I met Katie through a mutual friend who asked if I could borrow some of her Boho Princessa clothes for a photo shoot, once we got chatting and I found out more about her I knew I had to share her inspirational story...
Katie Pattison-Hart was born and brought up in Brunei. Moving to the UK when she was seven years old. She studied Financial Economics in the UK. And went on to start her career with an International bank in the UK on a graduate trainee programme. In 2005, after four years climbing the corporate ladder, Katie had the opportunity to relocate her life to Dubai.
Embracing the challenge of a new country Katie was tasked with setting up the Business Banking division of a new branch for the same International bank. Katie‘s customers were all small-medium sized businesses. She was responsible for helping her customers create business plans, analyzing them and working out their financial needs to grow their business.
Katie also managed a team of Business Managers where her focus was to coach them on weekly sales targets and to encourage and challenge them on their personal development.
Katie later went on to work for a UAE finance house focusing on asset finance for the Healthcare sector. When the crisis hit in 2009 Katie was made redundant and found herself transferring her skills to a new line of business. She went on to be the Sales Director of a consultancy firm helping clients set up and do business in the UAE where she managed a team of twenty.
Phew! When Katie took a career break she decided to take up a challenge, ‘Row For Freedom.’ The challenge was to raise money and awareness for human trafficking which is a global problem and generates billions every year, not only that, it’s on the rise! Human trafficking is the movement of humans for the purpose of forced servitude or sexual slavery.
The challenge was to row as part of a team with 4 other women, unaided, 3000 miles from the Canary Islands to Barbados...
THE TEAM GAINED 2 WORLD RECORDS!
They were the:
Fastest female crew to row the Atlantic (beating the previous record by 5 days, it took them 45)
First female crew of FIVE to row ANY ocean Katie and her team raised a phenomenal £70k for the charities ECPAT and A21.
To give you some background on how hard this was here are some of the difficulties they faced…
Their skipper dropped out days before they departed
A seat broke during their crossing leaving them with 2 rowing positions rather than 3
The auto steering broke leaving them to manually steer with just their foot whilst also rowing
Leaks in the boat meant some of the food got ruined
50ft high waves!
Had to row naked to stop the saltwater in their clothes causing sores
They had to use sea water (desalinated) as their drinking water. The desalination set on fire on day 15 so they had to manually hand pump their drinking water on a two hour shift system for the remaining 30 days
There was only a bucket for a toilet with absolutely no privacy
Everyone suffered with seasickness.
Rowing on a two hour shift system. rowing two hours, sleeping two. Hours.... all day and all night for 45 days!
1. Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing and how you think, if at all, this influenced your personality?
I am very inquisitive and curious by nature. I grew up in Brunei which is a very tropical country with lots of jungle. Our house was next to the sea and I was exposed to different cultures from day one. When I moved back to the UK age seven, school did feel very different to what I was used to.. I guess I got used to being out of my comfort zone and I never felt scared of trying new things or being thrown into new environments as I’d been exposed to it from a young age.
It became my normal to always look for something different as I knew that there was more out there. I think my eyes were opened to how different cultures live from a very young age. I also think I was very independent. I also loved helping other kids in the playground. If someone fell over I was there to help them. I have always been quite switched on emotionally. I won an award at first school for being “the most supportive pupil” I remember it.
I’ve been encouraged by my parents to be strong, try new things and to always be kind to others. I’m the eldest of three girls in my family and I think as the eldest you naturally develop leadership skills as you grow up.
2. What made you want to study Financial Economics?
I actually wanted to study sport and exercise science but I messed up my A levels (I spent far too much time going out with my friends!) so I didn’t get into the university that I wanted to go to or the course that I wanted to study. I remember my parents encouraging me to use this as an opportunity to change my direction and study something more Business Management related. I remember having to call all the universities through the clearing system to get a place at a university that would take me on with my disastrous grades!
I got into Derby University on a HND course in Business Management. It was just a two year course with the option to top it up to a Degree with one extra year. I found I had a natural talent for the economics module, I love mathematics and graphs and being able to apply that to our economy just made so much sense to me. My lecturer said I should focus on this subject as I just picked it up really easily and I was getting good grades without really trying too hard.
