E9 The Unlock Moment: Hayley Thomas – There’s Not Always Time
In this episode, I interview online fashion founder Hayley Thomas, whose husband’s diagnosis of Stage 3 Bowel Cancer completely changed her perspective on life and triggered her to get on and turn her entrepreneurial dream into reality. Five years on, Ben is cancer-free and her sustainable fashion brand Eleven Loves is growing from strength to strength, now with 35,000 Instagram followers. This is a powerful story of hope, teamwork, and achievement that challenges the idea that there is a ‘perfect moment’ to launch a business.
Follow Eleven Loves on Instagram: @elevenloves.co.uk
Web: Eleven Loves
Hayley Thomas 0:06
He started to experience various symptoms, went to the doctor, we had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the doctor. And actually looking back, they were all the the symptoms that you’d associate with cancer, with bowel cancer, but none of them were particularly taken seriously because he was 40 and fit and healthy on the surface. To cut a long story short, it turns out it was actually bowel cancer. Eventually, we realised that it had spread, so it had spread past his bowel, it was in his lymph nodes. So it was Stage Three effectively. Luckily, it hadn’t spread further than that. My perspective on life changed completely. And there were, you know, this, this idea of, you know, there’s always time completely changed, because it really brought clarity to the fact that there’s not always time. And all of these things that you want to do, actually, you just need to get on and do them, there’s never going to be a perfect moment to do whatever it is you want to do.
Gary Crotaz 1:13
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello dear listener, and welcome to another episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. Hayley Thomas is the vibrant and dynamic founder of Eleven Loves, an online fashion brand centred around effortless style, feelgood designs and sustainability. I’ve known Hayley for a number of years and we used to work together in the customer team at Mothercare. I love discovering the story of how new brands come into existence and the whole entrepreneur journey. I just know you’re going to be inspired by Hayley, and you’ll find this a really memorable conversation. Let’s get to know Hayley a little better. Despite childhood ambitions to become a fashion designer and a lifelong fascination with entrepreneurship, Hayley’s early career took a more traditional route. After studying English at Cambridge, she originally went into corporate banking before gravitating towards the more colourful world of fashion retail. After over 15 years heading up the digital and customer experience strategy for some of the leading UK High Street retailers, Hayley established her own brand now known as Eleven Loves. What started as a side-hustle has now evolved into a brand stocked by the major High Street retailer Next, loved by celebrities and with a growing following on social media. That’s 35,000 Instagram followers at the latest count. I love the iconic ‘Où est la Discothèque’ print, which is designed to make you smile and put a bounce in your step. So without further ado, let’s get into the conversation. Hayley, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Hayley Thomas 3:36
Thank you, Gary. That was, that was a lovely intro. And thank you for inviting me.
Gary Crotaz 3:41
I’m delighted to have you, to have you here. So start off with telling us a little bit about your story, a bit about your upbringing, maybe in the journey you’ve been on to get where you are today.
Hayley Thomas 3:50
Yeah, sure. So I grew up in a town in the Midlands called Corby. It was a, or still is, a steel town. I grew up in a fairly working class family, so my mum worked in HR, my dad was a carpenter and fitted windows. Went to the local comp, and was fairly quiet I would say – I kept my head down to stay out of trouble at school and would probably be termed as a spod. I was quite academic and quite studious. And it’s quite interesting looking back. There were sort of two camps really, there was the academic camp and then if you weren’t kind of traditionally academic, you were creative and, and the two were kind of separated at the time. So I can’t act, draw, sing or dance. So therefore was not in the creative camp! But as I say was, was quite academic and looking back actually, I think I kind of wrote myself off or any creativity off at that time because I wasn’t in that camp of sort of being practically creative. However, I was always creating new things in hindsight, looking back, I was always writing plays and had a big period of kind of writing plays, and always kind of had a new idea for a business. And that has been a theme that has kind of carried on throughout my life, I’ve always got a business plan on the go, and always got a new, new idea. And I loved designing. So while I couldn’t and still can’t draw, I loved sort of creating outfits, so putting together snappings, from magazines, and fashion was a big part of my family life as well. So my mum and my Nan, were very into fashion, it was part of the conversation, you know, we’d go shopping together, it was our hobby, it was kind of part of what binded us together as a family, particularly the women in the family. And then I went down the traditional, traditional education routes, went to uni, read English at uni, and then went on to a graduate scheme for a bank, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the right fit for me. But I think at the time, there’s a real sense that you need to do, you need to get a ‘proper job’, in inverted commas.
