Faces of AWNY: Kate Lee

Aussie Kate Lee moved to New York City 3 years ago settling in Astoria, Queens.  We talk with Kate about what a freelance “cultural entrepreneur” does, her volunteer work with the International Rescue Committee, as well as her favorite NYC spots. 

Tell us why you moved to NYC?
DSC_1561Back in Brisbane, I performed and created performance works and used theater, arts and culture as a tool for development, capacity building and education. In 2012, I joined a workshop with an experimental punk dance theater company from NY. While doing the workshop, I’d pulled out my NYC guidebook (I had a guidebook from my trip back in 2005), mused over the pictures and thought, ‘how am I going to get myself to New York City?’ The next day the director asked me, ‘what are the chances of you being in New York next year to perform with us?’ I said I’d make it happen.

Where are you from?
I grew up in the Blue Mountains, lived on and off in London for years, in Sydney, then Brisbane and did a stint in Tennant Creek before moving to NYC?

Where do you live?
Ditmars, Astoria. I really like Astoria because I feel like I leave the city when I go home, and it’s super diverse, has fantastic food, and has the wonderful Astoria Park and Astoria Park Pool (which is 200 meters long and 50 meters wide).

What do you like/dislike about living in NY?
I love how the culture challenges my own: having to be more forward, confident, fight my own battles. And the diversity is all its forms. I dislike when distance gets in the way of relationships.

What’s your ‘only in New York’ moment/s?
Riding my bike at ten at night in the middle of winter, with snow all around, to the YMCA, going for a swim and having the pool to myself, having a piping hot sauna afterwards, then riding my bike back home through the snow. And, learning salsa New York Style is better (the ‘two’ means you step on the second beat instead of the first)

Any advice for people moving to NY?
It’s good to have something to come to – a course, a workshop. Just to meet people and get orientated. This city is full of immigrants – you’re not alone.

What do you do for work?
I freelance in what I recently titled ‘Cultural Entrepreneur’ – that is being involved with products and processes that use culture as a catalyst for education, development and diplomacy. I recently finished an MBA in innovation and leadership and am currently collaborating with scientists who work on Mtb (tuberculosis).

I also volunteer at the International Rescue Committee doing cultural orientation for newly arrived refugees. It continually proves to be a profound experience, encountering people who have had to leave their country and are now calling New York home.

I also volunteer with AWNY as the Events co-lead. The first AWNY event I came to was Susie Lang’s ‘Emotional Transition of Living in New York.’ It was the nurturing experience that I needed. Especially being alone in this city. And I realized that some of the ticks I have aren’t because I’m a pain the butt, they’re cultural. I was a revelation and gave me some space to relax a little in this big city. So, when I was at the GM meeting earlier this year, I wasn’t too surprised when found myself volunteering to be part of the team.

How did you get into your job in NYC?
I was on a J visa and I sent an email to every person I’d made a connection with, explaining I wanted to stay and wanted to get an E3 visa, and I asked if they knew of anything. A friend responded and got me into her organization.

As a professional working in NYC what are the differences to working in Australia?
Back home work would come to me. It was a shock, coming here, how much I had to hustle. Also, the wage difference in the non-profit sector is astounding. It’s very low.

Any advice for other Professionals working in NYC?
Networking is key and building relationships are key. Here, more than anywhere I’ve been, skills and qualifications aside, people really go on their gut instinct and trust. There is so much competition, so if you click on a one-to-one basis, that’s what counts. And it’s the same way vise-versa, while you have to be discerning, trust is super important.

What’s your favorite New York spot?
Astoria Park Pool and the different parks along the water in Astoria. The pool overlooks the river and the Triborough bridge, and the parks are full of families and kids and BBQ’s. I even saw a game of cricket being played (proper stumps and all).

What do you like about being part of AWNY?
The comfort of all the familiar cultural markers and the warm support I feel from the group.

What was your biggest win this week?
I found out my overall mark for my masters, a high distinction!

What’s the biggest challenge or road block you’ve been faced with since being in NYC and how do you overcome it?
I wanted to shift my career from its focus on arts and culture to something that had broader application. Doing an MBA was part of this shift, and networking and doing informational interviews have been key to understanding more about the industries I’m interested in and how they work in NYC.

