Young Entrepreneurship Night Talk

First of all, I'd like to say a massive thank you to Phil Dooley, who organised this amazing event, as well as Sean and Lloyd from Harvest Café, who hosted and gave me the opportunity to speak about what I love to do.  

In all honesty, when I first got asked to speak at the Young Entrepreneurship Night, I thought to myself, “Why on earth would they possibly want me to speak? A 20-something-year-old with my fingers in way too many pies, sharing a studio space with my chef mom and fiancé, and living in a small apartment in Muizenberg (the best hood ever)?” So I started thinking about my WHY. Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why did I choose the route I’m currently on? My reason - to inspire and uplift others - to make a change. So I really hope that my story can bring a little bit of inspiration to those of you reading this today. Despite entrepreneurship looking incredibly glamorous from the outside, it can be extremely lonely and isolated at times. I’m sharing my journey and a few of the valuable lessons that I’ve learnt over the past few years as a young business owner. 

JULIA - Young Entrepreneur in Cape Town, South Africa

A brief background

I was really lucky to grow up with parents who always encouraged me to dream big. I was never pushed into any direction and was given the freedom to pursue a career path of my own choice. My parents created a home that was like a real sanctuary. Every occasion, no matter how big or small, was turned into something magnificent. My mom always says to me “turn the ordinary into the extraordinary” and this is something I’ve carried with me in everything I do. It has formed part of the foundation of growing a brand that people want to be part of. For those who know my mom, you’ll know there are no half measures. She goes out of her way to bring joy to the people in her life and has been the most incredible example to me, having built one of the most successful, if not THE most successful, catering company in the country. She’s taught me about hard work, how to lead people, setting an example, and never settling for anything other than the very best. Coming from such a background, I feel a great responsibility to be a voice for, and uplift those, who are less fortunate than me.

The journey

In life, we have many setbacks, get told that we aren’t good enough, or experience moments of rejection. This may be a silly example, but when I was in Grade 3, I got told I couldn’t colour in...that I wasn’t doing it right. I’ll never forget this day. The competitive side of me must have kicked into gear because I went on to win the art prize in Grade 7, studied Fine Art at Michaelis after school, and am currently completing an Executive Masters in Cultural Leadership at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. As hard as it may be at times, don’t let other people’s opinions of you get you down.

After my years at Michaelis, I applied for an internship at a gallery in the US and got accepted! Hitting the art scene in New York – this was my ultimate dream. Sadly, my visa got rejected and I was left feeling hopeless and at a loss of what to do. I’d now taken a year off to follow my dreams, but wasn’t able to get there. After much thought, I ended up on a flight to the South of France with my best friend where I spent six months working as a “chef” on a boat, but it was here that I found the inspiration to start JULZ SWIM. After browsing the beautiful boutiques in Europe, I realised that there was a serious gap for locally made, affordable swimwear in South Africa. I strongly believe that where a door closes, another one opens. We just need to trust the process and be receptive to new possibilities. I started making a series of swimsuits, in one style and in a variety of prints. I was fanatical about quality and ensuring that all my customers were happy with their products. Since then, JULZ SWIM has rebranded to JULIA and swimwear has expanded into accessories and apparel. For many years, the brand remained a side hustle while I completed my Postgraduate in Entrepreneurship and afterwards, worked at one of Africa’s first modern and contemporary art museums, Norval Foundation. Side note: I initially got rejected from the Postgraduate course at UCT but after absolutely harassing the course convener, they managed to squeeze me in and today, I am one of the only students in the cohort to be running my own business. Moral of the story – never take no for an answer!

After years of managing the brand as a side hustle, working round the clock, building relationships with different manufacturers, constant trial and error, hard hustling and constantly doing what I can to stick within tight budgets (thank goodness for amazing friends who let me dress them up - love you all), JULIA finally got noticed and we ended up collaborating with Pick n Pay Clothing last summer. This was the first collaboration of its sort and became the fastest selling collection they’ve had. This collaboration was facilitated by the well-known Gavin Rajah, who has been the most wonderful mentor and sounding board to me since then. Finally, it felt like all the years of blood, sweat and tears and juggling a million different things, had paid off.

