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Lorna Watson

Women in Wealth: Asia Spotlight - Lorna Watson

Posted on 8 March 2024

Lorna Watson is the Founder of STELAR, a purpose-led accessories brand born and established in Bali, that works alongside local artisan communities to create luxury handcrafted accessories that preserve high-level heritage weaving skills.

Previously, Lorna spent 25 years in the luxury goods industry, directing the creative vision and development of collections for numerous international brands, including Dior, De Beers, Burberry and Astley Clarke.

Having witnessed the environmental and ethical impact the industry has been grappling with first hand, she was driven to create a brand that inspires a new way of thinking, a new way of connecting people and a more responsible way to do business.

An early adopter to a conscious lifestyle, Lorna’s mission has been to make a significant step-change within the industry and the lives of the people she is working with, ‘making less, making it better and making it more meaningfully’.

What woman (real or fictional) inspires you?

I discovered the work of Jane Goodall when I was 11 years old, and as a result became fascinated by ethnology and conservation. Throughout my teenage years, my treasured pocket money was spent on 'Save the Whales' and other similar causes that supported the protection of endangered species and our precious natural environment.

Through her revolutionary research on chimpanzees, Jane Goodall has become a world leader in conservation and positive impact, building a better, more sustainable world through community based programmes, and proving that real change is possible when we work together.

I went on to study a degree in Applied Arts, with cultural and skills preservation remaining a constant throughout my career. I wrote my thesis on the role of indigenous culture and craftsmanship in sustainable communities and environments, followed by a 25 year career path that was focused on the value of high level craft skills. It’s incredible to reflect on how various channels of my studies and career path reached a confluence that  led me to founding STELAR, which is built on the principles of community, craftsmanship, transparency and regeneration. 

Studies have shown that 80% of women do not feel comfortable discussing finances with family and friends. Is this true in your experience?

Historically, it has been challenging for women to openly discuss finances, as we have had to navigate a great deal of prejudice and conditioning. This was certainly my personal experience throughout my early and mid stage career where it wasn’t uncommon to discover that we were subject to unequal pay, and were often faced with a glass ceiling professionally. To a lesser extent this has been the case for me with family and friends, as we tend to approach difficult conversations with more openness, and recognise the importance of believing in our own value and contribution. Recognising my true value as an individual has proven to be an important starting point for me, no matter how sensitive the subject may be.

What is the biggest risk you have taken?

Leaving my corporate job as Creative Director for a successful jewellery brand in London to found an artisan led business, on the other side of the world. I relocated to Bali after only six months research, built on the early stage success of a small sample collection I had created in collaboration with an artisan community in East Bali, in order to test the response within an international market context.

The collection sold out in London in the first month so the early signs were pretty encouraging. Simultaneously, I had reached a crossroads where my career was no longer aligned with my personal values and I felt very clearly led to start something purposeful. At that time, however, 'sustainability' and regeneration were not the recognised subjects in the industry that they are today and I was frequently met with blank faces by many of my contacts when I explained what the mission of our the business was. Fast tracking to today, that seems like a life time ago and was certainly a risk worth taking.

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome? If so, how have you dealt with this?

Indeed. In the very early stages of research for STELAR, I expected this business would be based on handcrafted jewellery, because that's where my career expertise lay, and this is what I initially started to explore with the artisan community I began to research and sample with.

However, due to the materiality and skillsets of the community I was working with, I was very quickly led to create larger forms, which evolved into handbags. When I returned to London six months later to present our sample collection of sustainably and responsibly made handbags to a series of buyers and agents there, I found myself faced with the fear that no-one would take me seriously.

Whenever I find myself in this position now, where I doubt what I am doing, or whether I am capable of what I have set out or do, I bring myself back to the 'why', and the reason that STELAR exists. I refer to this as ‘my inner compass’, which I apply to most, if not all, avenues of my life now and it really helps me to stay aligned with my mission and values.

What achievement or experience are you most proud of?

Taking the leap to start STELAR, and to keep going in the face of adversity. In the words of Jane Goodall, "What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make."

Setting up and running a business presents constant challenges and requires endless determination and resilience. I'm proud that we have remained agile as a team, and been able to re-evaluate and respond quickly when plans haven't taken shape the way we expected. I'm also proud of our expanding artisan community - each craftsperson that we collaborate with, that shares our objectives, and has believed in our mission from the outset, and of the dedicated team we have built on the ground in Bali who continue to support our growth and evolution.

There's a lot of joy in what we achieve collectively, and you can see and feel that in the products we create and on the faces of each and every person we are collaborating with. That's something we are all proud of.

What is a cause that you are passionate about?

The over-riding mission of STELAR, which is to set new industry standards through transparent and responsible business practices, while preserving heritage skills within communities, not factories, and bringing value and recognition to the craftspeople and skills behind everything we create.

What advice would you give to your 12 year old self?

I was a pretty fearless and ambitious 12 year old, and I often reflect back on that age and how infallible I felt. One of my favourite books was Le Petite Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exubery. As a result I grew up believing that my wildest dreams weren't so wild after all. The Little Prince also believed that wisdom comes through open-mindedness and a curiosity to explore the world around us and within ourselves, so I would advise myself to keep believing in my dreams.

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

Measuring impact.

We are currently undergoing B Corp Certification which is a rigorous assessment that sets the highest standards of transparency, accountability, and social and environmental responsibility.

The process is very holistic and insightful for us as a team as well as a business as it highlights the structures and metrics we need to implement in order to measure our true impact in communities and beyond.

I'm particularly excited about this because it has introduced a deeper layer of purpose and meaning to each of our respective roles within the team, as well as the impact we are creating with artisans as individuals, and within their community. This reaches beyond the skills we are preserving and will provide us with the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of additional layers of impact within other community initiatives such as education and healthcare.

Our impact defines us a business based on so much more than just profits, and this is our purpose.


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