Ivana de Haan
If I can do it, you definitely can
Ivana was born in what we know today as Serbia and raised by her grandparents from 18 months to the age of five, when she moved to Holand to be with her mother who had set up a new life there. This is a moving account of her special relationship with her grandmother and how that so abruptly changed when going to live with her mother, without understanding why, a relationship that was a huge contrast and shock. It became an unhappy childhood which changed her from a confident young girl to one of shyness and low self-esteem. Yet it also shaped her future adult life and who she has become today, with a tenacity and determination in the face of adversity, that drives her entrepreneurual spirit and will to rebuild, reinvent, and succeed. Ivana still has big dreams and goals, one of them being to see her IVANA bags on display for sale in Harrods in London. And more dreams may come true when Ivana goes to Hollywood in October to speak on stage, launch a co-authored book, and be part of a documentary film for PBS TV, titled ‘Phenomenal Global Women’.
What are your early childhood memories of your time with your grandparents?
I was born in a small village in Serbia, formerly Yugoslavia, in 1971. My mother went to Holland in 1973 when I was just 18 months. I never knew or met my father. My mother left because she had the opportunity to get work in Holland and build up a new future. Because of that I stayed with my grandfather and grandmother. They took care of me until I was almost five years old. In August 1975, I also moved to Holland. I remember a little bit of the time when I lived with my grandparents, but the memories I have are still very strong and they feel like yesterday. I loved being with my grandparents and living there.
I mostly remember my grandmother. I loved her so very much and still I do. She was everything to me and she did everything for me. Nothing was too much for her and she treated me as her own child. My grandmother could not have children of her own and perhaps that is why she was so loving and caring to me. We slept in the same bed together and this was the most beautiful and precious moment of the day to me as I had her all to myself. I lay close to her and hugged her as long as I could and I never wanted to let her go. It was like I knew that this would not last forever and sadly that fear became real. From that moment my whole life changed.
What do you recall of your first years in Holland?
I was almost five years old when I moved to Holland. I remember that my mother was living in a small apartment on the third floor. After a short time we moved to another apartment with my stepfather. At kindergarten and primery school I was a shy little girl with no confidence and low self-esteem. I didn’t have many friends and school was not easy for me. I tried to do my best and find my way but I did not fit in. It was very difficult for me to live without my grandmother. At that age I didn’t realise that we both were living in a different country and I only saw that she was no longer there. I miss her so very much. Every day without her was like living without food and I thought about her, every day. She was the whole day on my mind. At night I cried myself asleep, because of the pain I felt. I didn’t dare to speak about my feelings with my mother, at school or with someone else. I realised that I had to deal with the situation, but I didn’t realise that this situation would be forever. It still makes me cry when I think about her. She was my life and she meant the world to me. She was like a mother to me and actually, to me she was!
How was it to move back to your mother?
Almost three and a half years went by when I moved to Holland and reunited with my mother. I cannot remember that moment because I was too small to remember it. I did not realise that I was moving from my hometown to a completely different country to be reunited with my mother and stay there at least for many years. Of course I felt and saw that my environment had changed and that my grandmother was not there anymore. I felt alone and I missed her and her warmth, and love for me. But I also missed giving my love to her. We shared so much love and happiness. When I was in Holland it was as if I was left behind and lost in a large forest all by myself and didn’t know which path to choose to get back. It was very difficult for me to accept the new situation.
I did not fit in this new life and did not want it either as I had been happy where I was before. I understand that she was my biological mother, but she was a completely different person to my grandmother. My mother was the opposite of it and it was very hard for me to deal with that. I changed from a very happy toddler into a sad and scared little girl and In some situations I was afraid of my mother. It took me some time to accept my new life in a different country, with different people, school, language, my mother and later on my stepfather. But I grew with time and step by step I found my way and accepted the situation.
You were only 17 when you moved from your parents house – tell us more about this time of your life?
Growing up was complicated and a huge mental struggle, a lonely and hard experience. The relationship with my mother was difficult, distant, mentally abusive and cold. From the moment I came to Holland I lost everything inside of me. From that moment I missed a mother. I missed “her” as “my” mother. I missed her warmth, her affection, her love, her protection, her arms around me, her teaching me the difference between right and wrong. Her saying how much she loves me and how proud she is of me. Her waiting for me with a cup of tea at noon. Her guiding me through life. Her guiding me through my life with confedence on a path towards my future. All these years were not availible for me and I felt empty and lonely as if I had no more air to breath.
Growing up was complicated and a huge mental struggle, a lonely and hard experience.
Because of this situation I could no longer stay in this enviroment. Inside I was slowly dying. I felt so empty and worthless. Something deep inside of me was screaming and saying “Free yourself, you can do it”. Finally I made the decision and moved out with my boyfriend. From that moment on I was no longer chained. I immediately transformed into an adult woman, because I realised that I was now taking part in the real big wide world. I was not afraid for the future and for a moment I felt the freedom I wanted so badly. But soon I realised that I had to take care of myself.
All the decisions were now up to me and I needed to take care of my future, find a job and earn money. When I decided to move out I had just finished school and did not have a job. The desire to leave my house was more important than the answer to the question, “How will you pay your bills without money?”. I had to go. Soon I found a job and worked five days a week and within a few months I got a huge opportunity to work at a recruitment agency as an administrative assistant. I took the chance, got the job and after a few years I was promoted to be a recruiter.
