MAKING A DIFFERENCE, IMPACTING YOUNG LIVES

MAKING A DIFFERENCE, IMPACTING YOUNG LIVES

Does your child/nephew/niece/grandchild think they’re special, amazing, unique?

Do they truly know their worth?

Wherein does their IDENTITY lie?

Meet Lynette Snyman. This South African has made it her mission to positively impact the lives of as many children as possible. And testimonies like this one are irrefutable proof that she’s accomplishing her goal:

One children’s pastor from a church using the syllabus Lynette created forwarded a voice note from a parent about how a lesson had impacted her family. The lesson was about how God has made each of us in an amazing and wonderful way, and that He has great plans for our life. Each child was given a mirror and they had to decorate it with stickers, and write I AM AMAZING on the bottom. This pastor gave each child a mirror to give away to someone else.

The voice note from the mom said: ‘My younger daughter gave the mirror to her friend during school. She told me that at aftercare her friend kept taking the mirror out of her bag and saying over and over: “I am amazing.” She said she could see the excitement in her eyes.’ The mom went on to say: ‘This material that you have sourced carries so much power and it’s so amazing to see the children doing what they have learnt at children’s church.’ 

Want to know more? Read on…

Corporate look

Lynette, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be a Year 1-3 teacher.

Did you realise that dream?

Yes. However, after teaching for six years, I became restless. So I prayed and asked God what to do. I was at a real crossroads. I asked Him to send someone to offer me a job in the next ten days. A few days later my pastor asked me to come and ‘sort out the children’s ministry’. I nearly fainted!

I love how God answered your specific prayer! And you’ve been in children’s ministry ever since. Tell us about your work.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been teaching children for more than 20 years about Father God who loves them. At my church, where I’m a children’s pastor, we provide a place for 3- to 13-year-olds to encounter Jesus and experience His love and presence.

Part of my role as a children’s pastor is to source appropriate material to use in our children’s church. Because we live in South Africa, buying anything from the UK or USA is very expensive; and often, especially with the USA material, it has to be rewritten because our culture is very different. A few years ago I decided to write my own syllabus — without the help of Google. I wanted to make sure that it was all my own work, because I knew that I had to make it as a resource for not only my church but other churches too, across the world.

Ally grins

What was your LIGHTBULB moment?

Over the last 15 years I have had several prophetic words about writing material. So I knew it was in the pipeline. There are so many great, free children’s ministry resources available, but most of them teach children about God. Very few enable and encourage children to have a relationship with God.

I was looking for material that taught children about how God speaks to us, and then made listening to Him part of the lesson. I also wanted something that would work in a South African context, with a South African budget, and internationally. I remembered all the prophetic words and, encouraged and supported by my husband and son, decided to write my own.

Fit and fab

How did you know this was your calling, part of your purpose?

Besides all the prophetic words that I’d had over the years about writing, it is something that I enjoy, and it comes relatively easily to me.

How did you make the time in your busy schedule to create and write your unique, inspired syllabus?

The best thing I did was set aside one morning a week for writing. I would sit down after spending time with God and tackle whatever lessons I had to write for that day. I wasn’t allowed to pack up for the day until I had written my allotted number of lessons. When I got stuck, I prayed. And Holy Spirit always gave me ideas of what to write.

How do you promote your syllabus?

On my Living Clay website, which my very talented son built for me. I also promote it at conferences and workshops that a friend and I host. And some people hear about it from others and contact me.

Currently, my syllabus is being used by churches in South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.

 

Zumbalicious
Zumbalicious

Any journey highlights you’d like to share?

It’s been very humbling to get personal messages and photos from churches who are using my material, saying what a huge impact it is having on their children’s church. To think that something that I have written, with huge help from Holy Spirit, is having an impact not only in our church, but in several other churches, is very surreal.

One of the reviews on my website — a pastor’s recommendation — mentions that ‘kids with attention difficulties have engaged beautifully in this too‘.

Another children’s pastor told me about how initially the children struggled to write in their journals during ‘God Time’ (sitting quietly in God’s presence, listening to Him). One of the children didn’t want to participate at all, so she sat beside him and asked him how he was feeling and whether she could pray with him. After that, he wrote practically an entire page in his journal.

I was at a church recently where I was introduced as the lady who wrote all their lessons, and the children clapped for me. It was very sweet. I explained to the children that I didn’t write it alone — Holy Spirit helped me. I prayed before I planned each lesson set, and before I wrote each lesson. Whenever I got stuck I would say: ‘Holy Spirit, we need an idea here’, and soon enough an idea would pop into my head.

Were there particular moments when you had to take huge steps of faith?

Around the time I started writing the syllabus, another children’s pastor started inviting me to speak at workshops and conferences with her. That really was a huge step of faith for me. Now we plan and run the workshops and conferences together. Working with her has taught me how to jump out of the boat and walk on the water… and keep focussing on Jesus!

My current huge step of faith is trusting God to give me more opportunities to mentor and train others in the area of Children’s ministry. I feel that I have a wealth of experience and I would like to walk alongside and help others who are starting out or feeling a little stuck or overwhelmed. It is a difficult ministry to be in, as often you have to give up attending church with the rest of your family to do it. It can feel very lonely and isolating.

Zumbalicious

Steepest learning curve?

Let’s just say that there were some very stressful moments when my husband was trying to teach me new computer skills . . . However, my computer skills dramatically increased, so I’m grateful!

My current learning curve is how to market and sell my material. I have no business training, so I am having to figure things out as I go. It’s been really difficult ‘putting myself out there’ and promoting my syllabus. Charging people for my work doesn’t come naturally to me, although I understand that people put more value to something that they have paid for, and to create a good product costs money, because you need to pay for editing and illustrations, etcetera.

Any pearls of wisdom you’d like to share for those who aspire to make a difference or feel called to ministry?

Chat to people who are already doing what you’d like to do. Ask for help or direction when you need it. Pray and spend time with God to get His direction. Do whatever God gives you to do, even if it isn’t exactly what you had in mind to do. You never know what one thing will lead to.

Also, don’t try to be someone else. God has made you you, with your specific gifting and skill set, and even your wacky personality and traits. Work with what you’ve got, not what you wish you had.

As well as being a children’s pastor, syllabus creator/writer, wife, mother, conference and workshop speaker (do you sleep??) — I understand you volunteer with another pretty special ministry?

For the last ten years I have been fortunate enough to be part of a non-profit organisation called I am Special. It is staffed by volunteers who go into schools and tell children that Jesus loves them, and that God has a plan for their lives. We each have a specific school that we visit. Every Monday morning I spend 30 minutes in each of the six Grade 3 classes, and teach them about Jesus.

Many of the children at the school are from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s always so rewarding when the children are excited to see me and greet me with huge enthusiasm. I say: ‘Good morning, children’, and they reply with: ‘Good morning, I am Special’. The great thing about the name of the programme is that they are speaking the fact that they are special over themselves every time they say the name.

Ally and students

Moments that have ‘made your day’?

I got a voice note from a mom whose children come to our children’s church. She wanted to know which songs we did at church the previous Sunday, because her three-year-old son keeps singing this one song, and she doesn’t recognise it. After several messages back and forth, we finally found the right one. It’s good to know that what we do on a Sunday doesn’t stay at church, but goes home with the children.

One of my highlights is spending time with my ‘children’ when they are all grown up. Many of the children I ministered to when I first started are adults now, and some have started families of their own. I’m still ‘Aunty Lynette’ to them, and I feel honoured that they still want to connect with me.

Lynette, you are a dollop of pure sunshine and I’m honoured to know you and call you my good friend. May God continue to bless you mightily in this powerful work you do.

For anyone interested in Lynette’s amazing syllabus for children’s church, there’s a 3 for 2 SPECIAL on her Living Clay website — only until the end of November!

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Work with what you’ve got, not what you wish you had.

Pursue your passion, follow your heart.

You are unique, special, amazing!

 

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward or commission for promoting any of the people or businesses on my blog. I just want to inspire & motivate as many people as possible to fulfil their purpose & potential.

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

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The Maverick Moviemaker

The Maverick Moviemaker

Rule-breaker.  Moviemaker.  Maverick.

 

For 12 years, Bhavan Rajagopalan (39) from Chennai, India, has relentlessly pursued his dream of making a feature film.

After a few false starts with his first two original screenplays, Bhavan finally achieved his goal. This year, following almost four years of intense graft, his third feature screenplay – VIVESINI – will see the light. All because Bhavan made the decision to never give up.

I caught up with this intrepid writer/director/producer in August, shortly after his private screening at the Conway Hall in London. What follows is an in-depth interview that I’ve been breathlessly waiting to release. (It’s all about timing, darlings!) So brew a cuppa or grab a glass of what you fancy and settle into your sofa.

For ease of navigation, I’ve divided this interview into sections. If your time is limited, just click on a bulletpoint below to go directly to the subject of your choice.

Alternatively, to read the FULL INTERVIEW, just scroll down…

MAKING VIVESINI

– Convincing The Investors

– Breaking The Rules

– Pushing Through

– The Release!

– Why This Story?

TV Interview (no English subtitles, sorry! But it does include BEHIND-THE-SCENES CLIPS of acclaimed actor, NASSAR, as well as yours truly.)

BHAVAN’S JOURNEY

– How It All Began

– First Big Break 

– Paying His Dues

Corporate look

Making Vivesini: CONVINCING THE INVESTORS

Bhavan, how many potential investors did you approach?

Around 400-500. Out of which I got less than 20 people to put money in.

Wow. Your passion for this movie shines through. It’s clear that the people who have invested believe not just in the film but in you. Not only have you put a ton of your own money into Vivesini, but you’re a man of your word; you have made this movie despite Covid, a lack of funds and many stumbling blocks. And now you’re about to release it, ensuring that investors get their money back plus, hopefully, sizeable returns.

See that’s the tricky point here. Every filmmaker believes that they are going to make their film. But to convince another person – especially an investor – that they are going to see the end of the tunnel is the toughest part. I feel proud in that regard: that I was able to convince these 15 people to invest money – especially for a film that doesn’t have ‘stars’.

This is an independent film; and most indie films – not just in India but all over the world – don’t get completed. They’re shelved halfway through – mostly due to lack of funds, although there are other reasons. They don’t have someone who is willing to see the project through to the end over a few years if necessary, because nothing is holding them to it. They get bored, their passion for the project fizzles out, they lose interest.

Also: indie films are usually easy on budget, whereas Vivesini’s canvas is so big to be an indie film, it was even tougher to get investors. And most of them didn’t even believe that I could actually finish this extravagant script within the projected budget.

At the end of the day, there has to be some binding factor. I think I should be proud of that: I was that binding factor. Despite a lack of funds and no big names, I was able to transfer this confidence to my whole crew and cast.

What you’ve done, and what you’re accomplishing, is incredible. Did people tell you along the way: ‘It’s impossible. You shouldn’t even bother carrying on.’?

Yeah, sure. Mostly they said: ‘I don’t think this will work out.’

Because they saw other indie producers shelving their films?

Yes, sure. See, the way films are marketed in India is like this. The first and foremost thing potential investors ask is: who are the actors and who is the director? They want big names. Box Office names. So that they’re assured they’ll make a profit even before the film is released. They don’t even need to wait for box office returns, because the sale of the film to a distributor will usually give them a profit; the producers become ‘safe’. As soon as you sign a contract with an A-list actor, you’re good to go. But you have to finish the film. There are some directors who don’t manage to finish the film (after convincing the producer with these A-list actors in their project). Mainly because they haven’t budgeted correctly. As a result, they go way over budget and can’t afford to carry on. So that’s a problem with producers; they get carried away with A-list actors and end up spending more than what they were actually told.

