Happy International Women’s Day! It’s been a while since we had a chat with our founder An-Katrien Dullers. She doesn’t speak out about her own role, dreams and experiences that often, so today seemed like the perfect occasion to grab some of her time.

A quick introduction for those of you who don’t know her. An-Katrien founded MARNIX and ALLY eight years ago. She started M and A because she felt there was a need to give young, creative Belgian brands an extra push. Throughout the years, her focus shifted from young brands to conscious labels with great esthetics. The majority of the M and A brands is still Belgian, but for An-Katrien - marketer to the core - it is important to create and spread honest, authentic brand (love) stories and to connect the right people to those brands.

Hi An-Katrien, how are you doing on a scale from 0 to 10?

Let’s say I’m at a steady 8. I’m currently in a positive flow, both personally and professionally. Good and exciting things are happening at M and A and it makes me genuinely happy. Plus, covid forced us all to stay at home and I must say that it’s not easy to work from home with two little ones running around. However, I am very grateful I get to spend more time with them.

And of course, I think that those first rays of spring sun and the positive atmosphere at the office are real mood boosters. I thrive on light, positivism and smiles. (And podcasts and e-books)

Today is International Women’s Day. Is this day extra special to you?

For sure. International Women's Day is an awesome celebration where we remember what women all over the world have done in pursuit of equal rights. But it's also a reminder that, while we have made incredible progress, we still have a long way to go. We can’t just leave it there. When you get the chance to speak louder than on any other day, just grab that mic and cheer. Hard.

I would love to take this opportunity to cheer for my all-female team. To every amazing girl or woman in the team: thank you for being here and doing such an amazing job. It’s an honor to work with such a dedicated and inspirational group of women!

How does it feel to work with and for so many women?

It feels great. And safe. Women are so powerful and when they are passionate about something they’ll go all the way. And even though we live in a male-dominated world, the women around me are going strong, know how to survive, seize opportunities and dare to ask questions.

Supporting and getting support from other women is so heart-warming. Whether it’s giving a colleague a compliment after a rough day or a female client sending you a text message with a plain “thank you for the hard work”. Getting support from another woman lifts you up. Showing appreciation and respect, giving a compliment and ‘just being friendly’ means the world to me personally. It
is essential that we keep supporting and loving each other in order to grow.

As a woman, have you encountered any challenges in your career along the way?

Of course. It’s not all roses and sunshine here. Firstly, finding confidence along the way to believe that I could do this and make the jump to this leading role involved quite a lot of self-belief and the support of fantastic mentors. I feel it takes a while for women to develop this. The insecurity women often feel is such a burden. I see my own female clients struggling with the same thing even though they are so talented and powerful. We tend to compare ourselves to others and that keeps us small. You have to make a shift in your mindset and the magic will happen.

It feels good to be in a period in my life where I can more easily say: I don’t care. It’s not that big of a deal. Move on. Let it go. And that last one certainly has something to do with having children. I speak openly about my family commitments because it’s important to recognize that we all have a life beyond work. I used to be torn between work and motherhood and I had the feeling I had to choose one role. Oh, the many times I felt guilty that I wasn’t working while I was simply taking care of my family. And when I was working, how depressed if felt my children were the last ones in daycare. This is still my biggest struggle: I haven’t found my ‘work-off-switch’, but I know how to control it better. *Smiles*

What does being a founder mean to you?

It’s about having a business mindset - not too emotional and not too fierce - and pushing yourself to create the best business out there. To not just be any founder but one that goes the extra mile to provide value to my team and to people’s lives in general. Learn and unlearn every day. And don’t do it for the applause, but for the feeling you are doing something good.

How can more women become entrepreneurs?

I’ve been privileged, in that way that I’ve never felt that me being a woman held me back. I always felt sure about what I wanted to do because I always had a plan B. Covid or not, if you have a backpack filled with strategies and knowledge, partners and self-belief, you are good to go. The time is now. There are so many women leading the way that you can look up to and talk to. There’s mentors, online tutorials, workshops… But don’t take too many random people’s advice and shut out negative people. Failures aren’t setbacks; they’re the best teachers to learn from for your next move.

Do you have a specific dream you'd like to share with us?

Oh, I have so many! MARNIX and ALLY is growing and the steps we are taking to only work with brands we truly believe in, feel good. It warms my heart and it makes me confident that M and A is doing valuable work.

It’s my dream to help grow hundreds of companies in their process to become a ‘meaningful brand’ so they’re able to create a shift in people’s minds.
I would love to empower other female entrepreneurs and grow positive teams all over the world. As you can read, I’ve never stopped dreaming. And the aspirations mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg. *Laughs*

One last word?

With privilege must come responsibility. Today it’s all about women, for those women who don’t have a voice to speak up, for the sisters and daughters surrounding me.

Be proud of what you are doing. Even if it feels like you’re juggling and struggling hard. Don’t be too hard on yourself, feel beautiful and love yourself. Give compliments (also to yourself) and receive them with a smile. Believe in yourself and raise those (wo)men right.

“What we as women have to really focus on now is our intention to fight for our rights, but to do it with dignity—not whining, not crying. Since we are stronger than men, we shouldn’t be afraid of our own strength.”
These words belong to Diane von Furstenberg.