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International Women's Day through the eyes of a female entrepreneur - Me!

What inspires you?

Seeing people who have been massively disadvantaged in some way – whether that’s in knowledge, background or physical disabilities – go on to achieve something great. By “great” I don’t necessarily mean being an entrepreneur – it could be winning the paralympics or writing a hard-hitting book. It’s people that manage to achieve something great from 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 help in changing 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 it’s not the manufacturers or 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 create a business plan, you know it’s largely fictitious because you’re looking into the future with a crystal ball. It never ever turns out how you envision.

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. 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 with 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 both. I don’t think I suddenly wanted to be an entrepreneur. I think I was born to be one. When I was 5 years old I was given a chess board and other people would, as you do, play chess or drafts. Not me. The pieces were all my staff and I was moving them all around as my employees. I think entrepreneurship 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. He's incredibly supportive. We’re like chalk and cheese – he’s the grounder, so while I’m running around saying, “I’ve had an idea, I’ve had an idea”, he’s the one saying “ok, calm down dear.” 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 upheld her dignity and dealt with it. The other person that’s inspired me is Dame Stephanie Shirley, unsung hero who 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. The year after I started I went to a packaging soirée. Very exciting - I'd recommend it to anyone. In a room of about 100 people, I was the only woman, apart from one journalist. So, me and the fellow female journalist 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. 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 – not that it’s always right. Being a woman means that in business, I can apply the sort of nurturing and warm side of a business that often gets overlooked in a very male-dominated industry. Women generally tend to be more compassionate and less ruthless. We can be great entrepreneurs, but we can also be a lot more compassionate, caring and considerate than traditional male environmental 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’re doing on their customers, suppliers, employees, the local community around them, the local charities, etc. 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?

We are so unbelievably privileged in the UK. My mind is continuously blown when I hear people in the UK complain because we are so lucky. Yes, there’s a certain amount of discrimination – and not just for male and female – all sorts. The other week I was astounded to hear about 12 year old girls working in factories in Bangladesh from 8am to 8pm, 6 days a week, then being allowed to finish at 4pm on Sundays. 12 years old! In other parts of the world, there are so many restrictions on women – some where they’re not allowed to go out without a male blood relative. What happens if they haven’t got a living male relative? Does that mean they aren’t allowed out? When you look at some places in the rest of the world, we are so unbelievably privileged. International Women’s Day, to me, means to help voice and raise awareness of the discrimination 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 that certain countries and states have now reverted abortion laws? 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 that 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 respond to with “uh, told you so.” If we had the confidence to say “you know what? I can do this,’ because we know we are just as capable as men, we can break that intimidation and 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 would 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 my husband and I met with him in London. He sat there like an alpha male, muscles pumped out, almost with his back to my husband to prove his ‘alpha-maleness.’

Our conversation went like this:

“So how big are you now?”

“Hmm, off the top of my head we’re at about 4 million pounds turnover.”

Cue his jaw literally dropping to the floor.

“Well that means you’re bigger than us.”

“How did that happen?”

All he could say in response was “You’ve been very lucky, haven’t you.”

That was such a defining moment for me because I thought: even though we’ve totally proved ourselves and as a business proved that we knew what we were doing and talking about, his only justification for our growth was pure luck.


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