But when you talk about a film without A-listers, or any kind of stars, then it’s going to be a big task – because you don’t know when it’s going to be released. There are hundreds and hundreds of unfinished Indie films just lying on shelves all over the world.

That’s very sad…

How did you manage to raise the crucial funding for post-production?

For five or six months I spent almost all my time looking for ‘closing’ funds (to complete post-production and produce the first full copy of the film, ready for distribution/exhibition). As I was getting nowhere, I had to slow down post-production work. During this time I was trying to get someone to be the Tamil voice of the British character, Alice, for dubbing. One of the audio engineers had been great in recommending other people for character dubbing, but the person for Alice was eluding us. Incidentally, there is a small role in the film, played by a child. His mother is an actress who speaks Tamil, so I thought maybe she would work well for ‘Tamil Alice’. I needed someone whose voice was strong; not a typical feminine voice. So I called this woman, and she was happy to do it – she’s very considerate in that way. She came in and did the dubbing really well.

At that time, I was asking everyone – everyone – for funds to help me complete the film. Without shame. Now, two or three weeks before this woman came into the studio, I’d asked for her help with funds. But she said she wasn’t sure; she didn’t think she wanted to invest in films. So, anyway, this was two or three weeks later, and she was in the studio with me, kindly doing the voice acting. And while she was recording, she was watching the footage pertaining to Alice’s scenes. Once she’d finished recording, she looked at me: her expression told me she was impressed with what she’d seen. And she told me that she would be speaking with her husband that night about funding for the movie. A week later, she came back to me with her husband and they invested the crucial funds.

But that’s not all. When I say ‘closing funds’, this is what I mean: Let’s say I needed 80 lakhs (approximately £87,000) to finish everything – I would not ask for 80 lakhs because it’s too much money to ask for in one go. So I would ask for only 5 lakhs, for example, so I can finish a certain amount.

So when this couple invested their portion, I was able to complete an integral part. Then I required another closing amount. And I found that as soon as people watched the trailer, things changed. People started believing in me. Because it looked like a proper film – an extravagant horror/thriller! Until that moment, they were all thinking: OK, this guy is doing something stupid. Let’s see what he does. But when they saw the trailer, the change in them was incredible. It was like they could see what I saw: a proper movie that you can actually go and watch at the cinema!

So this woman’s husband then put me on to his friend who’s a big shot in East Africa. He’s actually from a film background, but he hated films because his grandfather lost all his money in films – so he moved to a different industry and is doing really well. So I had a conference call with him, with the help of our mutual friend. But what he’d apparently told his friend – the husband who’d invested in my movie – was: ‘Listen, I’m not planning to invest in films. I saw the trailer, it’s very good but I don’t want to have anything to do with films.’

So I got on the call and spoke to this guy… And I told him I didn’t want him to invest in the film – because the moment you say ‘film’, it’s a gamble. I understood that. He did too. I just asked him to hear me out. And I proceeded to give him the same ‘speech’ I’d given hundreds of times already.

At the end of the call, he said he wanted to invest. Everything. Not just a part of the remaining funds, but everything.

I couldn’t believe it. A lot of people say they’ll invest but don’t. But this guy did. And it all happened because my audio engineer couldn’t find me a good option to do the Tamil voice of Alice.

There were several instances in the making of this film where something would elude me… and then I’d end up with something better than I’d hoped for.

Ally grins

Making Vivesini: BREAKING THE RULES

I understand your casting decision for the Protagonist/lead female actor breaks all the rules. Tell us how that came about.

I happened to sign a well-known (not A-list but a ‘name’) actor. She loved the script and she was studying anthropology at the time; I was thrilled because she was so close to the character. But a month before filming began, she pulled out. I think it was due to a better offer elsewhere, but I’m not sure. I’d prepared everything; we were almost ready to start filming and the protagonist had disappeared. So I found someone else. But I wasn’t happy, initially.

When I saw Kavya’s headshot, I thought: No. I can’t see this young woman in the role. But she insisted: she wanted to audition. I felt so bad! I told her not to come, because I knew I was going to just reject her; I didn’t want to waste her time. However, when she carried on insisting, I gave in and said she could send in a self tape. So she did.

Well, I was impressed. My co-writer was impressed. I showed the tape to my wife, to get an outside opinion; she was impressed too. But there was a problem. In Tamil cinema, the ‘look’ factor is considered a big thing. There is a certain type of look people expect when they watch a movie. In India, fair skin is a huge thing. Just like Caucasian people tanning themselves to look darker, bleaching over in India is a very big thing. So this particular young woman, Kavya, is not your typical ‘lead actress’ material. Usually dark-skinned female actors would be typecast in certain roles, restricting them to be a servant maid or a mother of a small child in the slums, in the ghetto – because Indian people associate dark skin with this. (They are not cast as higher/middle class, English-speaking, progressive, fashionable, learned women.)

Now hold on. Kavya is stunning! And talented! How could she not be considered a lead actress?

Exactly. It’s just the way people are. I mean, I was quite impressed with the audition, but when I told my team I wanted Kavya as the protagonist, they were not happy. I understand where they’re coming from, but after watching her audition, I’d changed my mind about her. She was phenomenal, and her dark skin perfectly suited my needs. Getting them to change their minds, though… I actually had a make-up man booked, and he did a couple of make-up tests with her. But every time he finished, he moaned: ‘Why do you want to do a film with this girl? Do you want this film to bomb? I have seen people – extras – who look fair and better.’

I wasn’t angry with him; I understood where he was coming from. It’s drummed into you from childhood; it’s part of our education and upbringing. His outlook. But he didn’t understand what I saw in terms of what I was trying to accomplish with the script. So I didn’t say anything. But I had to get a different make-up man because he would’ve remained prejudiced against her. Every time he made her up, he tried to make her look fair – I didn’t want that. (In fact, we actually dropped two shades down to make her look a little darker than she is.)

This film is breaking a lot of rules in a lot of senses. For example: how actresses are projected in the film. If you compare my film with any other Indian film, you’ll immediately see what I mean. In Indian cinema, you will not see a shabby female protagonist. Or a dark one who is from an upper middle class, progressive family. In typecasting, their characters will be found in ghettos.

What made you want to break the rules?

As a filmmaker I want to break clichés. You’ll see a lot of what I mean in Vivesini. I’m not happy with the way fair vs dark skin is being treated in India. Especially in cinema. Especially with women. Male protagonists can be dark and clumsy. They’re considered masculine. Female actors have to be clean, fair-skinned, and neatly dressed. Even if they roll on the ground, they have to look perfect. Especially their hair. I just can’t digest this. So finding this protagonist was a big thing for me because I had to convince a lot of my chief technicians and others that she was right for the part, and I think she did a very good job in the film. She’s believable and she portrayed the lead character, Shakthi, really well.

Why do you believe Vivesini will be considered a benchmark?

Because of the roles I’ve given to two foreign actors. Getting foreign actors to participate has been a highlight. It was a huge task because it involves a lot of processes. The way it usually works is this: when Caucasians are used in Indian cinema, they’re almost always in the roles of ‘puppets’, much like when Asians are used in Hollywood. Mainly because the producers over in India can’t always afford a proper ‘Hollywood’ actor; the cost would be way more than the Indian producer could afford. So what they would do is – because they can’t write a screenplay that has scope for an actual actor of foreign origin (as they won’t be able to afford one) – they will hire extras from Pondicherry. (It’s a French-dominated city, so there are lots of Caucasians – more Eastern Europeans or French people than Americans or Brits, but they work just fine because they’re merely ‘props’.) You’ll never see them portraying a serious role in an Indian film. So that’s why my movie is going to be considered a benchmark.

Would you say Vivesini is a ground-breaking movie?

I can’t say that, as it’s my film. Someone else could say it, but I definitely think my film will stand out as a benchmark film because I can say that with absolute certainty that there aren’t any films in India with foreign actors playing important, defining roles. I’m not only talking about ‘stars’; there aren’t any foreign actors. Because the films don’t allow them to have an additional language. The moment you bring in a foreign actor, the script has to have space for whatever language that actor speaks. (For example, I cannot have a Chinese or eastern European or African actor in the film unless the script demands it). Whereas Vivesini’s screenplay accommodates foreign actors – making it a transnational film.

I’ve borrowed that term from a professor: the head of the film department in the University of Michigan. He saw the film and really liked it. He said it’s the first transnational film from India.

What made you decide to make a transnational film? Wasn’t your task of producing your first feature film ‘impossible’ enough?

I wouldn’t consider this an impossible task. I’ve always known there would be hurdles. My approach to almost everything is to add additional challenges to it. So it seems impossible for someone from outside – getting foreign actors on board, with all the visa issues, etc. – but the script demanded it. Once you see the movie, you’ll understand. The influence of British progressive thinkers – their ideas – on India… There is a huge political debate happening in India, especially about the post-colonial effect. After watching the film, you’ll understand why I had to create an American character and an English character. It’s not just ‘for show’; they have distinct importance and meaning.

So you didn’t mean to go out and make a transnational film. You just intended to write a script, create a story, that meant something to you?

Correct. The script and the research work took me to these places; these characters were born out of the Journey I took while writing Vivesini.

Making Vivesini: PUSHING THROUGH

When you started producing Vivesini, what were your ‘release’ expectations?

We were planning for a December 2020 release. Production began in November 2019, and we’d planned to complete production by April/May 2020 and then spend five or six months on post-production. But Covid hit and messed with our plans, and we had to close down in March 2020. Those 1½ years were complete hell.

What were your lowest moments?

Although there were low moments, I never had the feeling that it was over, that I couldn’t complete the film, because I have always been very hopeful about this movie – positive I’d be able to see it through to completion and distribution. Even during times when I didn’t see solutions in front of me, I just kept telling myself: OK, it’ll be OK; just a few more days, or a few more months… and then eventually everything will ease out.

The lowest point was during Covid. It’s not like I’m on the cusp of the industry, swinging between theatre projection and OTT (streaming services like Netflix, etc.). Initially I was orthodox about the movie: I wanted it to be showcased in the cinema rather than go straight to TV. So I was taken aback with the situation where movies were moving from being released in the cinema to going straight to OTT. At one point I remember (this was at the beginning of Covid, mid-2020), I was talking about this with my friend, my co-writer, and I told him that even if I don’t make enough profit – even if I make a loss – I think I’m going to wait for theatres (cinemas) to open, so I can release Vivesini the ‘traditional’ way. I’m not planning to release this in OTT.

By the end of 2021 I’d jumped to the OTT side of the fence. I told myself, ‘Bloody hell, I’m not going to care about whether this film is released in cinemas or OTT, because investors are at my back and I have invested a great deal in this film myself (time and cash), and I have to recoup the money.’ So I started thinking like a producer.

But my co-writer, who knows me well, wasn’t convinced. Two months ago, I was frustrated and told him: ‘I’m so tired; I just want to sell this film and get the money back; I don’t even care if the film is released or not.’ And he said nothing. He just looked at me knowingly. Then, two weeks back, I repeated my statement but I added: ‘I don’t care if I get the money back – but I do want the recognition.’

