Fabric Sourcing & a Lesson in Patience

Sorry guys, it’s a been a while, I know. It’s been an interesting few months and although I was originally just going to give you an update on where I’m at with developing the clothing brand, I’ve decided to also share some thoughts on how I’m mentally dealing with the challenges this new venture is throwing up.

It feels like not much has happened since my last update, but, on reflection, it has. Having finished the accelerator program at the end of last year, the past few months have been all about starting to implement what I’ve learnt. Alongside working on my business plan, defining the vision, mission, target market etc. the first key task was to start sourcing some fabric samples. Before I could do this though, I needed to deep dive into some research around certifications.

WHY CERTIFIED?

If you’ve been following from the beginning, you might remember that my initial idea was to create a collection that carried both an organic certification AND a fair trade certification. In practice, this means only working with suppliers that are independently audited to ensure they comply with specific standards relating to environmental and health concerns as well as safe and fair working conditions.

Of course, no certification system is immune to abuse, but some are more respected than others, and in an industry that’s known for its lack of transparency, annual audits do at least offer some level of external verification that these key concerns are being addressed.

One of the toughest challenges for consumers is that misleading marketing can make it so hard to determine what is actually a good choice and what isn’t.

Although I knew that choosing to go down this path would limit my options in terms of fabrics and production partners, it’s an essential element of the project for me. Not only to follow best practice in terms of sustainability, but also to be transparent and remove, as far as possible, any hesitations or questions around how the clothing has been made. I think one of the toughest challenges for consumers trying to buy more responsibly-made clothes is that misleading marketing and “greenwashing” can make it so hard to determine what is actually a good choice and what isn’t. (Tweet)

THE GLOBAL ORGANIC TEXTILE STANDARD (GOTS)

GOTS logoFor the organic certification, I already had in mind that I’d like to follow the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which is widely recognised as the gold standard for the sustainable processing of organic clothing and textiles. I was familiar with their strong commitment to both environmental and human health, but what I didn’t know until I started researching further, is that all GOTS certified entities are also required to meet extensive social criteria based on standards set by the International Labour Organisation. I’ll share more details about this in future posts, but ultimately this discovery led me to the conclusion that the GOTS certification alone was sufficient to address my aims.

Once that was decided, I then moved on to researching GOTS-certified fabric suppliers and have started to receive swatches from all over the world. With the help of a good friend who has a background in textile design, I’m beginning to narrow down which fabrics might work best for the pieces I’m considering – which isn’t a secret but I don’t have anything tangible to share at the moment aside from some very questionable sketches (so small that they prompted my husband to ask if I was designing a clothing range for beetles)!

At the moment, I’m focused on sourcing more fabric swatches and finalising initial designs so I can start creating first prototypes. I’ve also just started a Future Learn course on Fashion and Sustainability run by the London College of Fashion and Kering, which has been amazing for connecting with, and learning from, people from all sides of the globe and fashion industry.

A LESSON IN PATIENCE

From a personal perspective, it’s been a challenging time for sure. Progress has felt slow, and I’ve struggled with that. When I allow myself to think about what lies ahead, it’s so easy to become overwhelmed and start questioning it all. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself wondering if this is the right path for me, whether I have the tenacity and skill to ride out the inevitable waves of discomfort and uncertainty, and the patience to give it the time it needs. Patience. Turns out I don’t have much of that! But I’m learning. I’m slowly realising that it’s unrealistic to expect to progress with this at the same rate as I do with other familiar tasks, when I have so much to learn along the way.

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know – Pema Chödrön

I’ve had to force myself to go back to the beginning and remember all of the reasons I wanted to do this in the first place. Not only did I anticipate coming up against these challenges, but they were also a large part of what attracted me to this venture. I wanted to face obstacles and learn how to overcome them, I wanted to grow my knowledge and grow as a person, but, of course, when you’re sitting in the midst of it all, it can be pretty tough to navigate. Be careful what you wish for eh?!

The quote from Pema Chödrön, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know,” has popped into my head several times along the way and encouraged me to look for the lessons. Patience is definitely one of them. Another is an appreciation for the subtle wins. The less obvious things I’m achieving that I can’t just pick up and show someone. I specifically say subtle, because these intangible things I’m learning and achieving aren’t small. They’re hugely valuable to me, but they’re just not as easy to wrap words around as completing a business plan or launching a website.