Gary Crotaz 6:18
And when you think back, when, when was the first time do you think you first started thinking about a business, you know when you were growing up? Because some people, like, they’re eight or something and they’re thinking about selling sweets out of the back of a van or something? You know, and where were you in that, in that journey as a kind of childhood wanna-be entrepreneur? Do you think?
Hayley Thomas 6:41
To be honest, I can’t exactly remember when it started, but I can remember the ideas that I came up with along the way. So I remember being in a garden centre with my parents, and that was our kind of Sunday activity, you’d go to the garden centre. And they had little, those little stone hedgehogs that you sit on the wall. And I remember going away from the garden centre and doing a whole load of research around how you could create these concrete hedgehogs and how much it would cost to do that. And you know, could you do it at home, I found other people who were doing it at home. And so along the way, there have been a broad variety of business ideas from concrete hedgehogs to mobility scooters. So it tends to sort of link, link to something I’m going through at the time. So my nan found herself in a wheelchair. And so I was thinking, gosh, you know, it’s very difficult to get the right equipment, there must be a big market for this. So I did a lot of research on that. We got into sort of refurbishing a property. And so from that sprung another business around interior design and, and sort of refurbished furniture. So there’s always a business idea on the go. And I don’t know where it came from, to be honest. The first couple of years of my life, my parents ran a pub. So it may be from that. But it’s just always been something that I’ve known that I want to do. And I’ve always said, you know, at some point, I will run my own business. You know, it’s always been in the future, it’s always been kind of a few steps away.
Gary Crotaz 8:14
And when you were at university was it something that popped up at any time when you were studying?
Hayley Thomas 8:19
Not so much to be honest. And that was probably I think, because I was so busy, probably the only time where I didn’t start running my own business, or didn’t kind of come up with a plan necessarily. No, so it wasn’t so much at university. But it was something that kind of I was thinking of throughout my childhood. And then after university, there was always, you know within my jobs, there was always something that I could do as a as a side-hustle, that actually never came to fruition for a very long time. There’s been a lot of business plans on bits of paper.
Gary Crotaz 8:54
And, I mean, I know from painful experience, my own experience of, of having a, being in a career that I realised wasn’t right for me, which for me was was studying in medicine. What was the moment in banking when you knew it wasn’t you? And it wasn’t your future?
Hayley Thomas 9:14
I think I probably knew the whole way through, to be honest, but didn’t really see, didn’t really see an alternative and didn’t necessarily see that the kind of more creative fashion world that I kind of ended up in was, was really a business. And I think there are a few moments within banking where I kind of look back and think they were probably the moments that I really knew. It was quite a traditional environment. And I know banking has changed since then. But at the time, it was quite male-dominated. And I remember I had three suits and they were all kind of various shades of grey. As someone who loves fashion and who’s grown up loving fashion, with quite a sort of family who love colour, and I do remember one morning putting on my, my kind of mid-grey suits, and just thinking, Oh, my, you know, this just isn’t me, it’s just not me. I don’t feel like myself, on many levels, not just the level of kind of what I’m wearing, but just the kind of the conversations that I was was having and the environment and that I was in, it just didn’t feel like me instinctively, I’d say.
Gary Crotaz 10:31
I talk to quite a lot of people who are in that place where the, the way I articulate it is, something’s not right. And I don’t necessarily know what, and I certainly don’t know what to do about it. But I feel very strongly that something’s not right. And I think I hear that coming through in the way you’re, you’re describing, you’re putting on that suit going, This isn’t, this isn’t what I should be wearing. But I don’t necessarily know what, what I do next. So how did you transition from, from that point to, I’m going to leave and do something different with with my life? And where did you go next?
Hayley Thomas 11:05
So I got to the point in banking where I knew that I wanted to leave. And so there was more of a sort of push factor at that stage, than a sort of clear pull towards something else. I had a mentor in the HR director, so he was very supportive. I had quite frank conversation, we started talking about various ideas. And actually it was him that sort of said that, you know, I was saying, you know how much I’ve loved fashion and how much I love designing as a child, it was him that said, Have you thought about going into fashion? And actually, there was an opportunity to take redundancy. So him knowing that I wanted ,wanted to leave actually was very supportive and helpful in kind of putting me on that list. And that gave me the opportunity then to take some time out and get a bit of work experience and start to sort of build contacts. And I was just very lucky and that the right job came up at the right time. So there was a strategy role that came up within the umbrella organisation of some major women’s High Street retailers. And yeah, I applied for it, got it. And that was a whole new world really, that opened up for me.