This was a huge relief to me after my confidence was knocked after I had completely messed up with my A levels! So instead of topping up my degree in Business Management I added an extra two years of study to specialise in Financial Economics. I’m so glad that the teacher encouraged me to see where my talents were and that I found something that I felt I was good at again!
3. Did this help when it came to running your own businesses?
Yes it absolutely did. And I think the biggest practical learning and growth that took place for me was when I started working for a bank. My job was looking after small to medium sized businesses. I would help them put their business plans together and challenge them around their long term and medium term goals, helping them define their action plans to ensure they were on track to achieving their dreams.
I had so many different types of businesses from dentists to window cleaners. It really allowed me to understand every aspect of running a business and how to look at internal and external factors and use this information to make good strategic decisions for the benefit of the company. During my job I also studied a second degree in Financial Services which helped me understand the banking world better.
4. Did you decide to take a career break to take part in ‘Row For Freedom’ or did this coincide with you wanting to take a break and do something different in general?
To be honest, the crisis had hit and the economy was really hard to navigate. I had taken on a job at 1/3 of my normal salary after my redundancy. I had made many investments in real estate and I was financially over committed especially with a huge cut in my income. It was a really hard time in my life looking back at it now. I focused all my efforts on bringing in as much income as I could to cover mortgage payments. I was in my late 20’s and I learnt so much during this crisis and I really believe that the tough times are here to teach us lessons in life. I found myself freelancing in the events industry and coaching gymnastics was the best way as it was an hourly rate and the more hours I put in the more money I could earn.
It also gave me time to completely switch off after a job. The work was nowhere near as mentally challenging as the work I was accustomed to in my corporate life. Although I was committed to freelancing often three different events a day covering 16hours of work a day, I found I wanted another challenge. I still had capacity in me for more. This was when I thought if I put this much dedicated work into a personal project I wonder what I could achieve. I had head space to think about what I wanted to do and I knew that I was so ready for a change and an adventure away from the corporate world.
5. Who initiated Row For Freedom and how did you get involved?
Julia Immonen dreamt up this crazy idea. She was on holiday visiting a mutual friend in Dubai. We got chatting and we just clicked. She told me about the project and how she thought I’d be the perfect girl to complete the crew. I said yes without even having to think about it. It was meant to be, this was my next project and I was so happy to be a part of it.
Julia went back to London, briefed the rest of the crew and I was accepted to be a part of this incredible all female crew of strong determined women who were all so passionate about raising awareness and funds to help combat human trafficking.
6. Given that a third of people who try this crossing fail did you have any doubts at all whilst you were preparing and what kept you focused on achieving your goal?
Absolutely no doubts about what I was doing. Although I soon realised that there were others who thought very differently to me. I was excited about what I was involved in but I was cautious about who I shared with on a one to one basis as not everyone could understand why I would want to do it.
They would often project their fears onto me. I decided to only share with those that were willing to support me in this and I cut all negativity out. I wanted to be the strongest mentally and physically I had ever been so that I could bring the best of me to our team. I knew that the planning and preparation phase was the biggest part of what was in my control.
7. How did you find the 8 months of preparation and what did this involve?
I was so grateful that I had structure for this. There were so many specialists that worked with me. I had a rowing coach, a strength training coach, nutritionist, physio, a rowing club where other members would take me out on the water, access to gyms and many rowing machines that I would hog for two hours at a time!
There were moments where I didn’t feel motivated to do the three training sessions a day. This was when I realised that motivation is purely just getting into a habit of doing something even when you don’t want to. Some days the training felt so hard and mentally and physically I was always so tired! It was great to have daily training plans and coaches to report to with my results for the day as it kept me accountable and also gave me peace of mind to know if I had done enough or not. Once you’ve done absolutely everything you can on a daily basis to follow your training plan you know that you have done everything that is in your hands. By the end of the training I felt so ready to do this. I was scared but I was ready! We also needed to raise £100,000 just to get our boat on the water with all our supplies so we would spend our days also calling, e-mailing and meeting with potential sponsors to secure our funding. It pretty much turned into a full time job!
