International Women’s Day: Zoe on Women in Business

Charlotte

This International Women’s Day we took a moment to catch up with our Director and founder, Zoe, to chat about the benefits, and struggles, of being a woman in business. We talk about starting a business as a new mum, the drive to create and allowing yourself the time to breathe.

Learn more about Zoe’s story here.

What did you do before Oscha came to life? 

I studied Social Anthropology at university, so you know, not many jobs come out of that! I worked as a researcher and at a Herbalists and then decided something more creative would suit me better. I tried my hand as a fine artist then as a shiatsu practitioner before having kids and starting Oscha.

What inspired you to start your own business? 

I saw that there was a gap in the market for design-led slings. There was a large group of potential customers who were SO enthusiastic and weren’t being listened to particularly. I wanted to meet that need for beautiful slings and at the same time my own need to be creative! I was also very keen to run an ethical business and knew by that point that I wanted to be my own boss. 

I wanted to meet that need for beautiful slings and at the same time my own need to be creative!

Is running your own business something you always wanted to do? 

When I was young I had a revelation that it was vital to be happy in your work since you spend so much of your life there. So I’ve always been willing to make changes and take risks to find something that I enjoyed. 

I found that I wasn’t happy being in corporate environments and sitting through mind-numbing meetings. I also found that I didn’t like feeling as if my time was not my own – I want to have the freedom to choose my own working hours etc. So I think this and having an inner drive to be more creative led me away from a normal career path.

I found working as a fine artist, although it allowed me to be creative, to be very lonely and I found the art world extremely frustrating (but we won’t go into that here!). I trained in shiatsu (acupressure massage) for 3 years and started up a business in Morningside called ‘The Shiatsu Place’ with a group of other practitioners. I loved working together with others to build something and I found I was good at, and enjoyed, the design, marketing and branding side of things.

I feel like all of this experience meant that, when I had the idea of Oscha, I was ready to do something about it. It’s certainly not what I imagined doing but I feel like all of my skills come into play and I love being able to shape the business and to work creatively with an enthusiastic team

You had 3 children in 16 months and started Oscha when they were all very young. How did you find starting a business with three young children?

I can’t describe how crazy and full-on that time was. I was just non stop between looking after the kids and the house, answering customer emails, running to the post office, quality checking wraps, designing weave orders and so on. My Dad started up the business with me so we were in it together trying to learn everything from scratch.

It was weird – people kept saying to me, ‘Don’t you just want to enjoy being a mother?’ ‘Don’t you want to wait until they’re older?’, but I felt this inner drive to push on with the business as if I didn’t have another choice.

I think because it was such a manic time anyway, with little rest, having the business on top of it all seemed to somehow fit in! 

I could go back in time, I would coax myself to slow down even 10% and nurture myself more.

We have many customers who are work at home mums, what is your best advice for them?

I would recommend following your passions all the way through, even if they don’t make sense to other people. Someone told me that I was ‘obsessed’ with slings and should calm it down, I’m so glad I let my interest flourish instead of cutting it off.

However, if I could go back in time, I would coax myself to slow down even 10% and nurture myself more. I totally burned myself out and feel like I’m still recovering from that.

Although my family were great at helping out there was only so much that they could do and my parents didn’t live nearby. My partner, who was a maths teacher at the time, and I didn’t have much to spare financially for help with the business or the kids for quite a while. On reflection, I wish I’d found a way to pay for even a little bit of help. We also waited too long to find premises and get in staff so I would say to others to be more confident with that.

What do you like best about running Oscha?

My absolute favourite thing is to create a design and see it woven, it’s just so satisfying and tangible! Sharing the designs with customers and seeing their enthusiasm is the cherry on top.

I really enjoy developing the business and working creatively with the team, especially around marketing and branding as well as developing our weave orders.

Maybe, because I was never part of the club, I can change the status quo without it being such an issue?

What is the most challenging aspect of being a female business owner? 

I found that I often wasn’t taken seriously, especially in the weaving industry, which is largely male-dominated. It was better after we were properly established, but to begin with, I would often ask my Dad or partner to take certain phone calls to make things happen and it did work. I was so determined to get things done that I was willing to play the game in this way but I do feel like it chips away at you. 

It’s well known that where a man is perceived as being assertive, in the same situation, a woman is seen as being aggressive. I ran into that numerous times. Again, it feels like you’ve got to play more of a game to get things done as a woman.

What is the biggest benefit of being a woman in a business environment? 

Maybe, because I was never part of the club, I can change the status quo without it being such an issue?

For instance, I like our meetings to be quick, energetic and to the point, there’s no time or room for posturing! 

Honestly, I’m not too sure of what the advantages are. The business has ended up being almost 90% female and I do appreciate the balance of nurturing and direct honesty that seems to come with that. There doesn’t feel like there’s much machismo game-playing going on, which I’ve observed in a lot of businesses.

Ask for help, take help. You don’t have to be Wonder Woman. 

Women, especially those in the creative industries, tend to undervalue their own work. Is this something you have had to struggle to overcome? 

I think that is true of women and of society in general (well because of society!). Women are expected to quietly manage and achieve a lot and not to ask for recognition. It’s a small signal of this but I still hear people regularly give a man a gold star for doing simple tasks around the home. There’s nothing wrong with that, but either give the women a pat on the back as well for doing the washing or don’t give it to anyone!

It is likely that this social training has had an impact on me and the fortunes of the company and it may also be my personality and being Scottish (where we tend to downplay our achievements, it’s not good to boast!). I can feel uncomfortable when people congratulate me on the business and I’ve never sought to play up my achievements. What I do say or do publicly I push myself to do for the good of the business and because I know that some people like to hear our story.

Societally men do tend to be raised to be out there and more confident so it is possible that a man in my position would have pushed things forward more. That feels quite sad to say!

What is the best advice you could give to a woman who’s interested in starting their own business? 

Ask for help, take help. You don’t have to be Wonder Woman. 

Be determined, confident and forge your own way.

Make sure you are passionate about what you do because starting up a business is one of the hardest things you can do and you can never switch off from it!

I would recommend following your passions all the way through, even if they don’t make sense to other people.

If you could read one book to motivate you what would it be? 

Not business related by very empowering for women – Wild Power by Alexandra Pope, Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer‎

Let us know your favourite female-run/owned companies!

Thought Clothing – they are a leader in the ethical fashion industry

All of the Sling Consultants out there (and those who run sling libraries) – amazing, supportive women who are really doing it for the love of it.

Hello Sunshine and Reese Witherspoon in general – I really appreciate what she’s done with her film company in changing the roles that women have been able to take on in the media – I think seeing women in centre stage and in a variety of roles (instead of the love interest or the mother) has had a huge impact societally.


We would love to hear your experiences in the comment section below and in our Facebook community group Clan Oscha!