Gary Crotaz 12:18
And how quickly did you know that that was a better fit for you?
Hayley Thomas 12:22
Oh, immediately, I would say, the day I walked in, I was surrounded. In fact, probably at my interview, I remember being shown round at my interview, and I was walking around an office that was full of rails of clothing and shoes. And yeah, for someone who loves that, and who, you know, gets a lot of energy. And is very passionate about that. That just felt like the environment f,or me, it was like a kind of polar opposite of the sort of slightly grey banking world that was at the time.
Gary Crotaz 12:54
And you you spent a few years then in in that kind of world. And you, and you morphed into this deep expert in the sort of digital customer experience I know, and that’s, that’s how, how we met and worked together. So tell me a little bit about about where your interest and your focus morphed to in your corporate roles over that period of your career.
Hayley Thomas 13:15
Yeah, so I went in as a, in a strategic role. And this was before digital really took off. So digital was very new, for, in fashion retail, and I worked with the teams to set up a whole new, you know, the first website that they had. And I think at the time, I remember having a conversation because I had a real sense that I wanted to get closer to customers, and customer experience and user experience weren’t a thing either then – there was customer service. But that was as close as it got. So I had a real sense that I wanted to get closer to understanding the customer and producing something for them. And at the time, I think I thought that that was producing the clothing for them. And I remember having a conversation and said I you know, I really want to move into the buying, the design side and was absolutely shut down and told, you know, you don’t you know, the two are completely separate parts you haven’t started out on the right path. You know, you’ve started out on a corporate path, a strategic path, you know, not the sort of buying, design, creative side. So, I think as digital kind of emerged as a sort of area of expertise, so did user experience and customer experience and within that I think I saw the opportunity to be creative, to create something new and I think that’s obviously what it’s, it’s all about, it’s about kind of improving the experience, creating new experiences for the customer, really understanding the customer and what, what they want. And then creating, you know, it might not be creating a product but it’s actually creating an experience, a way of engaging, it’s kind of creating the product in the wider sense, the broader sense of, you know, it’s still a part of the business. And so that’s where I think I kind of fulfilled the sort of creative need at that time.
Gary Crotaz 15:08
And I know you know that I’m very passionate about this way of thinking about Who is the customer? What’s their experience today? And, and how are they interfacing and experiencing your brand and, and, and the journey that you’re going on, and all of those kinds of things. And, and, you know, I notice a lot with, with organisations of all types that they’re very focused on what they’re doing. And then at some point as a user who experiences it. But turning it around so it’s real customers, it was sort of no surprise to me, when I remember you, you first told me about this brand that you were developing yourself. And it, I think it fit your way of thinking very much, because you were one of the people in the room who was saying, Remember that there’s real people on the end of this. And you got to think about the journey and experience that they’re having, you were always very tuned into that. So bring me through to you know, the origin of what’s now become Eleven Loves. Where did that start?
Hayley Thomas 16:03
So I think it probably started when I was on maternity leave. And in the same way that putting on a kind of mid-grey suit when I was in banking felt wrong to me and didn’t feel like I was myself, I think the kind of, the ‘mum uniform’ in inverted commas of you haven’t got time to think about your outfit in the way I might have done when I was working in, in fashion, you threw on the first pair of jeans and sweater that you, you could. And I think to me at the time, I had a real sense of, you know, there aren’t many things in my, in my day-to-day wardrobe that make me feel special, in the same way that I might feel when I get dressed up to go to work. And that felt like, you know, I didn’t necessarily at the time think that was a massive gap in the market. But it just felt like, you know, there’s actually there’s an opportunity, there’s something that, you know, it would just be nice if there was something that I could wear that, you know, I could still wear running around with the kids and I wasn’t worried about, you know, not being able to sort of crawl around in a soft play or you know, all of those things that mums find themselves doing, but still felt like me and still felt like I was kind of expressing myself and still felt special. So that’s I think when I probably first started thinking about it, but I would say at the time, starting a business still felt far off, it still felt comfortable to me to write the business plan and think about it at that level. But there was always a reason why I couldn’t actually turn it into an actual thing. So be that we don’t have enough time. You know, we need more financial stability. Don’t know enough. You know, it’s quite scary starting a business when you don’t feel like you know absolutely everything about all of the different roles involved in that business. So there’s definitely that. The economic environment’s not right. So there’s always a reason why I will do this, but not now. I’ll do it in three years’ time or five years’ time.
