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Five of Our Favourite Inspirational Women International Women's Day 2020

Five of Our Favourite Inspirational Women International Women's Day 2020

We are celebrating International Women’s Day 2020 by quizzing five of our favourite inspirational women with some questions about their experiences of being women in the 21st Century. We know them all personally and, in one way or another, they have helped and supported us on our journey so far, whether through brand collaborations, some friendly advice or camaraderie at an event.

Each of these women runs their own small business and all are actively trying to do something positive for others and for the planet. We have listed them in alphabetical order of surname, because trying to think of any other order

NADIA CHALFIN (NC)

Nadia is the founder of Nadia C, a vibrant, colourful brand that specialises in importing hand-painted Panama hats to the UK, bringing a splash of South American spirit to our shores. Each of the traditionally-crafted hats is hand-painted by a small community of artisan families in Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast and 70% of the profits from their sale go straight back into supporting the community.

ANWEN GREENAWAY (AG)

Anwen runs her own tailoring business - A.M. Greenaway Tailor & Shirtmaker - in Kingham in Oxfordshire and also leads GoodGym Oxford, an initiative that encourages people to get active and help their local community through a range of volunteering projects. Anwen is currently travelling in Peru, but is due to return to Oxfordshire next month.

JULIE MACKEN (JM) - PICTURED WITH HER DAUGHTER, NEVE

Julie is the Deputy Queen Bee and driving force behind Neve’s Bees, an Oxfordshire-based company that produces natural beauty products based on the raw materials extracted from their family-run apiary. She has 20 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry and established Neve’s Bees because she was so disillusioned with the poor quality and sometimes downright nasty ingredients in many mainstream skincare products.

DES SLABBERT (DS)

Des is the owner of eco-conscious summer clothing brand Salted. Born and raised South Africa, she now spends the majority of her time running her brand from Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. The Salted range is deliberately small and each classic design is durably crafted from natural fibres, so that the wearer can whole-heartedly embrace the slow fashion movement and wear it over and over again, before disposing of it responsibly to biodegrade naturally at the end of it’s long and happy life.

 

MOLLY STEVENSON (MS)

Molly is the founder of Littlemore Candle Company, which produces soy wax candles scented with essential oils and specially selected fragrances. Each one is also decorated with hand-harvested botanicals, a semi-precious crystal and a sprinkling of eco-friendly glitter, making it a little more than just a candle. Not content with simply making candles that look good, Molly is committed to being as eco-friendly as possible in her production processes too.

LET THE INTERROGATION COMMENCE!

Q1. NAME TWO WOMEN WHO INSPIRE YOU AND TELL US WHY?

NC - My Grandma was a massive inspiration to me, so strong, beautiful, always well turned out, no matter what was going on and always had a smile on her face! My second pick is Karren Brady, who has made a career in an extremely male-dominated arena and cleared the way for women in football. Her success is born of passion, vision and ambition.

AG - I don’t spend much time thinking about role models really, but I did admire how Michelle Obama took a role that she hadn’t asked for and used it to inspire others and to try to make the world a better place.

JM - One has to be my daughter, Neve, who, aged just 17, has a really clear idea of what she wants, stands up for what she believes in and can most definitely express her views, clearly and persuasively, to anyone – no matter what age or gender. A year or so ago, I went to a networking do and was ‘told off’ in a very patronising way by a man who told me I talked for too long and was boring. I spent the whole day feeling useless and rubbish at what I do. Later that evening, I recounted the story to Neve who simply said, “don’t be daft – it’s clearly his issue – you should have just told him to F*** Right Off!” Ok so maybe some etiquette refining required…but she had a point and made it well!

 At the moment, I think would also say Billie Eilish. OK, so she’s perhaps a little unhappy and maybe somewhat cynical for somebody so young, but I love the fact that she does what she wants to do. She wears clothes that make her feel good and refuses to let anyone objectify her. She dyes her hair colours she likes and wears make up to make a statement rather than to make her look “pretty”. I love that she has the confidence to do that!

