It's lovely to meet you Lucy, I hope you’re well today?! Seeing as you’re such a multi-faceted individual, could you start by giving us an introduction to the various titles you have (had)? (E.g. stylist, entrepreneur) how did each role lead to the next?
So I started out working in fashion, so I spent about 10 years of my career working my way up from being a fashion intern to being a fashion assistant to being a stylist. I did that across different glossy magazines and worked with different stylists and newspapers. Then 6 or 7 years ago I was feeling a bit stuck and life seemed a bit repetitive and I wasn't 100% sure that what I was doing was fulfilling me. So I went freelance as a stylist and I started to learn more about sustainability and started to meet lots more sustainable businesses. So when I was a stylist I worked for a variety of different brands but then I also started my website called The Vendeur, and that was essentially to give me an avenue to write about all the amazing sustainable businesses that I was finding, and also talk about other ways that you can be sustainable like renting or repairing or resale and things like that because I'd been doing a lot of that sort of thing for years. I wanted to debunk myths about what it means to be sustainable. I guess through The Vendeur I was constantly being approached by lots of different sustainable businesses. Not just in fashion, but across wellness and lifestyle too. It was through speaking with these businesses that I started to see (especially during lockdown) that a lot of these people have pivoted from other industries, they were new to starting businesses. They understood their product, but they had no idea how social media worked, they had no idea who else worked in their industry, and who could help and support them. So I started doing a bit of that, connecting people, which was how The WIP was then born because I felt that what I was already doing was helping a few people, but I wanted to be able to do it on a bigger scale. As we've been talking about climate change recently, and we've been learning how little our (maybe) new PM cares about it compared to the economy, it just reinforces my opinion that we can't rely on governments and nations to legislate and do the right thing in time because we are running out of time. So I think it's more of a boots-on-the-ground type thing, and we just want to bring everyone together to talk to each other whilst they're doing it.
Did sustainability become important to you when emerging into the fashion industry? Or has it always been something you've cared about?
I think I did care about it as a kid but I never put it together that way at the time. When I was younger, I was concerned about environmental issues. I was the little girl who was telling her friends off for pointing their torches at the sky because I'd read about light pollution. I was going to environmental festivals and learning about vegetarianism and signing up to save animals from being tested on and things like that. I was kind of exposed to a few of these different things and I think in terms of my childhood, my parents lived quite sustainably I just didn't realise it. We only really bought second-hand, and it wasn't necessarily because we couldn't afford new clothes. We weren't poor, we didn't have loads but I think it was more of a choice on my parents' part because they preferred old stuff. My parents had antiques and would stop outside of houses that had skips in the driveway to go and ask if they could get in the skip which was a massive embarrassment to me! My dad also grew his vegetables in the garden and we had chickens, it was all things we did because we enjoyed them. It wasn't until later on when I started working in fashion, I fell into worse habits. You build that sort of peer pressure of going into an office with everyone and needing to have the latest item and just kind of not ever asking questions about where did this come from? was this any good or not? Then I started hearing more stories from people, about "well my t-shirt is organic cotton" then I thought okay well what's the difference then between organic and regular? Then I started to piece it together like that. Then I saw The True Cost movie then I realised that everything is wrong with the fashion industry, and I've been contributing to this. Then I thought, what am I gonna do? Am I gonna do something else? Or am I gonna try and make things better?
In a nutshell, could you please tell us what The WIP is?
We're a membership platform supporting sustainable SME's, entrepreneurs, and side hustlers to grow their positive impact businesses. We essentially offer community and learning resources. I guess we're partly trying to build some sort of sustainable business social media type network, but with an emphasis on flexible and empowering learning as well.
How did you grow your network of industry operators to where it is now and what made you choose this path?
Working in the fashion industry for so long. Part of doing that job is building connections, you have to build these relationships with people. I wouldn't necessarily lose interest in someone when they were no longer valuable to me in terms of being the PR of Prada or something. I tended to stay in touch with people. A lot of people went on to do different things and since leaving fashion I've been contacted by a lot of people who I used to work with who've said "oh my god, I've seen that you're doing this too, I'm doing this too now, I didn't wanna do my old job and I now I'm working more in sustainability and I'm starting this new business." I think it just organically happened that way. I'm constantly meeting new people, I do networking, I'm on LinkedIn a lot, and people are always referring other people to me and I think it's because of that I've been able to build up an address book.
What’s been the most common issue among consultees and what’s been your solution to this? Building off this – what’s your favourite/ most important tip for newcomers?
