I set up my clothing line at the age of 23 following a bad spell in the London fashion industry resulting in me being diagnosed with an exhaustion breakdown. Returning to Cardiff and without borrowing a penny, I established my sustainable, contemporary and rebellious line, Xandra Jane.
Although miles ahead in sustainability, the city leaves fair room for improvement in the luxury fashion department. So although I had identified a regional gap in the market for my luxury gender-fluid streetwear, my presence as a brand was unheard of, with people overlooking our city entirely and seeking straight to London for premium brands.
The ‘twittersphere’ is a realm of opportunity, networking and wonder, but things can also get dark, very, very quickly. A couple of nights a week I choose to partake in a few friendly twitter chats forever ranging in topics. One, in particular, #EthicalHour, revolves around ethical businesses and consumerism and was hosting a discussion on awards in the industry. Before long, and with my thumbs typing furiously with excitement, I had put in my 2pence on self-nominating and the wonders it can do for brand awareness. Oh, what a minority I turned out to be.
Responses to my self-nominated twitter chat ranged from feeling like putting yourself forward detracts from the quality of the award or achievement, through to feeling as though the award would there on in be pointless if you had the audacity to blow your own trumpet. I had small digs flying my way in this digital battlefield that were trying to detract from my repertoire. But my answer was simply this: get over yourself!
My first award nomination came in the form of a tweet from an organisation that had noticed my emerging business and encouraged me to apply for the category Sustainability Champion. Two months later, I was shortlisted out of 60 applicants to stand amongst two others as a finalist for my efforts within sustainable fashion. The winner came down to a public vote going towards 70% of the outcome, and as I was hardly in the first month of trading, I missed out to an incredibly deserving gentleman who had worked many years to improve the standards of food catering within many business sectors.
However, my achievement didn’t stop there. A month later I was invited by Sustain Wales (Cynnal Cymru) to present a talk to industry professionals in St David’s Management Centre. For those unaware, this is the largest shopping complex in the capital. Although I had not formally won the award, the gap in the market for home grown luxury fashion brands, with a focus on ethics and eco-conscious consumerism, had been noticed and I was presented with this incredible opportunity. Pushing myself far out of my comfort zone, I delivered a PowerPoint presentation to a theatre-full about tailoring the fashion industry and the power of supply chains. I was the youngest person in the room.
I have always been a believer of creating your own luck and opportunity. Sitting on my haunches praying someone would stumble into my atelier and discover my talents was certainly never going to happen, unless they mistook my church room studio for a practicing house of God and navigated the locked doors and winding corridors. So following from the success of Sustain Wales Awards, and with my ‘Highly Commended’ plaque on the wall of my studio offering confidence, I opened my good friend Google and typed in a very basic search: “Awards in Wales” collecting information on any reputable ceremony I deemed suitable.
The prestigious Cardiff Life Awards is an annual event hosted by the biggest magazine publication in the city celebrating the best Cardiff has to offer. How I found myself sat at a table by myself in a ball gown feeling very out of sorts amongst teams of long-established businesses was again, thanks to self-nomination.
This time, little me had batted off hundreds of applicants to become a finalist in the New Business category – to cut a long story short, I lost out to a cheese company. Though when statistics have proven cheese to be more addictive than cocaine, again, they were very well deserved winners. For me, being able to network with Cardiff’s business giants was an incredible enough opportunity with my brand presented on a main-stage screen to a room of a thousand professionals.
I am very humble in what I do but I also value the importance of praising my hard efforts. I don’t work 16hour days for nothing, and what’s more, I run my company by myself. I do not have a business partner to pick me up when times are tough; I don’t have a financial advisor to point me in the smartest direction. Ultimately I make mistakes on this journey and must remember I’m trained in fashion design, not business; so when no one is around to pat me on the back and say “Well Done”, it’s time to build a bridge and get over myself, put myself forward for something that may otherwise be a missed opportunity.
And you know what? When I’m continuing to qualify as a finalist within a year of establishing my business, then damn, I must be doing something right and it’s a great sign to persevere. So give yourself a break and put yourself forward for something, because when you’re an undiscovered start up, who else will do it for you?
So what have I learnt? Great tips for entering any award or competition would be to compile your answers to the application in a word document. Often similar questions are asked across the board:–
“What have you achieved in X amount of time?”
“What defines you in this category?”
“What would winning mean for you/your business?”
Putting your answers in one place not only allows you to apply quicker time and time again, but you can see your growth and how far you have come. I always ask third parties to read over my answers or even answer for me, having an outsider’s perspective can often enrich your response and chances of being shortlisted, they notice qualities you may overlook.
Be sure to tweak your answers and tailor them to the host, maintain your social media platforms as they often research you in the run up to finalist announcements and always, always network at such events and maintain contacts. Supporting material is also a common request, so start to create a bank of hi-res imagery, even if you’re not immediately applying for anything, this is a great resource to have and dip into.
Before discovering the Cardiff Life Awards, I had already approached the magazine for a feature on my debut collection; perhaps this had put my foot in the door and made them notice me a little more in the run up to shortlisting applicants, perhaps it didn’t, but either way I not only secured an interview in their publication, I qualified as a finalist – so establishing this genuine and organic relationship with people (in particular, judges) can always be beneficial, though don’t hound them or push for something unnatural.
Finally, and most importantly, be happy for other people’s success and support them in their journey too, jealousy is a bitter pill and ultimately there will always be people better off and worse off than you. Find your footing, take things slowly and learn to get over yourself because opportunities are the other side of that bridge.
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