8. What were your biggest challenges on this journey? How did you deal with the many unforeseen obstacles that occured?
The biggest challenges we’re dealing with equipment malfunctions, sea sickness, sleep deprivation, no personal space, no escape, yet at the same time feeling very isolated with no sight of land and last but not least the monotony. It really was all about how we responded to it all. Positivity and Gratitude are very high on my to do list each day so much so I think it’s deeply ingrained in me as a way of life. We all held accountability for our roles within the team each of us played a key role within the team. One of the many things we learnt is that we cannot control what the ocean throws our way but we can control how we responded to it. We were very practical in tackling problems. We remained positive.
When you are positive you can see some light within a bad situation. Looking back at it now all the things that went wrong were there to teach me something. I learnt so much on this journey. I never went into this to simply reach the other side of the Atlantic. I went into this to embrace the experience to really learn from Mother Nature. I now know how small we really are in relation to the earth's elements. To work on ourselves is the best way that we can survive a storm. To stay strong and hold onto our inner rocks so that we don’t get blown away.
When I now face a challenge in life or I’m faced with circumstances that are outside of my control I know that the best I can do to ride it out is to remain positive and really focus on my wellbeing to stay strong. In times of crisis I make sure that I am exercising, that I am eating well, and that I am drinking loads of water. I take care of my self talk. I use loving, kind words to speak with myself to nurture my inner world. These actions are all in our hands. When a storm hits us if we focus on these we will have the best chance at surviving any crisis or uncertainty. If you can figure out the things that are in your control and those that are not you are halfway there.
9. Why do you feel you and your team were successful despite major setbacks?
We really took it seriously and we were so committed to the project and to each other. We set a clear vision. We wanted to do the crossing as fast as possible and as safely as possible. We never moved away from that vision. It made making decisions very easy. We would always be asking ourselves will this make our crossing faster and in a safe way? If it didn’t tick these boxes, it simply was not an option for us to even consider it.
We had values within our team where we only tolerated hard work, commitment, positive attitudes, a can do mentality, open communication, accountability, clear roles and responsibility, and proactivity.
We never made any excuses, we always found a way to make things work. When you are facing a life and death situation that is so high risk you really start to take it seriously and there is no tolerance with people that fall outside of the values you have established as a team.
We were also very clear on setting measurable goals and having clearly defined responsibilities. We were incredibly flexible in our approach as the ocean really needs you to be able to think quick and respond to changes fast!
10. In the past you have taken part in Gymnastics, Thai Boxing and High Board Diving, do you think any of these sports helped you when it came to this challenge?
Sport creates a sense of discipline. I did activity as a kid because I loved doing them.
I loved the challenge of trying new things and it taught me it’s ok not to be able to do something straight away.
It taught me that if we fall, to get back up and try again.
It taught me not to care what people think.
It taught me to not feel silly if I didn’t succeed.
It taught me that we don’t fail, we simply learn from not succeeding the first time and when you do eventually succeed it makes the win even more sweeter as you have really worked for it.
I loved gymnastics, trampolining and springboard/high board diving but I was never really interested in athletics, running and other sports at school.
But when I turned 30years old I found myself running my first marathon in Jordan. Anything is possible even if you are not naturally talented in that area. My marathon running and ocean rowing is testament to that as I couldn’t even row before I signed up for this challenge!
11. What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking of taking up a challenge or doing something outside of their comfort zone?
Do it! Do it for yourself, not to impress others. Do it for the experience, do it for the journey.
Remember it’s not just about the final destination it’s about living in the moment even when it feels painful.
It's about the journey, every step of it. It’s an incredible way to really get to know yourself. Get comfortable not being comfortable. When we are outside of the comfort zone we are forced to see the worst side of ourselves, we get to see how we respond during times of stress and being under pressure, we really see our true colours.
The depth of our relationship with ourselves really determines the depth of the relationship we have with others. Deep relationships bring so much more meaning to life. When we stretch ourselves we become more confident and capable as individuals and our character grows.
When we are the best version of ourselves we can bring so much more to our relationships, our family, friends and communities. Commit to it and be prepared to work hard, every day! See obstacles, challenges and tough days as an opportunity to grow and enjoy the process and have fun along the way.
