Melissa: Today we've got a special interview. I want to introduce Catherine Collings who has been a long-time Stone Bridge customer, CEO of the ECA Group consultancy and also founder of The Struan House Collection which is an antiques business.
Thanks so much for coming and of course we're going to get to Catherine's hair, but first tell me a little about The Struan House Collection because this is a new venture for you, isn't it?
Catherine: It is. We started four months ago now, so we're a new business, but I really wanted to do something that we loved. So it was built on a long-term interest and hobby, and it works brilliantly as part of a portfolio career which is what I have.
I've been collecting for years, mainly porcelain and ceramics. My husband was keen on silver and carpets. But the collection is mainly around ceramics from 1780 to about 1939, spanning a couple hundred years of fantastic design and artistry.
M: And this can be found online, right?
M: Okay, so people can come have a look at some of these pieces that you have?
C: Yes, yes we'd love that. So we're a web shop and they can search for us under The Struan House Collection.
M: Okay, great. Tell me how you got into this. Does this go right back to your childhood?
C: It does, yes. I was thinking about this before we started talking. I was amazed to realise that I've been around antiques all my life. They've just been part of the fabric of life.
And I believe really strongly that antiques are about living. They're incredibly green. They're the ultimate form of recycling, and when you've owned something that somebody else handcrafted from 200 years ago, I mean the chest behind us is 300 years old ...
C: And we live it, we use it, you know. It's not sitting in a museum. It's part and parcel of our lives.
M: Yeah, there's something very satisfactory about using something that's been made to a high quality isn't there?
M: You can get a lot of enjoyment out of a good quality piece.
C: Yes, and the stories that piece can tell you.
Just as an example we've got here... this is one of our older pieces. This was made by a company called New Hall. They were based in Staffordshire in England from the late 1780s-90s through to about 1820.
This teapot really shows the whole history of what I love. It's got a huge social history. It's a beautiful piece of ceramics, but it's also history.
It's a teapot, and teapots were only just being introduced in the mid-1750s. Tea was incredibly expensive. People drank it out of wonderful teabowls and delicate teapots and everything.
As it became a little cheaper they could afford to make bigger pots of tea for people to drink. So this is one of the early larger teapots.
It's about, well, over 200 years old now. It's got a Chinese design on it and this was for people to try and show that they were wealthy enough to still import their porcelain from China.
M: When of course in fact it came from England.
C: Yes. It is made by a craftsman in Staffordshire. They were fired in bottle kilns. They were wood fired and people went into them when they were still incredibly hot. So there was huge risk of fumes and salt particles and all sorts of things.
And that's the beauty of pieces like this. You can still see the kiln dust and the reality of how people worked.
They were painted and gilded. The gilders were men, but the painters were often women. So it was one of the first industries of the industrial revolution in the UK where men and women worked equally and created these beautiful objects.
Another one to show you, coming much more up to date. We're now in the 20th Century and this one was made by a company called Shelley. Shelley were really widely collected for their style. Just the way the whole things fits together is lovely.
So this would be made in a very small factory. Mainly women would decorate Shelley by this stage. But look at the delicacy of the hand painting. Tiny, tiny brushes they would use and then it would be fired and then it would go back for another colour.
So the artistry and work that 's gone into one of these, even though this is 80 coming up for 90 years old, is just utterly different from what you find today. And that's why I love them.
These are living pieces of art that have been in people's homes. Particularly when you are looking at 90 years old, we can still use them.
They're just perfect and for me. Just so much more human than the mass-produced, printed out work that you buy today.
Of course most of the factories have now disappeared from the UK. They're now mostly produced in Indonesia.
So, it's just lovely to be around these objects.
M: Tell me more about your career progression. Obviously now you're CEO of a company ... tell me about how you started in business and how you got to today with Struan House Collection.
C: Right, well I started out as a scientist.
So my background was very much the white lab coat. My degree was scientific, I did zoology and chemistry.
Then, I joined the pharmaceutical industry, a very male-dominated environment. And very quickly you couldn't hide behind the white lab coat.