Gary Crotaz 18:07
So you’re still in your stone hedgehog mode?
Hayley Thomas 18:09
Gary Crotaz 18:10
Yeah. Where it’s a great idea. And wouldn’t it be lovely if?
Hayley Thomas 18:14
Gary Crotaz 18:15
So, we’re here because we’re talking about Unlock Moments. And these are these sort of flashes of clarity when you figure out the path ahead. So talk me through what happened next for you.
Hayley Thomas 18:28
Hmm. So it was actually quite a negative, a big negative experience in my life that actually was my Unlock Moment. So I’m married to Ben, we’ve been married for a long time, I can never remember quite how many years, a long time! He started to experience various symptoms, went to the doctor, we had a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the doctor. And actually, looking back they were all the the symptoms that you’d associate with cancer, with bowel cancer, but none of them were particularly taken seriously because he was 40 and fit and healthy on the surface. To cut a long story short, it turns out it was actually bowel cancer. We were told, he was sent for a colonoscopy eventually, and came out of that and we were told straight away that it looked like it was cancer. At which point things moved very quickly, I think, because it’s kind of been left for quite a long time, despite, you know all of the symptoms. And eventually, we realised that it had spread so it had spread past his bowel, it was in his lymph nodes. So it was stage three effectively. Luckily, it hadn’t spread further than that. But that was a huge turning point I would say, obviously in his life but in my life as well seeing that happen to somebody that you love. And I think at that point, my perspective on life changed completely. And there were, you know, this, this idea of there’s always time completely changed because it really brought clarity to the fact that there’s not always time. And all of these things that you want to do, actually, you just need to get on and do them, there’s never going to be a perfect moment to do whatever it is you want to do. I thought, Right I’ve just got to get on and do things. We both wanted to run a marathon. And we also both ended up running a marathon the year after as well, after he finished his treatment. So it was, you know, it wasn’t just the business, there were other things that we wanted to do as well. But it made me think that I just needed to start something. And, you know, the environment and the situation definitely didn’t need to be perfect to do that, and absolutely wasn’t, you know, it couldn’t have been less perfect in hindsight, starting a business as you, you know, your husband’s about to embark on a year of chemo, and you’ve got two young children to look after, and a lot of uncertainty. But actually, I think that, as I say, that changed our perspective, and just made me think I’ve just got to do something now.
Gary Crotaz 21:05
And how old were your children at the time?
Hayley Thomas 21:07
They were four and seven at the time.
Gary Crotaz 21:15
Yeah, so young, young. And did they understand what was going on?
Hayley Thomas 21:19
They did. Yeah, we I mean, as much as you can when you’re four, but we explained to them what was going on. I did a PowerPoint presentation, Gary! So we presented it to them on the big screen to try to, with, you know, with cartoon characters and all. So yes, they, I just didn’t feel that we could hide, hide it from them. And you know, my husband went, had to have a big operation and was in hospital for quite a while. So, so they did understand. And they were they were incredible throughout the whole thing. But yeah.
Gary Crotaz 21:56
And we’ll come back into the Eleven Loves story. But Ben now is okay, isn’t he?
Hayley Thomas 22:01
Yes. Actually, he’s just had his five… so you get a sort of, you’re closely monitored for five years afterwards. And just last week, he had his final scan, and was told he’s effectively cured.
Gary Crotaz 22:16
That’s fantastic news!
Hayley Thomas 22:17
He’ll always be kind of monitored probably a bit more closely than the average person. But yes, he’s all well, thank you!
Gary Crotaz 22:22
That’s really good news. I mean, you can’t imagine a more significant sort of shock life event, particularly at that stage of life, you know, for somebody that as you say, is fit and well and 40 and sporty. And so the two of you, I mean, you know, you’re starting a business of your own. That’s that’s not just a you decision. That’s a whole family decision. So how did you, how did you talk about it together in terms of what that was going to mean for you? How did that sort of follow through?
