Color, lifestyle and interior design expert Marie-Gon would love to see the future five or 20,000 years from now.
This Women on Wings volunteer expert with tons of verve, finds inspiration to create new products or forecast trends by attending Milan Design Week, admiring architect and furniture designer Patricia Urquiola’s designs, snapping photos in her part-time town of Pune, India, or sifting through a cupboard of stunning leftover material with a Women on Wings business partner.
For the last several years biophilic design, the concept to increase connectivity between nature and people, has been big. Marie-Gon exploringly says, “My industry constantly changes. Five years from now, will we continue with nature or shift to high-tech? Or will it be something that we are still inventing? Or is the world divided in groups? Yeah, the future is what I’m often thinking about.”
A delightful winding path
Marie-Gon says her path has been a delightful winding road of unexpected career and life opportunities, probably due to the fact, she is always looking at what is next and creating with the angle to avoid repeating the tried and true. She says, “With predictability, dullness lurks. If you go one step further, magic happens.”
She began as a floor manager with retailer C&A in the Netherlands. Over the years she has worked for TV programs including Binnenste Buiten. She has been responsible for the concept and creation of the largest interior tradeshow in the Netherlands, VT Wonen. And she has covered trends and interiors with DPG media and The Telegraaf Group. She offers on-demand classes, sage advice to interior professionals, coaches large groups on color strategy trends and has written four books.
Motivation for volunteering with Women on Wings
This Women on Wings expert splits time between the Netherlands and living in Pune, India, where her husband’s work led her in 2016 and by serendipity also to Women on Wings.
As she readied her move to Pune, a friend told her about Women on Wings’ mission to co-create one million jobs for women in rural India. It piqued her interest. Marie-Gon was surprised to learn Women on Wings’ joint managing director, Ronald van het Hof, was someone she had met almost 25 years before as a young manager with C&A. So, she reached out to him. “He was the big boss. It was fun to reconnect.”
And so, with that meeting, she welcomed her first volunteer assignment running a color strategy workshop for Women on Wings’ business partners in New Delhi and has worked with Women on Wings ever since.
How her expertise helps social enterprises
This experienced color and home product development expert works with Women on Wings business partners to fine-tune, narrow and expand product lines for European, UK, or US commercial readiness.
Thinking in trends of color. She keeps a finger on the pulse of it. She does color workshops on creating beautiful color schemes and what will sell. “For the Indian market the social entrepreneurs know what color combinations work best, but to export they need to make a color shift and it helps to partner,” states Marie-Gon. “I’ve done small workshops about the mindset of a collection – its target group, working with patterns they have and using playful or extreme fabrics.”
She thinks about circular design in the textiles industry and finds it interesting to create uses for the inevitable overstock or how to upcycle scraps. “Mura Collective had 12,000 meters of leftover fabric that is beautiful. What can we do with it? Make a new product? Or are there other ways to move this overstock? That’s what we explored.”
“MORALFIBRE had a closet full of fabric leftovers. With its founder, we designed a new pattern for a very sustainable patchwork stole. That makes me very happy.”
Women on Wings’ business partner Action Center for Transformation makes products out of small rolls of newspaper that they source from corporates in the Delhi region. Very sustainable to upcycle newspapers, but the products could do with a makeover, especially for the European market. Marie-Gon saw possibilities to upgrade the materials and introduced the use of papier-mâché. “Together, we created super nice supper bowls to put on the table and lampshades, an upgrade.”
Starting with a blank canvas
Marie-Gon has worked with over a dozen Women on Wings business partners. She says, “It’s always a pleasant surprise how the context will go, what the issue of the organization is, the question from a design perspective. It’s a blank canvas we start with, we might do something online, or I go there. Without expectation, I go with the flow.”
A unique story that always stays with her is when she went to a business partner in the south of India where people speak Tamil, not Hindi, which she is learning. “I was there for three days, sitting on a carpet with ladies I couldn’t speak with, but still we were able to create new products. We spent time looking into each other’s eyes,” she says. “It always surprises me how you can very quickly adapt to get at the same level to support the social entrepreneurs in getting their products abroad. Leveling is not difficult, even if you don’t speak the same language.”
On living in India and its future
Marie-Gon had vacationed in India a few times before moving there and fell in love with the country. She feels very at home there. “I feel like I was born in India before. In a way, I get how it works but don’t always understand. I learn about India by learning Hindi.”
On her Instagram account, Marie-Gon loves seeking out and sharing India’s visual and textural beauty from a unique wall to flowers on the ground or a beautiful sari.
How Marie-Gon sees India’s future: “On one side a lot of things are handmade, conscious design, on the other side technique is elevating super fast. In India so many smart people are here, you can do incredible things. I’m curious to see how and what will continue.”
Opportunities for other experts to volunteer
The Women on Wings community has a vibrant network of volunteer experts like Marie-Gon. Networking meetings in Austerlitz, the Netherlands, are regularly organized where experts share experiences and meet fellow experts. This also strengthens their network with people from the international business community.
Professionals from the Netherlands with at least 10 years of business experience are encouraged to apply if they would like the opportunity to support social enterprises scale to create job opportunities for women in rural India.
Currently, Women on Wings seeks experts in e-commerce, social media, finance, sales, HR, and supply chain. Learn about becoming a Women on Wings expert here.