Actually, one of the biggest challenges for me has been not having something tangible to show for my work so far. Aside from affecting my own personal sense of achievement, I’ve also realised how much other people’s perceptions of what I’m doing (or not doing in some cases) affects me too. Or, more accurately, my perception of other people’s perceptions!

And then, at other times, I’m full of optimism and motivation to keep going. And it always amazes me how quickly I can switch between the two mindsets. For now at least, I’m encouraged to push on and trust the process, see where the road takes me. To paraphrase Steve Jobs’ comments in his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, “You’ll only connect the dots looking backwards, so follow your curiosity forward.”

Ciao for now,

Amy x

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Resolution vs. Intention: Switching Obligation with Inspiration

I’ve been pondering resolutions this week. How and why we make them. The why is pretty straight-forward. Most of us do well with some clearly defined targets to aim for, but it’s the how that I reckon could do with a bit of a makeover. Why is it that the same list of resolutions that at one point has us bolting out of the gate into a new year can pretty quickly feel like it’s looming over us like a big fat cloud of non-achievement? Could we avoid those little pangs of guilt and disappointment by switching resolution with intention, and obligation with inspiration?

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about the term “resolution” that just seems so rigid and absolute. Instead of creating an environment that encourages creativity, improvisation and growth, we invent more rules to stick to, more commitments and more obligations, as if we didn’t have enough already. Looking up synonyms for “resolution” demonstrate this point pretty well: tenacity, doggedness, firmness. It’s no wonder our aspirations and goals for the new year can quickly lose their charm.

We might even devise little self-punishment mechanisms in anticipation of our non-compliance – no wine on the weekend if we don’t get to the gym 4 times a week. You’ve got to wonder, why do we do it? Are we just manufacturing unnecessarily demanding deadlines and creating more “should dos” and “have tos” that leave us feeling guilty and unaccomplished when left undone?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we abandon goal-setting and just cruise along without direction (I’m a recovering Type A after all), but what if we were to position these targets and desires within a less onerous framework? One that meant we didn’t end up beating ourselves up as another month flew by and we still hadn’t achieved those first 5 things on the list.

Purpose, objective, aim, plan. Synonyms of “intention” bring with them a much more uplifting vibe, don’t you think? And before those of you thinking, “tomayto, tomahto, what’s in a word?” switch off, here’s where I see the difference. When it comes to setting intentions, we’re still taking time to reflect and make a very deliberate commitment to a desired outcome. We’ve identified what’s important to us and made a conscious decision to channel our efforts towards achieving it. The goal is there and the path to reaching it may even be laid out, but there’s also a recognition that plans change. And so do we. Our aspirations and limitations aren’t static, and that’s ok. The motivation and resolve is still there, but there’s just a little more breathing space and a little less burden.

I know this, because at the end of 2016 I switched resolution with intention. I sat down and dedicated a decent amount of time to thinking about and writing down (this is key!) my wishes for the year ahead. Some specific tasks, some more general themes and a word for the year (which, if you’re wondering,  is “flourish” for 2018). Going through this exercise firmly implanted those intentions in the back of my mind and they naturally started to guide my actions. As I sit back and review them now, I can honestly say that I am surprised at how many of the goals I have achieved. Although it’s not fair to say “without even trying,” it really doesn’t feel like it’s been a burdensome task and it’s reinforced my belief that resolutions shouldn’t be something we have to hustle to achieve. Take away that rigid layer of expectation and hey, we might even enjoy ourselves along the way. Have I achieved everything on the list? Nope. And it feels just fine.

So here’s to a new year, the joy of a fresh start (and a new notebook!), and to giving ourselves the space to grow and thrive free of all those self-imposed “should dos” and “have tos”. Progress not perfection ☺

Ciao for now,

Amy x

P.S. If you’ve set some intentions and are happy to share them I would LOVE to hear from you! Shoot me an email or drop me a line on Instagram or Twitter.

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Tackling Overwhelm in 3 Easy Steps

Using Trello to organise, prioritise & stay on track

**Before I get stuck in to sharing my little productivity hack, a quick administrative note! I know that many of you have signed up to specifically receive updates on my progress in developing the clothing brand. As I’ll be writing about a variety of different topics on the blog, some posts will be more relevant to each of you than others. With this in mind, I’ve decided to include a project update at the end of some posts. This is where I will share more details on where I’m at and what I’ve been working on.**

Since I made the decision to undertake this new venture, I’ve been making a really concerted effort to be disciplined about my time. As anyone who has ever worked from home will know, life happens and it’s so easy for other distractions and obligations to get in the way of your productivity. These interruptions aren’t always a bad thing though.

