The Wonder Women of Malta – Edition 1: Stephanie Borg

Written by Prabjit Chohan-Patel

The Wonder Women of Malta

Business Wisdom from 15 years of Creative Purpose 

Leaving permanent employment to redefine her purpose and goals, Maltese artist and entrepreneur Stephanie Borg couldn’t have predicted how integral she would eventually become to the preservation of Malta’s cultural heritage.  It is no exaggeration to say that 15 years of creating products that have become prized treasures in many people’s homes (even making their way to different corners of the world) have turned Stephanie herself into something of a Maltese treasure. Her award by the SME Malta Business Awards for “Local Cultural Contributor” is surely proof of the place she has quietly and modestly carved out in the fabric of the national identity.

So the first edition of the new blog series, “The Wonder Women of Malta”, is the perfect opportunity to share the wealth of lessons that emerged from a recent SHE members’ event held in Stephanie’s beautiful Rabat store. 

Embracing change and rediscovery

Interestingly, Stephanie’s entrepreneurial narrative didn’t start with a grand vision or a meticulously crafted business plan.  Instead, its origins lay in life’s unpredictable twists and turns.  Following a significant upheaval in her personal life, she found herself at a crossroads, disillusioned with her life’s path and feeling unfulfilled in her career.  After years as a graphic designer, Stephanie longed to be free from management briefs and external directives.  Fueled by the desire to reclaim her creative autonomy, she left her job, the risky move leading her to seek solace and inspiration in daily life around her and look to her artistic skills for a new perspective.  Observing Malta’s different environments, from nature to urban locales, through (as the artist herself says), the eyes of a tourist, she started sketching, drawing and painting. 

This would subsequently mark the inception of her eponymously-named business, her initial foray into self-employment involving a collection of intricate ink drawings and greeting cards.  Starting out as a homestead business exhibiting at Malta’s established artisan market stalls, Stephanie Borg® has since evolved into a stunning retail haven and online shop. 

Lesson: Bold leaps can lead to reinvention, autonomy and the discovery of your true path in life.

Drawing Inspiration from Heritage and Culture

Stephanie’s journey is deeply intertwined with her Maltese heritage and her time in the Middle East.  A childhood fascination with the tiles in traditional Maltese homes provided a canvas for some of her very first products.  She now possesses an archive of 400 patterns (from photographing and salvaging tiles discarded from construction sites) which continue to serve as an inspiration for her creative expression and product range.  Meanwhile, six years in Oman exposed her to vibrant colours and hues. The region’s unique kaleidoscope of patterns all indelibly influenced Stephanie’s artistic style, imbuing it with a bold, eclectic flair that she admits would not have occurred without such exposure to an alternative culture given that European trends are more dominated by dark and neutral colours.

Innovation and Diversification

Stephanie’s business longevity has required constantly staying on her toes re product development.  “One of the things about running this type of business on a small island like Malta is that people regularly expect the next new thing”, the creativepreneur says.  So ideas must come from somewhere and just like any artist, she goes through stages of intense creative fertility.   Whether drawing inspiration from travels, the Maltese surroundings or the circle of life (including personal bereavement), Stephanie’s capacity for innovation – coupled with a patient intuition on when to release new products – has been a key tenet of her business strategy, driving her brand evolution and strengthening its product offering.  

By reimagining and repurposing, she has been able to create unique and desirable products that resonate with local customers, the island’s visitors and an international clientele.  Then there is diversification.  Extending beyond selling, the Stephanie Borg® brand now offers rental of the Nwar dinnerware collection for special occasions as well as tablescape design services.  Merging creativity with financial viability while staying true to one’s USP is no easy task.  Stephanie has had to strike the balance between aesthetically pleasing and also commercially successful products to ensure operational sustainability.

Lesson: A willingness to experiment and seek new sources of inspiration is essential for a creatively-driven business to stay relevant.  

Navigating the Challenges of Entrepreneurship

Stephanie admits the transition from solitary artist to successful business owner has naturally had its trials.  Like any business owner, she has experienced periods of self-doubt and financial strain and candidly speaks of the weight of running a small business testing her and causing overwhelm. Yet she has repeatedly found resolve when facing adversity (even likening chance meetings or unexpected phone calls to divine intervention helping to reignite her passion and determination and reconfirm she is on the right path).  “When you are open, things happen..and those things can be what keep you going,” she adds.

Lesson: Obstacles are inevitable in business. But resilience and an open mind about opportunities for growth can help you overcome them.

Commercial continuity has also involved recognising the need to build a strong team of people to shoulder the load of running a business.  Delegating tasks yet still preserving the essence of one’s brand is daunting for many entrepreneurs but Stephanie has been careful to find people that are aligned with her service proposition and therefore ensure a cohesive and professional output.

Lesson: Knowing when to adapt and delegate can be the key to survival and long-term success.

Cultivating a Legacy of Excellence

Two more core values in Stephanie’s operating toolkit are honouring one’s authenticity and maintaining high standards.  Unswayed by external pressures to conform to the ‘conveyor-belt’ commercial route, Stephanie has held firm to her identity and direction.  Every product is infused with a distinctive blend of heritage, superb quality and attention to presentation, differentiating her brand from the conventional souvenir market.  From her eye-catching and iconic tile and doors ranges to the exquisite Nwar dinnerware collection to the breathtaking Mediterranea cup and saucer series named after real people, each creation is instantly and unmistakably recognisable as a Stephanie Borg® creation.  

Such authenticity and excellence has earned her repeat customers who have become unofficial brand ambassadors, resonating with the brand and the stories behind the products – this writer included.  (These principles have also quietly played a role in elevating the standards of craftsmanship of her peers.)  

Lesson: Total clarity on your brand identity and knowing where not to compromise are two business superweapons. 

Fostering Connection and Cultural Celebration

Central to Stephanie’s journey is her sense of social responsibility and giving back to the community.  Her collaboration with a church is an example of the power of shared vision and art serving as a catalyst for positive change.  Part of the proceeds from her (now annual) limited-edition scarf collection are going towards the restoration of old paintings by Maltese artist, Salvatore Micallef.  As Stephanie aptly says, “something new is helping to give back to the old for us all to keep”.

Given all this, it’s no exaggeration to say that the artist sees her work almost as a platform beyond commerce or business operations. “If money was my motivation, really and truly I would have packed it all up after two or three years,” she confides.  Instead, Stephanie seeks to elevate Maltese traditions, spark conversations and foster a deeper appreciation for Malta’s rich cultural tapestry.  Clearly it is working, if the growing awareness among the younger generation is anything to go by, including stories of school projects on ‘the successful female entrepreneur’.  

Lesson: Engaging with meaningful causes can increase brand loyalty and foster a positive reputation.

Looking Towards the Future

The many accolades adorning the walls of Stephanie’s Rabat location may be testament to the growth of Stephanie Borg®, the brand.  But Stephanie Borg, the woman, remains firmly grounded and led by a singular creative purpose.  Her evolution from graphic designer to entrepreneur displays business acumen, endurance and unwavering connection to her roots.  Providing a guiding light for future generations of artists and entrepreneurs, her trajectory is an intriguing one that reflects many of the realities of entrepreneurship and is relatable to those of us navigating the terrain of running a business.  

A Wonder Woman of Malta indeed.

Images by Diana Iskander
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