Bare with me, as this is going to be a grim one. Why you ask? Because this year was an uphill battle with so much tumbling and falling. You know how I always want to share with you nothing but the truth, because I feel like it’s important to paint a realistic picture of what’s going on rather than simply brag about your victories. Defeats are important too, maybe even more so than triumphs, because they show the strength of your character, and through that they shine light on what’s important. If you’re willing to walk through fire even when you’re defeated, it better be for something that truly matters.
Being an entrepreneur is a challenging task. Finding yourself on the brink of doom, glaring into an endless black hole, trying to get to the other side of it, thinking 'how in the world am I supposed to cross that' can be terrifying. You know that the only way out is through, and as much as it horrifies you, the type of terror that robs you of the warmth of your blood, there’s something about the chilling melody of its mellow voice that draws you in like a moth to a flame, taunting and captivating.
While last year I was standing on top of the world, this year I faced the abyss. The year started really strong with so many opportunities ahead and for the first time in 10 years, I felt like I could take a breather. I really felt like we were going somewhere. I started expanding the team, onboarded new members and was thrilled for all the possibilities that lay ahead.
Early February, we were approached by BigMamma a chain of restaurants in London to design the uniforms for their new restaurant opening in Hamburg. I was over the moon, especially since BigMamma restaurants have been my go-to-place whenever I’m in London, tied to some of the happiest memories (including a very fun first date).
(Click here to see them in action!)
That month was great for us, as orders kept rolling in from all directions. My team and I were thrilled, as February is always a bit tricky. That same month we got an invitation by the UN to partner up with them for the launch of their Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network. I’m not gonna lie, it was a huge honor for us, seeing our work validated by the United Nations. In addition to that we have expanded our distribution to include 4 more wholesale accounts in the United States to the already existing network of 16 partners we had from last year. So February was a busy period for us, as was March.
Then April came and I was punched with curve balls left and right which little by little started to push me to the edge. That was the start of my descend into this all consuming black hole. It all started when Wolf & Badger cancelled our agreement due to the rigidness and ignorance of not just Macedonian customs, but surprisingly also our DHL partners who didn’t really want to find a way to make the partnership work, despite the fact that it would have benefited both parties. It was the first time that I got hit with the painful realization that sadly regardless of how hard I tried to make this work, in order to grow it I won’t be able to pull it off from Macedonia, despite my best efforts to do so. At least not at the scale I’ve envisioned it to be. The whole situation reminded me of a phrase, that’s been playing in my mind on repeat ever since.
“𝐘𝐨𝐮 𝐝𝐨𝐧’𝐭 𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐠𝐨𝐚𝐥𝐬, 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐟𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐬𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦𝐬”
My system was broken and I needed to do something about it. While trying to find a solution to a seemingly unsolvable situation, I realized that I can’t do it by myself. There were just so many things that needed immediate attention, but I was only one person on the business development side of things at least. Sure I have a team that I manage, but none of them could really help me when it came to scalling. And so there I was stuck at crossroads, not sure of what to do next.
So end of May, I decided to hire an intern again to help us with admin things. Bruised by past experiences, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this time around I came more prepared to the interviews. I learnt how to study their body language and analyze their responses, so I knew very quickly what to expect from every candidate. We hired Kris beginning of June and I couldn’t be happier with the decision. She was quick to understand what we did and during her time with us, she had helped us tremendously, which is why I was so saddened that I had to let her go in November.
June is always a bit slow for us, but this year it was a total shit show. Sales were very slow and I got back to that realization I first had back in April. I’ve hit my ceiling here and it became pretty obvious that if I wanted to make this grow further, I needed support and not just financially, but I had to surround myself with people who could advise me on the next steps to take, as I was so consumed by the terrifying darkness that it started choking me to the point where every decision I made felt wrong. Sadly I realized, I wasn’t able to find that in Macedonia, so with all that burden resting heavily on top of my shoulders, I started applying for business programs in the UK and Scandinavia. The process was just exhausting. Day in and day out I would send my pitch deck everywhere I could. I would spent countless of hours just focusing on that, reading and editing and emailing and interviewing. That was my life summed up during June and July.