Who are some Aussie ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?
Katie Walker. She’s heading up the Institute of Medical Simulation and Advanced Learning.

Contact Kate
Get in touch with Kate through her website and blog – Unsealed Roads.

Faces of AWNY: Erin Van Der Meer

img_2866Erin Van Der Meer moved to New York City nine months ago. Previously working as a women’s lifestyle & entertainment journalist in Sydney, Erin decided it was time for a change. We chatted with her about on her journey to arriving in NYC, what she loves, and what she misses most about home.

Tell us why you moved to NYC?

After seven years as a women’s lifestyle/ entertainment journalist in Sydney, I was ready to shake things up. So I went freelance and headed off to Central and South America to travel, with the vague plan of ending up in New York (I’ve always wanted to live here and I’m not sure why – quite possibly from growing up watching Sex and The City. Man, how misleading that show was!). Surprisingly I did eventually have enough of eating tacos and drinking cervezas on the beach and I arrived in New York in March 2016.

What do you do for work?

I’m a freelance writer, and I write mostly about travel. I’m not sure if that makes me A Travel Writer, Indiana Jones-style hat on my head, leather-bound notebook in hand and all. Travel writing always seemed like an impossible dream, mainly because whenever travel writers are interviewed about their careers they talk about how hard it is to break into. I made the transition by traveling full-time for seven months so I had a wealth of material to work with and then just pitched relentlessly to the contacts I’d built up throughout my career until they published my travel stories.

Where do you live and why did you choose that area?

Crown Heights in Brooklyn. It’s a great neighborhood with loads of restaurants and bars, and it’s right near Prospect Park – the Central Park of Brooklyn. Franklin Avenue is a great spot to spend an afternoon or night. The stretch between Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue is packed with so many cozy little places where you’re guaranteed to have a good meal: Barboncino has pizza that could make an Italian weep with joy, Chavela’s and Mayfield are fantastic. Crown Heights is also a convenient location, I can be in Midtown in 30-minutes on the 2,3,4 or 5.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about NYC?

That it can take a long time for things to fall in place – whether it’s getting a job, finding an apartment or making friends – so be patient and enjoy the ride. When I told someone not long after I got here that my living situation was ‘just temporary’, they said “Everything is in New York”. It made me realize that things may never be as stable and comfortable as they were at home in Australia, and I need to be okay with that. Certainty is just an illusion anyway. Or something.

What was your biggest win this week?

Going to a great media event at a rooftop bar that looked right onto the Empire State Building, with the champagne flowing. It was one of those moments when New York lived up to those ridiculously high, Sex and The City-inspired expectations.

Any advice for people moving to NY?

I recommend staying in different parts of the city before you settle down to see which neighborhood you like the best. Housesitting using a website like Trusted Housesitters or Airbnb is a great way to do it. Separately, don’t be shy about networking. I used to cringe at the idea of it, thinking it meant wearing a name tag and bragging about yourself to strangers. More often than not involves wine and it’s essential to make connections in such a big city, especially when you’re new in town.

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Luxury Dog Brand: Wolfpack – Launching this November – This week’s AWNY Startup Story.

Hayley Whitfield, a former management consultant, swapped the office for her luxury dog coat and accessories brand – Wolfpack. Launching this fall with a selection of luxury coats to help your dog adjust to the freezing New York winter.

Hayley is also a valued AWNY Committee Member working with the events team to create many of the wonderful AWNY events held this year.

Tell us about Wolfpack and why you decided to start this business.

Wolfpack is a high end brand of dog apparel and accessories created in dedication to my Miniature Poodle Rosa. It is centered around luxury leather jackets – think burgundy embossed leather with Italian antique brass accessories at the high end and a distressed vintage brown parka at the lower “urban” end. I’m launching my first collection in October, in preparation for the chilly winter air.

My desire to create the brand stems from my first experience with a New York winter and attempting to dress Rosa in warm clothes. I grew up in rural Victoria and spent 5 years in sunny Sydney before relocating to New York in 2014, so needless to say to an Aussie audience, that I was not prepared for the polar vortex that I walked into and I certainly didn’t have the appropriate attire to deal with it!

