers and the possibilities to grow their potential.
In a natural way, they reach out towards the next achievement in a much more self-confident way than I remember my generation did.”
So, you know the talents of these young ladies, what do you wish for them? Catja told the Guru that to be a “clever hands” in the fur business is more practice than theory and Kopenhagen Fur Studio offers this opportunity to her team through challenging projects and, at the same time, reflecting what she wishes for the upcoming female furriers: “My wish for the younger generation is the possibilities to constantly develop their skills within the craftsmanship and hereby push the fur to the limit. For that reason, I strive to support their professional growth by pushing them towards challenging tasks and assignments.
Every day I’m amazed about their creativity, skills and the continuously strive for perfectionism. It’s such a great honour and inspiration to work alongside the best team of furriers and artisans in the world.”
The Fur Guru concluded this interview with the certainty that a bright future waits for the upcoming generation of exceptional young ladies working side by side with Catja. She is practical and knowledgeable and, more importantly, very keen to transmit her expertise and understanding of fur. The most outstanding part of her personality is her ability to discover, appreciate and nurture other people’s talents and merits (in life and at work). Serene and down-to-earth, Catja Beck- Berge represents the diligence and the dogma, the knowledge and the transcendence through the appreciation of others.
P.S. My darling readers next week is one not to be missed! Join The Fur Guru and meet one of the most loved and respected women in our industry: Marcie Rea. This Texan is no quitter and she will be telling us how to make a brand, a name and a dream go beyond expectations without loosing (ever, ever) belief in yourself. Attagirl! Until then, keep safe.
The Fur Guru xx