One of the programs I applied for was HerTech in Oslo. I submitted my application on the 14th of July, just 1 day before the expiry date. A week after that I had an interview with the amazing team at HerTech and by the end of July, I was notified that I got into the program which started beginning of September. Everything was happening pretty quickly as I packed my bags, geared my team to hold down the fortress and moved to Oslo. And man, what a life changing decision that was. I realized that despite the fact that I’ve been running a business for 10 years now, there were so many things I still needed to learn. I mean sure I’ve mastered few segments and successfully juggled some balls, but this experience was and still is one of the most impactful and eyeopening events I’ve ever had going on in my life. The reason? I simply needed to go back to the basics and rethink everything we were doing. In theory, I always knew I had to do it at some point in time, but in practice it’s always more difficult finding the time to actually do it, when you’re stretched between doing so many things from customer service to design, finance, and everything in between. I realized I had developed an ADHD and what I needed the most was to focus and that focus for me became a torture. But, as the program started rolling out with sessions held by some of the most incredible people I had the pleasure of meeting, that burden became a little bit lighter to bear. It felt like I had finally found my tribe.
And then November hit and it all came to a screeching halt like never before. This was the darkest of the abyss for me both personally and professionally. It’s the point in time where I’ve literally touched the rock bottom. I’m usually always a positive person to a point of delusion. This attitude has allowed me to feel the light even when I couldn’t see it, but this month it became hard for me to even make a step, finding myself paralysed in an all consuming total darkness, just physically battered and exhausted. The stress levels were so high that I found myself loosing so much of my hair and my Tinnitus getting worse by the day. It kept me up at night, so I couldn’t really sleep. It was the lowest I’ve felt over the 10 years I’ve been running this business. I just couldn’t see the reason why I was doing this anymore. A minor mental breakdown made an appearance too, and even a simple conversation would lead to crying uncontrollably. I just couldn’t understand how and why this was happening. The heaviest weight for me to carry was the responsibility I felt towards the people who kept dreaming this dream with me, my amazing team. It nearly broke me.
It was for sure the most trialing period of my life. But while I was going through all of this, I learnt the value of sharing. You see, I’m more of a suffer-in-silence type of person. I don’t want to annoy people with my problems. I’ve always believed that my issues are mine and I should be the one who deals with them, but this month for whatever reason I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I started spilling it out to my sister. She was the one holding me from falling apart. What I came to understand was that years of not talking about how I felt with anyone were catching up to me and I ended up bleeding in places I would really rather not bleed in, like in front of a potential investor. Ohhh yeahhh, I did that. Luckily for me, this woman was so understanding, compassionate and supportive that she made me feel very safe and understood. I found solace in that. A tiny bit of hope glimmered which led me to make a step forward.
Things started getting back on track in December though, as I found myself going to networking events, meeting people and potential investors, working on my pitch and learning in general about the inns and outs of taking space. It’s a skill of its own, this taking space thing, but I do believe that practice makes perfect and my goal next year is to do exactly that, perfect it.
This year has definitely been a bumpy ride. It’s been a grim descend to the deepest and darkest parts of me. As of the moment of writing this I can say that I am in a much better place now. For how long? Who knows really. But in all seriousness, to all of those who are out there and reading this I felt like I owed this to you, sharing not just the good stuff that happens but the bad as well. Please understand that whatever you’re going through, it will pass and you’re never alone.
If you read all that, talking about my hardships must have worn you out. So let’s end this on a positive note shall we? There was one thing that remained constant this year for which I’m the most grateful for and that’s the immense selfless support I have received from my family, particularly my sister and her husband, the efforts done by my incredible team, as well as the community of women entrepreneurs I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, coming from all backgrounds. I feel so lucky and blessed to be surrounded with a network of people whose support I don’t take for granted.
Anyway, that was my year in a nutshell. Tomorrow we live to fight another day. Let’s never allow one small setback to break us. Keep on pushing.