Happy International Women’s Day
As we celebrate Happy International Women's Day, we speak with Brand Owner, Designer & Managing Director Rachel Riley to find out what female empowerment & 'girl power' means to her:
I am so lucky; I have always felt independent and am struggling to find many examples of when I have felt that being a woman has thwarted what I wanted to do. Maybe because I am so determined that I have never let any ‘put-downs’ that I have come across stand in my way, or because I am single-minded (my family would say ‘stubborn’) and carry on regardless.
I do have many instances of situations when it could have been a hindrance, but I have always felt empowered enough to overcome any bumps in the road. I do that with all difficult situations, and I find the best way to give myself stamina is to picture myself on a surfboard on the crest of a wave (I really don’t know where this came from, as I have never even tried surfing!). I feel like I am in a precarious, exciting and dangerous situation, but I also feel exhilarated and know I won’t fail. In fact, I see myself riding it out like a professional female surfer, with a strong beautiful body and a graceful physical and mental agility. It has nothing to do with knowledge or experience as I have none in this field, but it does give me the strength to know I am clever and agile.
My luck, like most luck, came by chance. I am a child of the sixties, so my Mum talked to me and my sister about ‘women’s lib’ although there was no bra-burning in our household! I expect my Mum would have liked to be liberated but the sign of the times meant she had to re-marry to find herself settled.
I suppose it gave me insight into what I would not want for my own life, and I understood that getting myself an education was the best way to feel independent. I wasn’t well equipped or prepped for my Cambridge entrance exam but I was lucky enough to have a question that I answered readily about Simone de Beauvoir’s book ‘The Second Sex’ (actually I hadn’t read it but even the title jarred with my teenage sense of equity and fairness so I had a lot to write about that!)
So, when I arrived at Cambridge with my hand-made wardrobe thinking I looked like I had stepped off the cover of Vogue Magazine I was surprised to see that women only made up 10% of the students there, even though I was at a women-only college.
Maybe it was studying Social Anthropology that made me excited to travel and yearn for adventure.
Or perhaps becoming a model made it as normal to get on a plane as to get on a bus as I was booked for photoshoots in different parts of the world. Have I ever felt threatened as a woman - only twice that I can think of (and one time it wasn’t necessarily to do with my gender). Have I always tried to ensure my physical safety, yes, as far as I can, and it has not prevented me from pursuing my dreams.
Here are my top tips:
- At school, when we were of an age to learn to drive, I was offered a course in ‘Motorcar Maintenance’ which I took up thinking I would never want to be in a position where I needed to ask anyone (especially a man) for help. It meant I was confident to change a tyre if necessary and could talk to a garage in a meaningful way, and not feel I was being taken advantage of.
- When I first left home as a student I enrolled myself in a ‘Personal Safety’ course at the local police station – it made me aware of avoiding situations where I might feel vulnerable and gave me skills in case I needed them.
- Good body language and feeling empowered as far as possible when in public places.
- Brushing aside personal remarks or making light of them so they don’t escalate.
- I never spoke about the subject specifically to my children (2 boys and 1 girl) – however, I made sure that all areas where equal to boys and girls, regardless of gender.
- Trying to move away from gender stereotypes in our household, my husband is a good cook and enjoys cooking whereas I think it’s a chore – he has always cooked for us and now my children are all able to cook seeing him as a role model here.
- Making sure my children know, and everyone in our work team, that opportunities are open to all and that nothing need stand in the way of their dreams.
- Walking the walk, as talking the talk doesn’t cut it for me!
- What does 'Girl Power' mean to you?
When my kids were small, we used to love singing along to the Spice Girls – in fact music is inspirational to me in many different circumstances. I am reminded of a song from my childhood ‘Anything you can do, I can do better…’ and ‘I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation…’ and other empowering lyrics.
- As a business owner what drives you the most?
I have only had one negative instance of sexism in the workplace otherwise I have found that treating people with respect and expecting the same is the best way to achieve what I want. I know I have a strong streak of perseverance and determination in my make-up. If I am told something is not possible, or encounter any other difficulties that knock me off-balance, it just makes me all the more determined to overcome that obstacle!
- What have been your proudest moments whilst running your business?
I feel proud that I felt strong enough to set up my business in the first place. Of course, I have had times of immense pride and satisfaction and also difficulties and challenges along the way, but I am pleased that I have the energy, enthusiasm and consistency to run my business with dogged determination for over 20 years. I am proud to provide employment and stability to my team members, and to do that with a smile on my face (mostly), a spring in my step, and to show my leadership skills while winning awards along the way
- Which female figures inspire you?
Business entrepreneurs such as Agnes B and Anya Hindmarch, who have set up and run successful businesses in fashion which is often thought of as being ephemeral and not taken seriously. I also look up to kind people who spend their lives helping others who experience difficulties, such as Mother Theresa.
- What quote resonates most with you?
I have quite a few that I use on a regular basis!
The Confucius saying, ‘wherever you go, go with all your heart’ which for me equates to being ‘in the present moment’ and not fighting or resisting what I cannot change. I also like ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it’ and ‘Strike while the irons hot’ and ‘Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today’. I also like ‘making the most of what we’ve got’ as it always makes me feel positive and constructive when there are things outside my control that I know I cannot change
- What inspires your creativity?
I’ve been asked that before and I think it is like love, it just surges up from within! However, I look around and see inspiration all around me, and to nurture creativity I love to look at books, films, archives, old magazines etc. There is nothing like seeing what has come before to see where we are going next, and a trip to an antiques fair or flea market will definitely make me come alive with design ideas!
- What drives you the most to succeed in business?
My team and my family, for me it is all about the personal reasons, so I feel a responsibility towards the people around me. Any achievement that comes to our business is shared with those that make it work, and I am only a small wheel in what I hope is a well-oiled machine!
- If you were to sum yourself up in 3 words what would they be?
That’s easy: reliable; creative; determined
- What advice would you give to women today launching their own business?
The most difficult part is starting, once you are launched the rest is all about putting the next foot in front of the other and making it work! Of course, there are things you won’t or can’t know, but it might be that you never need them anyway! Once you are on that path you can go as fast or slow as you like, but don’t be scared, hold on and enjoy the ride!
One final comment – I have never used the word ‘feminist’ as I have never felt the need to do so. It’s normal in my household and in my line of work for women and men to have equal value. I have always tried to bring out the best in everyone, for whatever their skillset which has nothing to do with gender.
One thing that I value in myself more than any other is my own independence, and again that has nothing to do with gender as I am sure I would value it equally if I was a man. I love that I can count on myself without feeling the need for anyone else. I know I would not appreciate to have to depend on or ask for assistance for anyone around me!
Happy International Women’s Day
March 8th, 2020