Maria Borromeo Shares Her Secrets to Building A Better Brand
September 22, 2023
Maria Borromeo is the Founder & CEO at ClHu (pronounced 'clue'). She is the former co-founder and CEO of Thakoon and CEO & President of Hudson Jeans. An expert in building brands and scaling companies, she launched ClHu to support a gap in the gender neutral fashion category.

Key takeaways:

  1. Find out the best cargo pant on the market (hint: they are ClHu),

  2. Learn the importance of intuition in your career path,

  3. And, the women that Maria is inspired by.

In an interview, Maria shared her secrets to building a better brand.

You were previously CEO of both Thakoon and Hudson Jeans. Can you share how you navigated your career to ascend to both roles? Any particular obstacles you had to overcome?

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned to develop and rely on a deep trust in my instincts and intuition. It’s what allows me to take risks, time and again. I’ve always been willing to move (and move big) if I felt the opportunity was right. I think it’s important to be able to tune out the noise, turn on your blinders, stop looking left and right, trust your gut and just go. Sometimes bold moves paid off and sometimes they didn’t…but each experience, positive or negative, was a critical part of the journey.

And yes! There have been PLENTY of obstacles along the way. I think this is true for most women who are navigating career ascension, entrepreneurism, motherhood, etc. This all comes with a unique set of challenges far beyond the norm.

Was there an “aha moment” that led you to transition into entrepreneurship? Once you decided to jump in, where did you start?

My first experience as an entrepreneur was in my mid-20s when I co-founded the brand Thakoon with the designer, Thakoon Panichgul. When we started, it was the two of us and an intern in a tiny room in a building on W15th street that is now long gone. Over 13 years, we built an incredible team, and what became a beloved, globally distributed brand. We ultimately sold the company in 2015. After that experience, I found it impossible to separate from that entrepreneurial spirit…it’s a part of me that I now bring to all the roles I take on.

Nurturing an idea, building a team, and working collaboratively to manifest something that you believe in is a very powerful experience. And once it’s in your blood, it’s there to stay!

What advice would you give to an executive looking to transition to entrepreneurship?

Have deep clarity on “why” you’re doing what you’re doing. Let it come from a very true place. Know that it’s a roller coaster that can be both exhilarating and exhausting. There will likely be more days where you feel like you’re just grinding through than days where you feel like you’re smooth sailing. But the good days are very powerful and inspiring: they nourish and motivate you. Be willing to reach out ask for help or advice. Entrepreneurship can be a humbling experience and some days can feel quite lonely, especially if you’re coming from an executive level role where you’re used to having an entire organization of support beneath you. It’s a challenging, but worthy, transition. After all, you’ve likely spent so many years building companies for other people inspired by someone else’s idea - how incredible to finally be building for yourself, inspired by your own dream. Know that there are other founders out there that have gone through, or are going through, what you’re experiencing. Find a strong, supportive network, connect with them, thought share. And lastly, be flexible. In a sense, you have to be prepared to die on the sword for your idea. But you also must understand when to pivot if an idea isn’t tracking. Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid to not try!!!

ClHu Model

What are the key elements to building a brand in a unique space? How did you think about brand positioning in a gender fluid space?

A lot of what we’re tackling at ClHu is relatively unchartered territory and first-to-market concepts: normalizing the idea of all-gender clothing, storytelling through technology and our clothing, rethinking sizing in a way that challenges the inconsistent, shame-inducing way brands have traditionally approached sizing. My intention comes from a very real and personal place, which was necessary for me to address this unique space in the market. I’m constantly tapping into my own personal journey as a parent - my daughter has never conformed to a gender binary. I reflect on the challenges that we’ve faced, and that she is still facing, that prompted me to launch this brand. I have over two decades of experience in this industry and have a keen understanding and awareness of what needs to be fixed. Our product is practical, wearable and evergreen.. Our model is scalable. Our intention is clear.

There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we consider consumption; one that values and implements de-consumptive practices. At ClHu, our focus is on changing the relationship we have with our clothes, to discourage the “throw-away” mentality that has become so pervasive with the rise of fast fashion, and to remove restrictive language around gender and size. The world is experiencing a cultural sea-change.

