Inspiring Rare Birds – The Value of a Mentor

Inspiring Rare Birds – The Value of a Mentor

I love sharing other people’s stories however this time I wanted to share my start-up, fashion journey and say that it is ok to reach out for help.

Here is a little piece I wrote for the Inspiring Rare Birds Community.

Read the article here or below.

Let’s be honest. No matter our achievements or successes, our experience or capabilities, we’re not always the best judges of our abilities, or at least 100% confident in them. Especially as women, we question our path, our decisions and look at the 101 different possible alternatives for every single outcome.

Well, this is the case for me anyway. I am always very aware that there will be blind spots by being deeply invested in a project or business, including not having the luxury of the time to do market research, test ideas and proofread everything intently. The indulgence of a second set of eyes and ears does not have to be unattainable for the self-funding, build on a shoestring, entrepreneur.

In my 20 something years in business strategy and communications, I have always had a team or colleague to bounce ideas off, to proof a proposal or brainstorm ideas with. I have also always had a handful of people I go to in different areas informally for advice, but always in my previous line of work.

However when it came to setting up my own business, Hills & West, in a different industry, all on my own, with my house deposit, I knew the need for guidance would amplify, the doubt would increase and I had to try and formalise my approach.

The Oxford Dictionary describes a mentor as “an experienced and trusted adviser” likening a mentor to a teacher, guide, confidant, consultant, therapist, counsellor, coach, tutor or trainer.


After some research and asking around I found Inspiring Rare Birds, who had a mission to:

“Give every woman globally the opportunity to become an entrepreneur by choice” creating a “global community of 1,000,000 women entrepreneurs by 2020.”

Right up my alley, the Rare Birds Mentoring program supports entrepreneurs on their journeys, enabling them to better achieve their goals and realise their potential.

When I approached Rare Birds I was looking for someone with experience in:

  • Fashion – Someone to help guide me in this relatively new space of premium manufacturing and production. I had 20 years experience in building brands in industries from entertainment, retail and finance, however I had never run my own fashion label from product design, production through to customer fulfillment.
  • Global distribution – someone who could assist me in going global and understand the nuances of being global.

What I did not realise was how much more I would learn and grow. This is why I wanted to share my story and hope to encourage other entrepreneurs stepping into the unknown to reach out and find that someone, or two, to help guide them along the journey.



As the stars would align, I was connected with the founder and creative director of Isabella Queen, British-made, bespoke, luxury bags. Isabelle, had a similar corporate career as mine and had started on the bag-making journey a year before me, with many a learning she could impart. With values of quality, integrity and always British, it was the perfect pairing of values, with wonderful insight through hindsight, and a beautiful friendship with mentorship.

I have learned valuable life lessons on how to grow from both mine and Isabella’s mistakes, how to deal with different businesses and people in the space and gained a reliable confidant who has supported me through the challenges of the first few years.

So here are some of the wonderful benefits of that second set of eyes and ears:

  • Gain qualitative and subjective counselling – the benefits of a different perspective
  • Learn through experience and observation, avoiding obstacles based on insight and experience
  • The ability to define and set long-term goals, with someone who holds you accountable
  • Introductions to contacts in the industry
  • The ability to be inspired and supported as you gain strength in your own capabilities in producing, executing and getting S&*% done.

We speak fortnightly on the phone, and over and above the points above, I have been able to:

  • Learn the nuances of bespoke production
  • Have support in my ideals of sticking to my values and Australian made
  • Reinforce the importance of a contract and inclusions
  • Manage contractual negotiations
  • Understand my value as a designer
  • Gain access to documentation that was part of Isabelle’s IP when building her business
  • Brainstorm promotional ideas
  • Ask those questions too scary to ask others for fear of appearing unprofessional
  • And banter the challenges of running your own label in such a challenging industry

All my gushing aside, it’s important to remember that a successful relationship between a mentee and mentor is not one-sided. It should be symbiotic.

Isabelle told me that;

“ Being a mentor is not only a great way of sharing my knowledge and experience, it also enables me to perfect my skills at developing others through guidance and helping my mentee to achieve their goals and realise their potential by helping them understand problems, identify solutions and implement their plans.” – Isabelle Ugochukwu

Isabelle also gains from the mentoring experience;

  • The chance to pass on all I have learned about good business to someone who will benefit from my experience, grow and develop with my help and support.
  • Advancement of my managerial and mentorship skills while guiding my mentee entrepreneur through a key stage in their career.
  • The personal satisfaction of being able to give something back.


It’s been statistically proven that a mentor/mentee relationship creates a lot of mutual benefit for both parties. After a study on the career progression of more than 1,000 people over a five-year period, Sun Microsystems found that both mentors and mentees were 20 percent more likely to get a raise than people who did not participate in mentoring. As well as mentors being six times more likely to be promoted over employees that didn’t mentor.

The life of an entrepreneur is hard work. It can be inspiring, often scary, yet so rewarding at the same time. I am so fortunate to have found a mentor and life-long friend but also to be connected to a community of supportive, motivating and successful women, through Rare Birds, that are eager to help one-another and shape the leaders of tomorrow.

Do it for yourself today. I am proud I asked for help as I have gained so, so much more.


If you would like more information about how you can benefit from our mentoring program, either as mentor or mentee, please contact



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