Branding Maven & Female Advocate: Maria Avilan is Editor-in-Chief of Canada Now Magazine and Managing Director of KLR Comunicaciones, a PR firm based in Bogota, Colombia. Passionate, ambitious and hardworking, Maria knows what it takes to build a successful business and brand. With over 20 years in PR and crisis management, she’s been called to advise major international oil & gas companies. These days, she heads up worldwide initiatives for promoting gender equality in the workforce.
What made you decide to launch Canada Now?
The Colombia-Canada Chamber of Commerce needed a communication tool and the Board of Directors supported my vision to launch the magazine.
What was a career defining moment for you?
When I opened my own PR firm and left the corporate world. My husband became a politician at that time and I needed more flexibility in my schedule– which my job could not provide. I decided to take a big risk in hopes of achieving a work and life balance. As you can see, my initiative now in promoting gender equality was partially a result of what I experienced. Not many corporations think of the mother’s role and Sheryl Sandberg says that men should support women at home as much as they support their career.
I had to really trust myself and went for what made me feel more balanced. It was not an easy path though. During that time I was also a “first lady” in a Colombian province. I had to travel and worked closely with the Colombian’s President wife. So in addition to launching a new business, I played a part in my husband’s career and had to manage a household. Being flexible was of paramount importance and overall it was a great experience. That was nine years ago. I took a big risk and never looked back!
To what do you attribute your success and ability to have accomplished so much?
I literally cannot stay still. My resting time is always occupied with investigation and a lot of reading. People know I like to take risks and enjoy networking time. This gives me the chance to learn about my clients’ scenarios and necessities.
Can you talk more about your position now promoting gender equality?
I am currently dedicating time to educate and advocate female empowerment in the workforce. Last summer, I participated at the Women’s Forum held in Sao Paulo where I led a table discussion regarding women in the public sphere and labor market.
One major takeaway from the event was that the leadership of women plays a key role in a country’s development, creating a society that thrives economically and socially.
How has fashion empowered you in the work place?
Design has always been a pleasant taste in my life. I enjoy observing social and cultural phenomena and I think that fashion lets me know more about the culture and environment. My work has always been associated with different forms of artistic expression: audiovisual, graphic and narrative. For me, fashion is a way to communicate emotions.
Describe your signature style?
Modern and feminine: two words that completely describe me. I love basic colors with contrasting accessories. My favorite combination is black and white.
Who are your current favorite designers?
I find that Max Mara and Ralph Lauren are great for daily office wear. Most of the time, I complete my outfits with striking accessories such as scarves and belts. For special occasions I adore Carolina Herrera. However, these days my must-have accessories are from Colombia: Silvia Tcherassi’s mochilas and Michú belts.
How do you stay chic while on the go?
Heels are a must for me. High-heeled shoes bring elegance to any outfit, especially for petite women like myself. Even in the most demanding days, I combine my outfits with Louis Vuitton briefcases and handbags which are always an executive touch to any office outfit.
What clothing can you absolutely not live without?
Boots! They are essential, especially in a city like Bogota that allows them any time of the year. High and low, I like to use them with skirts and pants. Nine West shoes are functional and affordable. Stuart Weitzman and Coach also have great designs.
What are your go-to beauty products for traveling days?
My moisturizing facial mask from SK-II takes away the tired face from long flights. You’ll always find L’Occitane extra moisturizing hand crème in my purse, as well as Dior’s smoothing plump lip balm. Also, I never leave home with Dior’s Hydra Life sunscreen.
Do you have a mantra that you live by?
One must have flexibility and adaptability in order to step out of the comfort zone.
What are some of the mistakes you see women make at work?
Complexity and saturation. Both in fashion and business I find that “less is more”.
Who has been your professional mentor and how has he/she been impactful for you?
I haven’t had a mentor in particular. My work has always been in a very masculine work environment (oil industry). Perhaps this influenced me to be less emotional and more pragmatic –but at the same time it has helped me become absolutely result-oriented.
Tell us about your latest passion project and why it is important for you?
I’m all about stress management lately. I began to investigate the ways in which the most outstanding executives can achieve greater life quality. I’ve discovered different activities along the way and have experimented with how they affect the mind and body first-hand. I combine functional training with yoga, healthy eating and meditation, making sure I leave room for things I love to do: salsa dancing, family time, and fun nights with good friends that include cooking and wine tasting. I’m trying to create a healthier lifestyle in general.
As a mother, tell us how you balance your work and personal life?
I’m a planner par excellence. It is necessary to go into detail, especially in an environment like Bogota, where getting around is difficult. On weekends I always try to combine family and social time with my husband and children.
Any closing advice for our readers?
Fashion must not be followed literally; it has no rules. It is better to take design elements that we can identify with and integrate them into our individuality, relevant to space and place. Feeling comfortable is a big part of looking good and of expressing ourselves with sincerity in a natural way.