M: So, can I ask you ... we've got a lot of scientists watching, well actually they'll already know the answer to this question. But you're a woman working in a male dominated, scientific environment. Were you the stereotypical, cartoon figure, your hair pulled back into a ponytail?
C: (Laughing) No!
M: How did you wear your hair to make sure you were taken seriously?
C: It would have been so easy to try and be a man. It was the Eighties, you know the time of the power suits and the big shoulders and the big hair. I did adopt the big shoulders and big hair look.
I had a perm, hair about shoulder length.
I kept formal in the style of dress. I would wear a suit. I would always wear a high blouse.
So it's not so different from now.
The worst mistake ever in that environment, especially as a very young woman, would have been to dress with very high heels and short skirts and everything that I would have liked to do sometimes. But it wouldn't have been appropriate for work.
After the very strictly scientific part of my work when I was doing clinical research and often working in hospitals as well I moved on to work in sales.
And when you represent a large pharmaceutical company you dress appropriately.
It was at that stage I ditched the permed look and the masses of hair.
I did start to dress really quite formally. The customers were doctors and I felt strongly that they deserved respect.
So, I was a professional woman and I would dress in a very appropriate way.
I dealt largely with consultant diabetologists, so they were in serious medicine and to be taken seriously was incredibly important.
M: And how did you wear your hair at this time?
C: I cut it to more of a bob and that is pretty much how it stayed. Sometimes it was a shorter bob, but sometimes it got to my shoulders. It was feminine, but not girly.
It can be quite wavy and I straightened it and all those things we do to our hair, but it was quite important to do that.
M: And so you kept that look right up into senior management?
C: Yes. I then moved into head office and I was on fast track management. I moved very much into marketing director roles.
Then the last ten years of my career I was a Global VP of a pharmaceutical services company and I was responsible for communications and global brand launches. All of these were roles where appearance mattered.
And I don't mean you're a beautiful woman or not or anything like that. I mean how you self-present.
This became quite a passion for me. I watched younger women come into the organisation who perhaps could have gone two ways.
It's very easy to become quite masculine in that environment. As an archetype perhaps the City of London and the government where I work now, where people tend to wear the black suit. Or going for drop-dead gorgeous, sexy bombshell, which is equally inappropriate. It's how women retain femininity whilst still being very serious and respected for what they do.
M: Where do you think young women today can look for role models on how to present themselves, how to groom themselves and do their makeup to strike that balance? Where? Their own senior management in their own organisations?
C: That's one very good place to look. If a woman has made it through the ranks in your own organisation, then she's got it right.
It's a sad fact but for everybody how you present yourself matters a lot.
That first impression is 80% of what people are going to think about you. You make that impression in 7 seconds.
By all means, use senior women in your organisation. And remember, even when they are dressing down, those clothes have got real good quality.
It's so much better to have two or three real quality pieces and wear those for work than hundreds of cheaper things. They're fantastic for going out.
M: Yeah, I want to pick up on that point too. Obviously I'm going to talk about your hair and hair accessories. In terms of quality materials, you might think that men, so your superior, your senior manager, your CEO that they don't understand women's clothes or women's accessories.
That may be true, but what men do pick up on is quality of materials and quality of design.
We've definitely had husbands for example call us up after their wife has bought Stone Bridge products and really quiz me on what are these materials that you use, where do they come from, who engineers these?
They're really very interested. So men do pick up on quality, not just in their male colleagues but also their female colleagues and what they're wearing.
C: Yeah, I think that becomes even more crucial when you're going out. When you're in a client facing role. You're going into their environment and it's crucial to give them respect of looking your best and wearing your best.
It's great to be yourself, but be yourself with good quality. I think that's essential.
M: Okay, so there was an important turning point for you, wasn't there? About five years ago you were diagnosed with breast cancer.
C: Yes, I was. That was honestly one of the best things that could have happened to me.
Which sounds crazy but it formed a watershed in my life.
It came at a time when my career was brilliant. I was at the top of my game, I loved it. I was performing 24-7, Fortune 500 company, it was brilliant.
