Our founder Marisa sat down with the visionary behind Lisou, Rene Macdonald, to talk about finding a gap in the market, dressing for joy, and trusting your intuition.
On International Women's Day 2023 we launched our year-long interview series with women who inspire our founder & CEO. Marisa Hordern is our very own inspiring link, from age eight seeking gemstones on Portobello Market to building Missoma as it is today.
If there’s one thing for sure when it comes to this interviewee, it's that Rene Macdonald turns heads. The former stylist radiates confidence, colour, and a special kind of vibrancy in her brand Lisou’s bold prints and the jewellery she gravitates towards. Unlike many of her peers, she expresses herself in a way that commands attention and an instant mood boost.
“I found there was a real gap in the market in terms of what I wanted to wear,” she says about why she started her clothing line. “I didn’t feel there was enough colour; enough joy. Fashion should just be fun — it’s the one thing that should just uplift you. You wake up in the morning and you get to choose a new look everyday.”
Founded in 2018, the name Lisou comes from Macdonald’s childhood nickname. Having two names, one made up by your family, is a commonality where she’s from: Tanzania. It’s a place she constantly draws from, her moodboard also forever inspired by the region. “The colours all come from an East African palette. If you go down to an African high street, you will not see any beige, or grey, or black. There’s a lot of clashing.” This clash of cultures sure looks good.
Fashion should just be fun — it’s the one thing that should just uplift you. You wake up in the morning and you get to choose a new look everyday.
- RENE MACDONALD
But it’s not just Tanzania she’s inspired by. There’s also travel, vintage clothing (we're right there with you), the things she’s seen along her journey and, of course, maximalist jewellery. See above: Rene's 'more is more' Missoma ring stack.
“The main inspiration, actually, is my mother. My mum was a major fashionista,” Macdonald says. “She really got me into fashion. I was that child that instead of being told ‘you’re going to a birthday party, this is what you’re wearing’ would be like ‘no, no, no, I don’t think so.’ If possible I’d arrive in an outfit then change into a second outfit. And my mum made them all.” In a fitting tribute, Lisou named one of their best sellers ‘Betty’ after the woman who set everything in motion.
Being a business founder, is there ever a downside to dressing so boldly? “Sometimes people don’t take you seriously, which is a weird one for me because I think I’m just wearing bright colours...” The way she’s navigated this has been through good old fashioned hard work. “Your company is your life. It’s like a love child. Because it’s 24 hours a day. You have to really love what you’re doing.”
There’s an age-old debate in business, whether it’s better to plan or freestyle it (otherwise known as going by the seat of your pants). Rene favours fast action over slow deliberation. “Without a plan, in some ways you get there quicker because you’re not following instructions,” she says. “Instead of ‘I’ve got to do A first then B.’ You just go ‘I’ll do the bits I know and then the bits I know I’ll learn.’” Often we know more than we think we know. “Trust your gut,” Macdonald offers as advice. “Because, generally speaking, it’s right. When you get that feeling in your stomach where you’re like ‘I don’t know’, don’t do it.”
This intuition works too when it comes to hiring. “I really hire based on personality because my whole thing is I can teach you how to do anything if you’re willing to learn.” Working for a small independent fashion brand is an all-hands-on-deck venture. “I look for someone who isn’t fixed on just their job, you know, we all have to pitch in. It might be stock taking, box packing… I will be doing it with everybody else.”
Also there on a day-to-day basis is Rene’s husband, who is CEO of Lisou. “Luckily, we’ve never wanted to kill each other,” she says. “It took quite a while to find our rhythm.” What’s their secret? “Not talking about it all the time at home. When I get home at 7, 8, or 9pm I literally don’t look at my phone.” It hasn’t all been plain sailing navigating the balance of home life with business. “For a period of my time, I was at home raising my children so everybody got used to the fact that I just did everything on the domestic front.” But now they’ve overcome it together, setting boundaries and leaning on each other to push their brand forward.
Trust your gut. Because, generally speaking, it’s right. When you get that feeling in your stomach where you’re like ‘I don’t know’, don’t do it.
- RENE MACDONALD
Along with instantly recognisable shapes, colours, and cuts, Lisou are known for giving back. Rene’s mission is to make a positive change within the industry, and to do so she donates proceeds to help young Africans with medical and educational needs. She also runs an initiative in partnership with local schools to support creative arts in the local community. It’s clear life is busy for this passionate and dedicated founder. “I often think if I’d have known how hard it was I probably wouldn’t have done it!” She laughs. But we’re certainly glad she did.
What can we look forward to from Lisou this year? “We’ve got some gorgeous macs coming. I’ve had a real issue with macs for a long time because they just don’t suit me. I’ve never fully got it. So, we’ve done them a la Lisou.” Coats or dresses, whatever Rene turns her mind to, we know we’ll always want more joie de Lisou.
Each woman we've interviewed for our ‘Inspiring Links’ series has picked out the jewellery that makes them feel empowered. Find Rene's picks alongside other powerhouses like Elli Jafari and Chloe Réuter.