Consumers no longer just want to buy from a brand…they want to be a part of a brand.

So as an industry, we have an incredible opportunity to galvanize our communities, to be more, to do better, and to challenge traditional models and stereotypes.

Can you share more about the unique approach to technology you incorporated into ClHu?

Each piece of ClHu has a serialized, scannable code that allows you to claim your product and make it your own. You’re then invited to add your unique personal story to your garment by uploading content (image, text or video) to a sort of digital pinboard that is connected to that piece of clothing - think of it as digital personalization. Rather than writing your name on a tag inside a garment or using a sharpie to draw on your tennis shoe like we used to do, in order to make something “our own”, you personalize it digitally by attaching a selfie, for example, to that garment. This content is then sharable to your other social networks. When you’re ready to pass your garment on, either via our peer-to-peer resale model or otherwise, the next person who owns it can claim it and continue to add to that garment's story if they choose. And the chain continues. The emotional value of that garment grows with each human story that it holds. And as a brand, with lifelong connectivity to our garments, we’re able to more effectively own our relationship with our customers as well as monetize a product beyond the initial purchase, triggering additional revenue streams over its full lifetime, from origin, through customer use, resale and recycle.

How do you define conscious consumption? How can our readers be more mindful and incorporate sustainable pieces into their wardrobes?

To me, conscious consumption is awareness and sensitivity to the overall effect that your purchases will have on other human beings and our planet. We all know there is no one fast track to sustainability, or we would be on it. But mindfulness is always available to us. If you must buy new, buy better quality that will last you longer. At ClHu, we address conscious consumption by creating high quality clothes that last longer, limited production runs that use less material, we have a built-in resale platform to promote circularity and the ability to add your own personal story to a garment which adds inherent value and makes our clothes less disposable. Our designs are timeless and don’t chase trends…it’s the stuff you want to wear every day, over and over, unlike the new product drop frenzy that compels you to keep consuming fast fashion. Our motto is “buy better, buy less, pass it on”. My hope is that the industry continues to follow suit.

Advice you give/implement often?

Don’t let the competitive landscape drive your mentality. Be aware but not consumed or you will always second guess - if an idea is good, it will likely not be unique for long. There will be others. You must stay your course and trust your instincts because nobody else can do it the way you do. I was once told that an idea is only 5% of a success story... execution is 95%. It’s all in the execution. I fully believe this!

Make fast, yet thoughtful decisions…don’t deliberate too long. Assess the problem, the objectives, the consequences, and your risk tolerance. Then execute - fast and frequent.

Women on your radar?

Ahhh…there are so, so many and for so many different reasons! I personally feel that WOMEN in general are superheroes right now. WOMEN are on my radar. Women who are out there fighting for our right to choose, risking their own security to undermine restrictive abortion laws put in place in certain states to get other women the healthcare they need. Women who turned out to vote in Kansas and shut down the states attempt to restrict women's healthcare. Women who started the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. Women who are working to connect and empower underrepresented communities all over the world. Women are coming together to create the change that we need RIGHT NOW in politics, social justice, mental health, womens health, gun legislation, identity issues, ageism, etc. - it's awe inspiring.

The Wie Suite has been an amazing platform for this…so many brilliant women in this organization who are doing all of these things - many of which have come onto my radar because of my involvement in this group.

What are you currently obsessed with OR one thing you highly recommend?

I’m currently obsessed with our ClHu cargo pants – I wear them with a sweatshirt and sneakers on weekends and for travel or a with a turtleneck and boots for business meetings…they’re honestly so good. I have them in 3 colors and cannot stop wearing them!!! The drop-crotch sweatpants are a close 2nd.

ClHu Model

Which work tools/courses/apps have made your life easier?

If you’re a founder about to raise money, I highly recommend Class Rebel’s Fundraising 101. It’s an affordable and very digestible 10-hour crash course in the language and mechanics of fundraising. In regard to apps or tools, we’re using Figma for all things digital design, and Airtable for all of our collaborative projects that are more data based. I’ve also just started looking into Superhuman for email. It’s supposedly a game changer and I need all the support I can get in regards to email organization!

Are you inspired by a women and would like to see her featured on the Wie Suite website? Let us know by filling out this form.



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