In general, people wanted help with visibility. So in terms of getting out there so they could reach their customer and make sales. Even that in itself though is a very broad-reaching thing so we would talk about social media, press and PR, content, how their website worked, whether or not their website was any good, and what their copy was like. I would say probably that was the number 1 thing, but it's still quite a broad issue. In terms of tips for start-ups, it depends on what sort of business you're starting but there's so much information out there that there is no excuse to not be sustainable. Just off the bat, you should have a really good idea of the impact your product or service is gonna have. Then you can start looking at ways that you can mitigate that. Try and choose the right people to work with as well. There are so many people out there who work in sustainability and have a amazing understanding of environmental and social impact, and are doing amazing things. It's worth finding those people and partnering with them and collaborating with them to ensure that the product/service you sell/provide is the best that it can be.
I’ve heard you started The WIP during lockdown – was this something you’d always to do?
I think it came out of nowhere because The Vendeur was the thing that I was working on as well as doing some freelance work. That was suiting my values and that was working. I think monetising a media platform is quite difficult so I was looking at ways to develop the business, but it wasn't until during lockdown that I started networking more. I got invites along to some digital networking groups and I met some new people, and ran my own workshops. Those are all things I never thought I'd do, I never thought I'd share my knowledge and experience, and run groups and things like that with people. I'm still learning as I go along and have to teach myself new things all the time. It's been a real voyage of discovery and continues to be.
As a busy lady, how do you divvy up your time between The WIP and The Vendeur? would you consider them equal priority?
I hoped they would be when I started this. Currently unfortunately they're not. I also have a 3-year-old son, so the time that I have to work is limited. Working around his schedule, and my partner's as well, as he works too. They're not equal at the moment, I try to give The Vendeur a few hours a month to put together a really good newsletter for our subscribers, which is something that in the future I'd like to build on. I would say the majority of my time goes into The WIP.
How did you incorporate sustainability into both of your businesses?
I mean I guess in terms of The Vendeur I just decided that I wanted to work with sustainable businesses and that it was going to be digital. I would say definitely with The WIP, a lot more consideration went into it. It's basically the grounding for everything that we do. Is this decision going to be low impact and accessible to people? That's the two questions I ask myself before doing anything. We wanted to be virtual first because that was the kind of best way to be. Especially coming out of a lockdown and wanting to reach lots of people so the website was built with that view of being low impact, so the design and the construction of the website have been as low impact for us and anyone who's on the website as well. This is done through a toggle on the bottom right-hand corner which says "lower impact mode." This is essentially no colour it's just black and white, it doesn't pull through any images so the loading speed and time of the web page is much lower and lighter. So you're getting a more eco-friendly experience I guess. We're also using green hosting servers. I switched to renewable energy at home which is where I spend most of my time working. We're gonna have some events coming up later on this year as well and all of those are being approached with the same attitude. How do we make this low impact how do we make this accessible? We're trying to bring all of that sustainable thinking through to anything else that we do as well.
Is The WIP a one-woman band or do you have any other team members?
The team was bigger when we were building the website. Everyone was freelance so we had a part-time UX designer, a developer who lives in China, my brand agency were in Perth and I had a brand strategist as well. There were quite a lot of us at that point. Currently it's just me who works full-time. We also have a freelance community manager.
What sort of content goes out to your subscribers and is it tailored? Do members get to choose what they receive or is it the same for everyone?
There is a certain amount of content on the website and people can basically pick and choose what they want. We essentially made it so that people could access content for free, some of it needs to be purchased additionally using tokens. So we have a token system and when every member re-subscribes every month, they get 2 free tokens. They can use these to purchase whatever they fancy. It might be a workshop on ethical manufacturing or maybe it's a template for a press release that they need to write themselves and send out. There are a lot of different things and we're trying to empower people to spend the money that they have on their business development and the time that they have on their business development.
Could you tell us about The WIP panel discussion with Akojo Market on ethical supply chains? What did you find most interesting?