He smiled at that and said he was going to tell me that two months ago, when I told him all I cared about was the money. ‘This is you, Bhavan,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you’ll be happy with just the money because you have been starving for this for the past twelve years!’ (I’ve been trying to make a feature film for the past twelve years.) So I think this moment is probably about receiving recognition, or about communicating with the people. You feel happy when your communication with people – getting your message across – is successful, isn’t it?

That makes sense, that you’re looking for recognition. Because the exciting part about completing your first movie – besides getting to be creative and doing what you love, of course – is that it makes producing your next movie easier. Right? Once you’ve been recognised in the industry – once you’ve made a name for yourself as someone who’s written, produced, directed, and got distribution for, a high-quality, commercial feature film – people realise they can rely on you. This means they’ll give their money to you to make another movie. And you’ll no longer have to spend months or years raising funds. Right?

Right.

Who has been your biggest support throughout all of this?

There are a couple of people who have practically supported me. One of them is my co-writer and mentor, Gajendran Kannan. He’s known me since I was 20/21. He’s been instrumental in a lot of instances in my life. Emotionally, intellectually, he’s been very supportive. And my wife. Without Saya, I would not have been able to finish this project. She took care of our child by sacrificing her corporate career to enable me to chase my dream. And she’s a huge encouragement to me.

Bhavan’s Journey: HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Now, Bhavan, I understand that you completed your Masters in Film Production at Canterbury Christchurch University in the UK in 2010 – where you wrote, produced and directed the short, powerful sci-fi drama, The Grey Area. Then your long, uphill journey began. You worked your way up from the bottom in the movie and ad industry, producing short films, corporate documentaries and commercials until you founded Laburnum Productions in 2019. But what I want to know is: has filmmaking always been your dream?

No. In India, when I was a child, I didn’t even know what a camera was. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I developed the secret ambition of doing something in cinema. Not out of a passion for moviemaking – but because it was flashy. It took me quite a few years, and Gajendran’s intervention, I would say, after I told him what I thought I was good at. At the age of twenty, it all started for me. It was then that I started making films.

So before that, what did you want to be?

I started writing stories when I was a young child, around ten years old. But they weren’t original. I mostly wrote down a film that I’d watched – and I’d make some small changes, like I would give the films different endings that suited me better.

I didn’t even know at the time that this thing existed in life where you had to achieve something. I was in my own world. Before this, I used to delude myself that I would be a cricketer.

Were you good at cricket?

I was not. That’s the sad part. I was so deluded. Ignorant. I actually believed that I would play for India. Without any practise. I enjoyed it, though. But looking back at it now, I think I must have been a complete hypocrite. I knew I couldn’t do certain things but I acted like I could; I acted like I could somehow circumvent things and achieve what I wanted. You can’t do that.

I think that’s part of my Indian upbringing: that you believe you can circumvent anything and reach the top – not in an honest way.

I’m laughing because that doesn’t sound like the Bhavan I know. That sounds very rose-tinted.

I was. I broke my rose-tinted glasses a long while back.

How did you meet your mentor – and co-writer of Vivesini – Gajendran Kannan?

As soon as I finished my college years and got my filmmaking/visual effects diploma, I started working for an advertising agency, taking care of the marketing. That’s where I met Gajendran. He was a part-time writer there. A lot of things opened up after talking to him. Just for someone to understand they’ve been deluding themselves about their skillset – you need some sort of suspended observation, some kind of intervention to see yourself from a different perspective.

Whenever some part of my brain would ask me: Are you really good at…? I would just lie to myself. To give an honest answer (No) would mean I had some sort of understanding about myself, which I didn’t. Once that’s opened up, you will start giving yourself honest answers. This makes your life much easier.

How did you and Gajendran end up working together?

I wouldn’t use that term. It’s always been a mentor/student relationship, but I don’t think he ever thought about it that way. He’s an amazing guy. He can mentor anyone. I’m not his only ‘student’. We have a similar wavelength and he’s seen so many people in his life who were similar to me. He has a way – he will kindle your abilities, your skillset. That’s what mentors do.

Bhavan’s Journey: FIRST BIG BREAK

After the ad agency and before CCCU in 2010, what were you doing?

I became assistant to the late K.V. Anand, an important, award-winning cinematographer and director in India. Apart from Tamil films, he did notable Bollywood films too.

How did that happen?

Gajendran had interviewed K.V. Anand, and – realising the man’s love of literature – thought he and I would be a good fit. He said I should make a short film; that was sure to impress K.V. Anand. (At that time, doing a short film was a big thing; not many people were doing it.) So I did, and I approached this great cinematographer and gave it to him to watch. He was just about to start work on his first feature film as a director, so the timing was great.

Well, he loved my film; he told me it’s very good. But he said: ‘I’m sorry but I can’t take you on. I already have five assistants. I really like your film but I just can’t take you on. I have no space for you. Why don’t you try other directors?’

I told him, ‘I really just want to work with you.’

So you killed one of the five assistants and took his place?

Oh the truth is much more interesting – and legal. At this point in my life, I was broke. And I’d lost hope because K.V. Anand had told me several times that he’s not going to take me on. So I took a job in a law firm, doing graphic design. I’d worked there for just five days when I received a call from my previous employer at the ad agency. His grandmother had passed away and he asked if I wanted to pay my respects. All my friends would be there.

So I got permission from the law firm, which was only three streets away from the house where I would need to go to pay my respects, and I started walking. I was just a few steps away from the entrance when I got a call. From K.V. Anand. He told me his film had need of a visual effects person, so if I was willing to start as his assistant – with low pay – I could have the job. And I could start that afternoon.

I was so excited! Too excited, in fact, to be going to a funeral. I entered the home, where everyone was sad and I could barely contain my exhilaration. My previous employer asked me what I was doing as a job, and I proudly answered: ‘Oh you don’t know? I’m K.V. Anand’s assistant.’

After paying my respects, I had to return to the law firm and apologetically resign. But they were so impressed with who my new employer was going to be, they were happy. I left there and went straight to K.V. Anand’s office and started on my first feature film.

How did you find working with K.V. Anand?

He was primarily a cinematographer, so I learnt a lot. See, I believe that you don’t actually really learn anything from a director. Because direction is more like a curating job. You need to have it in you. It’s a style. In those days people arrived with a clean slate. They’ll work for seven or eight films with the same director and then you will see similarities in the films they make because they would have got everything they learned from the director. But it doesn’t work that way nowadays. Basically, you now work with a director for contacts. If any person comes to work for me in the future as my assistant, I don’t believe he’ll learn anything from me. He’s just coming to me because I have a name, so he’ll get some contacts and that’s how he’ll grow. Whereas cinematography isn’t like that. You learn from them. It’s a process, a technique. So, with K.V. Anand I learned a lot with respect to cinematography, stylised lighting and aesthetics. Not directly from him but from his assistants; that’s how it works with these stalwarts. So I’m strong in that regard.

Bhavan’s Journey: PAYING HIS DUES

What part-time jobs have you had throughout your life?

I liked doing part-time jobs because I liked having cash in my hand and I didn’t like to ask my father for money. But for each part-time job I did, I would have to bunk college. So I would do it discreetly. I didn’t want my father – who was paying my tuition fees – to know that I was missing some studies because I was working part-time so I could get a couple hundred bucks.

After finishing my under graduation, I started at the ad agency; and I worked there for less than a year. That’s when I made my first short film and screened it at a few local festivals. That’s when I found my path. I realised my content was completely different to other short films. This was back in 2003/4. At that time, ‘short film’ meant: ‘give a social message’. That’s what short films were all about. Complicated emotions don’t come into it at all. My film was about a complex point in a guy’s life and I’d added a huge sexual taboo in one scene. It all started there. That’s why I was not able to get too excited about my first two feature film scripts – because they’re too conventional.

What made you decide to go to CCCU to do a one-year post-graduate degree?

I always wanted to pursue higher studies in films, ever since I finished my digital filmmaking diploma back in 2003. But it didn’t happen. I tried going to Australia in 2005, but it didn’t happen. Then, eventually, in 2008, I made a 60-minute film. That film got me a scholarship to CCCU.

That was a turning point in my life. Until then I’d always considered myself as someone useless with academics. I thought I could never step into an academic life because I don’t have the skillset. I have a lot of difficulty in understanding a lot of things. So, getting a scholarship from a prestigious university greatly boosted my confidence.

Did you make the 60-minute film in order to apply for a scholarship?

No. I’d already made the film when I decided to make my application. When they asked me to submit what I’d already done, I submitted this 60-minute film. And I got in. I was one of only eleven international scholarships. For me, that’s something I cannot digest.

Wow, that’s huge. Congratulations. What a validation. No one at CCCU knew who you were; you had no contacts or connections there. You simply got in on the merit of something you had created.

Yes! It gave me the assurance I needed to know that I’m not deluding myself about being a filmmaker. Because remember, I deluded myself about being a cricketer. That part always plays on my mind and makes me doubt my abilities. But this achievement gave me what I needed to realise I’m actually capable of making films.

How did you gather the funds to make the 60-minute film?

A little portion was funded by a friend. Another portion was crowd-funded. And I put in my own money for the rest.

After CCCU, upon returning to India, what was your plan?

I was not planning to immediately make films. I knew it would be tough and I had to earn money straight away. So I started a production house and created TV commercials and corporate videos. That was a win-win. I earned money and I built a showreel I could show to potential producers.

How did you land such prestigious clients? I see two or three big names among your ads.

It was a struggle. Especially since I was in Chennai, not Mumbai or Bangalore – where all the big shoots (films and ads) take place. Chennai is a very conventional, orthodox market. They don’t spend a lot of money. But I was not willing to move. I wanted to eventually make a film in Chennai, so I stayed there. And it ended up being a blessing in disguise because I was able to make some really big films for peanuts.

Every time I attempt something big, I tell myself I’m learning something: something is going to come out of this. And that’s actually what helped me finish Vivesini.

When people watch Vivesini, they will see the scale of the production. It does not look like an independent film; it appears to be a studio film. I got this practise – perseverance and stamina – from several years of doing small films. It has become second nature for me, like muscle memory. If I don’t have money, I won’t think: I can’t do it. I will find alternative ways to do it.

I have trained my crew like that over the past few years. My crew understands that I will push them. Someone who has worked with me will not work in the same way with another director because he knows how I work. We have shot in idiotic conditions and in unconventional ways, but we have done it.

Making Vivesini: THE RELEASE!

Bhavan, how are you feeling right now?

Relieved! After almost four years of struggle. We all took an unwelcome break during Covid – even though I filled my time with post-production work and editing on the film, as well as fundraising. But I’m relieved the movie is now ready to be exhibited. I can see how people react. I’ve already received fantastic feedback, so I’m positive about distribution.

Fantastic! When are you hoping to release Vivesini in India?

I’m aiming for November this year.

I understand you’re looking at film festivals, but they’re secondary. Your priority is releasing the film, right?