DS - A difficult one for me to pin point two people. I’m in awe of women who juggle a career and family. There are many stylish women who have fantastic brands, careers and talent. For me it’s the women who offer care for the poor, ill and vulnerable who I most admire. Their work very rarely makes headlines for themselves individually, it’s usually under the banner of a charity, but without them whole communities would be without support. 

MS - My Mum: She has brought me up to be independent and strong minded, I believe that behind every strong woman is a strong mother! I also admire Holly Tucker & Sophie Cornish (I know that’s technically 3!!). They launched notonthehighstreet.com, which brings together thousands of independent businesses and was even awarded an MBE for services to small businesses. 

Q2. WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE THREE MAIN ISSUES FACING WOMEN IN MODERN SOCIETY?

NC - Gender equality, sexism and sexual harassment

AG - I think the biggest issue is lack of an equal work place. I know too many women who are ludicrously under-employed given their skills, knowledge, education and experience. Usually they have taken on whatever work will fit around their family. It’s shocking that in the 21st Century we are willing to dismiss women’s abilities throughout the years when their children are small when it would only take small changes to the work environment (which would benefit everyone) to keep their skills and benefit from their knowledge. 

JM - I do think things are getting better, but I still experience that ‘women should be pretty and do what they’re told’ mentality. I was walking our dog, Bella, in the park not so long ago. She has a tendency to lie down and roll over whenever she sees another dog. An older man approached us and, true to form, Bella did her thing. “Oh I’m sorry”, I said to the guy, “she’s not scared of you she’s just rather shy and subservient”. To which this guy, without any sign of jest said, “Yes, that’s good – just like a woman should be”. I think my jaw hit the ground!

DS - Juggling work and bringing up children, earning equal pay and being financially secure in retirement.

MS - Employment opportunities (it is estimated that women earn only one tenth of the worlds income), domestic abuse (the World Health Organisation estimates that, on a global level, 1 in 3 women experience domestic or sexual abuse) and gender inequality, which is of particular concern in developing countries. 

Q3. IN A SPEECH IN 1993 PRINCESS DIANA SAID “WE AS A SOCIETY OWE IT TO WOMEN TO CREATE A TRULY SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THEY TOO CAN GROW AND MOVE FORWARD”. WHICH INDIVIDUALS OR GROUPS MAKE YOU FEEL SUPPORTED AND EMPOWERED?

NC - I am so very lucky that I have the most amazing girlfriends, they all help out and support in their own way. I always feel truly blessed to have them.

AG - My younger sister is my biggest cheerleader and supporter. My parents still seem to have the mistaken belief that I can succeed at anything I turn my hand to.

DS - I belong to a group called discovHer which gives insight, knowledge and support for woman who are growing their businesses. There is always someone asking a question or sharing knowledge. It helps knowing I’m not alone and that other people have the same challenges solving problems and learning new skill sets if they are to run a successful business.

I try to do yoga 4 times per week and the classes are mainly with other women - I would be totally at sea without the calm and grounding a class can bring. 

MS - I have benefitted from the help of Independent Oxford, an organisation that supports and promotes independent businesses in Oxfordshire, and I am hugely grateful to my friends and family for encouraging my path and complimenting my successes. 

Q4. TELL US ABOUT A TIME WHEN YOU FELT THAT BEING A WOMAN PUT YOU AT A DISADVANTAGE.

NC - I worked in the football industry, before selling hats and in certain meetings I was definitely made to feel like the “woman” in the room.

AG - Sexism is depressingly common in some industries, but I’ve worked out that the only way to change people’s minds is to do a better job than they thought you could!

DS -  I always looked very young for my age and while in my 20’s it was very frustrating being dismissed as a teenager.

MS - Before I set up Littlemore Candle Co I spent some time working in bars and encountered some pretty rude and inappropriate behaviour from men during this time.

Q5. TELL US ABOUT A TIME WHEN DO YOU FELT THAT BEING A WOMAN GAVE YOU AN ADVANTAGE.

NC - On the flip side of my earlier comment, there were definite advantages to being a woman working in football.

AG - Almost never, to be honest. I don’t like to think of gender as an advantage or disadvantage - I just try to do the best I can at everything and trust that most people will judge on results not gender.

DS - Being young and female had a huge influence on being invited to some wonderful events and parties. This also lead to meeting some very interesting people, life long friends and valuable contacts. 

