In this blog, #YesSheCan speak to Gilly Seagrave. Starting with making a simple fashion accessory, Gilly actually empowered, emboldened and allowed a generation of female snowboarders to express themselves as women! This is really interesting blog!
How did EKA start?
Ok, get a cuppa, this might take a while……
I was snowboarding in my 20’s and a lot of my 30’s too, I probably would have done that forever (or as long as my body would allow!) in some form or another unless I’d started my little brand which made me realise that a life in ‘the real world’ could exist with a lot of the creativity and freedom that I’d enjoyed snowboarding. I also realised that I could get some financial gains that that I didn’t get from snowboarding. It’s a tough gig when everyone else is desperate to take your position and will maybe even do it for free!
I started EKA making headbands for the girls I met on the competition circuit, at the time
snowboard trends were super masculine and women would hide underneath baggy outerwear and basically try to ‘blend in’ to get some respect for their snowboard skills. I decided to make some headbands inspired by the 1920’s flapper girls and everyone seemed to love them, they had a crocheted flower on the side and some beading, nothing like what was on offer at the time.
The girls that felt like individuals and weren’t afraid to stand out (usually because they were s—t hot at snowboarding!) seemed to gravitate towards them because they were at last able to express that they weren’t ashamed of being a girl. Back then anything ‘girly’ was associated with snow bunnies, people that weren’t serious about the sport, just sort of ‘there’ on the side lines. I sold in some of the mountain boutiques and had a lovely friend make me an online store.
While I was still snowboarding I grew the brand enough to be able to spin both plates pretty easily, thanks to my FANTASTIC mum that has been my ‘right hand woman’ helping with fulfilment since the start. I don’t know where I’d be without her. Once things started really taking off with noths.com I was at a point in life that I really felt ready to give it 100% focus and see if I could make it a full time job. I am happy to say, it was the right choice, after a couple of years working out how best to deal with the massive growth in sales each winter (I earn about 90% of my income in 3 months of the year!!), I finally feel like we’ve cracked it and this year is all about growing sustainably, like growing my year round interiors collection and making sure we’re still able to provide our customers with a really special experience shopping from EKA.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I try to keep to a rough plan but then of course need to be flexible because you never know what the day will bring! I write a note the evening before of the most important 4-5 things to focus on getting done. This is on the desk to help me avoid procrastination.
A lot of my work is on Instagram and Facebook so distraction is my worst enemy, before I open a window to those I now write out a note of what I’m going in to do so that I don’t get drawn into a blackhole for half an hour!
Most of my work day is spent checking on orders and stock and if something is sold that’s out of stock or made to order I get those made. I have a meeting on zoom most days to check over my social media adverts and how they’re performing and to come up with more ideas for content and creative, I’m pretty new to this so it’s great to be learning something new, it also feels great to be able to attract my customers to my own site instead of relying on the bigger marketplaces to do that for me.
Lunchtime I usually go for a run or bike ride, afternoons are a race to get the last few jobs done and orders together that I need to post ,I pick my little girl up from daycare at about 4.30pm and we usually go to do the post run on the way back home.
Evenings… I’m supposed to ignore work and have quality time, I know this, sometimes I do, sometimes I can’t resist the urge to ‘just get this done’ … especially as I was re-designing the website, I really didn’t keep to my vow to only work in the daytime then, I’m still working on those boundaries!
How have you overcome setbacks?
Growing is tough, it means you need to reassess your situation and where you want to take the business and really be sure to keep your principles in mind when you make decisions. I had one ‘rule’ I wanted to stick to since the beginning, it was that I never wanted to work with China, my reasons are political ones and I don’t want to lecture anyone but I wanted to know that my company isn’t making money from dealing with a country that I don’t personally support the politics of.
boundaries on your principles need to be respected
I had a business partner a long while ago that said she needed me to back down on that, so pretty swiftly we parted ways, I’m pretty relaxed about most things and like to think I am accommodating and flexible when it’s needed, but boundaries on your principles need to be respected and I just wasn’t able to work together with someone that didn’t respect mine.