Why did you decide to go back to college and how did your life change with the education?
Altough I was promoted to a recruiter, I realised that if I want to find another or a better job I would need more and higher education. I finished school at the age of seventeen and did not want to go further with a college education. I started in this company when I was almost eighteen years old, where most of them had higher education or went to university. I looked up at them and I was asking myself If I could be able to do it also. I was afraid to take that step. I realised that it was a big one to take and I was afraid of failure. I was the one who had told myself a long time ago that I could not do it. I convinced myself that I was not good enough and I believed my own thoughts. I had explained to myself through my mind, why my thoughts were telling me the truth. That’s why I believed I could not do it. And because I printed these thoughts into my mind and the belief that I could not do it, I caused my own fear and blockade to take action and go for it.
Yet something inside was pushing me not to hold on to this fear and not believing in myself. I had to this out of my system and my mind. I struggled to overcome this fear and the question, “How can I do that?”. My inner voice was asking me all kinds of questions. “Why are you afraid? What can happen? What is your fear based on?”. Facing those and other questions and answering them out aloud, was more fearful for me. I forced myself to think about the answers and answering them honestly, by listening at my inner voice. And that was answering the complete opposite of what was in my mind.
At first it was confusing but finally it was clarifying. Because of this inner process, I finally realised something very important and I said to myself, “If you don’t try, you will never know”. I was twenty five years old when I went back to school again and finished school at the age of thirty. After five years of hard work at college I graduated with high grades and got my bachelor’s degree. For the very first time I convinced myself that I could do it, only by taking action and with determination. I liberated myself from negative thoughts, fear and failure. Graduating made me more confident, It gave my life freedom and It made my world bigger. It opened doors to go to university, which is still possible, and it made one of my dreams come true – to become an entrepreneur.
What is the story of your businesses from the beginning to now?
In 2001, at thirty years old, I graduated and in that same year I started my own company. It was a very busy but challenging period and I was determined to finish school and start a business, both in the same year. The business I started was a recruitment agency, only for technical staff, with two other business partners. The company was a hugh success from the first day. I already had a lot of experience and I knew what I was doing. We were doing business with big companies in the Oil and Gas Industry, Shipbuilding, Maintenance, On and Offshore, and Construction in different places all over Holland. Sometimes even abroad. The company was growing very fast and there was an opportunity to start another business.
We did that and started a second business in 2003, only eighteen months after the first business was created. The new business we started was a factory, which was a supplier for spare parts in the food industry. We delivered these parts to a foreign company based in Poland. It was completely different to run this company in comparison with the recruitment agency. To run a business like this it requires other skills, insights and knowledge. We had our own workshop and machines and employees working in the workshop.
This business was also doing very well but after a while I found out that there was something wrong. I knew it and I felt it. I took action and found out that I had been let down by untrustworthy people, and I became aware of the damage they had caused. It took me five years of my life to clean up the mess. I had to work literally day and night to fix the damage. I could not sleep and at 2am I would get out of my bed and drive to my office to work, day in, day out. It was a stressful period and there were humiliating circumstances which I had to deal with, but I kept on going all by myself. Finally, I had solved all the financial problems and I realised growth from zero to one million euros in less then one year. With the company earning money again I created the freedom for myself to go. My role was no longer serving my idea of how I would like to take part in a company.
I left both companies in mid 2009, with nothing and no money, but at least I left with my dignity. I had to start all over again, and of course they tried to stop me, but I kept on going step by step. I started a similar business like the first one. I was able to build up a very successful business again, but this time without business partners, although the struggle with the ex business partners kept going on for more than four years. They tried everything to stop and boycott me but they did not succeed in their plan.
After this rollercoaster I woke up one day and realised that I had worked and worked, building companies, solving problems, all of which had taken almost ten years of my life, only to start all over again. What was I doing? I wanted to be happy and live a normal life. I wanted to do something that makes me happy, something completely different, with passion and from the heart. That’s why I decided in 2015 to change my career. In December 2016, I started a new business, my own high end handbags brand – IVANA.
What makes you happiest running your own business?
Having my own business made me the happiest because I have learned so much about having a business and about myself. I have learned something I would never learn in school. I have learned about what you need to know when you want to be an entrepreneur. How you start a business. How you run a business. How you deal with problems. How you can prevent them. What kind of skills do you need etc. etc. But most important I learned a lot about myself, who I really am and I found the real me. I discovered what I really want and who I want to be in life and I found my identity. So I am very grateful that I took all the steps and the experience and the journey have made me the woman I am today.
My future plans are my dreams and my dreams are my future plans. My plans and dreams are inseparably linked to each other. I have three future plans and I will do everything it takes to make them become a reality, not only for me but also for you.
Firstly, I want to set up my own charity or join one which relates to children from all over the world. I want to give and teach children the insight that they have a choice, and that they can do with their lives what they truly want to become when they grow up. And I hope, that one day, when they grow up they will do the same for other children.
Secondly, I dream to become an international speaker. I would love to give back what I have learned. To help women to find their passion in life and who they truly are, but most important, how they can do it and be successful. Thirdly, I dream that one day my handbags will be available at Harrods in London and in several countries all over the world. But most of all I would love to share the story behind my bags, the idea, how I did it and what makes them so very special and unique. My quote “Dare to be yourself”, is the metaphor to support other women to live their lives how they are meant to be. Live your life to its full potential to achieve the highest level. If I can do it, you definitely can.