I had never before considered dressing my dog and to be honest I was a bit embarrassed about doing it! I sense my dad rolling his eyes at the thought. After navigating various dog jackets for their durability, warmth and aesthetic I found myself a bit lost and frustrated and decided that I wanted to create something for Rosa that was more like her – this maturing, elegant New Yorker. And so the burgundy leather jacket was born and so was the idea to develop a whole collection around it – luxury for the urban wolf.

You are at the very beginning of your business, what have been the hardest lessons in getting started so far?

Patience, persistence and trust!

Patience and persistence have been the most important skills I’ve had to develop so far. I started my business 6 months ago and I have been learning everything from scratch. With a background in management consulting, I didn’t have any knowledge about garment design, materials sourcing, production partnerships or how to launch a product into a wholesale and retail environment. I had no contacts and no idea where to start. I just followed my nose and chipped away at the challenge.

Never creating a product before, I foolishly expected that by just working hard it would translate into results. I am interacting with so many different groups along the supply chain that I actually don’t have much control over my pace and progress. So I have learnt to manage my own expectations around timelines! I’m dealing with some fabulous Italian suppliers who march to their own beat, progress at a leisurely pace and then drop a bombshell like disappearing for 4 weeks to holiday in August. Not anticipating this, my launch date has been completely derailed. But you don’t know, what you don’t know.

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On reflection, I think the most important lesson I am learning is to trust that myself – my pathway, my decisions, my progress is ok, even though there are no visible signs or feedback. I am learning to trust myself and to be comfortable in what often feels like a suspended state of the unknown. There is no validation from a superior when you are the boss. There is little consumer feedback before you have launched a product. So I am learning to trust my instincts and not be paralyzed by the unknown. Whilst this is daunting, it also makes me feel a lot more present and alive.

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From Melbourne via Hawaii to New York – Inspired by love, Paris Awong creates luxury wedding products in this weeks AWNY Startup Stories.

Love is the business for Paris Awong of the Paris Awong Collective! Following love to Hawaii and getting married inspired her collection of luxury wedding products.

You hail from Melbourne but came to New York via some time in Hawaii! That’s an interesting transition. What brought you to Hawaii and then to the Big Apple? 

The old fashioned answer of ‘it was a boy!’ That is what drew me to Hawaii. My dream of living in New York began when I was young, travelling here many times with mum + dad for their work. This planted the seed, and after many years of planning my move, 2012 was the year. Little did I know that at that same time I had just met my future hubby Joey, who is from Hawaii.

So this developed a new and fun sidetrack adventure, and off I went and moved with him to alohaville!

After a few years my handsome Hawaiian popped the question and it was wedding planning ahoy! After 6 months of being a Mr. + Mrs. we decided to continue our adventure, and ‘New York’ was the title of the next chapter.

As the year 2016 began and my business launched, our flights were booked and over the seas we came to our new island of Manhattan.

Tell us about Paris Awong Collective, when you started and what inspired you to want to start this business?  

It’s the common story of how most entrepreneurs start, they think of something they wish existed, and then go ahead and do it themselves.

Well this was my story also. During my engagement, I imagined so many products that I would have loved for myself and as gifts for my bridesmaids, that during my hectic wedding planning schedule, I also had a side business I was developing in the back of my head.

Once I was in wedded bliss and had more time on my hands, the physical planning of a business-to-be began. Ideas and designs were flowing as I let my creative urges soar, along with the marketing and PR side of it to build the brand and name before the launch.

Growing up within a creative and artistic family and studying design and graphic art, I had always known that I wanted to branch out and develop my own business within a field that I loved. I just needed to wait for the moment in my life that inspired me and fed my imagination, and my engagement was just that!

While planning my wedding, the main idea was not of a standard cliché wedding. I wanted to create an event resonant of a high-end modern yet romantic gala and cocktail party, and this is the theme I carried through to my products.

‘Luxury products inspired by modern style’.


Do you design and manufacture your products? Tell us about that and how you oversee the process? 

From the moment an idea comes into my head, to the finished product arriving at my door, I am involved 200%. My favorite part is the design. I create a product, almost to the finished result, in my head, and then I source individual manufacturers whose skills are specific to each product.

