Women in Business – how it all began…
I was recently asked to talk about what it meant to be a woman in business. This got me really thinking about what I do and why I do it.
I realise my route to becoming a business woman may not be a traditional one, but it has been a really interesting journey and one which I continue to enjoy every minute of.
I don’t have any formal business training, my background is in the creative sector; contemporary craft and fine art textiles. I’d been teaching for many years and I had reached a stage where I really wanted to find the time and space to explore my creative side again… I wanted to make things.
I made a conscious decision to slowly cut back on the teaching and get my sketch books out again! I began by promising myself that I would draw or create something everyday… a doodle, a pencil sketch or collage.
I carried my sketch book in my bag so I never had any excuse not to stick to this self enforced plan I had made for myself! It was more successful than I could have ever imagined and, what I had at first thought might be a chore, turned into something I was really enjoying. Soon I had a book full of ideas and decided it was time to start making them into something.
I have always loved the natural properties of linen and its eco credentials so it was an obvious choice to use this wonderful fabric. Print making has always been a passion and I started to experiment with screen printing on the linen fabric. In a world were everything was disposable, I knew that I wanted to make practical things that would last, were beautifully made and would be cherished. I established my first website with an online shop in 2012 and before long I found myself with retail orders on my hands, attending events and then came interest from magazines and shops.
The first few years were hard work. I was mostly building the business on my own and there was a huge amount to learn. I found the challenges exciting and invigorating and enjoyed the contact with my trade customers who, in some cases, were also in the early years of establishing retail businesses of their own.
Providing employment opportunities for local people has been one of the most satisfying aspects of running my business and one that I am most proud of. This area of Cornwall can be tough for young people to find a career, particularly within the creative sector. I have now supported two apprentices through to completing their apprenticeship and they both still work for me. This year, I have been able to take on two more local apprentices and it is wonderful to watch them learning traditional craft skills, finding out about how the business runs and growing in confidence.
I now have a lovely team of makers in the studio who sew each of the products in the collection. We work in a very unique way using small batch production, with each maker making the product from start to finish. There is tremendous pride in their process; seeing it grow from start to finish…. so very different to mass produced, factory methods.
Each piece of linen is hand printed using traditional artisan silk screen techniques and is truly unique.
As the business has grown, I’ve learnt that it is really important to stay true to what you believe in and to trust in your intuition when making decisions. This has required thought and courage. I’ve found that women are often under-valued in business. We face the constant fear of rejection, of imposter syndrome, and a lack of confidence, feeling we need to continously prove ourselves. Every day has its own little challenges and nearly 7 years in, I am still learning stuff! Help from business coaches and mentors has been invaluable and allowed me to focus, talking difficult scenarios through with other business leaders, family and friends has been essential for positive growth.
Looking back, there are probably things I would have done differently, but I think that’s often the case when you are learning. One thing I have learnt, is to take time off! To go somewhere where you can’t be reached for 48 hours and do something which is completely unrelated to the business….. always a challenge when you are self employed and do what you love… but I’m working on it!!
Did you know…… Fewer than one in five small and medium-sized enterprises in the U.K. are led by women, but women in the UK outnumber men by around 1 million. There are twice as many male entrepreneurs as females (thank you Forbes 2018). Personally, I rather like to see this as a challenge! If the way I run my business in any way inspires other women, then that’s just the cherry on the cake (and my love of making cake is definitely worthy of a story of its own!).
For mentoring opportunities get in touch with Helen firstname.lastname@example.org