That was a challenge because she was a good friend and that also ultimately ended our friendship. Another ‘set back’ (or so it seemed at the time), was when sales went from through the roof in 2015 to then nose dived a bit in 2016 in comparison, I had estimated production numbers on the usual growth pattern of previous years and had a load of unsold stock at the end of Christmas 2016. The profit figures looked bleak, I had such a feeling of failure even though I’d actually had one of my best years yet for sales. The good thing is, I have a pretty timeless collection and things then sold over the next year and I was so relieved of the extra stock that was sitting ready to go when the early orders came in.
I feel like business is the same as life, sometimes you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture to notice all the great things that happen. If I look at the overall profit for 2-3 years it was great, that dip really was just a ‘blip’ and having cash in stock wasn’t such a bad thing! One tip I like to remember is – don’t get too carried away with micro managing things without seeing your 5 year plan too.
You have strong principles, what initivaties are you passionate about?
I work together with the Auroville Township in India (auroville.org) this partnership makes sustainable and ethical production of the collection possible, it also makes it possible for me to grow the business and focus on other parts of the work that just getting orders made, which is a very real problem for a lot of makers, it really feels like you need 3 pairs of hands sometimes.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed? I don’t know if I do have particular drive, other than I love creative thinking and seeing what I can achieve. I am very much in the mind that success is different for every person, I don’t like to get swept up in the whole ‘business success’ bandwagon where you boast about annual turnover or what your business has allowed you to buy. I want EKA to give me the immense feeling of pride and contentment that it has over the last few years, I feel like that is success to me and as long as I have the balance right and there aren’t too many super stressfully busy (and equally stressfully quiet) times then I’m on the right path! I like to also remember to make sure I notice all of my achievements along the way and celebrate them -because if you don’t no one else will! ; )
What are you thoughts on the masculine culture of snowboarding?
Don’t even get me started! – one thing that I still see in those sports is that there is always only space for one girl in the ranks of ‘best’ – it’s like they know they have to show support, but it will only ever be for the one single ‘best female’ in their minds, they have room in the movie or magazine for 10 men, but there will only ever be one girl, it kills me to still see that happening. It makes women competitive with one another for that coveted ‘spot’ and its a really toxic environment to be in. It’s a mans world in so many respects still and I guess I’m happy to be living in my little bubble here where I’m not exposed to that so much any more.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
Be the person you want to be in business, don’t get carried away with being what you think is expected, that will more often than not be a stereotype crafted by the patriarchy that plays into their version of how we should behave.
You’re able to have it all, but don’t do that if it doesn’t feel good for you, listen to your heart when making all decisions.
Don’t be a follower, carving a new way is harder but someone has to do it otherwise we will always follow the same old paths, even when they’re broken and need replacing!
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
This might sound a bit corny, but the fact that my mum made sure I knew I was allowed to make decisions based on what would make me happy allowed me to live the life I do now. Happiness isn’t about ‘earning it through suffering’ or having someone else ‘make you happy’ it’s something you need to ensure yourself, the rest is just icing on the cake.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?
I think the most basic thing is that women need to be supported to get back to work after having children because as far as I can see, in the UK most women I know have had to make enormous sacrifices once they’ve had children. We need to introduce a more flexible structure and childcare needs to be affordable and above all GOOD.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
There’s no need to be ‘one of the boys’ to get respect, if you are good at what you do feel confident that you are enough exactly the way you are, it’s time for change so that our daughters can grow up to be whoever they want to be, you can be that change…and don’t forget to hold the door open for other women to follow, we work best in supportive groups (that actually goes for men too, but let’s just focus on the re-balance first, then we can share our wisdom!)
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Don’t wait around for things to be perfect before you feel ready, that’s just self doubt making you procrastinate, just jump in with both feet, progress is better than perfect, you’ll get there and can tidy things up a bit along the way.
We LOVED this blog, thank you Gilly!! If you’d like to explore EKA please click here!