Having separate manufactures for each product isn’t the most cost effective measure to take, but knowing that they have individual skill sets focused on each of my creations makes it worth it.

Launching a business can only be done once, and first impressions of the debut collection sets the stage for what’s to follow.

Do you sell online or in retail stores as well? 

After designing our website, I launched the business with our online store allowing our products to be accessible worldwide. Now, after being in business for 9 months, we currently have a number of retail boutiques + online stores carrying the debut collection within Australia, NZ, USA, and Canada.

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How did you go about getting your product into stores? 

Many stores contacted me directly, which was amazing! I had an Australian online wedding registry website order a number of products before we even launched, which was a great sign that my marketing strategy was working!!

I then showcased our products at a trade show here in New York which grew our network and stockists to the US and Canada.

I am now currently researching stores that stock similar luxury lifestyle products to grow our wholesale client base in order to build our network for our growth in the New Year.

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?

I really push myself to the max when it comes to my dreams, and for this, I feel that my ‘Ah Ha’ moment is still ahead of me in the future. However, I do know that this business is growing and my dreams are being chased and caught.

Making the move to New York and launching my own business were two separate ambitions that collided and are now developing each other in ways that I am so excited by!

What have been the hardest lessons in starting your business? 

The main part that was the hardest for myself, and many new business owners, was trusting in myself to take the risk. I believed in my ideas and products, however, committing financially and mentally to focus on this new endeavor within my life was tough.

Knowing that creating and owning a business was a part of my vision, and that design and marketing are my strong skill sets, made me trust in myself and drive forward with all that I have.

Some people ask how I started it all and then took my business to New York?…’I just did it!’

Do you find business to be seasonal or quite steady? 

Being a new start-up with only 8 months down, it’s hard to compare the seasons at this stage.

In developing my debut collection, my aim was to design products that were universal and not seasonal. Luxury items for fashion femmes, brides, and newlyweds, which are required and desired year round.

Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?

My initial marketing began down the social media route. I developed our website to include a Blog which could also be shared through social media. The more avenues you mention your brand and have clicks and interactions, the more links will be available on the web to build your SEO and status on search engines.

Through social media, I have also been contacted by a number of magazines to photograph select items to include within their product pages. These published advertisements have been a great draw card to other customers and potential stockists.


Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks? 

The most amazed and inspired I have ever been, was when I saw Sir Richard Branson talk at a convention in Melbourne 5 years ago and then afterwards personally having dinner with him!! Yes, this was an insane evening, and an evening that really made me think about Richard’s struggles and failed start-ups and how much drive he had to push through. And thank god he did!!

This meeting was the basis of all my questions within myself.


In addition to that, I have many close friends who inspire me everyday that have started their own businesses and are successful. The insights and back and forth banter with someone who knows the feelings of a ‘start-up’ makes for a great therapist and career advisor!

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business? 

If you know what you are great at, and you have a drive in you that makes you constantly push yourself in whatever you do, then you may just have the strength to take on your own business.

Believing in your skills and talents is ultimately what keeps you confident in pursuing this endeavor.

Like I said before, ‘I just did it!’ Sometimes over thinking things has its burden and can scare you away. If you know your strengths, skills, and have developed a sound business plan, then take this risk and give it a chance!

Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business? 

I feel that Australians have a unique and creative sense of style and design, and this is very much noticed and celebrated internationally. This creative eye that we hold I feel is unique to us, and I feel lucky to be a part of this contribution.

What is next for Paris Awong Collective?

Behind the scenes I am growing and expanding into more avenues. Currently we have our Bespoke Weddings line, which we will continue to grow, and soon we will launch our homewares and men’s line within the New Year.

Our aim is to branch out into more stores within the US and also take it across to Europe.

Do you have an offer or promo code you would like to share with AWNY members? 

Of course!! To my fellow Aussie friends take 20% off storewide with the code: AUSSIE20

Enjoy your Luxuries!! Xxx


Follow the Paris Awong Collective at: 





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Counseling & Photography go hand in hand for Susie Lang in this week’s AWNY Startup Story

Susie Lang has combined her two lifelong passions, photography and counseling into two wonderful startup’s in New York. Susie has a private counseling practice, working with individuals and groups. She is also a professional Photographer and has lived in New York since 2004 with her husband.