You know, just like a lot of plans changed due to Covid, my initial plan was different. In 2018, we were planning on going down the traditional Indian marketing route. i.e. You make an independent film, you take it to festivals, you get laurels on your poster (if your movie wins anything), and then you start selling your film. But what I realised is: festivals are a huge commercial industry now. Especially over the last five/six years. There are hundreds of film festivals across the globe. So even if you make a terrible film, you just have to literally pay some money and you’ll get laurels from quite a few of them. So that rang a bell for me. I decided I’d never get into that. If I submit my film to festivals, it will only be prestigious ones – ones where winning or even just being nominated matters. But even if I get a screening at one of these, I won’t use it for promoting my movie. Because people have become so diluted. Filmmakers can now say that their film got into the Cannes or Venice film festival. But if you look a little harder, you’ll see it’s not the Cannes, etc. festival – it’s the Cannes Tamil film festival, for example. For these reasons I decided to stay away from the general film festival circuit and market this film like a typical commercial film. And my marketing tactics are interesting ones.

So you’re marketing it in India first, but you have English subtitles throughout the movie – does this mean you aim to market it outside of India as well?

I am planning to market it outside of India, but that’s not a priority. The reason the English subtitles are there is: India has close to thirty languages; at least ten of these are used in the film industry. People living in Delhi don’t speak Tamil, so they won’t be able to understand my film. But in southern and northern parts of India, people speak English – so even though Tamil is not their language, they’ll be able to understand my film. And of course, film festivals need subtitles for foreign films.

OK, so India aside, what are your next steps? Will you take Vivesini to Netflix or Amazon Prime, for example, or do you want an international cinema release in another country, or worldwide?

That all depends on the offers that come in.

Making Vivesini: WHY THIS STORY?

This isn’t the first feature film you’ve written. What made you choose to produce your third screenplay, rather than the first two?

I strongly believe the story transports you somewhere. Whereas the other two screenplays didn’t have the energy to ‘pull’ me, to keep me committed to them, this one did. I’ve pitched all three scripts to several investors, but this one had a different energy. I just knew that with this one, even if no one decided to put money in, I would make it. It’s a story that can’t just sleep. It has to see the light. It’s probably the Vivesini energy that the films speaks of that has awakened.

Do you think, of the three screenplays, Vivesini has the best ‘draw’ to give you acclaim? Whereas the other two will definitely get: ‘Wow, what a fantastic writer, director… What great entertainment!’ But this one might afford you the recognition, the acclaim, you deserve?

Maybe. I really don’t think about acclaim, to be honest. I’m just happy I made the film. But let’s assume this film affords me some acclaim – I’m pretty sure the other two films would not. If I look at the three screenplays from a commercial standpoint, this one is the riskiest to make. By far. The other two are also commercial, but superficial. They would have given me a very safe ‘landing’. A safe footing. Especially being the first film. But fortunately it didn’t happen, and they didn’t have the energy to pull me in. Whereas this, being so deep – that’s probably why I put in so much effort.

Why did you choose to make a film about rationality?

Rationalism is important to me because I am a perfect example of what happens without it. See, until I was 33/34, I was a strong ‘believer’; I would do the most irrational things. I made horrible life decisions because I believed in such irrational things.

Because of the religion you were brought up in?

Religion is a fundamental reason, but I wouldn’t blame it completely. As a character I had a lot of beliefs in irrational things. For example I would take life decisions on irrational things, believing something would happen. It stemmed out of religious beliefs, yes, that’s the root of it.

This film is like a catharsis for me. I want to show people that if you start going behind rationality, you’ll end up on the better side.

From the age of 22/23 until I was 34, my only aim in life was to make a film. So each of my decisions in life would move towards that. ‘If I do this, then I think I will make a film.’ It doesn’t have any rational connection. It’s a belief.

Let’s say: ‘If I move from a house that’s not auspicious for me to a new house that is, things will click into place and I will probably make a film.’ That’s one of the reasons I moved house. Because I believed silly things like that would propel me to do a film.

Is it like superstition?

Yes, but no one tells you that. I was in a state of madness. When you’re a child, for example, you tell yourself you mustn’t walk on the cracks in the pavement. If you succeed in this, you will have a better chance of passing your exam. See? The only problem is: I believed this sort of thing as an adult. As a result, I ruined my life.

I’m looking at you, Bhavan, and I don’t see a life ruined. You have a beautiful, loving wife and a gorgeous daughter, and you’ve achieved your dream of making a movie. You’re fulfilling your passion. You may have taken a longer route than you would have liked, but I think there’s always a reason. Some people, and I’m including myself here, take a bit longer to get to success – because if they’d got to it sooner, they wouldn’t have been able to handle it. Do you think you’re one of those people?

You can say that. But I wouldn’t give that as a reason. I would just say: one should not be so irrational in life. And in India it’s partly because of the upbringing, the social pressure that’s been put on you. For example, in India you can tell your child: ‘Go pray to god that you’ll do well in your exams. And if you do, you’ll pay god ten bucks.’ That’s where it starts. And it just gets worse. Every decision you make in life: marriage, children, moving house, buying a car, taking your parent to the hospital or not taking them to the hospital… You become a mentally ill person.

I can see that this movie is not just a life achievement or a career achievement for you. It’s a mental achievement, an emotional and psychological achievement.

Yes, that’s the right way to put it. It is an emotional achievement. It has cleared away a lot of clogs in my head.

The fact that Vivesini got screened in the prestigious Conway Hall in front of the members of The Freethinker magazine, as well as The NSS and other academics and intellectuals, was really a defining moment for me in this journey. The reception and the feedback I received really gave that morale boost that I was searching for.

Emma Park  (Editor of The Freethinker) & Bhavan in conversation with the audience during the Vivesini private screening at the Conway Hall, London.

Watch Bhavan’s TV Interview below. (No English subtitles, sorry! But it does include BEHIND-THE-SCENES CLIPS of acclaimed actor, NASSAR, as well as yours truly.)

Bhavan, I see why so many people have been willing – are willing – to support you. Because they see who you are: a beautiful, talented, lovely human being who has created something, and they want to be a part of it. Wishing you every success with Vivesini and for everything that comes after.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

Never give up on your dream. Find a way to make it happen.

Break the rules!

BELIEVE you can do it.

Pursue your passion! 

 If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

NEXT MONTH on The Hopeaholic blog. . . 

Inspiration, motivation, hope. You’ll find it all here.

If you subscribe to my monthly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

LAST CHRISTMAS I GAVE YOU MY ART, LIFE & SOUL  ;-)

LAST CHRISTMAS I GAVE YOU MY ART, LIFE & SOUL ;-)

G Golding

Motherhood motivated Georgina Golding to quit her job as a designer with one of the largest soft toy companies in the UK and plunge into self-employment.

Even though she admits she struggles with imposter syndrome, Georgina excels at creating absolutely fantastic works of art — because everything she does comes from the heart.

Motherhood motivated Georgina Golding to quit her job as a designer with one of the largest soft toy companies in the UK and plunge into self-employment.

Even though she admits she struggles with imposter syndrome, Georgina excels at creating absolutely fantastic works of art — because everything she does comes from the heart.

G Golding

Art, Life & Soul Design and Illustration covers many types of graphic design, from logos and branding — particularly for start-ups — to advertising for local event companies and menus for pubs and restaurants.

Georgina also creates the most incredible pet portraits on commission. (She calls them PAWtraits. Isn’t that adorable?)

There being no end to this artist’s talents, Georgina has recently become an author as well, having written and illustrated her first children’s book.

Be inspired, and discover: Georgina’s gorgeous Christmas range.

PLUS: a BEAUTIFULLY ILLUSTRATED STORY for three- to eight-year-olds.

animal paintings
Cat Christmas card

Georgina, how did Art, Life & Soul come about?

I have always loved art, from the moment I could pick up a pencil, and I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a creative. I started Art, Life & Soul two years ago, when I left my last job as a soft toy designer at Keel Toys to look after my children. (I had to give up my job due to my husband working fulltime too and my having to drop off and pick up the kids from school.) As I had to continue working, I decided to start my own design business.

 

What was your lightbulb moment?

As a creative, lightbulb moments are a constant by learning from what does or doesn’t work.

Georgina, how did Art, Life & Soul come about?

I have always loved art, from the moment I could pick up a pencil, and I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a creative. I started Art, Life & Soul two years ago, when I left my last job as a soft toy designer at Keel Toys to look after my children. (I had to give up my job due to my husband working fulltime too and my having to drop off and pick up the kids from school.) As I had to continue working, I decided to start my own design business.

 

What was your lightbulb moment?

As a creative, lightbulb moments are a constant by learning from what does or doesn’t work.

Cat Christmas card

Were your start-up costs affordable?

Monthly running costs for my business can be expensive due to the cost of the subscriptions for the software programs. Starting up the business was expensive too. But I knew it was a matter of time before I had to leave my last job, so I started saving as soon as I could for the computer and software I needed.

 

As you’ve always known what you wanted to be, I’m guessing your studies and vocational choices reflected your passion?

Absolutely. I have a GNVQ, A level, BTEC National Diploma and a Degree in Illustration. I also worked for many years as a designer.

 

It’s Good To Be Able To Work My Own Hours.

Doggy mug

How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt?

COVID affected my business greatly as the pubs no longer needed work done and the event companies no longer needed advertising. I ended up having to change what I do, so I joined illustration groups on Facebook — which is where I found an author looking for an illustrator. This kept me afloat partially through the lockdown.

 

Do you miss the 9-5 job?

I miss working for my last company. I miss working with people in an office and sparring ideas between each other. But it’s good to be able to work my own hours.

 

What’s the toughest part about being your own boss?

I think one of the hardest things about being self-employed is that it’s no longer a nine-to-five job. I now get messages all times of the day and night.

How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt?

COVID affected my business greatly as the pubs no longer needed work done and the event companies no longer needed advertising. I ended up having to change what I do, so I joined illustration groups on Facebook — which is where I found an author looking for an illustrator. This kept me afloat partially through the lockdown.

 

Do you miss the 9-5 job?

I miss working for my last company. I miss working with people in an office and sparring ideas between each other. But it’s good to be able to work my own hours.

 

What’s the toughest part about being your own boss?

I think one of the hardest things about being self-employed is that it’s no longer a nine-to-five job. I now get messages all times of the day and night.

How do you promote your business?

Through word of mouth. And on Facebook and Instagram. I am lucky that when I started up I had a good circle of friends who helped pass the word around. This is still how I operate; my customers now pass their recommendations on.

 

Who has been your greatest support?

My husband is my greatest support; he has seen me through my highs and lows. And also, my customers. I have a great rapport with them, as well as many laughs. I think it’s good to build friendships with customers, along with trust.

 

Do any highlights stand out in your mind?

I’ve had so many amazing moments. But my favourite thing is seeing or hearing my customers’ responses to the finished products. I have a client who absolutely loves a poster I did for a Christmas sandwich. They use it every year! I love this.

Mug and coaster

I Am My Own Worst Critic.

Being a creative myself, I’m guessing you not only deeply experience the highs but also the lows. Can you tell me a little about your lowest moments and how you’ve managed to overcome them?

I get imposter syndrome. As a result, I am my own worst critic. A real pick-me-up was watching Adele the other day during her live show on TV, where she admitted she has imposter syndrome. It made me feel better about myself, because sometimes not feeling good enough can stop my progression.

I have moments where my anxiety can get bad if I have a lot on all at once. But the best thing I have found is to be honest with customers with regard to a realistic completion date. And being realistic with time management, juggling family time and work, is essential. I’ve also learnt to recognise the signs that tell me when I need a break and when I need to take time out.

 

Where do you find inspiration?

I follow many artists on Instagram and Facebook who inspire me.

