THE BLOG

Cecilia Bönström: A Natural Born Leader

06/19/2015 07:44 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women and men from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real life insights on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential Paradigm Shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.

I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

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Cecilia Bönström - Artistic Director at Zadig & Voltaire


What do you feel were the necessary skillsets that you needed to make the switch from being a model to a fashion designer?

The funny thing is you only have these answers afterwards. But when you're a model it is all about fashion and you kind of hide behind the clothes. But when you start being a designer you start to create and it's your creations that end up in the store. So being a model and being a designer are not related at all because they are on two different sides. It is very scary to take on another job without any type of background, and that goes for any type of job that there is. I think I was able to make that switch because my mother always taught me -- and maybe she taught me this because I have an identical twin sister -- that I should never look at what other people are capable of doing. She taught me that I should just focus on what God gave me -- my weaknesses and my strengths. Even today, I concentrate on what I am capable of doing. If people keep looking at what others can do, they forget about their own strengths and they get very insecure. They actually feel weak. People should just stay confident and work on what they have. I get criticized every day because the founder [of Zadig & Voltaire] is very demanding. Even if there is success, he wants more. I always get criticized but I always believe in myself. People will look at me and ask, "How can you advance with such an erect back and with such optimism and positivity?" And I think what it is, is I just want to go further and do better next time. If you don't do anything, then you don't have to be criticized. But if you actually do something, criticism is the price you have to pay. That's a part of life. Without it, life is pretty boring. Of course I doubt myself. Why am I in this position? I know I came from nowhere. Am I fake? You know, you really doubt yourself. But then you have to think about what you have accomplished and what you have done and the belief in yourself will come back.

How do you feel about yourself and what you have accomplished so far? If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
What I liked about being young is having that beauty of naivety because being that way makes you dare to do things and be fun. I am very positive and I enjoy life but the responsibility that I have on my shoulders everyday I cannot push away. All I think about is the pressure of choosing the fabrics and choosing the shades and choosing the colors and choosing the linings. I like having responsibility because it makes me strong, but in terms of advice I would give to my younger self I would say to dare and to not be afraid of change. When I changed my job, it was a huge transition. I was so scared of being alone. So the other advice I would give to myself is don't be so scared of being alone. Even in the circle of life, you're born alone. So why are we, as humans, obsessed with finding a soul mate? I was so scared of being alone I was stuck with one person for many, many years. But when I started working for Zadig & Voltaire, I said, "Hey, I can do this! I can do big things for myself. I don't need a man, I don't need to be afraid of what's going to happen tomorrow!" Take it day by day. Of course you have to build something, I'm not saying to live and do nothing. But take it day by day and don't be scared of what is going to happen tomorrow. That means you have to be alone... I gave that advice to myself a little bit too late.

Have you ever had a breakdown to a breakthrough moment?
I'm going to seem obsessed with my work with this answer but my boss is always telling me "you're going through a breakdown." A collection takes five months and you want to change it immediately after it's done, so you're having a breakdown at a certain point about the collection. But in fashion you have to create so quickly because as one season ends another starts. So it's not personal breakdowns that I have, they are professional ones. But these breakdowns you're talking about, in this profession, teach you -- you learn so much every day. These breakdowns teach me how to go on, and they don't scare me anymore because it's a part of the learning process. A personal breakdown happened once and it happened when I changed my job because then I had to also change my personal life. After investing 15 years, I was really convinced my life was the way it was supposed to be with modeling and being married to a certain person. I woke up being happy saying "this is my life and this will always be my life." I really thought that was it. But suddenly the curtain went up and I saw my life in such a clear way. This revelation came to me so strongly, how can black actually look white and how can white actually look black? It's so scary. I'm a very realistic person and I don't lose connection with reality so how could I have been so wrong? How could my eyes just change and see things in such a different way? It was scary. But I don't have any guilt about that change anymore because it was a part of my life that I had to learn things through.

What would you like your legacy to be?
I'm so lucky when I think about it because there was no pressure on me or my sister or my brother growing up, or at least until later. We started school at 7 and I could hardly count after three years in school. My parents would never say, "you're stupid" or "you're ugly." They would never give me attitude. The advice we got was to be happy and to enjoy the moment. I feel fortunate because I hear about all these women who are brought up with this pressure to succeed in their professional lives, or they are under pressure to find the perfect husband. There is so much competition that I see young college graduates who are so worried. But I would like to be remembered as a person who enjoys -- I try to teach my kids and teach my friends, "Everybody put down your glasses. Breathe this moment in because this is a magic moment." I want to be remembered as someone who really appreciated life and someone who didn't take anything for granted. This is very important to me.

Cecilia is a quintessential Paradigm Shifter. Her story is living proof that self-awareness is a responsibility that inspires us to take a step into the dark with the only guiding light being staying true to self. She is constantly breaking down boundaries and questioning the status quo, which has allowed her to become the best version of herself and, without noticing, inspires others to do the same.