“I’ve made something that people care about.”

“Basically it’s like a pub crawl in bookshops,” Bex Hughes explains of the London Bookshop Crawl, an annual non-profit event in February which promotes and supports independent bookshops. If you’re anything like me (and I’m guessing you are), you’re already sold. A weekend of events, discounts and meet-ups, the London Bookshop Crawl is entering its sixth year of bringing book lovers together and giving some much needed support to bookshops. The event started in 2016 when Bex asked Twitter if anyone wanted to go book shopping with her. The following year, a hundred people turned up at Foyles’ cafe wanting to join in. Since then, hundreds of hungry book lovers descend on London every February to visit some of the 110 independent bookshops involved. 

In our interview with her, she discusses the community she has built alongside her struggles with social anxiety. “Organising the kind of events I organise,” she says, “I found that there’s quite a big cross over between people who love really books and people who are introverted, but also people who suffer with anxiety and depression.” Bex not only battles her own anxiety to create the remarkable weekend every year, but she has also used her personal experience to create a supportive environment for others. “It’s okay to have limits,” she tells us, “your brain is not broken because it doesn’t work the same way that other peoples do.” 

The growth of the London Bookshop Crawl shows that there is a real desire to help support independent businesses, something which is close to our collective hearts here at FreeBird. Bex doesn’t only support independent booksellers but independent publishers also. The founder of Ninja Book Box, her website hosts an online pre-loved bookshop, a quarterly subscription box of independently published books of all genres, and resources such as the Indie Challenge and a monthly Indie Releases List to encourage people to read more independently published books. 

Building a supportive community not only for the participants, but with the booksellers themselves, (who are fighting for survival in a world of increased online shopping and an enormous US corporation who shall not be named), Bex was the perfect person for FreeBird to talk to as we reflect on Community this month.

Looking to learn more about London Bookshop Crawl- make sure you check them out on:

Instagram: londonbookshopcrawl & ninjabookbox

Twitter: @LdnBkshopCrawl & @NinjaBookBox

Facebook: @bookshopcrawl & @ninjabookbox

“Fashion is a feminist issue”

How many pieces of ‘feminist’ merch have you got in your wardrobe?

How many T-shirts with cute slogans, graphic illustrations of historical women, or tote bags covered in messages of equality?

Of all those items, how many can you say were climate-neutral to make? Or made in non-exploitative conditions?

Appoximately 80% of fast fashion garment workers are women aged 18-35, earning £74 per month (that’s around 25p per hour, if you’re wondering). Labour Behind the Label produces extensive research into garment factory working conditions in the UK, India, Cambodia and Pakistan. By knowingly purchasing from brands who produce garments in these factories, we’re contributing to the economic oppression and exploitation of workers around the world– many of whom are women. And this issue is not far removed from the UK, there are garment factories in Leicester paying workers £3.50 per hour. As Sophie Koumides, the woman behind Kou Kou Kreations says, fashion is– without a doubt– a feminist issue.

Sophie joined us to discuss Kou Kou Kreations– a one-woman show putting the spotlight on the way intersectional feminism relates to the fashion industry. A queer artist with a background in performance, Sophie is led by her values– dedicated to sustainability, climate activism, and gender equality.

After the exposure of Boohoo (Nasty Gal and Pretty Little Thing) and Missguided’s unethical labour practices this year, we’ve been watching closely. Fashion brands must be transparent with their manufacturing processes. You can use Good On You to search thousands of fashion houses and check their manufacturing rating, potential association with animal cruelty, and their impact on people and the planet.

Fancy wearing a vintage handbag that reads ‘Feminist AF’, a T-Shirt which sports ‘Support her dreams and make her cum’, or maybe a ‘I was not born to be subtle’ pre-loved denim jacket? Or maybe you’d like a map of the world featuring amazing women, unsung heroines who deserve recognition? The Women of The World is my favourite piece by Kou Kou Kreations– as it sees Sophie literally putting women on the map.

In our chat, Sophie discussed Kou Kou’s step-by-step approach to sustainable operations, and how she developed a climate-neutral manufacturing process in collaboration with Wild and Kind Studios and Lucky Cat printing. Kou Kou also distribute all their items in recyclable materials (no plastic involved). Sophie’s process is fully transparent, and has stuck to some truly amazing climate commitments throughout her journey.

