When you first get the spark of genius to start a sustainable fashion business, there’s so much to focus on it can be hard to zero in on the most important things first. In the early days of your start-up, you can feel like a spastic puppy obsessing over a ball.
Do you go after seed money? Do you push hard on marketing? Or do you get super clear on all your production processes first? These are all exciting but tough questions to answer – and they won’t get any easier as your business progresses.
I speak from experience here. I started my retail sustainable fashion business, Brave Soles, with $250 and zero experience in fashion, retail or supply chains. True story.
I’m not here to brag
I started despite knowing the huge number of small business that fold. Despite knowing that in the sustainable fashion space, which we all love to read about here on EWP, those numbers are even scarier.
As sustainable entrepreneurs we have foundational principles and practices at the core of our work. Cutting corners, aka finding the cheapest option, is not an option for us. And while this higher ideal is what often garners us loads of praise, those progressive, sustainable, ethical values don’t always translate into sales. The very reason we’re in business is also what makes it challenging to thrive as a business.
In many ways, no one was more surprised than me at the success of Brave Soles. In those early days of launching, the rush of the initial excitement was soon swallowed up in the vortex of reality. I actually remember lying in bed, thinking the authenticity cops were going to come busting through my door. What right did I have to be doing this? What on earth was I thinking when I put myself out there like this?
But I’m not writing to brag about “making it” despite being scared or to offer a super-glossy version of just “hustling harder”.
The reality of sustainable fashion is that it’s hard and complex. And success, in the normative sense of the word, isn’t guaranteed. I’m writing to share with you what I’ve learned about defining my own success, managing my own inner world and learning how to keep going.
Five ways to keep succeeding
No matter what “they” tell you, there are no overnight successes. No two journeys are the same and no success is guaranteed. However, success is also not just one moment but a series of moments. I’ve learned that you don’t succeed, you keep succeeding.
These are my five favourite ways to keep succeeding. Each of them have sustained me and propelled me forward, despite extremely huge challenges. I hope they will help you keep succeeding too.
1. Don’t be scared to ask for help.
We can all have different reasons for why it’s hard to ask for help: shame, intimidation, the list goes on. Isolation is the enemy of entrepreneurial growth.
The bottom line is, you have not because you ask not. Asking for help changed everything for me.
I have two rules for asking for help:
1. It never hurts to ask, and
2. Be intentional with what you are looking for.
I am fortunate to be based in Toronto, Canada where there is a thriving social venture culture. But I didn’t even know it existed until I went looking for it and started asking for help. I am now surrounded by mentors, business coaches and personal leaders who remind me that I am not in this alone.
2. Never lose touch with your generosity.
This is so simple, it seems obvious. But ask anyone what the first thing is they will cut when times get tight, and they will tell you it’s the “extras” like generosity.
Never do this.
Be generous with your time for those who need it. Be generous with your praise when people do good and generous with your mercy when they don’t. Be generous with your grace and kindness even when it won’t seem to benefit you. Do it because of who you are and how you want this world to be.
3. Never be defined by your overwhelm.
The word “overwhelm” means to overcome completely in mind or feeling. In other words, you can’t help it if you feel overwhelmed by what to do and where to start. But keep in mind that this feeling is just that, a feeling. It’s real to you in the moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth to build your life on.
Your feeling of being overwhelmed is what you decide it will be. Trust me, I don’t say this lightly; the feelings are VERY real. However, so is the path out if you allow yourself to see the situations you face with a slightly softer perspective.
Here’s a simple trick I do whenever I feel like a situation is out of control:
I divide a piece of paper with a vertical line down the middle. On the left side, I list the “big” challenges that are taking up my focus. I list them all. Sometimes they are the huge bills I have to pay and sometimes they are a sales challenge. I number each problem and then move to the right column. In the right column, I start with the top item from the left and I write down 3-5 small, quick steps I can take to move a little closer to answering this challenge. I go down the list from the left and within two minutes, I have an easy, quick action list I can do to move towards the goal of solving the challenge.
Does every idea work? Nope. But the fog lifts and I can work my way back to the clear space again that I need to make my next move. Works like a charm, every single time.
4. Know your why.
Repeat it every time you can. Write it down wherever you need to. Tell anyone who is willing to listen. Knowing your why helps you stay focused when times are challenging. It will also give everyone you work with an anchor to hold on to.
For me, I hold on to my why through prayer and meditation. I’m actually very hard core about it: I get up at 5:30 every morning and spend an hour in meditation. That time is crucial to bringing me back to my why: to build a company that inspires others to recognize the power of their choices.
You may not have the time or the desire to meditate, but you do deserve to give yourself the chance to take a moment and remind yourself every day why you are doing what you are doing.
So what’s your why?
5. Never be scared to ask a different, more beautiful question.
(Spoiler alert: I owe this point to all the fantastic coaches I have in my life.)
Between the ages of two to five years old, we ask hundreds of questions a day. We want to know about everything, from what God is to the colour of the sky. However, after we start conventional education, we are often assimilated into a way of thinking about how to ask questions. We quickly realize that we need to ask questions that we can figure out quickly and get the instant rewards those answers provide.
We are often not particularly good at wrestling with different, more open questions. Especially of ourselves. Too often we fall into the trap of asking, “Why is this happening to me?”, rather than asking, “I wonder what I could be doing differently to change this outcome?”
Questions are everything in business. Beautiful questions are the kind you might be scared to ask out loud. But ask them anyways because they could be just the thing you need to lead you and your business on the path you truly desire.
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