Then suddenly this diagnosis kind of went whump.
My company were fantastic, they were incredibly supportive, but I had to make the journey on my own.
Friends were there, family were there. It was like being thrown against the wall and waiting to find out what came back.
One of my first big fears at the time was in losing my identity.
My identity at the time was very bound up in not only who I was, but things like hair.
Hair was hugely important. The treatment really affects your appearance. A lot of women have been through this.
The chemotherapy either thins your hair totally or you lose your hair and it's not a good look! With no eyebrows, no eyelashes and no hair, it's not good (laughs)!
I had a fantastic wig which really mimicked my own hair which was fantastic. It was an NHS wig, so that was brilliant care.
But when my hair started to grow back, I had been warned because of my age that my hair would come back white. But it didn't.
It first of all came back blonde curls, so I went back to how I was as a toddler. Then about 18 months later it was growing ... and growing and growing and growing!
This is all my own hair today. It's been like a real revelation. I found a whole different side of me, really. Which sounds crazy to say.
M: So this experience has changed your relationship with your hair?
C: Yes. It has, actually. It's made me more careful with my hair. I mean care-full if you know what I mean. I'm very conscious of what I put on it and what I use. It was how I found Stone Bridge, during this stage.
I wanted to find out what was good for your hair.
M: So did you find us through our article series?
M: Okay, would you recommend our article series?
C: Yes, I really would!
M: Oh, okay, great! There's a link down below if you want to sign up for our free articles (laughs).
C: I really recommend you do. Every week this lady says, "Oh, am I boring you?" and I can tell you, you are never bored. The articles are great.
So I found Stone Bridge because of the articles.
Then, as well, and just as importantly, I wanted to start doing things with this long hair that I'd suddenly got.
M: So is this the longest your hair has ever been in your adult life?
C: Yes, since I was a girl.
M: Wow, so you come to long hair now in your fifties? Amazing.
C: Yes, at a time when people say you shouldn't have long hair, but I totally disagree. I think you should do what feels good for you.
I've just had 4 inches cut off it, so it was quite long. It wasn't the best look, it was too long.
I wanted something that was going to really be high quality. I keep using this word, quality, but it is very important.
I now have a portfolio career. I left the big global job, very positively on both sides.
I am passionate about people, not only in what they make, as in the Struan House Collection, but in what they make of themselves and how they develop and grow their careers.
M: Okay, you're referring to one of your other businesses now ...
C: Yes, this is another business of mine. Yes (laughs). People say, "so you've stopped big 24-7 job" and I say, "yeah, yeah I don't do that anymore." But then I realise I do still work 24-7 because of all the other stuff ...
Yeah, I decided to train as an executive coach. Again, how you present yourself is very important. If I'm going into a client company, again I need to dress smartly, formally.
With the ECA Group, again, I'm the CEO so I'm on show. I need to be well groomed.
What do you do with your hair? And I went looking for accessories and could only find the basic chemist's counter of accessories.
They weren't just cutting the mustard.
How can you be presenting a quality image when you've not got the best in your hair?
It was another revelation to me when I found you guys. From the articles I then went into the shop and saw what you were selling.
When I made the first tentative purchase I was just blown away by the packaging, it was brilliant.
M: Yeah, (laughs) forget about the clips ...
C: Oh yeah, forget the clips. The packaging is gorgeous, girls!
It made the whole experience feel like a gift. A gift to yourself. Which, linking that with the diagnosis and being in remission, being good to yourself and looking after yourself was a really important part of that.
M: Okay, next we're going to talk to Catherine about her hair. I know Catherine you have a hair texture and weight that is very different to mine. We'll be right back in a moment.
M: We want to really get into which hair clips work for you. Describe your hair for us, basically.
C: Okay, it's shoulder blade length and it's fine. There's quite a lot of it, but it's very fine.
It's got texture. It knots. It really knots a lot, which is a problem for me.
M: Basically, when you go to the Stone Bridge site and want to know which clips are suitable for your hair, when we talk about fine hair we mean taking your hair into a ponytail and it closes down to really not very much hair at all.
