It is true what they say, running a business does age you. As one of the team here (my sister) has just stated
' Karen, it’s a bit like when people are first elected as new Presidents or Prime ministers, they start out looking fresh and starry-eyed, then a year in they have aged a lot! Well, that’s you’.
When I reflect on the photo above taken 5 years ago, I started on a journey with a very clear path, to be a messenger and spread the word that we simply must make this planet a better place, we need to make fundamental changes to the way we live, we must be more mindful of nature and all beings. Mmm, those jeans are much tighter now :(.
I had given up the corporate life. a lovely job, great income, lovely colleagues and reasonable stability to start Eco Guardian (as the business was called then). I chose fashion because it is equal to the oil industry for destroying this planet. Going from selling IT infrastructure to fashion was a huge step, fashion wasn’t really my thing, technology was. I just felt that what I was doing wasn’t doing anything at all to make a difference, and I needed to do something before it was too late to make a difference.
This is the hardest and most challenging thing I have ever done by a long shot. Particularly running a business that is trying to change people’s lifelong habits and opinions. I have never worked so hard. It has only been recently that I really understand how to handle the stress (most of the time). You must be mentally fit to run a company, you must be incredibly passionate, mentally tough and be prepared to really do the hard yards and have a supportive family. Cashflow is always a concern, you must always innovate or be left in the dust! People, well I have had the best ever support from many wonderful humans. My sister and partner have stuck by me through thick and thin. Angel investors have saved my vegetarian bacon on numerous occasions! I can tell that many people close to me wonder why on earth I am doing this. I could be working for someone else, earning a nice salary, working 32 hours a week, weekends off and holiday's abroad. Well, Dr Seuss's quote from The Lorax sums it up.
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."
I will never forget our first market. It was the Matakana Indie Market. (photo above). We had cues of people wanting to see our products. People hadn’t seen watches and eyewear made from wood before. It was one of the most memorable days of these past 5 years.
We moved from doing loads of markets to popping up at Ponsonby central regularly. This was a real winner for us and again gave us great hope. Our products started well in the wholesale world, then with the downturn in retail our sales really slowed down, yet when we set up our pop-up store things did go well. It took me a while to figure out it was because our store tells a complete story about ethical fashion and we were super passionate about getting our message out there.
We have seen so many copies of the products we sell over the years. Loads of people buy these cheap unethical brands. It is so disheartening however I must say in the last 6 months I have seen a big change in peoples awareness and attitudes about what is going on. When we first started selling Matt & Nat vegan bags we had to explain what a vegan bag was to so many people. Many didn’t want to buy the bags because they perceived leather as being a much better-quality material. 9 times out of 10 we did convince them to buy a vegan bag. There is now a huge shift towards cruelty-free fashion.
Businesses go through many transitions over time. Our latest was in late January this year. We set up an office and permanent store at The Lake House Arts Centre in Takapuna. We reside in a grand old 1800s home which was moved from Takapuna Beach in 1996 to reclaimed land which used to be an old dump until 1970. Our shop is located in old Navy barracks, moved onto the site in 2006. Not a retail location, however, there is a reason for our move to this unique spot. We are here to set up a charity called The Humanity Collective which will establish a sustainable living hub. It was also important to me that when you visit us you have a peaceful experience. We are just off the motorway, loads of parking, set in lovely peaceful grounds surround by heritage, art and organic coffee.
Thanks so much for your support over the last 5 years. Thanks for buying our beautiful products and thanks for spreading the word. You know what? We are starting to make a HUGE difference. I feel more positive than I ever have about this.