Susie is a valued AWNY Committee member and is also hosting two group sessions in October – The Emotional Transition of Moving to New York.

Tell us about these businesses and what inspired you to begin.

SUSIE LANG COUNSELING: www.susielangcounseling.com

I have been in the Caring Profession since 1975.  In Australia I was a Registered Sick Children’s and General Registered Nurse in Adelaide, and the Manager of the YWCA Child Care Center in Darwin.  Throughout the 1990’s in the UK I worked in Women’s Centers offering women low cost, long term services – counseling, childcare, women’s health issues, legal support and computer training.  I also worked in a center for women who experienced domestic and relational violence – here the women were offered counseling, emergency and safe re-housing, emotional, legal and financial support.  I had a small private practice.  When I arrived in the USA in 2004, I was employed as a Psychological Consultant with a company in Arizona which dealt with Identity Theft.  In 2009 – 2011 I worked alongside the family caregivers at the NYC Chapter for the Alzheimer’s Association.  Throughout my personal life and my career I have been fortunate to have women in my life whom I have felt inspired by.  I have never forgotten their “way of being” – being available, supportive and present to me throughout my life.  I realized that at an early age I didn’t have enough wisdom, presence, life experience, personal growth development and healing to go into the counseling/psychotherapy field as a younger woman.

My husband and I arrived in NYC in 2004.  Being in NYC I found my previous work experiences in Australia and the UK didn’t cut it.  It felt easy to simply give up on the notion that I could “make it” in NYC.  As a requirement to become licensed as a counseling therapist, I needed to go to University to get a MA (Mental Health Counseling and Wellness), degree in order to practice.  Since 2012 I have been in Private Practice as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and a National Certified Counselor (NCC).

I am passionate about my therapeutic work, gaining much experience in my intimate and professional work with clients.  It is one of my life’s joys.

SUSIE LANG PHOTOGRAPHY:  www.susielangphoto.com

In growing up on a farm in rural South Australia I shared a camera with my 4 brothers.  Luckily for me they weren’t interested in using the camera that our father bought for us, so I began to experiment with film photography. My inspiration came from John Sprod, a well-known and much-admired South Australian portrait photographer who traveled throughout the State, to photograph families in remote areas. He “knew” how to work with us, as small children.

I traveled to the UK in the early 1980’s, where I was accepted to the four London Colleges of Photography. I chose to attend Watford College where I received a BA in Design, majoring in Photography. I was awarded the prize for Portrait Excellence from Kodak in 1986. I have continued to photograph with a passion, receiving positive feedback from many who have seen my work.

In 2005, I switched from film to digital photography. I have always referred to my photographic work as my “creative outlet”. It is in contrast to the intense and intimate work I do in my counseling field.

In 2013, I created my photographic website – this has been a massive personal step, stating that I was ready to show the world that I love what I do.  Photography offers and gives me great joy.  I simply come alive!

I am passionate about connecting with people in both professions.

As I like to say, it is my “art of connection”.


Do you find that the synergy of these businesses overlap?  

Yes!  In the Summer of 2014, I was talking to a woman, also a photographer, who said to me, “What sets you apart as a photographer?”  I had never been asked this before.  In considering my psychotherapy training, my passion in photographing and my ability to connect with people, and after many hours of processing, thought and conversation with close allies I began to realize that I have an “art of connection” in my two fields of work.

In counseling, I am very present with each client, listening intently to them, empathizing with their experiences and offering unconditional positive regard.

In photography, I am able to “see” and be with a person, as if there is NO camera between us.  The synergy is electric to me, and in this, I trust that there is mutual connection with those whom I am working with.  Counseling clients continue to return with greater self-awareness and a willingness to delve deeper into their own self-understanding and self-awareness.  Photographic clients delight in images of self – I often hear their “WOW” factor being expressed!

What has been your “Aha / I’ve made it in the USA” moment?

I continue to strive towards this “aha” moment and I never take this for granted.  It is a very competitive world out there, and I am up against lots of others in the same fields.  “Aha” moments come with my connections I make with my clients.  They are often brief moments in time, and I have learnt to really feel and acknowledge them each time this joyous experience happens.

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