Sofia Charalambous

Women: A force for change

The joint-owner of accessories specialist Bathroom Origins, Sofia Charalambous, sees lots of talented females in retail but feels women are under-represented in manufacturing and product design.

I’m truly honoured to be writing this in an issue of kbbreview dedicated to the women driving this industry forward in support of International Women’s Day (March 8). 

So, let’s celebrate how far women have come and look forward to the exciting opportunities that lay ahead of us, where we will become a powerful force for change in our industry.

My message to every woman in the KBB world is to embrace your different perspective on life, your unique talents and approach to work. You are not a man and it’s important to realise you do not have to be or act like one to be successful. 

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and named in the 2020 Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, has some wise words for us on this subject. She says: “It would be futile to attempt to fit women into a masculine pattern of attitudes, skills and abilities and disastrous to force them to suppress their specifically female characteristics and abilities by keeping up the pretence that there are no differences between the sexes.”

The retail side of our industry is filled with super-talented female designers and business owners. In fact, it’s a joy to watch them succeed in what has always been a male-dominated world – till recently. However, we are still under-represented in product development and manufacturing. I would like to see more products designed and manufactured by women-led teams. I envisage products that are fit for purpose, sustainably produced and are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. A fusion of form and function.

The challenges of the past year have shown just how resilient the home-improvement sector is. The home has become a safe space to retreat to. This pandemic has only accelerated changes that were already happening. The word ‘wellness’ has been bandied about for years, but it can’t simply be used as an empty phrase for marketing purposes. 

We mustn’t underestimate the important role our homes have to play in our mental health. In fact, I believe women have always been more open to the conversation around mental well-being, which is where our industry can thrive with the right skill set. In terms of bathrooms, we’re not just selling a wash ‘n’ go; we’re helping people to embrace self-care rituals.

My bathroom journey began in 1991 while I was studying in San Francisco. I walked past a craft stall, where I bought the cutest miniature roll-top bath with two little teddies and a bottle of Blue Nun. I don’t know why, but I said to myself: “I’m going to give this to the man I’m going to marry.” Fast-forward to 1993, when I met my future husband and guess what line of business his family were in? Yep, I married into bathrooms.

Writing from my own personal experience, I didn’t have to contend with barriers growing up. I was fortunate to be surrounded by very strong female role models in my family – my mother, aunties, grandmothers and mother-in-law. There was never a conversation about working in a man’s world – it was simply about doing the best job in hand.

Moving up the ranks

The highlight of my career has to be when I was invited to be one of the judges for the kbbreview Retail and Design Awards last year. It was a privilege and the New Bathroom Retailer that year was won by a female-led business – Claire Algar of Rouse Bathrooms. 

Sofia Charalambous
Sofia Charalambous’ present to her future husband

Ambition and confidence are attributes women have, too often, been discouraged from showing. This notion is changing, but I still see successful businesswoman described as feisty, fiery and fierce – that’s far too many ‘f’ words for my liking.

One of the best ways to encourage women to move through the ranks is if they are mentored by those already in positions of power. It’s vital for successful women in this industry to proactively seek out talented and ambitious women early in their careers. 

And if you strive to reach the top of your field, I would advise you to find female role models you respect in your organisation and industry. Approach them and ask if they will guide you. 

It’s not man versus woman, good or bad. Success in the KBB industry is about having a diverse workforce at all levels. A high-performance business is one that continually develops its team, challenges the status quo, doesn’t accept complacence and has a zero tolerance policy on any form of discrimination.

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