Maker's Mark: Cynthia Salim

Cynthia Salim

We caught up with alumna Cynthia Salim (MA Human Values and Contemporary Global Ethics, 2011), who is a former policy advocate and consultant, turned Founder and CEO of ethical women’s workwear brand, Citizen’s Mark.

Cynthia was recently recognised as one of Forbes 30 under 30 for Retail & Ecommerce, and has also received recognition from The World Policy Institute for her leadership in sustainability. We spoke about the experiences and values that inform her decisions, and her vision for an inclusive and sustainable future in business.

You’ve received wide ranging plaudits for Citizen’s Mark so far, what do you see as the greatest opportunities and challenges for your business going forward?

Citizen’s Mark is one of the first brands that focuses on ‘boardroom-worthy’ ethical fashion, and being first is certainly a tremendous opportunity. Our everyday challenge is exactly that – how do you make ethical fashion look sharp? We think we do a decent job, but it’s certainly limiting when not many materials and suppliers meet our standards for sustainability and premium quality.

You’ve lived in many different countries. Do you think your experiences have given you a global perspective and shaped your entrepreneurial spirit?

I grew up in both Jakarta and Los Angeles, and then lived in London, Geneva, New York, and Berlin. Building a new life from scratch every few years taught me how to figure things out very quickly. That’s very much contributed to my entrepreneurial spirit. It also gives you wider perspective of life. Being part of a dominant culture in one place and a foreigner in another builds your capacity to listen, observe, and understand.

What lessons did your time at King’s give you to take forward into the professional world?

What I learned about international justice and corporate responsibility during my programme still informs my work at Citizen’s Mark in a very concrete way, on a day-to-day basis. I walked away from King’s with decision-making abilities that are unique to a graduate of a programme like Human Values and Contemporary Global Ethics, and that makes me a different kind of private sector leader.

What advice would you give to our female alumnae, who might also be considering starting out in business?

I find that women are more likely to wait until they’re ‘truly ready’ before launching or putting something out in the world, because the reality is that we don’t get the benefit of the doubt if something goes wrong. But you can’t become ready unless you get out there. The smartest thing any new entrepreneur can do is to figure out how to test-run things, fail, and learn, while preserving your reputation and your ability to keep moving.

What more do you think could be done to encourage greater diversity in business?

It’s people in positions of power and influence that need to get involved in diversity. If you’ve never had to think about inclusion because it hasn’t affected you, then you’re probably in a position of privilege. I’ve been an activist before, but now that I’m mostly the decision-maker, I look for my blind spots and how I can be more inclusive, whether it’s in my hiring preferences, product sizing options, or choice of models for Citizen’s Mark campaigns. That’s what we should be thinking about and asking as we rise into leadership positions – what are my blind spots?

Hungry for more lessons from Cynthia? Read our full interview in the Spring 2017 edition of InTouch magazine. Out now.