Who’s the most extraordinary woman you know? asks NADJA SWAROVSKI

Who’s the most extraordinary woman you know? asks NADJA SWAROVSKI — boss of the legendary jewellery company — as she opens nominations for our annual awards and reveals her own inspirations

  • This year’s Inspirational Women Awards is in association with Swarovski
  • Nadja Swarovski revealed what inspires her to succeed in her jewellery brand 
  • Her family business currently turns over more than €3.2 billion a year 
  • Nadja recalled the humble stories that made last year’s finalists stand out 
  • Last year’s winner Esme Page, helped hundreds impacted by Grenfell Tower 

Do you know a woman who deserves recognition? Nominate her for our 2018 Inspirational Women of the Year Awards in association with Swarovski. Over the next four weeks, we want you to tell us about women who deserve a special honour — they could be mothers, daughters, teachers, nurses or community champions. Five finalists will attend a black tie awards gala in February 2019 supporting mental health charity YoungMinds

Like many others, I love to tell my children that the sky is the limit. ‘Anything is possible, remember,’ I remind 14-year-old Rigby and his younger sisters Thalia, 12, and Jasmine, ten.

It’s a message that seems to be hitting home if my fiercely independent daughters are anything to go by: much of the time they seem to be reassuring me about the trials of the day ahead rather than the other way around.

Nadja Swarovski (pictured) shared the humble stories of last year’s Inspirational Women of the Year Awards finalists and reveled how to be in with a chance of winning this year

‘Mummy you can do it!’ they tell me over the breakfast table, their uniforms on and their hair brushed. It’s a spirit I take with me to Swarovski, the global company my great-great grandfather Daniel founded 123 years ago and of which I was the first female executive board member. But I’m also keenly aware that it’s a spirit that drives countless other women whose work unfolds well out of the public eye who are nonetheless doing extraordinary things every day.

Charity campaigners, carers, brilliant businesswomen and mothers (often both!), they are compelled not by private gain but in pursuit of the greater good — and their compassion, courage and burning determination are the reasons I am delighted to champion this year’s Daily Mail Inspirational Women of the Year Awards, a chance to celebrate the lives of women who are truly making a difference.

Women like Esme Page — last year’s winner — who set up Cornwall Hugs Grenfell, a charitable effort born from a Facebook plea which transformed into a huge endeavour in which hundreds of those affected by the devastating fire that destroyed Grenfell Tower in June last year were given the chance to recuperate at a Cornish holiday home.

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Or Corinne Hutton, who became quadriplegic overnight after contracting septicaemia, but, undeterred, set up her own charity to encourage fellow amputees to enjoy as full a life as possible (in her case, climbing Ben Nevis, the first female quadriplegic amputee to do so).

Or Wendy Tarplee-Morris, who tragically lost her five-year-old daughter Hannah to cancer yet went on to set up a charity providing wigs for children who suffer hair loss through illness.

Their humbling stories are a reminder of the many things you can achieve if you put your mind to it — a sentiment I like to think has underpinned my own family story.

From an early age I was aware my family was the biggest employer in the region. My childhood home in Wattens, in the Austrian Tyrol, nestled right next to the factory my father Helmut ran and every day, when I woke up, I would look out of my bedroom window and see the Swarovski name lit up on the top of the building.

Esme Page (pictured) won last year’s Inspirational Women of the Year Awards for her charitable efforts to give hundreds affected by Grenfell Tower a place to recuperate

Some weekends, my father would take me and my older sister around, showing us the cutting machines that ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week, making the crystals that his own great-grandfather had dreamed into being because, as he put it, he wanted every woman ‘to know what it feels like to wear diamonds’.

In some ways my father was ahead of his time — he saw no reason that his daughters should not enjoy the same life that he would have gifted his sons, had he had them. That meant fishing, mountain climbing and tree climbing.

He included us, too, in all his lunches and dinners, even those where business colleagues would join us at the family dinner table. I learnt a lot about the way the world works just through listening, yet as a woman there was little expectation I would follow in the family business. It had, after all, been successfully run by men for many decades.

At first I saw that as a blessing. Those listened-in-to dinner party conversations meant I witnessed at first hand the strain and stresses overseeing such a large business could bring — but also the sense of responsibility a good business owner should feel towards his workers.

CJ Bowry (pictured) was a 2017 finalists for her efforts to provide children with shoes

In any case, I had my own dreams. I didn’t want to join the company just because I shared its surname, so instead I studied history of art, and found my own place in the art world, working for Sotheby’s in New York.

Yet there was no escaping the Swarovski bloodline. Growing up, I had sat on my grandfather’s knee as he told me stories about working with Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, and how he’d supplied Queen Victoria with the crystals she wore on her gowns.

As a twentysomething, working in a fashion-obsessed New York, it puzzled me no one seemed to know about this aspect of our heritage. Talk to the average member of the public about Swarovski and they mentioned only crystal animals. Here, I realised, was my mission: to bring our family’s heritage to its rightful place within the fashion industry. At first some of my family were sceptical — we were, after all, already a powerful force in retail. Yet I had a unique perspective — as a woman I was also a customer, and I knew the power of fashion.

I started by creating showrooms for the fashion designers that would showcase all our crystals, all 350,000 variations of them, displayed at their sparkling best rather than in the briefcases our sales people had previously used.

Last year’s finalists Wendy Tarplee-Morris (pictured left) set up a charity to give wigs to children who’ve lost their hair and Corinne Hutton (pictured right) set up a charity to encourage fellow amputees to enjoy as full a life as possible

I knew we needed our own ‘Dior’ moment, a fashion designer who would champion us the way Dior and Chanel had done in the Twenties and Thirties. We found it in the shape of the late Alexander McQueen. He made Swarovski relevant to the fashion industry again, magicking from his imagination any number of iconic creations, from a glistening hooded top to a Philip Treacy hat featuring towering feathered wings and a bird’s nest.

His experimental pieces put the Swarovski name back on the fashion map. Today our business turns over more than €3.2 billion a year. Running a family business comes with a great sense of responsibility. My great-great-grandfather created employee housing and a subsidised canteen, as well as paying 13 months’ salary every year so they got one month’s bonus. It was a commitment to a wider good, and I have taken that commitment a step further by setting up the Swarovski Foundation to support charitable initiatives and organisations worldwide.

They are projects that have brought me into contact with some phenomenal women.

Listening to their stories continues to inspire me — and I am sure the stories of the wonderful women nominated for 2018’s Inspirational Woman of the year will do the same. 

This year’s Inspirational Women of the Year Awards in association with Swarovski can be entered online at dailymail.co.uk/inspirationalwomen 

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