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks. In between working my way through the fashion accelerator course, we took a quick trip abroad and have also had family from Australia staying with us. Last week, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Stephanie Woollard, the very inspiring founder of the aid organisation Seven Women. Steph was in Bahrain to accept a sustainable business award and gave several talks including the one I was lucky enough to attend as part of Manama Entrepreneurship Week. Within 2 days, I had joined a group of enthusiastic and like-minded volunteers and we were meeting to discuss the formation of the Bahrain chapter of the organisation. I can’t wait to share more about this inspiring encounter soon.

All of this was completely last minute and unplanned, but I’m so glad I could be part of it. It’s given me a huge injection of positive energy and motivation. It also taught me that being too rigid with your schedule might mean missing out on a great opportunity. You want to be able to make space for these positive interruptions whenever and however they may arise. Whether it’s a work-related event or catching up with a good friend from out-of-town, it’s just a case of working smart and finding strategies you can fall back on to help you stay on track.

To Do List

As I finally sat down at my computer, I was left facing a pretty hefty to-do list. Emails to respond to, articles to write, study to do, events to research, deadlines to meet, birthday presents to buy, social engagements, travel arrangements to make…you know the drill.

There are so many ways to tackle this scenario but I thought I’d share a strategy that helped me feel like I was on top of things again. I used Trello as it’s my go-to task manager but a piece of paper and a pen will deliver the same great results.

1. ORGANISE

The first step is to do a brain dump and drop every task into Trello. For those who aren’t familiar, Trello is a free platform that enables you to create boards and lists to manage and organise projects and tasks. It has loads of clever features but my favourite by far is it’s drag-and-drop functionality. As someone who is constantly reshuffling her schedule, this is an invaluable tool. You can learn more about Trello’s unlimited applications here.

Example Weekly Planner BoardAn example of a simple way to use Trello as a weekly planner. It’s also great for meal planning,  event organisation, holiday planning etc. The drag-and-drop functionality is a dream!

I use it the most as a basic weekly planner like the example here and above. I have a list for each day of the week and a “Done” list for completed items (because who doesn’t love the satisfaction of seeing all the things they’ve achieved?!). I can add and remove items in seconds through the desktop or mobile app (it syncs too) and once everything is written down I can stop wasting valuable brain power trying to remember what I need to get done. I just wake up and look at my pre-prepared list each morning. I definitely recommend giving it a go if you’re someone who relies on a mental to-do list, it’s very liberating! The head space you’ll free up will give you more room for creativity and new ideas.

If the tasks have started to pile up, I recommend just getting them all down before allocating them to a particular day. Create a separate list for each theme or project you have to complete tasks for. For me this was Personal, Project X (yet-to-be-named clothing brand!), Seven Women and so on. I also created a “Quick Wins” list containing all tasks that could be completed in 15 minutes or less.

2. PRIORITISE

Within each list drag and drop to arrange items in order of priority. This is where Trello really shines but if you take the paper and pen route you can use numbers to prioritise your tasks.

3. EXECUTE

Dedicate 1 hour to ticking off as many quick wins as possible and then move on to the items at the top of the other lists in order of priority. At this point, you can also start allocating tasks to certain days. If there are any quick wins left over, spend the first hour of the next day working on those.

If you desperately need to complete a particular task (like I did this week – my tax return!) you may choose to get that done first and then come back to the quick wins once that’s out of the way. The beauty of tackling the quick wins first is that you get an immediate sense of achievement which gives you the motivation to power through the bigger stuff. You’ll quickly start to feel that you’re getting back on top of things.

HOT TIP: Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day and don’t overload your list! I went through a phase of so badly overestimating how much I could get done in a day that I NEVER got to the end of my list. I never got that sense of satisfaction no matter how many tasks I ploughed through. It was so demotivating.

Jump for Joy

To end the day with a feeling of accomplishment is so important. You’ll feel more comfortable switching off knowing that you completed your set tasks, and will be energised and ready to take on tomorrow’s goals. If you’re unsure what’s realistic, your “Done” list will be a great indicator of how many tasks you can work through in one day.

And that’s it. I hope this might help those of you juggling multiple commitments and growing to-do lists. I’d also love to hear of any other strategies that have worked for you – drop me a line!