That was a really good one actually. We had Natasha Buchler from Akojo Market who's the co-founder, who's been really supportive. Then she managed to bring on some amazing panellists who have their own ethical businesses. Two of them were run out of Africa and one of them was based in Europe. It was really interesting to learn about everything to do with the various nuances that come up when you're talking about ethical manufacturing. Because you're not just talking about working with sustainable fabric, you're talking about working with factories who are paying living wages, who are paying women equally to men, who are giving women equal opportunity, who are allowing their workers to unionise, who are maybe also supporting the wider community around that factorial workshop. Because in a lot of other parts of the world like in African countries and places like Bangladesh, a garment worker will support a large number of people with the money that they're making. So that needs to be taken into account when you think about how you're paying people, are you located locally to the people who work for you? That was a big one that I learnt from Temi who founded Eclectic Chique (a fashion and lifestyle brand.) She said that where they're based in Lagos, they only employ people who work close to the factory because the traffic in Lagos is insane and transport is really expensive for them. So it didn't make sense for them to pay someone a living wage and offer them flexible working hours when it was gonna take them 2 hours to get to work and cost them nearly an entire day's wage to get there. Understanding how things work on the ground really is so crucial to have as an ethical business. It's really difficult (I think, and a lot of businesses have told me as well) when you don't know who's making your clothes, jewellery etc, it's really difficult to be able to offer them good employment. There is no one-size-fits-all, you have to find the factory and the people that fit your business and also vice versa. Another good example of someone I met was the founder of a jewellery brand that's based in the UK, but the jewellery itself is made in Kenya, which is where she's from. It's called Yala Jewellery, she's a member and she's amazing. Her name's Audrey, she's taught me so much about loads of things. She visits her factories and she knows how long it takes her workers to walk to work, she knows how many dependents they have. She asks them, "how much do you want me to pay you for this?" which is a completely on-its-head way of doing business. But she's supporting people because that's why she started her business.
Is there a standout moment for you from either The WIP or The Vendeur so far?
It's so hard to choose because I'm constantly working with so many amazing brands. They're all so inspiring. It was cool to do a live recorded podcast panel discussion for a retailer that was amazing. I also got to interview the founder of Malaika, her name's Noella Coursaris Musunka, she's a fashion model but she's also founded this amazing non-profit girls' school that educates and empowers girls and communities in her home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo through a school, a community centre, and a comprehensive clean water program. During the same session, I also interviewed the founder of HURR - the rental platform for a big initiative they did to sponsor schoolgirls which was amazing. Probably also speaking to Sophie Slater from Birdsong from the podcast that I do for The Vendeur. That was exciting because she's quite a well-known name from the industry and she has a very wonderful way of looking at the future of the industry in general - ideas around de-growth and slowing things down and creating a positive impact company that serves the people that work for it. Another highlight was our recent panel discussion about Greenwashing in Fashion, hosted at members club Mortimer House in London. We sold out all the tickets and packed the space and the feedback was amazing, it felt great to bring people together for such a timely discussion.
Considering your belongings (clothing, homeware, technology etc.) would you consider yourself a minimalist or a maximalist?
I would say I'm probably in the middle cause I wouldn't class myself as either. I've accumulated stuff over the years. There are certain things that I like, such as beautiful books, I've got a soft spot for vintage clothes and stuff like that. I own less now than before I had my kid and before we went into lockdown because my life's changed. Previously when I was working in fashion, at the time I felt like I needed an extensive wardrobe. Now I know that I don't need all that stuff I just need that's comfortable and practical. I would say that we've got a house full of stuff, but we're still trying to get our lives together basically cause we're renovating at the moment.
What are your hobbies and what talents/ knowledge are you most proud of?
I try to do a bit of yoga when I can, and I really enjoy cooking - particularly cooking for others too. I really enjoy watching films as well and reading, they're kind of my main interests.
What's your favourite genre to read?
It's changed over the years, but recently I've been picking up a lot of self-help books, geared around business and entrepreneurialism. Even though I do enjoy fiction. I'd say the majority of the books I have on the go at the moment are non-fiction to do with running a business.
Do you have any exciting plans/ news you would like to share?
We are hosting our Sustainable Business Summit at The Lab E20 in Stratford London from 20th-22nd October. We are bringing The WIP's digital experience to life with an amazing line up of speakers and panellists, as well as workshops, co-working and networking and expert clinics. We encourage anyone working in an SME, or on a side hustle or just someone with an interest in sustainability and positive impact to come along.
What’s your favourite thing about living in London?
The culture, there's just so much going on and I love that you can eat pretty much any cuisine you want to and can be immersed in any culture that you want to, all in the same city. And the history, there's so much amazing history in London that's inspiring as well.
In a “what would ____ do” thought process, who would you think of?
There's a female founder called Sharmadean Reid, who founded WAH Nails and then went onto Beauty Stack and now The Stack World. She is just an inspiring female entrepreneur and she's doing so much for other women. She also just looks cool when she's doing it so I always refer to what would Sharmadean Reid do.
What’s your ultimate pick-me-up?
I think probably an episode of Drag race and some chocolate ice cream. Usually makes everything feel utterly stupid and frivolous and not like it's worth worrying about.
What’s your favourite product in your shower lineup?
I recently re-bought something that I used to use a lot and I hadn't used it in a few years and I saw it on offer and I was like... gonna treat myself. It's called Nuxe and it's a body/face/hair oil and it smells so lovely
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