JULIA, the brand

JULIA has always been more than a business to me. It’s a brand and a platform that was created to shine light on local artists, designers and entrepreneurs. As part of the brand, we have the Creatives Collaboration which is a series of collaborations with handpicked artists and graphic designers within South Africa. We’ve worked with artists such as Amy Ayanda, Alexia Vogel and more recently, Sarah Allderman, to create amazing prints on swimsuits and garments. In addition to JULIA, I am a shareholder in Aioli Handcrafted Foods where I assist with marketing, website management and plans for growth within the business. I have a small company called Travel & Tell with my wonderful fiancé, Ollie, where we host a series of dinners and demonstrations based on where we’ve travelled, and in lockdown I helped him establish We’re Live with Chef Ollie, which was a series of live YouTube cookalongs (you have to go watch these if you haven’t). Often people feel an urge to be put into a box. 'I’m an artist' or 'I’m a writer' or 'I’m a designer'. Over the years, I’ve learnt that it’s okay to experiment. Be open to new ventures and whether they fail or succeed, you’ll have learnt something in the process.

Managing a business in a pandemic

If there was ever a time to explore new avenues, the past year was certainly it. What a year it has been! Lockdown was a testing time for everyone and really forced us to question everything – our lifestyles, our businesses, ourselves. As a brand, I was looking for something additional to do during winter, as sales are generally slower than in the summer seasons. As I have a crazy passion for promoting local artists and creatives, I started the In Conversation Series – a series of conversations with entrepreneurs and business owners within the creative industry in South Africa. We were lucky enough to host a number of incredible individuals from Alice Toiche, to the founders of Latitudes Online, to Ivor Jones and even touched on a bit of surfing and VANS collaboration with Mikey February. This became a great way for people to learn about other people’s areas of expertise and get a feel for what they were doing to manage during the pandemic.

Life as an entrepreneur

So, all-in-all, life as an entrepreneur is about adapting - It’s fluid. You set a goal of where you want to go, but you need to constantly adjust it as you go. There are a number of hardships that come with it – the constant self-doubt, endless hours of work with little reward, comparing yourself to other brands on a regular basis and doing what you can to keep your competitive advantage and remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. Your mind becomes your worst enemy, navigating a battle between your inner critic and your inner cheerleader. However, amongst the hardships there are a few key moments which make it all worth it. For me, launching a collaboration with Pick ‘n Pay, walking down the ramp at my very first runway show, the rush after the live conversations on Instagram, or simply a customer telling you how incredible your product makes them feel.

Five key tools that have helped me along my journey:

1. Community is key. Value the people in your life. If anything, COVID has taught us the importance of friends and family. Be kind to everyone you meet and be willing to help others. If we can work together, great things can happen. Build a network of people who encourage and inspire you.

2. As daunting as it may seem, find yourself a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for help! If anything, asking someone to be your mentor is one of the biggest compliments you can give them. As you go, your mentors may change. You can never know too much!

3. Always be open to new possibilities. You never know where the road may take you, so keep an open mind and enjoy the ride. As a Christ follower, I love the image of Jesus laughing when he hears us plan out our lives because ultimately, it’s SO not in our control. There’s a plan for each of us and more often than not, it’s nothing like we envisioned.

4. Find a balance. There’s a fine balance between working on many projects and spreading yourself too thin. This is something I’m trying really hard to work on. Learn to master something and hand it over. This may seem difficult when you’ve spent years building your brand, but it’s arguably the only way you can grow.

5. Lastly, follow your gut feeling. In today’s world we have access to SO much information -whether it’s podcasts, books, YouTube videos, online tutorials or Instagram lives. How cool is that? It does mean, however, that now, more than ever, we need to use our intuition. Gather the information and make your own conclusions and decisions based on what your gut tells you.

I’d like to end with a quote by Steven Pressfield, the author of War of Art - a book about the ‘Resistance’ described as “the force that makes you swallow your urge to pursue your dream.” Everyone knows the voice that’s constantly talking you out of taking risks or telling you you’re not good enough. He says, “Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it. Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.”

So, whatever it is you want to be; whether it’s an artist, a musician, a writer, fashion designer, professional athlete or an entrepreneur - take the first step, because that’s the hardest one and once you’ve done that, the adventure can begin!