PROJECT UPDATE

Since my last post I’ve been diligently making my way through the 5 module accelerator program gaining a detailed insight into the pre-production process – from spec sheets and fabric sourcing to pattern and sample making – the manufacturing process, how to approach product costing calculations, plan and launch a crowdfunding campaign and much more. I’ve connected with some wonderful people both inside and outside the industry who have generously offered their help and support and I’ve also been researching potential partners to assist with product development, fabric selection and pattern and sample making. My main focus this week has been to get as many questions answered as possible before the mentorship phase of the course ends. I’ve also been digging deeper into the ins and outs of the organic and fair trade certification processes – which is a complicated topic to say the least – and one I will be writing more about soon. Thanks for reading and for your ongoing support, it means the world to me.

Ciao for now,

Amy x

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The Beginning

Hello and welcome!

Some of you may already be familiar with my background but for those who have just joined me, a brief intro.

The past few years of my professional life have been spent working with my husband at the digital marketing agency he founded here in Bahrain. At the end of last year, we made the decision to change course, transitioning the agency to a consultancy so that we could explore new opportunities and areas of interest. We were excited about the prospect of taking a step back, reassessing and applying the valuable lessons we had learnt at the agency to new challenges and projects. Over the past few months we’ve had the opportunity to do just that. For me, this has led to an unexpected path, but one that I’m very excited to embark on and share.

This week, I took the first steps towards creating a small capsule wardrobe of organic, fair trade everyday essentials for women. That’s a bit of a mouthful, I know, and I’ll be expanding on the idea more in future posts! I’ve just enroled in an online accelerator program that provides support for people looking to create sustainable clothing businesses and I’m hoping to take you along for the ride!

As well as being a means of keeping you up-to-date with what I’m up to and what I’m learning, I’m hoping this little journal will also act as a virtual accountability partner and help keep me on track. If you’d like to sign up to receive notifications of new posts by email you can do that over on the right-hand side of the page if you’re on a desktop, or towards the bottom of the page if you’re on a mobile or tablet.

A SEED IS PLANTED

So, where to start? For those that know me, it won’t come as a surprise that my passion for food and healthy living in general has continued to grow over this past year, but it’s also expanded and taken me in a direction even I would never have seen coming. This post is a lot longer than future posts will be so, apologies in advance, and thanks for bearing with me!

Around the middle of last year, my interest began to move beyond food as I started to get curious about the ingredients in my make up, shampoo etc. This led me to Alexx Stuart’s “Go Low Tox” course which was an extremely eye-opening and educational exercise. That’s a whole other story though, and one I’d be very happy to share with anyone who’d like to learn more.

Although I’d heard the terms before, this course became my first proper introduction to the concepts of ethical and sustainable clothing (I’ll be shedding some light around these ambiguous terms in future posts). Part of the course highlighted the social, health and environmental impacts of “fast fashion,” particularly in terms of the chemicals used in clothing production. A seed of curiosity was planted and I started to read more about “healthier” clothing options.

WhoMMC-50Fast forward a few months to Fashion Revolution Week – an annual campaign that falls on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy which killed 1138 garment workers when their factory collapsed in Dhaka in 2013. As part of the schedule of activities organised by the local chapter of Fashion Revolution, I attended a screening of The True Cost documentary. I won’t go into detail here, other than to say it tells an important story about the largely unseen impact the clothing industry has on both the people involved in producing our clothes, and on the environment. It’s on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and also available for free online; I’d encourage anyone to watch it.

I didn’t walk out of the screening a raging activist but I did leave feeling very flat, sad, and if I’m honest, disappointed. Why hadn’t I ever really clocked on to the fact that something didn’t quite add up when it came to all those unbelievable bargains? I was angry at the big fast fashion companies for having pushed the industry to this point whilst successfully hiding the ugly truth that sat behind it, but also struggled with the uncomfortable realisation that it was society’s insatiable hunger for a bargain (mine included) that had, in turn, pushed them.

Along with that came an element of guilt, but I quickly realised that there was nothing to be achieved by dwelling on decisions made when I, rightly or wrongly, simply didn’t have the knowledge. You don’t know what you don’t know and when you do know, the best use of your energy is to try to do better.

Without meaning to sound overly dramatic, it’s safe to say that my approach to buying clothes, and shopping in general, was changed forever. That’s not to say that I’ll never again buy anything on the high street or in a mall, but just that it wasn’t possible for what I had learnt not to influence my buying choices.