Hayley Thomas 22:57
Yeah, I mean, I think we, I think the sense of we just need to get on and do things was so strong that all of the you know, what does this actually mean, in terms of the impact on the, on the family wasn’t really a consideration at the time, and it’s probably, that’s probably the only reason why we started it. Because actually, if I think, if I had thought through the impact, you know, I obviously, it was a side hustle, I had a day job. So that’s a lot of time to spend on top of looking after two children. Ben is very involved. He has a day job as well. He was going through treatment at the time, but he was still packing parcels! And still does. You know, so I think we didn’t necessarily discuss the long term because I think discussing the long term had been always been the thing that stopped me just going for it and getting on with it. But yeah, it has had a big impact, but a positive one, I think. I think it’s nice for the children to to see what you can do.
Gary Crotaz 24:02
And that’s interesting that, that there’s there’s a lot of merit in planning, and thinking through what it’s going to mean and running your spreadsheets and building your, building your detailed Gantt charts and all of that. But there’s also some merit in not getting so hung up on that, that it never happens, and getting going. And I hear that balance in what you’re describing now, which is a bit of an entrepreneur skill actually, there’s, there’s entrepreneurs who don’t do enough forward planning and end up sinking a lot of money into something that can never succeed, and then there’s a lot of others that are still on stone hedgehogs now, and they’ve just never started that business. I’m definitely going to grab the stone hedgehogs metaphor for all my future coaches!
Hayley Thomas 24:43
That’ll be the headline!
Gary Crotaz 24:44
So bring to life a little bit the essence of the brand and what it was that you created.
Hayley Thomas 24:52
So I wanted to create a brand that was about everyday wear but making women feel special in what they were wearing every day. So I wanted to create a brand that was, was practical, that you didn’t feel like you needed to save for best, but still felt like there was something about it that expressed you, that expressed some personality, that made you feel like, you know, you was, what you were wearing, despite the fact that you were wearing it running around the soft play or the park, was still special. So that’s, that’s a core kind of element of the brand. And I think the other thing that has been a kind of non-negotiable throughout is ethics and sustainability. And I think I spent a long time when I was working in high street retail looking at at that, and really, sort of, getting to into the detail of how factories work, and how clothes are made, and the practices around that and how workers are treated. And I think that was something that from the very start, I knew that if I was to create a clothing brand, it needed to be ethical, and it needed to be sustainable. And whether that means that, you know, I, I spend a lot more on my product, because it’s organic cotton, that’s something that will never change, you know, I will always aim to use sustainable fabrics, to ensure that whatever factories that I’m working with are audited to the highest standards. So that’s always been core to the brand as well. And I think the third thing is, is kind of making it personal. So I love the whole small business space, I think there’s an amazing small business community, particularly through Instagram. And I think people buy people and whatever happens with the brand in the future, I, you know, I love the fact that I talk to my customers and I, you know going back to my kind of background in customer experience, I love knowing what they think, I love hearing the good and the bad from them. I love getting their input into you know, what colours I go for or what patterns or you know, design features. So I want it to sort of stay like that, I want it to feel like a small business, whatever happens with it in the future.
Gary Crotaz 27:08
I really love that. And certainly I know we’ve talked about before, you know, you’re a reluctant catwalk model, but I know that it’s been important to you to be personally present on your on your Instagram feed, modelling your own clothes, and that plays to that ‘It’s personal’ piece. So tell me, tell me about what it felt like the first time you were out there in front of camera with, with, you know, modelling your own clothes on Instagram. What was that like?
Hayley Thomas 27:35
I will never, I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with that! I, my photo pose is kind of completely upright with my hands by my side, I’m you know, I’m not a natural… Going back to the, you know, at school, I can act I can’t dance, I’m not comfortable in front of a camera, Gary. But as you say, it’s, I feel like it’s very important. And I feel like people want to see the person behind the brand. So I’ve just got used to it. And I, you know, the first few times I made myself do it. And now actually I do enjoy the process, I enjoy thinking through how I can show them the products. I don’t necessarily enjoy being the model, but I like you know, I like showing people how you could put things together and how you can wear things and, and making that fun as well. I think you know, there’s a whole lot of fun in Instagram, particularly in the kind of reels and videos. So you know, and that’s a big part of the brand is fun and feelgood. And you know, sort of tried to bring that all into the, into the reels and videos that I produce.