12. Did this experience change you as a person?
Yes it was one of the biggest life changing events for me and I am still learning from it today! Living such a simple life on the boat teaches you what is really important. I came away from that experience stripped of ego and really not feeling any attachment to anything. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate a nice warm dry bed these days but I learnt that materialistic things come and go in life and so long as we have basic necessities we can be happy! I have a huge appreciation for basic living. Using a bucket as a toilet in front of your teammates makes you appreciate basic facilities we often take for granted. It’s not until you don’t have something, that you really see its value. By being exposed to the oceans’ unpredictable and powerful nature I’ve learnt new life skills and how to be resourceful. I have a greater awareness both of myself, of others and of life. As a result of this I am now stronger and more confident. I have more of a voice and I’m not scared to use it. I am more compassionate and kind towards others. I’m a huge advocate of personal development and stepping out of the comfort zone. More so now than ever! I’ve learnt the importance of taking risks (calculated ones!)
I’m more fearless. I am more courageous. I value failure as much as I value success. I have learnt so much in both situations. I’ve become clearer on what I want. My values have become my foundation. I’m more focused on the end goal yet very flexible in my approach to reaching it. I am more efficient in my day to day tasks.. life is short, spend it doing what you love and what will add value to you. I’m more adaptable and capable of managing uncertainty. Sometimes external forces cannot be controlled and you have to work with what you have. As a result of this I’m more resourceful and better equipped to solve problems. A positive mindset wins. Positivity doesn’t mean avoiding challenges. It means facing challenges and being brave enough to see the reality and deal with them in a positive “can-do” approach. There is always a solution to a problem. I am more patient and I appreciate that timing is critical. The universe carves out our path; we just have to be open to receiving what is meant for us. I’ve become more of a believer that if you want something bad enough you can achieve it.
I’ve become more real and comfortable in my own skin. Being in the open ocean is raw and real. There is nowhere to hide. You are exposed. You get to know yourself. The good, the bad and the ugly. There is no room for egos. I’ve become more humble. I’ve always been non-judgmental, but my eyes have been opened wider as I know that everyone has their own story and we don’t always know what it is. Be kind always. I am more grateful. Practicing gratitude and finding the beauty in situations and people makes you a more fulfilled and happy person. I’ve become more determined. I never give up on a task that I’ve started. I always get back up again after facing adversity. Inner strength is beautiful and never fades. I’ve become more accepting that life has ups AND downs, both are there to teach you something. I believe strongly in the value of continuous learning and development. For myself and to also encourage others to be the best version of themselves. We should leave this planet giving back more than what we have taken. We can only do that by becoming the best version of ourselves. We need to tap into what our hidden talents are so that we can share them with the world. As humans we only use a small percentage of our full potential.
13. Would you or do you have any plans to take up anything similar in the future?
I love trying new things but it doesn’t have to be a high risk or an endurance activity. I just really support anything to do with personal growth and finding a sense of purpose.
My business, my family and our health are my purpose right now as is helping others to reach their full potential and helping them find their purpose.
Our purpose is forever changing and it’s so important to be conscious of that and be willing to adapt to circumstances. Learning new skills to support my goals is part of my day to day activity.
Nurturing the mind, body and soul and helping others to do the same is something I am very passionate about and I think if we focus on our own purpose we can all help leave the world a better place.
14. You now do motivational speaking, what messages do you try to convey through this?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. We fear trying new things (especially as adults) as we don’t want to look silly and we don’t want to fail. Understanding that the biggest part of our growth happens when we learn from not succeeding the first time. Get comfortable feeling out of the comfort zone. And go into learning new things with an attitude of enjoying and embracing the journey not just aiming for the final destination.
Create a vision of where you see yourself in the next 5-10 years (medium and long term) and break it down as to how you can get there. Create daily activity that will help you reach an annual goal that acts as a stepping stone towards the medium and long term. Make sure to monitor where you are against the goals you set. Set timescales for achieving them. And challenge yourself around how realistic and achievable they are.
Work together as a team. Know your strengths and development areas and also know your teams. Transparency and communication are so important in the role of using each other’s strengths for the good of the common goal.
Be a leader in your own area of expertise. We are all unique and everyone has a special talent/area of interest. Tap into yours, step up and share it with others. Sharing knowledge and ideas is what makes this world a better place, we are always stronger together.
Work on your confidence not your ego, the more you get comfortable in your own skin the more you want to lift others up. Lifting each other up is exactly what everyone should be doing, if you are not then ask yourself why. Value your strengths and tell others when you value theirs.