Soon afterwards, we went to the UK where I was sure I would be able to find some brands producing wardrobe staples with organic or low chemical fabrics and also complying with good social and environmental manufacturing practices. I did buy a couple of things but for the most part struggled to find what I was looking for. I’m no fashionista, but I still like to look and feel good in my clothes.

LIGHTBULB MOMENT

A few weeks later at yoga (I know, so cliché 😂) I was telling friends how surprised I was that it seemed so hard to find “normal,” everyday clothes that were certified organic AND Fairtrade (it’s relatively easy to find one or the other) and not either a baggy, hemp sack or a high fashion catwalk creation. How had nobody done that yet?

Oh. Nobody’s done that yet.

Hmm.

The conversation quickly moved on to capsule wardrobes – a few key versatile and coordinated pieces that combine to create multiple outfits – and within minutes the two ideas merged and the concept of an organic, Fairtrade capsule was born. The idea got me super excited. So much so that I was up until 4am that night researching competitors, fabrics, factories etc. I couldn’t be the only one looking for this, I thought (I’ve since learnt that research both in Australia and the US shows over 50% of people would make more ethical shopping choices and more sustainable decisions if presented with more options – source), and, if no one else was doing it in this way, maybe this was an idea worth pursuing? I was pumped.

Then my inner critic made himself heard – “Uhh, HELLO, you have NO fashion experience! You don’t even read fashion magazines! There are sooo many clothing companies out there, even sustainable ones these days, and people who are way more knowledgeable and creative than you!” But despite going over and over all the reasons why this didn’t make sense, another noisy voice inside my head kept saying, “Do itttt! It’s an opportunity to learn. Don’t be afraid to try different things. Don’t overthink it for once, just jump in!”

Around the same time I came across the online accelerator program I’ve just signed up to. An attractive proposition for sure. I couldn’t help but notice that, although the excitement around other ideas I’d had waned pretty quickly, my enthusiasm for pursuing this one seemed to be lingering.

MOTIVATIONS & GOALS

While pondering the opportunity, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would be hoping to get out of this project. More than anything, it’s about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. About proving to myself that I can take a leap towards something, without any real certainty about the outcome, and not have the world fall down around me. About making mistakes and learning the valuable lessons that come with them. About creating something from scratch through to realisation and surprising myself with what I can accomplish by simply taking little steps forward each day. About connecting with like-minded individuals who share my interests. And, finally, about actively supporting and participating in a positive movement for change that aligns with my personal values.

reflectionREFLECTION & REALISATION

If all I gain from this venture is achieving just a few of the things I rattled off in the paragraph above, how could I possibly not consider that a success?

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was the opportunity for personal growth that was attracting me to this project the most, not financial growth. Now, that’s not say that I don’t want it to generate an income, of course that’s part of the plan, but I realised that if that was my sole focus or purpose for taking on this challenge, then it was way too easy for me to find reasons not to do it. I thought, if all I gain from this venture is achieving just a few of the things I rattled off in the paragraph above, how could I possibly not consider that a success?

Those of you who know me well will probably recognise that this runs counter to my usual approach to, well, anything! Even though I’ve been working hard on embracing the motto of “progress not perfection” over the past couple of years, I’m all about the research, the planning and making sure all my ducks are in a row before I start any new task. And whilst that approach has its merits, it also has its limitations when it comes to taking (and missing) opportunities.

I realised that the main thing that held me back from taking a more daring and positive approach is that my brain would always focus in on everything that could go wrong in a particular scenario if I DID do it, but it never got as far as thinking about what opportunities might pass me by if I chose NOT to pursue an idea or take action. The new knowledge and perspectives I would gain, the connections I would make, the sense of accomplishment and purpose….you get the picture. As a side note, Tim Ferriss’ “Fear-setting” exercise was central to this realisation and I highly recommend it for times when you’re facing a tough decision about whether or not to do something.

So, this week, I pushed the button. I’m apprehensive and excited all rolled into one. I know that even with the help of this program it won’t be easy but life so far has taught me that the things that give me the greatest sense of satisfaction often aren’t!

Phew, that took a little longer than expected. Thanks for reading this far if you’re still with me and please feel free to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter or drop me an email.

Just a little side note before I sign off. I know that some of the issues I’ll be writing about can sometimes be contentious but the purpose of this blog is purely to share my experience. It’ll be as much about personal development and starting a new business as it will be about the ins and outs of the clothing industry. Hope you can take something useful from it.

Here goes!

Amy x

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