When we first met Catherine Morrissey, we were intrigued by her title as President of White + Warren, the incredible cashmere company founded by her mother 20 years ago. But upon getting to know this new HEYMAMA, we learned that she is not only following in her mother’s footsteps, she’s creating a path all her own while she runs not one, but two fashion companies simultaneously. From advice for creating employee happiness to the decision to form an entirely new company instead of extend the existing one, Catherine shares how she does it all as a working mom and still has time for her adorable daughter Shea. Read on…
Your mother is the founder of White + Warren where you are now President. Tell us more about your business.
Our company was started over 20 years ago with our first product, the iconic Cashmere Travel Wrap. Our brand and assortment has expanded significantly since those early days, but we’ve never strayed from our mission – designing chic knitwear that makes women feel good in their clothes, every day. We create styles that are simultaneously on-trend and classic.
We worked with our cashmere factory to create an exclusive wash that makes for an exceptional blend of softness and quality, so you can always tell when you’re touching a White + Warren sweater or accessory.
They are seriously so soft! It must have been amazing to have such a strong mentor in your mother growing up. What 3 things has she taught you about being a leader?
- Follow your gut when it comes to people and product.
- Stick to the facts, allow the numbers to inform your decisions.
- Employees are everything; you are only as good as the individuals and teams.
Did you feel like you had to work harder to prove yourself worthy of your position to others on your team? If so, how.
I didn’t become President overnight. I have been working my way up the ladder at White + Warren for 7 years. We have a high retention rate for employees, so many of my colleagues have seen me grow and transition into the role that I now play. I’d like to believe that in this time they have seen my strong work ethic, my passion for leading, and my collaborative spirit (I’ve been that way since I was a teenager. I was the captain of all my sports teams and a leader of my class in college). I love what I do, and I think (or at least hope) that my passion is palpable to those around me.
Do you have any advice for others working with family?
Leave the personal stuff at the door. I treat Susan like my boss, and she treats me like any other employee (she is probably harder on me!). When you are with family, leave work out of it. Since my mom and I see each other most days at work, we need to remind ourselves to ask each other how we are doing.
That’s great advice. What do you look for when hiring a new employee?
Passion, an entrepreneurial mindset and a roll up your sleeves attitude. An employee at W+W or KINLY (my other business) will hopefully have experience working in a collaborative team environment, be an independent strategist and have the ability to make decisions on their own.
You oversee the entire creative process at White + Warren. Where do you draw your inspiration?
We look all around the world for inspiration and trends. Female empowerment is a hot topic right now, so we’ve had to think about how that affects the way we want to dress as women. When travel to Cuba was opening again, we thought about how that could inspire a collection. We are always considering comfort and travel in our inspiration for each collection.
What 3 words would your mom use to describe you? Your colleagues? Your kids?
My Mom would say I’m thoughtful, self-confident and courageous. My colleagues would say I’m dynamic, a leader and indefatigable. My daughter is 22 months, so if she could describe me, I think she would say I am the master of the universe, her best friend, her top employee and her playful sidekick (she really gets my silly side that no one else but my husband sees).
You recently launched a new business, KINLY. Tell us more!
As a working mom that’s almost always on the go, I saw a big opportunity for a collection that focuses on the sweet spot between athleisure, office-wear and going out clothes. Styles that look polished but have the ease and comfort of your favorite tee and leggings.
We’re a female-driven team, so we focused on creating the pieces that we all craved in our wardrobe: versatile, flattering, easy. This resulted in a collection of ready-for-anything staples that can be styled down for the day and/or up for a night out. We truly think this collection strikes the perfect balance between luxe and approachable.
The pieces are crafted like wovens but use knit stretch fabrics to allow for comfort and ease. Inspired by my relationship with my mom, (White + Warren founder Susan White Morrissey), KINLY is rooted in the spirit of kinship and celebrates the bond amongst all women.
We’re big fans in the office! What drove the decision to form an entirely new company vs having it as an extension of your existing one?
We really felt the concept that we had for KINLY was a standalone one and deserved its own life, separate from White + Warren.
Also, starting a separate line meant that crossover buyers couldn’t share dollars that they already allocate to WW to KINLY. If it was an extension of the brand, it’s much easier for them to just shift dollars from one place in the collection to another, and we wouldn’t have seen as much overall business growth.
Smart! What marketing tactics have been most successful in this new endeavor?
We launched a social initiative called Caught in KINLY which embodies what KINLY is all about. We partner with a woman who we believe is doing influential and inspiring things in her own particular space (tech, fashion, beauty, etc.), ask them to partner with a best friend, wear KINLY, and spend the day doing what they normally would – drinks, dinner, a walk in the park, the list goes on. We photograph their day, get the inside scoop on their favorite places and spaces, learn about their relationship, and create meaningful content not only for our website and social channels, but for their personal use as well.
Caught in KINLY celebrates the bonds between women and showcases how KINLY product can take you everywhere – day to night, no matter the journey!
Running two businesses and raising your young daughter is busy. What are your non-negotiables to maintain your sanity?
- Making time for myself – I take an hour to exercise on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m working out!
- 1 hour with Shea before bed. No question.
- Weekend = family time. We never overbook ourselves and always have one full day, just us 3!
What would people be surprised to learn about your business?
We take team building seriously and make sure to plan one outing a month (whether it’s drinks, dinner, or a Soul Cycle class) and quarterly companywide get togethers. AND…We don’t just make cashmere! Our cotton and linen knits are perfect for year-round wear.
3 pearls of wisdom
We are only human (even though at times we feel superhuman), and we don’t have all the answers. Find a few moms that you trust to call on for advice. That said…
Follow your intuition. You will receive a lot of advice (solicited or not). Pick and choose what you act on. You know what’s best for your child.
When transitioning your baby to solids, whole chunks of soft food are your friend, not your enemy. People always ask me how I got Shea to be such a good eater…I attribute it to skipping the blender.