International Women's Day through the eyes of a female entrepreneur - Me!
What inspires you?
Seeing people who have had a massive disadvantage in some way, whether that’s knowledge or whether it’s background, or physical disabilities and then go on to achieve something great. When I say great I don’t mean necessarily being an entrepreneur, it could be winning the paralympics or writing a hard hitting book. It’s people that manage to achieve something great out of nothing. They deserve respect and are my inspiration.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’m on my next mission, which is probably going to take 5 years. In 5 years time I would like to have seen that myself and others have helped change the perception of cheap fashion. I am now on a mission to help raise awareness that if you’re buying a t-shirt for £2.99, there’s a good reason it’s £2.99 and that’s not the manufacturers or the shops being kind.
When you first started out, what were your original ideas and plans for the company?
When I first put the business plan together, it was out of necessity because I just couldn’t find any packaging. It was almost a secondary company. Of course, I expected world domination but apart from that, it was a side line so I never had great expectations. But when you do a business plan, you know it’s largely fictitious because you’re looking into the future with a crystal ball. So it never ever turns out how you invisage.
What would you tell young women who are just starting to work?
Have self belief. People play down gut instinct but gut instinct is so important. If you feel it, if you feel somethings wrong or something's right then it probably is. It’s balancing that with evidence to back it up, so for example if you have a brilliant gut feel that you’re going to achieve world domination in space ships but the financials don’t stack up, it’s a question of either looking at the financials again or perhaps tweaking your original plan. But gut feelings are right so many times.
What makes you proud to be a woman?
That is a difficult question! I think what makes me proud to be a woman is that so many other women out there, we are helping to break the mould of traditional stigmas and helping to support other women in how to live more confidently in their ideas and businesses.
What made you want to be a female entrepreneur?
I’m a great believer in nature/nurture and a combination of the both. I think I was born an entrepreneur, I don’t think I suddenly wanted to be one, I think I was born to be one. When I was 5 years old I was given a chess board and other people would play chess or drafts. Not me, the pieces were all my staff and I was moving them all around as my employees, I think it was always there.
Who is the most influential person in your life?
The most influential person in my life at the moment is definitely my husband. We are like chalk and cheese, he is the grounder, so whilst I’m off saying, “I’ve had an idea, I’ve had another idea”, he’s the one saying, “ok, calm down dear”, but he’s also incredibly supportive. Other people that inspire me… Princess Diana inspired me a lot because she always maintained her dignity. It didn’t matter what was thrown at her, she maintained her dignity and dealt with it. The other person that’s inspired me is definitely Dame Stephanie Shirley, unsung hero where she created a billion pound empire in the computer world that most people have never heard of and she came from nothing, she’s achieved amazing things.
Have you ever felt intimidated as a female entrepreneur?
So many times. I went to a packaging soirée, the year after I started. Very exciting, I can recommend it to anyone. There was a room full of about 100 people and I was the only woman, except for a journalist. So, me and the fellow female journalist, sort of stood in the corner feeling completely out of place.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring female entrepreneurs and why?
I think that one of the things I continually forget, and it helps me, is that I forget that I am a woman. I know that sounds a bit crazy but I just see myself as a person, and I see other people as people. I don’t think “oh they’re male, they’re female” and I think that it’s very easy to get hung up on the discrimination or the difficulties you experience, rather than if you come across it, it’s not your problem - it’s the problem of the person that is inflicting that on you. It’s part of life, get on with what you want to do and don’t let other people define you.
What tips would you give to a female small business starting out?
Put your big girl pants on, because you’re in for a ride.
What does being a woman mean to you?
I think that women have a very unique approach to things and I’m not saying it’s always right. Being a woman means that in business, I can apply the sort of nurturing and the warmer side of a business that often gets overlooked in a very male dominated industry. Women generally tend to be less ruthless and tend to be more compassionate.
We can be great entrepreneurs but we can also be a lot more compassionate, caring and considerate than traditional male environments or role models. We’re able to bring a different dimension to the welfare of the greater economy around us. This is a generalisation, but men tend to be more profit driven and that is the end goal. Whereas women are able to see more clearly the effect of what they are doing on their customers, suppliers, employees, the local community around them, the local charities. They’re able to take a much more holistic approach which tends to be more unique to women.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
In the UK we are so unbelievably privileged, it blows my mind continuously when I hear people complain in the UK because we are so lucky. Yes, there’s a certain amount of discrimination not just for male and female, all sorts of discrimination. When you look at some places in the rest of the world, the other week I was watching kids that are 12 years old and female working in factories in Bangladesh, working 8 in the morning to 8 at night 6 days a week. Then on Sundays being allowed to finish at 4. 12 years old! In other parts of the world, there are so many restrictions on women, where they’re not allowed to go out without a male blood relative, well what happens if they don’t have one alive? Does that mean they are not allowed out? We are so unbelievably privileged. International Women’s Day to me means to help voice and raise awareness of the discrimination that is happening around the world.
Do you think the world today is more open to equality? Are we doing enough?
I think that the world is heading in the right direction, in my naive little pink bubble, and then we hear news reports where it’s not. Did I dream it or have I heard certain countries and states have now reverted allowing abortion? What happens if a woman is assaulted? How is it right that society makes the decisions for that female and the females rights are taken away? In lots of ways we’re taking giant steps forwards, every now and then we get slapped in the face and they’re not as giant as we hoped. We’ve still got a long way to go.
What can we do to play our part in breaking the bias?
I think part of the problem of the bias is that a lot of the time women don’t have the confidence to display their capabilities because we often feel intimidated by the people around us. We often create the sort of ditsy female image that men are like “uh told you so” kind of thing. Whereas, if we had the confidence to say “do you know what, I can do this” because we know that we are just as capable as men but often it’s the intimidation that stops us fulfilling it. If we can break that intimidation then perhaps we’ll create more equality naturally.
What was your craziest aspiration growing up?
World domination without a doubt. I thought I was going to be world leader and that everybody was going to be paid in chocolate.
Have you ever been treated in a way that switched your thinking and motivated you in business?
So many times. I had a meeting with a supplier back in 2008 and he was incredibly chauvinistic. He always made me feel as though I was working for him, he was always telling me what to do and the way I should be doing it.
In about 2015 I met up with him in London with my husband and he sat there like an alpha male with his muscles pumped out, almost with his back to my husband to prove his ‘alpha maleness’ and he said “so how big are you now?” and I said, “hmm off the top of my head we’re about 4 million pounds turnover”. His chin literally dropped to the floor and he said “well that means you’re bigger than us”, I said, “well how did that happen?” and he replied “well you’ve been very lucky haven’t you”.
That was such a defining moment for me because I thought even when we’ve totally proved ourselves and totally proved as a business that we knew what we were doing and what we were talking about, the only wayhe could justify it in his head was pure luck.