Gary Crotaz 28:37
And we’ll put the link in the show notes. But I think I know that people when they go and look at the Instagram feed, they’ll pick up on that real humanity of the brand, that it’s, it’s real people and real clothes that you can go and wear, and I really love that because there’s so much that is sort of overplayed in terms of fashion, where it’s all a little bit inaccessible, and, and sort of glamorous to the point of you wouldn’t actually go and wear it. And I really like brands that you know, you’re talking about the ethical and sustainable angle. It’s really important because people really care about it. And I think that comes through really strongly in what you’ve done. Something that I’m really interested to hear about is the practicalities of running a side-hustle fashion business because most people, they’re in the stone hedgehog mode and they go well, you know, I do like the idea of one day being, you know, Ben Francis of Gymshark, or whatever it is, but they don’t think about the bit in between where you’re at your kitchen table packing boxes and posting them off and all of that. So what does it look like in your home to be running your own fashion brand? You know, like practically what kind of things you actually do?
Hayley Thomas 29:47
Yeah! So there are a lot of boxes in my home at the moment. I’m, we had a delivery earlier this week, actually, which has slightly tipped us over the edge. So we already had our spare room full of boxes, and part of my bedroom. And now we’ve got, we’ve got downstairs and the upstairs hall. So I am looking now at outsourcing distribution because it’s reached that point where we can’t, we just can’t live surrounded by boxes anymore. But in terms of the sort of day to day, there is a lot of, you know, we do everything, you know, I do everything, and then Ben in his spare time, there’s all of the packing. But day to day, there’s a lot of, a lot of packing. There’s a lot of samples around so I’m surrounded by things that I’m working on. And, you know, I do a lot of buying products that I like and thinking, how can I change that? How can I make that better? So there’s a lot of kind of samples and things that I’m halfway through working on, around me, there’s lots of fabrics around me. I spend a lot of time talking to customers, so spend my evenings, you know, I might be sitting with the kids with the TV on but I’ll also be chatting to customers and answering queries and you know, giving them you know, I’ll be watching the television, I’m measuring the waist of the new jeans. So there’s a lot of facts. There’s a lot of learning, actually, as well, because my background isn’t the product side of things. And as you start to sort of move into more technical areas, you need to understand how a product’s formed and put together. So I’m working with some, you know, some experts in all the right areas. So there’s a lot of learning which I’m loving, as well. But it is yeah, it’s varied. And then we won’t mention the kind of accounts and the tech support!
Gary Crotaz 31:42
But I come back to the the authenticity piece that, you know, you’re at a stage where you’ve got your website, you’ve got a range, you’ve been going for years, you’ve got 35,000 Instagram followers. And when a customer’s reaching out, they’re talking to you, the founder of the brand, you know, and that won’t be the case forever I’m sure, as it continues to scale and continues to grow. But there’s something really authentic about, you know, it’s still you and you want to be the person that’s there directly in touch with the person who’s buying your your products and engaging with everything you’ve created. So I really like that, that coming through.
Hayley Thomas 32:19
Yeah, no, I think it’s important that, you know, to find a way of doing that however big the business gets, or not. I think that’s really key.
Gary Crotaz 32:29
And I know in the last few months or so you’ve been thinking through and working through some really significant changes in terms of things like the brand and your time and your involvement. So what’s happened most recently in terms of, you know, how it’s all been developing?
Hayley Thomas 32:45
So the first big thing is that we’ve rebranded. So the brand actually started out being called Love Sweat + Tees. And I remember at the time I was chatting to someone when I was trying to think of names, and she said, But doesn’t that just limit you to sweaters and T-shirts, because that’s, that’s what we started as, it was all printed sweaters and T-shirts. And I remember saying at the time, no, because that’s all I’ll ever do is, you know, it’s only ever going to be a hobby, it’s you know. And I got to the stage where I wanted to expand into other product areas, still keeping to the sort of everyday style theme, but Love Sweat + Tees didn’t really work as a brand name anymore. And so we decided to rebrand. It was the complete opposite of any other rebrand I’ve ever worked on in my corporate life, which would typically take you know, six months to a year and involve lots of PowerPoint presentations. And also, so I went for a walk on the Friday, was chatting to Ben and said, You know, I really think I should have rebranded, I should have renamed the business. He said, Well, you know, just do it! I was starting to do more PR and going out to newspapers, and I thought well actually, it’s now or never really because I don’t want to rebrand after, after that. So we went for a walk on the Friday. And then by the following Wednesday, I’d completely rebranded. I got a new name, a new website or web domain, a new logo. So it was, it was the fastest rebrand that I’ve ever done. But that’s one of the lovely things about a small business and running your own business that you know, I, you know, I obviously went out and spoke to people and spoke to friends and family and said, you know, is this, is this right? Does this sound okay? But yeah, it’s good just to be able to get on and do things.