Work in creating a can do attitude. Focus on positive self talk. Know that you are capable and the difference between being able to do something and not being able to do it lies purely in the attitude you choose to have on a daily basis. We can create our story, make sure it’s a good one and one that you are proud of. Don’t use external circumstances as an excuse. Everything we need is within us. Deal with your self doubt and don’t play victim.
15. You also have your own fashion brand where you design and make your own clothes, Boho Princessa (which I have bought myself and I love by the way!) How did this come about and did you have to up skill in any areas before you embarked on this?
Ah thank you and you look absolutely amazing in my designs, I love seeing you in them! I have always had an interest in creating clothes. I would take the ends of fabrics my mum had been using for sewing and tie them around my nine year old self creating a cropped top and wrap skirt. As I got older I started to realise I had an eye for unique pieces that others loved. I would rummage through sales happily and also charity shops finding some beautiful pieces. I still love this now and I’m obsessed with vintage items as I believe they should be used until they have completely worn out. I have three bohemian style dresses that my dad saved for me from my late Nan’s wardrobe.
As a child I’ve always loved seeing my relatives in a long floaty floral print skirt and I think these were always worn in such an effortless way which I find very inspiring. It’s quite a skill to put together an outfit without looking like you’ve tried too hard.
When I started in the bank I did consider switching to a career as a fashion buyer but decided to continue on the route I had taken knowing it would always be there if I wanted to switch later. I felt that I should gain experience in the banking world and I am so glad that I did as it created a great foundation for me and taught me so many transferable skills. When I was on the boat rowing across the Atlantic, I found myself scribbling in my journal, offloading my feelings in this safe space this little book gave me. I found myself sketching dresses. Dreaming of being dressed again in butter soft fabrics brushing over clean skin..probably as I sat in our tiny cabin with condensation dripping from the ceiling in a bikini that had weeks of dried salt water collected in it with salt encrusted hair and sunburnt skin! Some may call it escapism! I call it dreaming and I encourage everyone to do that.
Amongst the survival aspect of rowing across the Atlantic I felt I was missing my feminine side. We didn’t wash our hair or take any showers so you can imagine the state we were all in! I must have been craving the idea of dressing up and wearing long feminine dresses. I never actually thought that I would make this into a business. And to this day I am still inspired by our Atlantic adventure. Every day I am blown away by the beauty of the great outdoors, the vastness and fluidity of the ocean, the beautiful colours of the sunset, the sound of the birds, the strength and resilience of Mother Nature. I’m inspired by the inner strength that women hold, the ability for women to be strong AND feminine I find incredibly inspiring and I design for these types of women. Those who are confident in themselves and are not scared to use their voice. For those that have strong values, that are selfless and want to make the world a better place. And I hope that this is conveyed through the brand.
When I met my (now) husband he asked me what I would do if I could do anything in the world all day every day.. my answer, play with fabrics. He created a space for me and him to work from (a shared office space) and he bought me my first mannequin. And he watched on to see my passion turning into a business. I bought fabrics from the markets, I started sketching designs and I absorbed everything I could online about the process of designing through to making and selling. I learnt from the tailors about the cutting of the fabric and the process of stitching pieces together. I started off making for myself and then made for friends and family. Slowly my customers have grown in an organic way and I am happy with the slower more sustainable way things have evolved. I generally make to order to reduce the waste. This way I only make pieces to satisfy what people actually want. I encourage my customers to buy pieces that suit their body shape. I’m so conscious of how important it is that we promote slow fashion.
To help our environment and support our smaller communities that hand make these garments means much more to me than pumping out mass produced pieces from a factory.
I create one-off pieces that feel like a piece of art that I feel proud of. It makes me feel so happy to see customers full of joy when they wear them. I want to bring happiness to people's lives and I want the pieces to stay with them for a lifetime not just a season. I think the story of rowing the Atlantic is a reminder to women buying my clothes that they are capable of doing anything they want, that they are strong, that they are resilient and that they can create a balance of strength and femininity.
16. What’s next for Katie Pattison-Hart?
I’m finding that I absolutely love writing. I want to encourage others and I hope by sharing my stories that I can connect and inspire others to step out of their comfort zone and work on their personal development to achieve their goals no matter what they might be!
Here is a link to Katie’s Boho Princessa Clothing Website if you want to check it out.
I ended up buying the clothes I borrowed for the shoot as they were so fabulous!