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Women hold up half the sky

One woman’s cross-cultural journey to assuming a pivotal role at a successful ingredient brand.

Business, Markets | February 1, 2022 | By: Courtney Caneer-Cruzan

A successful ingredient brand is only as good as the hard work and supportive foundation it is built on and continues to nurture. brrr˚ Inc. is one such ingredient brand, whose talented female founder has built a strong foundation of trust, perseverance and steady growth by surrounding herself with a strategically skilled team.

On Jan 5, 2020, I was blessed to find myself relocating to Atlanta, Ga., making a new home in the cool offices of brrr˚, a then five-year-old startup with patented cooling yarn technology. The journey to this office began when I was in high school (although the seed was most likely planted earlier growing up with a creative/scientific design family), when I decided to pursue a career in clothing, textiles and design with an international MBA in textile trade policy. That educational foundation set me on the path to understanding all facets of the textile industry and how to find my place in it.

My journey first took me to France when I thought I was a designer; back to California to begin working in retail management, where I learned how to manage people and the public; on to managing marketing and development of a high-end menswear brand amid a corporate shift in culture; to consulting and living in mainland China; then localizing with a woven mill in Taiwan; transitioning back to the U.S. to support new manufacturing of Taiwanese performance textiles in North Carolina and garment production in Haiti; and finally to Atlanta to the beginning of the supply chain in developing and sourcing production of fiber yarn technology and performance fabrics.

Skill sets for success

The journey I took through my 20s and 30s was challenging, inspiring, intriguing and terrifying. It’s the journey, not the destination, that builds the skill sets for your personal success. 

As a professional woman in a fast-paced industry driven by predominantly strong male leadership, I did encounter moments of machoism, but it never affected me because I focused on my value as a professional. No matter your gender, if you can command a room and be trusted for your strategic thinking, you will be respected.

The more challenging part of my career has been striving to be a superstar without being threatening. Finding myself as one of the youngest and only “foreigners” in a boardroom, I had to consistently assert my convictions based on fact and intuition to advise the best way forward for a product whether that entailed presenting to the lead sourcing officer for Ralph Lauren or a Japanese artisanal one-man company. When working for Taiwanese and Chinese private and public companies, one must learn how to apply just the right amount of influence without being viewed as an overly confident American. In addition, for women, it is important to be humble while knowing the right time to assert your confidence directly when required.

One important thing I learned from a Taiwanese colleague when a buyer asked why Asians are so much quieter in business meetings was “silence is liquid gold.” Growing up supported and encouraged to be an outspoken, strong, independent female, this created an internal shift in me. The realization that I had all the power to influence the direction of an organization with patience and intuitiveness as a young professional woman brought me peace and helped me establish strong, long-term global relationships.

Your network is your strongest asset

The Chinese word 關係 guānxì, meaning relationships, is the most important aspect to growing personally and professionally. Without connections and keeping your connections close, your life journey will be much more of a struggle. Without LinkedIn, my life would be much harder. Thank you for professional social media! 

Knowledge is power. As a woman, the more background study you do about a person or an organization before you walk into each meeting, trade show or summit conference, the more respect you will garner, and this will also most likely alleviate any doubt from others. Guiding perceptions is one of the most important skills you can build as a professional. 

In many cases, women, and really everyone, are at a disadvantage if they do not have the network or the way to network to get the right introduction for a successful opportunity. I would not be anywhere today if I didn’t reach out for help, ask anyone I could connect with to introduce me to someone doing business, strategize the best way to localize myself in a new culture, and ruthlessly send out LinkedIn connection requests to anyone I met or heard speak, anywhere.

Resilience is power

If you haven’t already come to this conclusion about me, I am an outgoing, positive, goal-driven individual who is not afraid to go out on any limb if I know it will help my growth and others around me. The increased knowledge I have gained through the experiences I have had make me the resilient, fearless woman I am today, and it is powerful.

As I grow into my power, I am reminded and humbled daily by my peers and support network to always lift them up along the way. Now, the powerful resilience I have cultivated is my energy source to keep me motivated working for a startup with offices in the U.S. and Taiwan. The long hours and perseverance required to drive a small business is no joke. It takes a lot of energy! Turn your passions into energy and your worries into prayers and you (hopefully) won’t lose sleep or you’ll get just the amount you need to keep driving up the profit margin.

Teamwork makes the dream work

My dear sales colleague continually reminds me that without a supportive team, we couldn’t achieve the growth to sustain brrr˚, which is poised to grow 300+ percent over the next three years.

I am blessed to have arrived at a point when the company has an established, tested and high-performing technology with a strong growth trajectory. The best part about working for a startup is the opportunity to steer the ship and have ownership in the day-to-day operations. I am surrounded by inspiring professional colleagues, with 63 percent of the team being female. 

We are only as strong as the team and network that supports us. There is a saying in China that values the female contribution, Women hold up half the sky. Persevere with your goals, rely on your team, nurture your network and you will find success. 

Courtney Caneer-Cruzan 옵콜 is vice president of Sourcing and Product Development for brrr˚ Inc., which develops advanced performance cooling fabric technology that helps keep people more comfortable in their everyday lives.

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