 

Best advice you’ve been given?

To take care of mental health when needed and take a break.

Being a creative myself, I’m guessing you not only deeply experience the highs but also the lows. Can you tell me a little about your lowest moments and how you’ve managed to overcome them?

I get imposter syndrome. As a result, I am my own worst critic. A real pick-me-up was watching Adele the other day during her live show on TV, where she admitted she has imposter syndrome. It made me feel better about myself, because sometimes not feeling good enough can stop my progression.

I have moments where my anxiety can get bad if I have a lot on all at once. But the best thing I have found is to be honest with customers with regard to a realistic completion date. And being realistic with time management, juggling family time and work, is essential.

I’ve also learnt to recognise the signs that tell me when I need a break and when I need to take time out.

Where do you find inspiration?

I follow many artists on Instagram and Facebook who inspire me.

 

Best advice you’ve been given?

To take care of mental health when needed and take a break.

What would you have done differently?

I don’t think I would have done anything differently. All of my journey has been part of an important learning process.

 

What was your steepest learning curve? The most difficult aspect to get your head around?

Self assessments! All of the financial stuff baffles me. Luckily my husband is an accountant, so he helps me with this. We make a good team.

 

Any wise words for people struggling with that same aspect?

Marry an accountant! Haha.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Lots! At the top of my list: time management, get word out there, and be confident in yourself. And push past things that hold you back.

Wolf collection
Woodland wander

An Easy Read with Strong Morals

Your picture book, Wander in the Wild Wood, has had FABULOUS reviews. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Wander in the Wild Wood is a 32-page book for early readers who love rhyming and brightly coloured illustrations. It is an easy read with strong morals about kindness, mindfulness and the importance of listening.

The story follows Wolf pup, who gets lost in the snowy, dark wood. On his journey he discovers that not all is as it first seems.

A great story with a winter theme — perfect for three- to eight-year-olds and fans of Julia Donaldson’s The GruffaloWander in the Wild Wood is only £6.99 (excl. p&p). You can order it via a private message on my Facebook business page, or on Instagram.

 

What would be a perfect gift to accompany the book?

The WOLF PUP soft toy is a big hit, as well as the cute bookmark.

Your picture book, Wander in the Wild Wood, has had FABULOUS reviews. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Wander in the Wild Wood is a 32-page book for early readers who love rhyming and brightly coloured illustrations. It is an easy read with strong morals about kindness, mindfulness and the importance of listening.

The story follows Wolf pup, who gets lost in the snowy, dark wood. On his journey he discovers that not all is as it first seems.

A great story with a winter theme — perfect for three- to eight-year-olds and fans of Julia Donaldson’s The GruffaloWander in the Wild Wood is only £6.99 (excl. p&p). You can order it via a private message on my Facebook business page, or on Instagram.

 

What would be a perfect gift to accompany the book?

The WOLF PUP soft toy is a big hit, as well as the cute bookmark.

Woodland wander

An Easy Read with Strong Morals

What are your future plans?

I would obviously like to grow my business. My true dream is to get my books professionally published or continue to self publish but hit a wider audience.

 

One last thing. 25 December is one week away. Tell us about your Christmas collection.

I have a varied Christmas range, which includes Elf Packs, Christmas cards, cute animal mugs and coasters, and ‘pawtraits’.

 

Sounds like some last-minute shopping is in order! For my UK readers: you still have time to make a Christmas purchase from Art, Life & Soul. Why not pop onto Georgina’s Instagram / Facebook page today?

Georgina, it was a pleasure to interview you. Thank you for your time!

childrens book

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

YOU’RE NOT ALONE. EVEN ADELE HAS IMPOSTER SYNDROME.

SEE YOUR JOURNEY AS A LEARNING PROCESS

WORK YOUR PASSION

SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESS

PUSH PAST THINGS THAT HOLD YOU BACK

TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. Having bought something from each company, I just can’t help but LOVE these brands and want the world to know about them.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

COMING UP on The Hopeaholic blog . . .

I’m taking a break for the Christmas holidays, but I look forward to seeing you back here in 2022. January will be all about: New Year, New You! I’ll be bringing you inspirational INTERNATIONAL interviews with three fabulous women and one highly motivational couple. As well as entrepreneurship, we’ll cover health & fitness, mind & body and self-improvement.

Until then, take care of yourselves and each other.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

O LITTLE HOUSE OF KALART, HOW BRIGHTLY YOU DO BLING!

O LITTLE HOUSE OF KALART, HOW BRIGHTLY YOU DO BLING!

Arathi Rajagopalan

HOUSE OF KALART — BE BOLDLY YOU

 

House of Kalart (HoK) is a premium fashion jewellery label that exhibits global aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.

Arathi Rajagopalan, the designer behind House of Kalart jewellery, has been inspired by arts, crafts and fashion since childhood.

She says, ‘At HoK we are inspired by various art forms, and we marry them with metalsmithing to create bold and beautiful jewellery. Each piece is a product of a beautifully woven story.

 

 

I have to say, I LOVE Arathi’s little masterpieces. That’s how I think of them. Every time I wear a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings from HoK, I feel glamorous. (Can you tell I’m a huge fan?)

 

HOUSE OF KALART — BE BOLDLY YOU

 

House of Kalart (HoK) is a premium fashion jewellery label that exhibits global aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.

Arathi Rajagopalan, the designer behind House of Kalart jewellery, has been inspired by arts, crafts and fashion since childhood.

She says, ‘At HoK we are inspired by various art forms, and we marry them with metalsmithing to create bold and beautiful jewellery. Each piece is a product of a beautifully woven story.

 

 

I have to say, I LOVE Arathi’s little masterpieces. That’s how I think of them. Every time I wear a necklace or bracelet or pair of earrings from HoK, I feel glamorous. (Can you tell I’m a huge fan?)

 

Arathi Rajagopalan

 

Arathi, let’s dive right in. What makes HoK special? 

Every person has a unique story to tell. At House of Kalart, we bring out the spirit of each story and showcase it through our products and services. Avant-garde jewellery inspired by arts & crafts around the world for the quintessentially free-spirited woman with a zest for life.

We aim to provide a holistic fashion experience for the bold and dramatic women all around the world.

 

Were your start-up costs affordable? 

HoK is a bootstrapped business. I took a bit from my savings, and my mother (my business partner) invested a bit. I may not be able to scale up fast, because of limited funds, however we have been growing gradually and I am happy with it.

 

Was your age, gender, or lack of a university degree a hurdle in any way? 

No, none of these have ever been a hurdle. I have mostly been able to do what I have wanted to do.

 

fairy on moon
multicolour earrings

Did your business grow out of an inherent desire to create? 

Absolutely. As a child, I’d always been fascinated by arts and crafts. My inspiration was my aunt, who taught me different forms of crafts, such as glass painting, origami, and hot wax painting, during my summer vacations.

I would constantly draw designs in my school books, and I developed an interest in jewellery during my study of fashion design. This led me to combine two of my passions — art and jewellery — which became a stepping stone to my career.

Colours and textures not only inspire me, they also instigate a play of design in my head. To physically touch, hold, and add character to, something that was just an idea brings me immense joy. I take pride in personally hand painting or embellishing each piece.

Did your business grow out of an inherent desire to create? 

Absolutely. As a child, I’d always been fascinated by arts and crafts. My inspiration was my aunt, who taught me different forms of crafts, such as glass painting, origami, and hot wax painting, during my summer vacations.

I would constantly draw designs in my school books, and I developed an interest in jewellery during my study of fashion design. This led me to combine two of my passions — art and jewellery — which became a stepping stone to my career.

Colours and textures not only inspire me, they also instigate a play of design in my head. To physically touch, hold, and add character to, something that was just an idea brings me immense joy. I take pride in personally hand painting or embellishing each piece.

multicolour earrings

When did you officially start your business? 

HoK was established in Chennai, India, in September 2017, and we started selling from February 2018.

 

Is your mother a ‘silent partner’? 

My mother is actually the numbers woman, and I handle the rest.

The brand name, Kalart, is a combination of both our names: Kala and Arathi (aka Art). Our names also mean ‘art’, which is what our products are all about.

 

Is House of Kalart your fulltime occupation? 

Yes. However, I do freelance as a costume designer for movies — but only for a friend who is a director. We recently worked on our first commercial feature film, which is scheduled for a 2022 release.

 

handpainted
cubic zirconia earrings

What was your lightbulb moment? The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business. 

The lightbulb moment happened during a conversation with my former boss. He mentioned that he wanted to start his own business; but due to family responsibilities he was unable to, and so he was encouraging his wife to do something.

This got me thinking. I did not want to get to my thirties and say the same thing. I wanted to try at least once. I spoke to my parents the next day and quit my job.

When I quit, I only knew I wanted to do something with arts and crafts, and probably jewellery, because I was more interested in jewellery than apparels.

The Plunge Into Self-Employment Was Exciting

What was your lightbulb moment? The moment you thought of potentially starting up a business. 

The lightbulb moment happened during a conversation with my former boss. He mentioned that he wanted to start his own business; but due to family responsibilities he was unable to, and so he was encouraging his wife to do something.

This got me thinking. I did not want to get to my thirties and say the same thing. I wanted to try at least once. I spoke to my parents the next day and quit my job.

When I quit, I only knew I wanted to do something with arts and crafts, and probably jewellery, because I was more interested in jewellery than apparels.

The Plunge Into Self-Employment Was Exciting

cubic zirconia earrings

How scary was the plunge into working for yourself? 

It was actually pretty exciting. Like most creative people, I hate to follow a routine; the best part of working in my entrepreneurial venture is that every day is different. One day it’s all about designing, sourcing, and so on, while other days are all about handling accounts and other administrative work. Some days are all about planning marketing, social media, my calendar, events and networking. I absolutely don’t miss the monotony of corporate life.

 

Who has been your greatest support? 

My family has been pretty supportive and my networking group has also been a boon.

glitzy ring
mermaid pendant

Tell me about your journey from that lightbulb moment to the creation of HoK. 

After I quit my job it took eight years before I could start ‘House of Kalart’. I worked with a few local artisans to create quirky lifestyle products. Simultaneously I also taught myself to finish beaded necklaces and earrings by watching YouTube videos. I started selling to family and friends, and to the public at exhibitions, under the brand name ‘Papillon’.

However, the designer in me was not satisfied. My mind kept coming back to the same question: ‘How can I bring arts, crafts and metal together to make premium art jewellery?’ So I went and enrolled myself in a goldsmithing course. This helped me understand the manufacturing process. It also better enabled me to design, and to explain the designs and techniques to artisans.

Through Papillon, I was able to feel the pulse of the jewellery market. It was a new experience after working in a corporate job. Papillon was driven by what the market wanted, whereas when I started House of Kalart, I was so passionate about it that it was driven from a design perspective — and I did not get customer validation done. Later, I realised my mistake and went back to the successful methods I’d followed with Papillon.

Tell me about your journey from that lightbulb moment to the creation of HoK. 

After I quit my job it took eight years before I could start ‘House of Kalart’. I worked with a few local artisans to create quirky lifestyle products. Simultaneously I also taught myself to finish beaded necklaces and earrings by watching YouTube videos. I started selling to family and friends, and to the public at exhibitions, under the brand name ‘Papillon’.