You’ll hear us discuss the very exciting next collection- The Dream Muse Collection drops on Friday, 28th August– we’ve had a sneak peak, and it’s sassy af.

You can find Kou Kou Kreations via their website and their Instagram.

“It’s all about making a difference”

Menstrual cups. Great for the environment, fantastic for our bodies but a terrible business model. ‘Buy this product once and it will last you ten years’ is a far cry from the monthly revenue of traditional tampons or pads. However, sustainable Small Brands such as Sea & Flo and the conscious business owners behind them understand that business models need to adapt to fit with evolving values and goals.They care about the environment, our ownership over our bodies and providing consumers with products that help them provide for their bodies instead of feeling ashamed by them.

Maria joined us to discuss her brand Sea & Flo and menstrual cups, touching on all manner of topics: wellness, gender conditioning, buying less and investing in supportive products, making donations to mental health charities and our cultural shift to focus on people before profit. 

I use Sea & Flo’s menstrual cup and I cannot recommend it enough. As Maria and I discuss, we have a level of care for our period product which we feel shares that love and cares for us back. Maria calls her products ‘care products’, another welcomed step away from ‘feminine hygiene products’ which reinforces the stigma around periods as well as a restrictive gender binary.

I purchased the Duo Cup set, which comes in two sizes along with the cotton bag. Don’t fret FreeBirds, you can learn more about the sizing in this video. I am under 30, I haven’t had a full term pregnancy and I considered myself slight, therefore I use the small size. At some point I may decide to move to the larger size– if I’ve had a baby or maybe just decide to try it out. They last for ten years so I thought, why not get both now? Once our relationship comes to its natural end, they can be recycled or burned — which is the most ecological way to go, although it does feel a bit harsh.

The cups are black, which Maria explains was designed to avoid the shame that can come with using stainable cups. Informed by her past experiences with cups, Maria designed Sea & Flo products to ensure her customers never feel period shame again.

With the cup comes a stunning cotton bag– the design is fresh, non gender specific and I personally feel it brings a sense of community. When I reach for my menstrual cup, when I need its care the most, I see all those faces, lines, shapes and bodies, and I wonder– how many other menstruators have this lovely cotton bag and the support of their cup? 

A Sea & Flo cup is incredibly soft and flexible, and its thicker rim helps hold its shape and acts as a seal. When used correctly, which may require some fiddling around at first, the cup is fully leak-proof. The little stem at the base of the cup is smaller than on the average cup and it is rounded in shape, making it highly comfortable. 

Sea & Flo’s packaging echoes their eco-conscious values: I was over the moon to receive a cardboard envelope with a thank you message, and the product. No plastic, no non-recyclable material, just Sea & Flo. 

Maria’s values lead her and all her business operations. Like other sustainable period product business owners, she recognises that the lump sum to purchase a reusable/sustainable period product can be daunting and unaffordable, particularly during a pandemic. That’s why Sea & Flo operate an AfterPay scheme; with no interest weekly payments, purchasing a cup is even more accessible. 

Maria’s brand, and this chat, aren’t about flogging products or making money. As you will see from their Instagram and this video, Sea & Flo is a home for period care and wellness. For too long periods have been painted as negative, shameful, even dirty. Maria works to move away from the dread which impacts us psychologically and encourages everyone to recognise the power and beauty in periods. Her product has this feel-good energy and aesthetic which helps my personal journey to care for my period, rather than disown it. 

Sea & Flo recognise that traditional gender roles impact people of all genders, therefore the company strives to empower everybody to talk about periods, and understand their impact on an individual as well as a global level. Now more than ever, the younger generation is willing to tackle these conversations and to fight for change. Sea & Flo aim to support their sustainable period journey and is looking into creating cups for menstruators aged 15 and up. Imagine a world where periods are no longer associated with shame, expensive or wasteful products– menstrual cups bring us one step closer to fully zero waste periods… for just 20p a period. 

During this last installment of the 21st-23rd August 2020 Sustainable Period and Period Poverty weekend here at FreeBird, we encourage you to consider switching to reusable period products. Research your options, ask brands for advice and more information on any sustainable period product that you’re interested in, and find what works for you and your body. 

As Maria says, and we at FreeBird strongly agree, the education system let us down. We are not educated enough about our menstruation, our bodies and how to love and care for ourselves during our periods. Watch now, educate yourself that little bit more, and for further reading, check out Maisie Hill’s Period Power

You can find Sea & Flo on their website or on their Instagram.

