From bags, workshops and keynote talks to the recent launch of their podcast, ARNA Talks, sisters and media professionals Natasha and Arianne Ritz are aiming high.

The entrepreneurs are not only smashing through the obstacles of business, but also the challenges of COVID-19, gender inequality and self-doubt.

Natasha and Arianne share with The CEO Magazine their story of business, empowerment and inspiration.

How did ARNA go from an idea to reality?

Arianne: The idea came to me while I was doing a digital marketing course for entrepreneurs.

At the same time, I was working full-time in a media sales role and searching for a work and laptop bag. There was nothing online and almost nothing that matched what I was looking for instore.

I had found a gap in the market for women’s work and laptop bags, and Natasha and I got talking.

Natasha: My background is in retail and marketing, and Arianne’s is media and advertising.

We are both passionate about women’s rights and gender equality – especially leadership in the workplace. We combined these things to create our business ARNAonline.

We worked with a graphic designer, Becky Hughes, to bring our brand vision to life and spent a year looking for the right partners to launch with. The site was built using Shopify, which is super user friendly.

ARNA
The Ceiling Breaker Workbag

We wanted to test the market with brands already making beautiful work and laptop bags for women. So, we launched with three brands: Charlie Middleton, Sash & Belle and Morrissey. We sold so many in our first week of launch that we knew we had a market.

After that, we started working with a friend and fashion designer Alana Barnes to create our range of ARNA bags.

It’s been a slow, progressive process, but we launched the range in February 2020 with our Bold Moves campaign.

What was your process in searching for like-minded suppliers?

Natasha: It has been a long process. I went to Vietnam in 2018 and found a local leather maker there, a female-led organisation. We tried two bags with this particular supplier but found the quality wasn’t what we were after.

We then tried to work with an ethical curator in Bali but found the quality to be lacklustre.

Finally, we found a supplier who could make quality, small quantities through a female business group called Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine. One of the members posted their manufacturing partners details, which was a blessing as we were starting to lose hope.

So we travelled to China, visiting our current partners, Interfashion Sung Chang Group, which is run out of Qingdao and is a female-led organisation. I went to visit them in January to view the making of the bags and to ensure that their certifications matched to the working conditions and pay for staff.

Currently, I am in India, working alongside a social enterprise called JOYN bags. They manufacture in Rajpur, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

We are looking to work with JOYN for our next range. JOYN employs all local people who have been marginalised and otherwise would not have jobs.

They employ many women and help train them to become masters of their trade. They create stunning bags and use traditional-style block printing on materials.

They also use leather remnants, hand-making their bags with materials like this that would have otherwise gone into landfill.

ARNA
The Take Up Space Tote

How is ARNA navigating in today’s climate to ensure its stability and growth?

Arianne: We launched our podcast two weeks ago called ARNA Talks. It’s an opportunity to reach more people to discuss pressing topics around the advancement and equality of women.

In this challenging time, it’s important to continue sharing stories and highlight the great things happening in the world.

We have also been looking at ways to grow our business long-term. Like becoming a B-Corp, applying for grants and creating our new range of bags for Christmas.

We’re not looking for significant fast growth. We are looking for sustainable, incremental growth that will give us longevity.

What advice do you have for small business owners who are being impacted by the pandemic?

Arianne: Collaborate, work together. Find new partnership opportunities and reach out to people and other businesses who are values-aligned.

Be honest with your customers; if you’re going to sink in this pandemic and you have loads of loyal customers, then ask for help.

Natasha: You could offer vouchers that people can use later on when your business reopens, or ask for small donations. Get vulnerable and tell people what’s going on.

They’ll be sadder to hear your business collapsed than to have given a small amount of money to keep you afloat for a time.

Continue to share content on all of your channels. Now is the time to up the consistency of your content creation.

It’s not about marketing, it’s about being in front of your customers while you have captured screen time. Also share valuable things that resonate with their values and lives.

What are your top three tips for building a brand?

Arianne: Have a vision – it’s not enough to just sell a product or an attitude of ‘build it, and they will come’.

It takes time to build a tribe that connects with your vision, purpose and the ‘why.’

Natasha: Your product has to be awesome, but your service has to be even better. Business is about the people you serve.

Also, outsource to the experts. We have worked with many amazing women to help our story and product come to life.

What do you wish someone had told you at the start of ARNA?

Natasha: Don’t just dip your toes in out of fear. Dive headfirst and go for it. You have nothing to lose.

How do you overcome doubts?

Arianne: By continuing to take action despite negative thoughts. This is something we were both taught by our coach, Kylee Stone.

Why was it important to ensure the business-backed women empowerment?

Arianne: The business doesn’t only back the empowerment of women; we are taking daily action to ensure that women are rising.

Our bags, workshops and talks are by-products of our vision, which is to reshape stories women see and tell about themselves.

The only way we are going to reach parity faster is if we reshape our narrative. This starts with sharing stories of women to inspire each other to take action and to lift each other up.

What keeps you motivated?

Natasha: As sisters, we keep each other motivated, but also all the inspiring women we meet motivate us to keep going.

According to research, we are still about 100 years away from parity. There are more Andrew’s as CEOs in Australia in the top 100 companies than there are women. This, in itself, is motivating.

ARNA
The Play Big Backpack

What have you learned about yourselves during this process?

Arianne: I am much more capable than I thought.

Natasha: I need to be confident in my abilities because I am good at what I do. It’s when I doubt myself that things slow down.

Negative self-talk is one of the biggest things that holds me back, but recognising that and actively working to change those thoughts is what pushes me forward into action.

What is your overall vision for ARNA?

Arianne: Our vision is to reshape the stories women tell about themselves.

Natasha: Telling stories of women from all walks of life through all mediums. Reshaping our narrative means we are empowering each other to be better, learn from one another, support and grow together.

Coming together as a collective will be what drives us to gender equality.

Read next: 9 of the most inspiring business books to read this year