However, the designer in me was not satisfied. My mind kept coming back to the same question: ‘How can I bring arts, crafts and metal together to make premium art jewellery?’ So I went and enrolled myself in a goldsmithing course. This helped me understand the manufacturing process. It also better enabled me to design, and to explain the designs and techniques to artisans.

Through Papillon, I was able to feel the pulse of the jewellery market. It was a new experience after working in a corporate job. Papillon was driven by what the market wanted, whereas when I started House of Kalart, I was so passionate about it that it was driven from a design perspective — and I did not get customer validation done. Later, I realised my mistake and went back to the successful methods I’d followed with Papillon.

mermaid pendant

Would you have done anything differently, in hindsight? 

Every step of my journey has been a learning curve, and I continue to learn every day. That makes me a better business owner and a better person. I would not want to change anything. One thing I would definitely like to improve on, however, is my tendency to procrastinate.

delicate earrings
pink green yellow

 

What was your steepest learning curve? 

Everything was a steep curve for me when I started House of Kalart. I was a hard-core designer who thought a good design was enough to run a business and drive sales. I learnt the long, hard way that running a business is much, much more. I had to start thinking like a business owner. I had to set up a system for accounting, inventory, goals, finances, networking… and the list goes on.

 

Do you have any advice to pass on to self-employed creatives who are struggling with the ‘business’/left-brain aspect? 

I would advise new entrepreneurs to maintain their books right from day one. Also: get your ideas or products validated. It might seem irrelevant, but it is extremely important. And do join networking groups that suit you; the help and motivation you get is amazing.

My Sales Went Down To Zero

 

What was your steepest learning curve? 

Everything was a steep curve for me when I started House of Kalart. I was a hard-core designer who thought a good design was enough to run a business and drive sales. I learnt the long, hard way that running a business is much, much more. I had to start thinking like a business owner. I had to set up a system for accounting, inventory, goals, finances, networking… and the list goes on.

 

Do you have any advice to pass on to self-employed creatives who are struggling with the ‘business’/left-brain aspect? 

I would advise new entrepreneurs to maintain their books right from day one. Also: get your ideas or products validated. It might seem irrelevant, but it is extremely important. And do join networking groups that suit you; the help and motivation you get is amazing.

My Sales Went Down To Zero

pink green yellow

How did the pandemic affect your business? What did you do to stay afloat and how did you adapt? 

At first, my sales were drastically affected — in fact, they went down to zero — as HoK wasn’t online when COVID hit. But I was able to manage with my styling projects. During that time, I also took the opportunity to upskill myself and make time to network and build relationships.

The pandemic motivated me to finally take the brand online. I’d always wanted to reach out to global audiences, and at last I was able to do so.

 

Where do you promote your business? 

The brand is now predominantly an e-commerce business. We mainly sell through the HoK website and are available on a few online marketplaces, like Afday, Lbb, and Amazon. We used to actively participate at art fairs before the pandemic, but these have come to a halt for now.

red and gold earrings
white earrings

Do any special moments or memories come to mind?  

One really cute moment was when I was clearing out a trunk and I found my report card from kindergarten. My teacher had written that I loved and appreciated colours, was quite fascinated during arts & craft classes and, most important of all, I was very keen to work with beading a thread.

I was overwhelmed to read this — to know I was destined to become a jewellery designer right from kindergarten. This always makes me feel motivated when the going gets tough and I feel low.

 

I Am Making a Difference

Do any special moments or memories come to mind?  

One really cute moment was when I was clearing out a trunk and I found my report card from kindergarten. My teacher had written that I loved and appreciated colours, was quite fascinated during arts & craft classes and, most important of all, I was very keen to work with beading a thread.

I was overwhelmed to read this — to know I was destined to become a jewellery designer right from kindergarten. This always makes me feel motivated when the going gets tough and I feel low.

 

I Am Making a Difference

white earrings

Any lightbulb moments once your business was up and running? 

There are so many! A recent one comes to mind: I was struggling to categorise the products to fit my varied client profiles. Then I met a lady, in a networking group, who offered a free thirty-minute customer persona identification call. That literally switched a light on in my head. I had so much clarity and was able to add new ranges and categorise the brand to fit all my clients’ needs.

And then there was a client of mine who told me she loved art so much, she wished she could wear paintings. I told her I could help her with that; I could paint something for her on jewellery. She said she liked sunsets, so I painted an abstract sunset on a pair of statement earrings. And when I gave the earrings to her, the joy she expressed was beyond words. That day I knew: I was doing something right; I am making a difference to some of my clients.

seagreen necklace
green blue butterfly

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

I am blessed to have people who have inspired me to follow my passion and become a better being. First, it was an aunty who taught me different arts and crafts during my summer vacations, which became an inspiration and is an important element of my products. Second, my parents, who understood my interest in fashion and found out about the best colleges that offered the courses; and that was back in those days when fashion was not a popular career choice.

 

What are your future plans? 

The aim is for the brand to run on autopilot. I would love to see someone wearing a HoK wherever I turn. I am not looking at building an empire; however, I do aim to make the online store extremely popular and successful across the world.

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

I am blessed to have people who have inspired me to follow my passion and become a better being. First, it was an aunty who taught me different arts and crafts during my summer vacations, which became an inspiration and is an important element of my products. Second, my parents, who understood my interest in fashion and found out about the best colleges that offered the courses; and that was back in those days when fashion was not a popular career choice.

 

What are your future plans? 

The aim is for the brand to run on autopilot. I would love to see someone wearing a HoK wherever I turn. I am not looking at building an empire; however, I do aim to make the online store extremely popular and successful across the world.

green blue butterfly

With your vision and determination, Arathi, I am confident you will make it happen!

Tell me, what is the best advice you’ve been given? 

The best advice I’ve ever received is: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The worst response will be a no, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And it works! The help that comes your way when you ask is unbelievable.

 

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

First of all, see your business as an extension of your identity. Second: everything can be learned gradually and you don’t have to do it all at once, or alone. Ask for help. Third: Never compare your beginning with the grown businesses of your peers. And most important of all: Always believe in yourself.

dangling xs
BBF pairing

 

One last thing. It’s 14 days to Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Would you like to suggest gift ideas from your site? 

We are introducing an affordable gift box for Christmas, containing matching pairs of jewellery that can be worn by mother and daughter, BFFs, siblings and duos.

And for readers of The Hopeaholic blog, I would like to offer a special discount code for 15% off. Just enter VSL15 at checkout.

Thank you so much, Arathi. That’s very kind of you, seeing as your jewellery is already so affordable!

 

One last thing. It’s 14 days to Christmas, and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Would you like to suggest gift ideas from your site? 

We are introducing an affordable gift box for Christmas, containing matching pairs of jewellery that can be worn by mother and daughter, BFFs, siblings and duos.

And for readers of The Hopeaholic blog, I would like to offer a special discount code for 15% off. Just enter VSL15 at checkout.

Thank you so much, Arathi. That’s very kind of you, seeing as your jewellery is already so affordable!

BBF pairing

GOOD TO KNOW: HoK ships worldwide. If you find their express shipping option a bit pricey, why not order your Valentine’s Day/Mother’s Day gifts — or future birthday gifts for your BFF or special person in your life — now? Then you can afford to wait a bit longer for your package to arrive — and save some cash at the same time.

FYI: There’s a handy currency converter on the HoK site.

If you have any questions, you can contact Arathi at contact@houseofkalart.com

 

You can also follow HoK on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

House of Kalart logo

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

WORK YOUR PASSION

BE BOLDLY YOU

UPSKILL YOURSELF

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

ALWAYS BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

GET YOUR IDEAS AND PRODUCTS VALIDATED

ASK FOR HELP. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

SEE YOUR BUSINESS AS AN EXTENSION OF YOUR IDENTITY

NEVER COMPARE YOUR BEGINNING WITH THE GROWN BUSINESS OF YOUR PEERS

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. Having bought something from each company, I just can’t help but LOVE these brands and want the world to know about them.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

COMING UP . . .

Next week: Motherhood motivated this talented artist to quit her comfortable job and go it alone. Was it a good idea? Just one look at her Christmas collection will give you the answer.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS . . . AUTHENTOLOGY

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS . . . AUTHENTOLOGY

Meet Melanie Hatjigiannakis, CEO of Authentology AB.

Taking on the Herculean responsibility of creating a start-up and driving it toward success was not an easy decision. But Melanie, a highly experienced business mentor, has never shied away from a challenge.

To find out just how demanding her journey has been, keep reading.

And Discover…

12 PERFECT GIFTS* for every budget.

Plus a 15% discount!

*WARNING: You’ll want them all for yourself.  I know I do. #ChristmasWishlist

 

Meet Melanie Hatjigiannakis, CEO of Authentology AB.

Taking on the Herculean responsibility of creating a start-up and driving it toward success was not an easy decision. But Melanie, a highly experienced business mentor, has never shied away from a challenge.

To find out just how demanding her journey has been, keep reading.

And Discover…

12 PERFECT GIFTS* for every budget.

Plus a 15% discount!

*WARNING: You’ll want them all for yourself.  I know I do. #ChristmasWishlist

 

 

 

In Melanie’s words, this is the story of Authentology:

 

‘In an age of mass-production and commercialisation, Authentology is a destination for the creative worldly women who long for fashion accessories, stationery, and homeware that aren’t found on the shelves of stores everywhere.

Every collection is the creation of a new world for the woman of today who is chic, self reliant and unapologetically herself.

We like to call it defiant elegance with the right amount of effortless cool…

 

 

The Authentology Story continued…

‘Born 2020 in Sweden, our brand encourages self-discovery, the honoring of who you are and who you aspire to be.

Our mission has always been to source pieces that allow you to express yourself in your own authentic way through your wardrobe and home at an affordable price.

Every item is sourced with care, an eye for detail, and a passion for old-world craftmanship, ensuring that any treasure you find at Authentology is unique, just like you.

We strive to grow our business with the same honesty and integrity that we use to source our products, to help inspire conscious consumerism through sustainable fashion.

We want our customers to feel at peace about their impact on the planet and the people who crafted the items you purchase from us.’

 

The Authentology Story continued…

‘Born 2020 in Sweden, our brand encourages self-discovery, the honoring of who you are and who you aspire to be.

Our mission has always been to source pieces that allow you to express yourself in your own authentic way through your wardrobe and home at an affordable price.

Every item is sourced with care, an eye for detail, and a passion for old-world craftmanship, ensuring that any treasure you find at Authentology is unique, just like you.

We strive to grow our business with the same honesty and integrity that we use to source our products, to help inspire conscious consumerism through sustainable fashion.

We want our customers to feel at peace about their impact on the planet and the people who crafted the items you purchase from us.’

With an introduction like that, I feel like saying anything more would be superfluous. However, let’s delve a little deeper, into the heart of Authentology.

Mel, when did Authentology actually ‘go live’?

Born 2020 in Sweden, we went live in July 2021.

 

Do you run the company alone or do you have help?

As the CEO I manage the daily running of the business together with a small number of outside consultants.

 

What made you decide to take on the daunting role of CEO of a start-up?

Does desperation count? Because that’s the honest truth. (Thank you, COVID.)

 

(We’ll come back to that…) How scary was the plunge?

Heart-stopping but exhilarating.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

Did you need qualifications of any kind?

25+ years of senior management experience running companies and advising other companies has been a blessing.

 

Was your age, gender, or any other aspect a hurdle in any way?

