Q&A with Catherine Hélaine

We're acknowledging the progress women have made - in every facet of life - by highlighting women who have helped lead the way.

Catherine Hélaine

Chairwoman of Arche

Can you tell us a bit about you, your brand and how you got to where you are now?

Arche is a French brand of shoes and leather goods, founded in 1968 by my parents. The collections are designed both for women and men, and the brand now operates in more than 30 countries. Today, arche still operates as a family business, run by myself and my brother.
Do any women inspire your work or designs?
My inspiration is intended to be a very multifaceted and continuously evolving phenomenon. Let’s say that my designs can not be restricted to a specific muse’s influence, but I am highly receptive to any expression of freedom… and freedom of expression. Any strong women I meet, read, watch, listen to… from the most famous (from the designer Charlotte Perriand to Billie Eilish for example), to the most anonymous are definitely inspirational.
What initiatives has your brand taken to empower women in the workplace?
Since its inception, arche has been based on parity: the design of each product was my father’s scope while my mother was in charge of the business’ international business development & finances. They were a great example of gender balance, that allowed me to increase my general knowledge about management. At arche there is simply no difference between men and women’s potential. In any of arche’s departments - from supply chain to design studio or manufacturing workshop to IT - the stake is to be passionate about your job, regardless of gender. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, your true power is your own skills. However, I have to acknowledge that we do have more women than men working at arche!
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EachforEqual. What does this mean to you?
Improving gender equality on an international scale is critical. I’ve always felt fortunate that it is in arche’s very DNA to provide employment to women and men on equal terms… even beyond France. From my perspective as Chairwoman I would enjoy meeting more women in key leadership positions. We are still underrepresented in these roles. Of course, this means gender’s stereotypes also need to be challenged. To me, gender equality is a necessity in the sustainability of international business. Celebrating International Women’s Day is all the more important because it is an international acknowledgement, a virtuous result of globalisation.
What is the most important message you want to send out to women thinking about working in the footwear industry?
Both men and women wear shoes, equally. Therefore, both men and women can design, craft, sell shoes, equally. Let’s move forwards together. Many of the best shoe brands are international and multinational companies have a role to play in ensuring gender equality. The footwear industry should show the way.'

Shop arche here