Recently a good friend of mine and I were sharing our New Year’s resolutions. Once she told me what she was planning, she also added that she felt like she was only now catching up to me and that I was ahead of my time.
This is because when we met over five years ago, I had been working in the sustainable and ethical fashion industry for quite a few years. I started working in that industry long before it was even remotely “mainstream”. I informed my friend all about the industry and really helped her to become aware of the true cost of the clothing she was buying, as well as how she could find brands that she wanted to support.
Also, back then, meditation and yoga were a big part of my life too and had been for many years. I knew the positive effects it had on my mental health and I would tell anyone who would listen. It wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it is now in Western culture. Can you remember a time when there wasn’t a yoga studio in every suburb?
And this is why my friend thinks I am ahead of my time. Her resolutions for 2021 are to do with living more simply and in tune with nature and reducing her impact on the environment. She recognises that I was not just talking about things that were not common years ago, but I was also making them a part of my everyday life.
A decade ago when I started working in the sustainable and ethical fashion industry, I had no friends or no connections in the industry. Although I had just finished studying fashion design, it wasn’t a subject that was taught or even mentioned in the curriculum. None of my fellow students were interested in it and none of my teachers knew anything about it. I literally had to start my research from scratch.
But I was so passionate about it that I educated myself. I volunteered with organisations and I took on research assignments. I even spent time in Europe to learn about their sustainable and ethical fashion industry, which was way ahead of Australia’s at that time.
In terms of work, I was working for companies that had sustainability and ethics at their heart, as well as working on starting my own. It was actually really hard in the beginning to find these companies as social enterprises were a very niche thing. But it was also empowering to know that I was at the forefront of massive changes to an entire industry. I believed in it so much and I knew that big changes were going to occur.
And they have. While the fashion industry is nowhere near perfect, there have certainly been a lot of developments in the last decade, including the call for more transparency from brands about their supply chains and more sustainable fashion brands emerging. It has been great to witness and be a part of.
This was all my very first foray into social entrepreneurship. And I have never looked back. My friends and family didn’t understand what I was doing then and they mostly still don’t. Even today I get questioned as to why I won’t take anyone’s money and don’t understand that I can’t support the work of all types of businesses. But ever since I learnt what social entrepreneurship was and why it is so important to the future of humanity and our planet, I haven’t looked back. I have only learnt who I can and can’t talk to it about.
“The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck.” – Bill Drayton
So this is just my reminder to all the other social entrepreneurs out there. Not everyone will be supportive of what you do. Not everyone will understand it or even want to try to understand it. And that can hurt when it is your close friends and family. People will try to put you down and tell you your idea is not going to work. They won’t believe that you can actually create change in the world.
But their opinions aren’t a reflection on you. As a social entrepreneur you are working on something that is different to the usual way of doing business. You are going into relatively new territory. But you don’t have anything to prove to others. All you have to remember is that your work will make a positive difference in the world.
So keep searching for role models who have gone before you and are an inspiration. Keep expanding your network to include other social entrepreneurs in any industry. Keep researching and educating yourself about the advantages and why we need to change the way we do business.
Eventually, social entrepreneurship will be the normal way of doing business and you can look back and be proud that you were ahead of your time too.