Being a woman in male-dominated sectors has always been an issue. It is incredibly challenging for a woman to climb the corporate ladder. But if you want it badly enough you learn to find a way. Never give up. Never surrender!

(Something tells me Ms Hatjigiannakis would’ve given Churchill a run for his money.) 

What are the best nuggets of advice you’ve been given?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And: find a mentor — it will change your life. But the best advice I’ve ever received, which I use in my private life as well, is this: ‘If you are in a relationship, be it work or private, and you are not getting 51% out of it, then walk away.’ It may sound harsh, but it has stood me in good stead up to now.

Did you need qualifications of any kind?

25+ years of senior management experience running companies and advising other companies has been a blessing.

 

Was your age, gender, or any other aspect a hurdle in any way?

Being a woman in male-dominated sectors has always been an issue. It is incredibly challenging for a woman to climb the corporate ladder. But if you want it badly enough you learn to find a way. Never give up. Never surrender!

(Something tells me Ms Hatjigiannakis would’ve given Churchill a run for his money.) 

What are the best nuggets of advice you’ve been given?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And: find a mentor — it will change your life. But the best advice I’ve ever received, which I use in my private life as well, is this: ‘If you are in a relationship, be it work or private, and you are not getting 51% out of it, then walk away.’ It may sound harsh, but it has stood me in good stead up to now.

Can you tell us a little about your career history?

I went from being a CEO of a South African trade/regulatory association responsible for a R3.5 billion per annum sector (vacation ownership — property) to starting a management consultancy business in the UK. Once COVID hit, I ran out of work and so I decided to take up the offer of running an ecommerce start-up in Sweden, namely Authentology.

I have always been eager to try new things, and this is evident in my career history. I’ve always worked, since graduating from High School at the age of 17, and my first job was in finance. I also tend to be drawn to very male-dominated sectors, for some inexplicable reason. I went from Finance (Banking) to Insurance, followed by forays into Alcohol, Hospitality/Tourism and Management Consulting… and now here I am in ecommerce.

I love working and, yes, it does define me, seeing as I have spent such a large proportion of my life working and traveling. Most of the knowledge I have acquired has been through work. I can honestly say I have had the privilege of collaborating with some extremely talented individuals from around the world.

My work has also made me more culturally tolerant and emotionally intelligent, as I have been fortunate enough to live and work in some fantastic countries, such as South Africa, the UK, The Netherlands, Sweden, the USA, Malaysia, and Australia, to mention a few.

How did COVID-19 affect Authentology?

The business started during COVID. As the pandemic pushed people to shop online, starting an ecommerce business was a good fit.

Where do you promote the business? How important is word of mouth?

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Word of mouth is worth gold, but a social media influencer’s referral is worth diamonds. Regrettably, getting an influencer on board costs a fortune for small business.

Any highlights that stand out in your mind?

This company took a lot of research: almost two years. Only once I knew as much as possible did I start drafting a business plan. The highlight, after all that hard work, was obtaining first-round funding.

How did COVID-19 affect Authentology?

The business started during COVID. As the pandemic pushed people to shop online, starting an ecommerce business was a good fit.

Where do you promote the business? How important is word of mouth?

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  Word of mouth is worth gold, but a social media influencer’s referral is worth diamonds. Regrettably, getting an influencer on board costs a fortune for small business.

Any highlights that stand out in your mind?

This company took a lot of research: almost two years. Only once I knew as much as possible did I start drafting a business plan. The highlight, after all that hard work, was obtaining first-round funding.

What have been your worst moments so far? The times you’ve been at your lowest.

One of my greatest disappointments, which I still feel today, is that after moving from South Africa to the UK and looking for work, I discovered to my horror that all the senior executive work experience I had — covering more than 20 years — appeared to be meaningless.

I struggled to get any interviews. I spent a fortune having my CV written by professionals, polishing my LinkedIn profile, and so on. But because my experience was not ‘specialised’ it seemed that recruiters just simply did not know where to put me. Pigeonholing is a huge issue: if you don’t fit in a ‘box’, you’re difficult to position in the market.

I find this very strange, especially in an age where companies are moving away from very rigid corporate structures (Silos) and, instead, are pursuing more innovative approaches to corporate structure. This means that employees with experience in multiple business disciplines are being sought after.

This issue is not localised to the UK; it is also something I have recently experienced in Sweden. I don’t like to generalise, as I do know of companies who embrace non-sector-specific work-experience individuals. Regrettably, though, the problem does still cover the vast majority of the employment market.

I am also a firm believer in the fact that sector knowledge can be learnt. After all, when you study at university you are taught business skills in a particular topic, e.g. marketing, which is not industry specific at all. And I don’t seem to be alone in this thinking. One only has to look at the individuals who are disrupting sectors with innovative ideas: most of them come from outside that sector.

Word of Mouth is Worth Gold

What would you have done differently?

Taken a job with an established company instead of risking everything for a start-up… Jokes aside, I would have researched the employment market in the UK before leaving South Africa, and better prepared myself for entering that market.

I also would have built up a better work network for the UK, as it’s not always what you know but who you know.

 

What was your steepest learning curve — the most difficult aspect to get your head around?

Getting traffic to the website, as you’re competing with ecommerce stores from all over the world.

 

What would you have done differently?

Taken a job with an established company instead of risking everything for a start-up… Jokes aside, I would have researched the employment market in the UK before leaving South Africa, and better prepared myself for entering that market.

I also would have built up a better work network for the UK, as it’s not always what you know but who you know.

 

What was your steepest learning curve — the most difficult aspect to get your head around?

Getting traffic to the website, as you’re competing with ecommerce stores from all over the world.

 

Who has been your greatest support?

My greatest support throughout my career has come from my business mentors (they know who they are). I cannot stress enough the importance of connecting with that senior leader who is willing to offer guidance and advice, especially for women moving into senior roles. It is not easy: it may take a few tries to find that person who just clicks with you and understands the support and level of encouragement you need.

I am currently registered as a business and student mentor for LinkedIn and have offered advice and counselling to start-ups, SMEs, CEOs and new graduates from around the world.

My life partner and family have been my second greatest support. They are your essential and I thank them so much.

Without Failure We Do Not Learn

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs — and/or for women in male-dominated sectors?

Find a mentor. Start looking for one now, no matter what stage you are at. It’s very important to connect with the right mentor. It took me more than 10 years to find mine. Personal coaches are also very good if you need someone to help you focus on future career paths, or just as a sounding board. Because when you move up to senior executive positions it gets very lonely from a work perspective, as you can’t really confide in co-workers and definitely not in junior employees.

Another bit of advice: do the research. And then do more research before even thinking of starting a business. Be prepared to give up all your free time, family time, and holiday time, because running a business takes a lot of work.

And accept that you will make mistakes. But don’t see them as failures; rather see them as opportunities to learn. Thomas Edison, when developing the filament for the light bulb, once said, ‘I didn’t fail; I found out 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb.’ Without failure we do not learn. And if we do not learn, we do not innovate — for innovation and failure go hand-in-hand.

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs — and/or for women in male-dominated sectors?

Find a mentor. Start looking for one now, no matter what stage you are at. It’s very important to connect with the right mentor. It took me more than 10 years to find mine. Personal coaches are also very good if you need someone to help you focus on future career paths, or just as a sounding board. Because when you move up to senior executive positions it gets very lonely from a work perspective, as you can’t really confide in co-workers and definitely not in junior employees.

Another bit of advice: do the research. And then do more research before even thinking of starting a business. Be prepared to give up all your free time, family time, and holiday time, because running a business takes a lot of work.

And accept that you will make mistakes. But don’t see them as failures; rather see them as opportunities to learn. Thomas Edison, when developing the filament for the light bulb, once said, ‘I didn’t fail; I found out 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb.’ Without failure we do not learn. And if we do not learn, we do not innovate — for innovation and failure go hand-in-hand.

What are your future plans?

Now that I have completed my project as CEO of Authentology, Sweden, I am looking for a new long-term opportunity back in the UK so that I can be closer to family and my ageing father.

We wish you all the best with that, Mel. You certainly must be an exciting prospect for any switched-on employer!

One last question. Did you say you had a SPECIAL OFFER for readers of this blog?

Yes! A 15% discount. Just pop onto the Authentology website and use **Discount Code SAVE15 at checkout. (Offer expires 15 February 2022. Just in time to get that Valentine’s Day something special for her.)

That’s a generous offer, thank you! I assume **the discount code will only work after the current ‘15% off’ SALE ends on 26 December?

That’s right. The code, in effect, extends the sale for you until 15 February.

WOW. Well, I’m certainly not going to wait: I don’t want the stock to run out before I get there. #timetoshop

GOOD TO KNOW: Authentology ships worldwide. AND they generously offer FREE SHIPPING on all purchases over £50.

Oh, by the way: there’s a handy currency converter on the top left-hand side of the site’s main menu.

What are you still doing here? 

HURRY! Place your orders at Authentology ASAP to get your goodies in time for Christmas & snag that fabulous discount!

You can also follow Authentology on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER SURRENDER!

WORK YOUR PASSION

FIND A MENTOR

EXPRESS YOURSELF

WORD OF MOUTH IS WORTH GOLD

SECTOR KNOWLEDGE CAN BE LEARNT

WITHOUT FAILURE WE DO NOT LEARN

INNOVATION & FAILURE GO HAND IN HAND

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER

CATCH ON TO CONSCIOUS CONSUMERISM

SUSTAINABLE FASHION IS HOT! (Just ask Benedict Cumberbatch.)

And here’s one for discussion:

SHOULD PIGEONHOLING BE POOH-POOHED?

Just so you know…

I don’t receive any reward/commission for promoting any of the businesses on my blog. Having bought something from each company, I just can’t help but LOVE these brands and want the world to know about them.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

COMING UP . . .

Next week: An incredible artist who designs & creates ‘art you can wear’. And you’ll want to wear these pieces, I PROMISE.

If you subscribe to my weekly news blurb (it’s brief, honest!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂

HAVE YOURSELF A CANNY LI’L CHRISTMAS

HAVE YOURSELF A CANNY LI’L CHRISTMAS

Ami Hansen is an intrepid, bubbly Geordie living in Blyth, U.K.  Just over three years ago, with no training and a demanding fulltime NHS job, she started up The Canny Wreath Co. — creating beautiful handmade bespoke wreaths.

But she didn’t stop there. Quickly she branched out into garlands, centerpieces and door hangings… not just for Christmas but for every occasion! 

Bursting with ideas, it wasn’t long before Ami launched a sister company: The Canny Custom Co. — her outlet for bespoke printing. The range includes her ever-popular custom-made thermos-controlled tumblers with fabulous toppers, as well as t-shirts, baubles, dog treat tins, bags, keyrings and pillowcases.

Whether you’re thinking of starting up a business, or you’re just in need of motivation to take the plunge into the unknown, you will be inspired by Ami’s story. Read about her journey: how she quit her fulltime job and battled through depression and grief to follow her creative passions.

Below are excerpts from my in-depth interview with Ami, as well as fabulous Christmas decor options & Christmas stocking fillers for everyone!

Ami, what was your lightbulb moment?

It was me husband Andy’s lightbulb moment, actually. It all started with a Pinterest photo of a wooden tray with pine cones and candles. As soon as I saw it, I decided I would make something similar as a Christmas decoration. That’s how I ended up at Hobbycraft with me mam and Andy. As it turned out, the tray never got made as I couldn’t find the perfect size. But it had sparked something inside me, because while we were in the shop, me mam said, ‘Can you make us a wreath for Christmas?’ and I immediately said I’d try. I’ve always been creative, so I thought: why not?

