CEO Fashion enter ltd
What was your main motivation to carve your organisation with a social conscience?
Two things happened in my life which have influenced my approach to business. The first was that when I was four, my mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was admitted to a mental hospital. Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, she never came out. My Dad did a wonderful job keeping us all together because we could have ended up in care. That experience embedded in me that view that mental health is more important than anything. My mother could have been rich, sunning herself in Jamaica but without her mental health nothing would have made her happy.
The second event that influenced me was what happened to our business. My husband and I build up a Retro business together taking it to a decent turnover over a period of 10 years. During that time, I married him and had two children and a third on the way. But the whole thing was becoming too much for me and I couldn’t cope with everything. We decided to sell it and I approached our biggest competitor, I’ll call him S. I thought we could do a reciprocal good deal but was blindsided by my naiveté and the upshot of a long story was that he ripped us off and in 1999 we were left with nothing. Even our house was at risk. Initially I wanted to kneecap him but when I calmed down, I decided it was just money and went back to my original vows of mental health is more important and also vowed that I’d help others not to make the same mistakes as me!
How do you tackle the highs and the lows of running an organisation?
It’s a rollercoaster no matter what type of business you run. I often say to the staff keep your spirit level level, so it doesn’t matter how bad it gets you don’t lie and be able to look yourself in the mirror. You need to ask yourself, am I being fair, am I being rational?
I have a small circle of friends without whom I would never cope because I can always ring them and they let me sound off. My husband is supportive up to a point!
I have a Collie, a merle grey, called Charlie who needs a lot of walks and I love being outside. I also have a horse which I refuse to give up even though he bucked me off and left me with a broken hip, rib and arm but I still need to keep him.
What is the one book we should read, or piece of art we should encounter to better understand the world of social enterprise?
I went to the Tate Picasso exhibition in July 2018 which was themed “Love Fame and Tragedy”. I was struck by how few paintings there was of his ballerina wife Olga compared to his muses and how different Olga was compared to lovers such as Marie -Therese Walter -an athlete. Picasso had countless relationships with girlfriends, mistresses, muses and prostitutes, marrying only twice and couldn’t help feeling sorry for Olga.
To me his paintings portrayed dilemma – his Weeping Woman was quite haunting and reflected the stresses women go through especially with responsibilities of children. I see many such women like Olga in our Fashion Technology Academy who feel trapped in their lives protecting their children and keeping a family together. They become lost – they loose confidence. The skills that they learn in stitching in particular are therapeutic. They make garments for themselves and others and have a sense of worth.
One such woman is Flora. A child soldier from South Sudan who was in an arranged marriage; she has four sons and two of which are in hiding due to drug related incidents and gang warfare. We have no idea of the suffering these women have endured and are still enduring.
What are you interested in that most people aren’t and should be?
The healing powers of blue sky and green grass. You have to see the beauty of the little things and live in the present by learning from the past and have an eye to the future.
What project have you dreamed but not started yet?
I am really interested in mental health and think the current provisions are woefully inadequate. Recently I experienced this firsthand. The sector is seriously underfunded and the reliance of heavy anti-psychotic drugs and quick labelling of conditions is fundamentally wrong. I’ve seen young men and women just drugged up to be kept quiet and subdued
That’s why I want to create the Winnie Centre after my Mum. Winifred was her middle name. 40 years ago, was a different place with large grey mental health institutions keeping all mentally ill people locked in together. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest seemed so accurate. She had no support back then, no network of friends and had extensive electric shock treatment.
I believe that prevention is better than cure. Even now I hear GPs sometimes say they need to help themselves to get better but that is not the case. People are too ill to get up out of bed when the world feels a very dark place. People need an open space where they can build friendships and have somewhere safe to go when they choose.
The increase in mental health issues is really concerning. I worry for young men and women and feel just a sense of loss that the suicide rate continues to rise especially among young men. How sad to be in a place and be so desperate that you can see no way out?
What is the most ridiculous thing you have done in the name of Social Enterprise?
I don’t know if this is ridiculous but I looked pretty ridiculous! I shaved my hair off to support my friend’s daughter who had five years of chemotherapy and lost her hair and then lost her confidence. My husband thought I was mad and said I looked like an old man, but I never regretted it. I have made my husband suffer ever since for his lack of support however! In many ways it was quite liberating.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Just for fun – If someone made a film of your work, who would you ask to play you?
Tea or G and T?
G and T everytime!