New Year’s Eve can sometimes be a polarising topic, but I’ve always been a big fan. It signals the closing of one chapter with the beginning of a new one and as the final bottle smashed into the recycling bank on 2ndJanuary 2020 there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
Perhaps it was the symmetry of the number 2020 that raised the stakes of this New Year in relation to others or more likely, from my point of view, it was the new country I found myself in along with a new husband and new career opportunities that might allow time to launch the side hustle I’d often wanted to.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial itch, ready to be scratched when the right idea came along; it was just the idea itself that needed work. Sleep and sustainability were at the centre of my mind map but the spokes surrounding it were yet to form a wheel.
When my sister-in-law suggested a yoga retreat on the West Coast at the start of the year, I jumped at the chance to join her for a January detox and a mind emptying experience that might allow room for a bit of clarity. No alcohol, no phones, no meat and no chatting is not everyone’s idea of a fun weekend away and given the way 2020 has played out maybe it could have been put to better use. However, as a backdrop for thinking time, it couldn’t have been better.
It was on one of our early morning silent walks – yes, like I said, no chatting – that the idea came to me. Pyjamas. Made in Ireland, from Irish linen and with a conscience for the planet at every stage of the process. Bingo. Decision made. Now it was just a case of putting a plan into action. What could possibly go wrong?
A global pandemic, I suppose.
In that short window of opportunity between Zen and Zoom calls, I’d taken some business planning steps in the right direction and the first pyjama samples were under production just before the terms “flatten the curve” or “social distance” came into common parlance.
Then the “lockdown” hit and we proceeded to commit every COVID cliché in the book. We baked banana bread, planted vegetables, took part in weekly video quizzes and got a puppy; only falling short of joining the sourdough starter revolution.
To begin with, we were so busy baking, small-time farming and swatting-up on general knowledge that there was little time for anything else. As the monotony of the months wore on though, building a new brand became a perfect outlet for an active brain that needed minding. Providing a sense of purpose in an unsettling time.
I began listening to business podcasts incessantly, I kept a notepad by my bed for new ideas that came into my head in the middle of the night and as the country opened up a little, samples were able to be signed-off on and production continued. Then there were the all-important decisions to be made such as what impressive title to put on my business cards, the dreaming up of launch parties, photo shoots, press interviews and the general glamour of becoming a business owner.
But oh, the reality. The reality is very different and so far it has involved a lot more grit than glamour. There have been the hours spent in front of spreadsheets trying to work out potential profit and loss or lying awake at night feeling like you’ve been swallowed by the Instagram algorithm as you swim amongst those grid squares plotting the next marketing breakthrough. Not to mention tears spilt while on hold to courier companies trying to track down missing stock. There were days I was certain a “launch day” would never come.
But eventually the launch day came and I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced a bigger buzz than when the first orders began to drop into my inbox. There’s really nothing like those small pings of validation every time someone supports your idea with a purchase.
It’s still early days though and there’ll be plenty more bumps in the road to come. As only a very small acorn in the grand oak tree of business, I can’t pretend to have huge of reems advice to dispense. I also don’t underestimate the privilege of my position. I still have a job that enables me to pay the bills while pursuing a side project, I don’t have children which allows me the time to commit to it and I have some funds saved to invest.
What I have learnt though is this; crying on the phone to courier companies won’t make your post arrive any quicker; a made-up title on a business card doesn’t bring with it status; but if you pursue something you think you cannot do with enough drive and passion, you might just realise that you can. And that will give you more satisfaction than you can possibly imagine.
2020 will universally be remembered as a bad year and there are no positives to be drawn from the lives and livelihoods lost to Coronavirus. But the opportunity to slow down and the time it has given me to think through and develop new ideas is something for which I shall be eternally grateful.