Gary Crotaz 34:46
And what does Eleven Loves mean, and where does that, where did it actually come from?
Hayley Thomas 34:49
So the Loves bit, I wanted to kind of retain the connection to Love Sweat + Tees, I was trying to sort of keep the love in there somewhere. And then the Eleven comes from the fact that I sold my very first piece on the 11th of November, back in 2017. So, yeah, that’s kind of part of the story. And that’s where the Eleven comes from.
Gary Crotaz 35:12
Fantastic. So when you think back about all these elements of the journey, what have you learned about yourself, having having gone on that journey with Eleven Loves?
Hayley Thomas 35:23
So a couple of things. I think having kind of gone through my school life thinking, I’m not creative, and you know, that’s, I’m sort of not allowed to sort of work in that area or comment in that area, I’ve actually realised that I am creative, I might not be practically creative in that, you know, I don’t sit there and sketch designs, but I can, you know, I have a good creative eye. So I think I’ve gradually grown in confidence and realised, actually, you know, I’ve created something, I’ve put it together. And people want to buy it. And not only are people buying it, but they’re coming back and seeing how much they love it, and that their friends have noticed and commented on it. So I think, you know, I’ve realised that about myself. And I think, you know, you really shouldn’t write off, you know, elements of your own capabilities that easily. I think I’ve also learned that actually just getting on and doing things is the best way, and there’s, you know, nothing’s ever going to be perfect. Actually, I think, as a planner, I’m naturally a planner, and a sort of strategizer. Sometimes it’s kind of bringing out the doer, and just getting on and doing, and learning that way, and you’re never going to get it right 100% of the time, there will always be things that don’t work, and that fall flat, actually growing a business that way it feels like you probably end up with something that’s sort of more true and more real, because you’ve learned from real customers, rather than from books or, you know, bits of paper or plans or models. So I think just doing, as well, is my big learning.
Gary Crotaz 37:10
What is it do you think that that makes you feel a little bit like you’re writing off your capabilities, as you describe? So why is it that there’s this kind of voice in your head, you know, that’s questioning you a little bit along this journey? Because clearly, you’ve demonstrated that you’re able to and have launched and grown a significant fashion brand in your own merit. So there’s not a question of capability, but there’s something in us all, I’m interested for you to just bring that to life for you, the thing, that voice that says, you know, But what if you can’t?
Hayley Thomas 37:46
I think the idea of kind of being creative has changed. So I know when I was at school, there were, it was almost, if you can’t draw, and you can’t act, and you can’t dance, and you can’t sing, then therefore, that’s, you know, you’re, you’re in this bucket, you’re not in that bucket. And so I think you know, a lot of these things comes back to what you’ve been told, and not necessarily a question, because you’re too young to question it. And you’re being told that by, by your teacher. So I think there’s that. I don’t know, I guess we’re all as you say, everyone has self-doubt, don’t they? And everyone has things that they have assumed about themselves that they’ve picked up over their life, whether that’s from some things that have happened, or, you know, just, just messages that have filtered through.
Gary Crotaz 38:37
Does it ever leave you, I mean, even as you have objective evidence from your business continuing to grow, and do well and build, that that sort of nagging voice in your head, does it change or not particularly?
Hayley Thomas 38:50
No, but I think you can kind of harness that for the good. So I am incredibly critical of whatever I produce, but actually, that’s a good thing, because I don’t you know, I’ve gone through that process of picking it to pieces, we’ve just produced a jumpsuit, which has taken me a year and I think I’ve driven everyone mad in the process, because I’m, I was on sample eight by the time I said, Actually, that’s right. But you know, I’d get the sample and say, Oh, no I think that, you know, the sleeves are too big or the legs are too narrow, or the shoulders are too puffy. So I think actually, me being quite critical is a good thing for that. Because I’ve gone through that process for the customer, so that by the time the product reaches the customer, it’s, in my eyes, it’s right and it’s, it’s perfect. And I think if I wasn’t quite so self-doubting and critical, then the product wouldn’t be quite as good.