We got some bits while we were there, and I took everything home and made me mam a wreath — and she loved it. And then, me cousin saw it and asked me to make her one. Then somebody else asked for one after that… Throughout all of this, I was just doing it as a hobby.

Then, one day, Andy said, ‘You should try and take this somewhere.’

I immediately said no. I didn’t think I was good enough. I had no faith at all in meself. But Andy kept encouraging me. He believed in me from the get go. And I kept giving excuses: ‘I wouldn’t know what to call it. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere…’

But Andy saw something I didn’t. So he kept trying to persuade me to do something with it, and he kept on encouraging me. I mean, he just harped on and on. I guess, maybe because of that, I did have sort of a lightbulb moment, because it just popped into me head one day: The Canny Wreath Co. That minute, on the 15th of November 2018, my company was born!

When did you know you were onto something good?

When people were willing to pay for something I’d made! I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden we were doing loads of orders. Nearer Christmas — in my first month — I received orders for, and made and delivered, 52 wreaths! I was gobsmacked. Then, after Christmas, the ideas just kept coming. And that’s when I thought: Right. I’m going to do this for every occasion.

I didn’t think I was good enough.

How scary was the plunge into working for yourself?

Terrifying. It’s the fear that’s stopping me from quitting me part-time NHS job. I’ve said to meself a million times: I’m going to quit. But it’s scary. If I don’t make any business, then I don’t have any money. This arrangement gives us the comfort of knowing we’ll always have a wage coming in. Especially during a slow month. January and February I’m lucky if I get any orders. I don’t think I’m ready to do it. Quitting me fulltime job was enough for now.

How has your day-to-day life changed?

I went from working Monday to Friday, set hours, and your weekends are your own. But now me work’s at home, so a lot of the time I’m still working at 1.30am. My life has massively changed in that respect. I’m always on me phone because I’m always replying to order queries, or sending over artwork, or giving people ideas for gifts. I’m just constantly working.

Is there an unforgettable moment that stands out in your mind?

The biggest highlight has been making a brilliant connection with an Influencer on Instagram. Two years ago, we sent a Christmas wreath to @cleaning_with_mario and it got us a massive Scottish following. And a lot of them are still loyal customers. Mario is a genuinely canny guy and he’s made the most incredible difference to us. I gained a load of business, but the most important thing is: I gained a friend.

What effect did the pandemic have on your job and your business?

I was a fulltime NHS employee, so I worked through the entire lockdown, in awful Covid conditions. A lot of people, during that time, went mad for ‘Support Small Business’ and my business boomed, because people had to stay indoors, so they were bored, so everyone was buying. We released a new wreath during this time: the Rainbow Rose. And we gave a £5 donation to the NHS with every one sold. People went mad for them. Then it was coming into spring and summer, and people were placing orders for the seasonal wreaths. And then they started ordering Christmas wreaths early. And then they saw the Halloween options, and they started ordering those too. It was brilliant.

How do you juggle the time for two businesses and a job?

I quit my fulltime job a year ago and now work part-time as a healthcare assistant for the NHS. It fits in fine as it doesn’t start until 6pm, so I have the day to do my business. I must admit, though, I work long hours on my own business. During the lead-up to Christmas and other busy seasons, I usually end up working from early morning until early morning.

What can I do to stand out?

How important is word of mouth?

Incredibly important! I get a lot of new customers from recommendations. I have wonderful, loyal customers. Many are locals. Some smaller businesses too. My regular customers are usually the ones who are telling everyone they know about us, and I’m so grateful for them.

Any memorable lightbulb moments once your business was up and running?

A big lightbulb moment happened after that first Christmas. I’d only been set up a couple of months, and I was constantly wondering: What can I do to stand out? That was when I started moving onto the mesh. Not happy to be mediocre, I was up in the loft all on me own, in the freezing cold, with all the cobwebs, and I stayed there for hours, just trying different ways to use the mesh… I wanted my wreaths to be more than just green rings with a couple of flowers on them. I wanted to be different. With Halloween in mind, I painted some zombie hands and put them on a wreath, together with a ‘BOO’ sign. And people went crazy. And I thought: Right, this is the way to go. This is standing out.

Was there ever a time you did not think you would be able to go on?

Two deeply personal family issues knocked me for six: the death of me closest relative, and Andy being diagnosed with cancer. They happened right on top of one another and I struggled to keep going with me business. But I had a lot of support and people around me who believed in me, and so I managed to carry on. Nothing really compares to these two instances, but two ‘minor’ (in the big scheme of things) situations also got me down, due to extreme exhaustion…

A couple of years ago. I was trying to tie a bow with me hands, and I couldn’t do it. I mean, I can tie shoes and I can tie a bow — but actually creating a beautiful bow by hand is incredibly difficult. So there I was, sat on the living room floor, and I was getting frustrated, and I was getting worse and worse. And I just said to Andy, ‘I can’t do this. It’s just too much. I can’t do it.’ It was the stress of knowing that I had to get these done and I had Christmas coming up… That was me first meltdown. Thankfully, Andy encouraged me and persuaded me — and now I absolutely pride meself on how well I can tie a bow.

Another low point happened when we released the Poppy Wreaths. I didn’t expect to sell many and so I wasn’t prepared for the amount of orders that flooded in. I was so proud. But I was exhausted, too. We had it all set up in the kitchen — there were just poppies everywhere — and it was 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, and me and Andy had been working all day, and it got to the point where I just thought: I can’t do another petal. I can’t do it. I cried me eyes out. ‘It’s too much,’ I said. ‘It’s too much to do this on me own, in the house, I can’t do it anymore.’ Of course, as a result of fatigue, I was over-emotional. And of course, Andy came to the rescue. He always pulls me out of it, every time. He sent us to bed that night, and I woke up the next morning and I was fine.

What sparked the idea for The Canny Custom Co.?

I was getting some printed metal signs made by another company, for me wreaths, and I said to me dad, ‘We need to work out how to do this, because I’m paying £9 for one sign.’ So I was either losing a load of money or I was massively putting me prices up, and I pride meself on not having huge prices, because I’m not in the game to rip people off. So, after months of research, we eventually figured out the whole process, and I bought everything I needed to make the signs. And then I practised and it was terrible! I was so bad at it. But I just kept practising — and now they’re flawless! And that’s how The Canny Custom Co. came to be. All because I didn’t want to pay nine quid for one sign, because I knew that if I tried hard enough I could make one meself.

Were your start-up costs affordable? Did you have to get a loan?

I’ve never got a loan. I’ve always paid for everything out of me own pocket, from me wages. I slowly built everything up. Me stock — the stuff we have now — for both businesses is massive. But it’s taken — this is me fourth Christmas — until last Christmas to really get somewhere with it. Me start-up costs weren’t ‘affordable’ in the sense that I spent a lot of money practising to get things right. It cost me a fortune to launch The Canny Custom Co. because I had to buy expensive, quality materials and equipment. For me just to buy the tumbler — without the printing on it, as I do all that meself — is expensive. I don’t make much money on them at all. But I just love to do them.

Who has been your greatest support?

Andy has been the best support ever. And me dad. Me mam, me sister. Me grandma and grandda. Andy has supported me through the absolute worst and the absolute best. When I’m working, he’ll just pop his head in and give me a quick kiss and say, ‘You know, I’m really proud of you.’ And that just makes me heart full.

KNOW YOUR WORTH

What are the best nuggets of advice you’ve been given?

First: Know your worth. Second: I used to take an order and make it, and it would sit around the house until somebody paid, and I would get frustrated. Until somebody told me: ‘You’ve got a business. Run it like a business. You wouldn’t go into Boots and not pay for your stuff. People order and pay for your stuff, and then you make it. Simple as that.’ Third, and this is the most important bit of advice: Cash is king.

What are your future plans?

I would love a nice big unit where I could put both of the businesses in. That would be it… I don’t want to take over the world. I just want to keep selling me stuff.

Do you have any advice for other wanna-be entrepreneurs?

Never give up! Also: don’t expect something to happen within the first week or the first month, or even the first twelve months. Don’t expect to become a millionaire overnight. Don’t expect a quick buck — cos you’ll not get one. Expect to be tired and ratty. But don’t give up. Keep pushing. And believe in your product, whatever it is. If you’re a hairdresser, and you want to start up on your own: believe that you can cut somebody’s hair the best. If you’re a dog walker, believe that you’ll give somebody’s dog the best exercise… As long as you believe in yourself, you’ll not give up. Oh, and don’t just do it for money; do it to get your creativity out there.

What has been your steepest learning curve?

Hand-tying beautiful bows! You’ve got no idea of the absolute carnage that went on in this house while I was trying to hand-tie bows. That’s definitely been the most difficult thing.

Did you need training of any kind? Or are you just naturally talented?

I’m completely self taught. Qualifications don’t necessarily make people better. Natural talent counts for a lot. I put all of me into every creation. That’s worth a lot, I think. And I’ve practised and practised and practised until I got it right. And then I kept practising until I made something worth selling. I think that counts for a lot too.

And finally, Ami, what are your most popular products?

From The Canny Wreath Co: Wreaths and garlands for doors, mantelpieces, windowsills… I can fulfil any measurements and colours as they’re custom made. There’s a huge variety.

From The Canny Custom Co: Our custom-made tumblers make perfect stocking fillers and Secret Santa gifts. A printed, thermo-controlled tumbler with a leak-proof lid and a reusable straw is £18, and there are hundreds of choices. A lot of people get Toppers added onto the tumblers, which will be a bit extra, however, the end result is gorgeous!

 

(And so is Ami — absolutely gorgeous and just plain canny. It was a delight to interview her.)

By the way, ‘canny’, in Geordie slang, means: lovely or nice. e.g. If you met a nice person, you’d say she’s canny. Or you could say, ‘Look at this canny little cupcake.’ Or: ‘Wow. What a canny wreath!’

 

Did you enjoy the Excerpt? 

Tweetable TAKEAWAYS:

WHETHER YOU THINK YOU CAN OR THINK YOU CANNY — YOU’RE RIGHT.

PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT EXCELLENCE.

BELIEVE YOU CAN — WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?

DARE TO BE DIFFERENT. DARE TO BE YOU.

KNOW YOUR WORTH.

RUN YOUR BUSINESS LIKE A BUSINESS.

CASH IS KING.

NEVER GIVE UP.

BELIEVE IN YOUR PRODUCT.

WORK YOUR PASSION.

KEEP GOING. KEEP PUSHING. YOU CAN DO IT!

A SUPPORTIVE PARTNER, FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER IS INVALUABLE.

 

If any other key points stood out for you, or you just want to let me know what you thought about this interview, feel free to comment below.

HURRY! Place your orders at The Canny Wreath Co. & The Canny Custom Co. to get your goodies in time for Christmas! (All prices are on their website.) They ship worldwide.

You can also follow the Canny companies on Facebook & Instagram.

COMING UP . . .

Next week:  A fearless CEO who deals in beautiful authentic handmade gifts you’ll want for yourself.

If you subscribe to my weekly newsletter (it’s brief, I promise!) you’ll be in the know. wink

Did you enjoy my blog? Please Share the Sunshine. 🙂