So, I would say your hair definitely falls into the fine category when trying to work out which clips to use.
Which clips have you found that you just love?
C: One of the clips I really love and use a lot is the Rectangle Large Claw. The reason I love it is because the colour (Ember) is great for my hair and I love the hole so you can actually see the hair in it.
M: Catherine's hair is really a strawberry blonde to maybe a pale brown, and the Ember just looks so lovely.
C: When I'm more formal and dressed for business, one way I wear my hair is I wrap my hair around my index finger and roll it up, putting the clip over it that way so the ends stay in. Again this works brilliantly and it holds it securely all day.
This, again, is one of my all time favourites the Rectangle Large Barrette ...
M: Yeah, what's interesting about this clip you've chosen is this high arched clasp, normally what we call the Large Barrette which has this large brace in it which generally gives a good secure hold.
C: I tend to put it at the top where the hair is thickest. Then it's actually quite a hard close-down on it and gives a secure hold. It probably looks awful because I'm not using a mirror (laughs)!
I also like to use it in a ponytail, so a low ponytail. Again, though its a large barrette, it holds nice and firmly.
M: Yeah, it's nice and again, like we were saying because your hair is fine your ponytail kind of goes down to nothing. But when you use a clasp, it spreads your hair, so it gives a lot of body and movement whereas just an elastic ...
C: Yeah, it's tacky and small, but with a barrette it gives a nice impression.
And then I've got a secret weapon which is this ...
M: Oh, yeah the bun former.
C: Yes, it's a bun form. It's really great if you have fine hair because it gives the impression of more hair.
I'll try and demonstrate. I'm rolling so my hair is wrapped around and the theory is the form can't be seen. It's going horribly wrong, you have to do it a lot nicer than this, obviously, but you get the idea.
But it gives the impression of a lot of hair. And this is my just drop-dead, I adore this, my Estiva Crystal Barrette. This is the full-on black tie effect.
I use some pins or grips to hold my hair and stabilise it and then I just clip the barrette over the top. This isn't going to work, but you get a vague impression (laughs).
M: And this style stays in for you?
C: Yeah, when it's been done properly (laughs)!
Yeah, it stays in all night, you can dance, everything. It works brilliantly.
It's a little trick if your heart desires a great big statement piece and you haven't got the hair for it, then this is good.
It's only since my hair has been past shoulder length that I've been able to do it effectively.
The other thing you can do is a French pleat, you just scrunch it down a bit ... that probably looks a bit obscene (laughs)!
I roll it sideways, its a bit Audrey Hepburn type of look.
M: Are there any clips that really didn't work for you, that really failed?
C: Yes, I do. Because it's so hard to know from your own hair how you compare to other women, and is it fine, no one tells you ... this is probably my biggest mistake, the Tulipe Stick Barrette.
I love it, but you can see the size of it.
M: Yeah, when that's in your hair, I don't know if you can see that on camera, there's a huge amount of space between the stick and the top of the decoration, you need quite a lot of hair to fill that.
I think if you had fine hair, and there's no teeth there behind it. Teeth there might have made it more stable for you, but probably not actually (laughs).
This one is definitely not suitable for fine hair. We do have a stick barrette that works for fine hair, the Oval Small Stick Barrette, and I made a video about that one. But the Tulipe ... no.
C: The other mistake is the Ficcare Maximas Clip. I love it, I love the colours and I love the range, but I got the size wrong. This is a medium.
I thought it was holding my hair, but I find it does fall out.
M: Again, you can see there is quite a lot of space, and you need a lot of hair to fill that up. In order for the Ficcare Clip to work well, the spring should really be under a little bit of tension, a bit engaged.
When I first got a Ficcare, I started with a medium. I had the same experience as you. I put it in and I thought, hey that feels pretty good, but then it started to slip down.
I actually wear a small, so that might be something you want to experiment with is a small.
Catherine, thank you so much for talking to us about your hair. It's been great.
If you have anything extra to add or recommendations you might have for Catherine yourself, put it in the comments below. It's good to share!