Gary Crotaz 39:44
And when it is right, and you receive that first box of the new products, the new, you know, whatever it is that’s come through and you hold that for the first time. How does it feel now?
Hayley Thomas 39:57
It feels amazing, actually. Yeah. And I still can’t quite believe it. I think when I get it and I put it on, I think, Wow, this is, this is mine, this has come from me. You know, and the experts that have supported me along the way, and they, you know, they deserve an awful lot of credit. But yeah, it’s amazing. And it just it doesn’t feel like a job, it feels like it’s, it still feels like my hobby, even though I have just handed in my notice to my day job. And I know it is my job now. This is my living. It doesn’t feel like a job. But it feels like just being able to do that is a real joy.
Gary Crotaz 40:36
That’s amazing. And I spoke to another interviewee on an earlier episode of The Unlock Moment, a guy called Micah Lorenc, who was talking about that same thing where he said, you know, imagine you get to do every day the thing that you love more than anything else, and he said that’s what my day job feels like to me now. He’s going through that same journey of having quit a big corporate role to do something that at the moment earns a lot less money and, you know, puts him in some ways under more risk. So when you’re thinking now, and you said, you know, you’ve handed in your notice on your on your day job to take this full time. How does that feel? In terms of, you know, your eggs are in one basket now!
Hayley Thomas 41:15
Yeah. I mean, I’m definitely feeling the fear. In that there isn’t that financial, sort of, fallback, this needs to pay me! You know, it’s, it’s not a hobby anymore. So I think I’m definitely feeling the fear. But it is liberating to be able to fully concentrate on something and not have your mind in so many different places. I think it makes me even more focused on getting things right from a product perspective, because I need to be more commercial. And while I still, you know, I still trial things and risk things, because I think you have to and sometimes I design something and I think hmmm not sure this is my customer, and then I launch it and people love it. So I love having that kind of Marmite piece in the collection. But it is making me even more commercial and even more sort of focused on you know, doing things right, and getting it right for the customer.
Gary Crotaz 42:17
So you’re all in both, both feet. What’s the next year ahead got for you, do you think?
Hayley Thomas 42:24
I’m so definitely expanding the range. So retaining the focus on everyday wear, but expanding. So we’ve already expanded beyond sweaters and T shirts, we now do knitwear, which is recycled cashmere, we do ek denim. So I’ve got jeans and a jumpsuit live, I’ve got some shorts coming. For summer, we’re looking at dresses and organic cotton blouses. And then it’s beyond that, so I’m already starting to think about winter as you do. So I think it’s looking at becoming even more sustainable and even more ethical. And I’m really interested in kind of emerging fabrics and emerging processes and emerging technology that, you know, will create even more ethical and even more sustainable garments. So I think that’s a big theme for us. And continuing to talk to the customers, I think because my time has been a bit constrained because of the day job. You know, I’ve, I talk to customers all the time, but I want to do more of that. So I’d really like to get out there and you know, meet customers face to face and maybe do some roadshows and popups and that sort of thing as well. So they’re all in plan this year.
Gary Crotaz 43:49
Fantastic. And where can people find out more about you? And about the Eleven Loves brand? And where can they find your product?
Hayley Thomas 43:55
So the website is ElevenLoves.co.uk. And we’re on Instagram, so you can hear from me, but also from customers as well. So I share a lot of customer content on Instagram. Because I do think that’s the most powerful way. I can tell people all day long that you know, these these products are beautifully made and great quality. But actually I think it’s hearing from my customers that you know really brings the brand to life and really gets people to sort of understand what we’re all about. So, so yes, you can find me on Instagram doing silly reels. And walking up and down, yes!
Gary Crotaz 44:31
Hayley, thank you so much. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For Hayley, it was the journey with her husband and family through cancer diagnosis and treatment that gave her the clarity that life is short, and the drive to turn her entrepreneurial dream into reality. Eleven Loves is a fantastic sustainable fashion brand. And please go check it out on the web and social media. It’s such a moving story. I’m so grateful for Hayley for coming on today with such openness, honesty and authenticity to share it with all of you. I’m sure Eleven Loves is going to go from strength to strength over the coming months and years. Hayley, thank you so much for joining me on The Unlock Moment.
Hayley Thomas 45:12
Gary Crotaz 45:16
This has been The Unlock Moment a podcast with me, Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook format. Follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!