MS - On checking to a hotel during a trip to India a porter offered to carry my bag but did not extend the courtesy to my male friend! (I would have been happy to carry my own bags by the way…😊)

Q6. IF YOU COULD HAVE ONE SUPER POWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?

NC - To banish cancer, as there are too many people dying of this horrific disease.

AG - Some sort of anti-bullying wand. “If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.”

JM - To never worry about what I’ve done, or fear that something that will go wrong, or someone will try to catch me out – just to breeze through life feeling like everything and everyone is going is the right direction – Super Chill maybe! Rather like the potion Felix Felicitas in the Harry Potter books (We named our son ‘Felix’ which means happiness and Happy Vibes is one of our slogans – I want to enrobe myself in Happy Vibes 😊)

DS - Having healing hands that I could pass on to others, who could in turn pass it on to others…

MS - Superstrength: carrying wax or candles around the country is freaking heavy! Sometimes I wish I had become a jeweller :P

Q7. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE IN THE WORLD (THIS CAN BE AS BIG AS A COUNTRY OR AS SMALL AS YOUR FAVOURITE ARMCHAIR)?

NC - Cartagena, where my hats are painted. I have so many amazing memories of this place, it is so beautiful and most importantly, it’s warm!

AG - The top of Rhossili Down.

JM - Sitting in the flowers in our meadow on a warm summer’s evening – ideally with a glass of something cold.

DS - I absolutely treasure being at home by myself in total quiet. This of course does not happen all that often, as there are always comings and goings. 

MS - The Lake District

Q8. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG GIRLS TODAY TO HELP THEM BECOME STRONG, INDEPENDENT YOUNG WOMEN?

NC - Follow your dreams, whatever they may be, don’t listen to what anyone else says.

AG - Care less about what anyone else thinks of you and your life choices and go your own way. 

JM - Actually, my experience of young women today is that they are strong and independent – I think my advice would be don’t lose that! (but also don’t assume you need to be ‘better’ than a potential partner – be they male or female – equal and different is good and leads to a happy union in my experience – provided you find someone who’s not a bigot, patronising or a misogynist!)

DS - Never turn an opportunity down straight away. Always take time to consider where the path can lead. Everyone has an opinion, this doesn’t mean their opinion is right for you. Go with your gut instinct, as it never lets you down. 

MS -  Follow your hearts and your dreams, not the expected path, unless that's your dream.

Q9. OF ALL YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS, WHICH ONE MAKES YOU THE MOST PROUD?

NC - When I saw my hats in Fenwick Bond Street after only 10 months of setting up my business.

JM - Honestly, it’s probably having the life I always wanted – I have a nice husband, two great kids, a dog, 3 cats, 2 hens, 6 beehives and a wormery – and a huge garden and meadow and I spend my days running a business I believe in …and I have paid for my share of all this ‘stuff’ we now have.

DS - Other than bringing up our fabulous kind son, the renovating of our homes over the years has brought me great pride, as they have always been more successful than I imagined. Starting Salted in my 50’s is also an achievement.

MS - Getting through my first year in business. 

Q10. WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU IN 2020?

NC - To keep on growing

AG - To continue to build on the positive impact GoodGym has been having in Oxford communities.

JM - I started Neve’s Bees for many reasons – I think there’s a real gap in the market for truly natural skincare (made from ingredients you can actually read) and which looks, feels and smells at least as good as the mainstream brands.

…but one of my personal reasons for founding the business was to prove (to myself as much as anyone) that I can do this, that I can run a successful business which creates products people love, that provides a living for the other members of our hive (Nikki – our Designer Bee, Caroline – our Social Bee, Roger – our IT Bee, Imogen – our Worker Bee) and that gives back to wildlife through BBOWT (Berks, Bucks, Oxon Wildlife Trust). I’d really love a breakthrough in 2020 – we get a listing with Selfridges, we give a huge donation to save a species going extinct, we get endorsed by Greta… 😊

DS - I’m aiming to wholesale Salted in South Africa in 2020. 

MS - Developing our new products, expanding to larger scale events, collaborating with other female run businesses like Wild & Fine!

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