‘We will see a lot of change’

Shouting from rooftops will only get you so far. Sharing, tweeting and reposting information via social media to encourage our social circle to be more aware of the social injustices that happen daily can be frustrating and bear limited results. Natalie Apted– the CEO of Naturally Adapted, and a proud feminist who cares deeply about sustainability and human rights– decided to take change into her own hands by starting a business selling menstrual cups. 

Natalie joined us to discuss Naturally Adapted, to further educate us on sustainable period products, and to bring to our attention the shocking statistics on period poverty in the UK. 

With a lot of hope for change, Natalie highlighted the rising rates in UK period poverty since March 2020. Before lockdown, 1 in 10 menstruators struggled to access or afford period products. Since the pandemic, this has now increased to 3 in 10. We discuss former MP Paula Sheriff’s extensive campaigning to abolish the tampon tax, the household care packages distributed by the government which omit period products, and ideas on how to donate products to those who need them. 

The pandemic has resulted in rapid unemployment and drops in household income. Tragically, it is impacting the poorest households the most. What happens when we are penny-pinching and cannot afford safe and clean sanitary products? Why, in 2020, after years of public campaigns– and during a global pandemic– are period products still classed as luxurious products, and why are they still being taxed

Period poverty isn’t a developing nations issue, it’s a global issue. Nonprofit organisation I Support The Girls has reported a 35% increase in requests for menstrual products and clean underwear during the pandemic, across the US and globally. 

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Naturally Adapted’s FDA-approved, medical-grade silicone menstrual cup is the most cost-effective reusable period product on the market in the UK– at just £8.99! Natalie created this small brand with an aim to ensure menstruators can access an affordable period product which lasts for ten years, is eco friendly, and introduces them to the possibility of never needing to purchase a tampon or pad again. 

Spend £8.99, and this one transaction will last ten years. And you won’t be alone in testing out a reusable period product– the brand you purchase from will support you, provide 1-on-1 advice, and you’ll be using a product that eliminates waste, monthly expenditure and dangerous chemicals.

It gets better! Naturally Adapted, similarly to a lot of the small brands FreeBird collaborate with, donate a portion of their profits to charity. ActionAid is an international charity working towards an equitable and sustainable world, free from poverty and all forms of oppression. They provide reusable menstrual products to menstruators living in poverty. Naturally Adapted also pairs with Packhelp, a sustainable packaging company who plant a tree for each time Natalie sells a cup in their reusable, recyclable cardboard boxes. 

Naturally Adapted encourages us to donate period products to those in need. They are looking into operating a buy a cup gift a cup scheme. While that’s still growing, Natalie raises another idea for an initiative– if you use a contraceptive that halts your period, and if you can afford it, why not donate reusable menstrual products each month to food banks? 

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Why do we keep saying ‘menstruator’? You might be wondering why we use this terminology. Society decided women and girls bleed and have periods– but not all those who menstruate are female. FreeBird recognises that gender is socially constructed, and not every person who menstruates associates themselves with the terms ‘female’, ‘woman’, or ‘girl’. We’re also moving away from calling them ‘feminine hygiene’ products, because of the implication that having your period is fundamentally unhygienic or dirty. Not. True.

We may mention ‘women’ and ‘girls’ during this video chat– but since we started this journey with Sustainable Periods and period poverty, we’re broadening our vocabulary and educating ourselves regularly. We hope you join us on that journey, too!

You can find Naturally Adapted on their Instagram or their website.

‘Every job I worked, I didn’t feel was creative enough’

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that your career is kind of like a relationship. There’s a moment of infatuation, a sudden thrill about what might be ahead. You enter into an agreement, committing yourself to a particular path, and for a little while you experience something like a ‘honeymoon phase’. You’re buoyed by the prospect of new experiences, learning different skills, forming fresh connections, and challenging yourself in new situations. It can be daunting; a leap into the unknown, an uncertain future which you hope will match up with your dreams and aspirations. But you can’t be certain about any of it, unless you take the leap.

So what happens when, after spending years developing and investing in your career, you decide it’s not ‘the one’?

You start again. When Anna Jordan decided to leave her theatre marketing job to pursue a career in tattooing, she had no certainties except that this was what she wanted. The lack of creativity she felt in her previous jobs became a catalyst, motivating her to move forward with her true passion– visual art. For months, she worked on building her portfolio, while continuing to freelance as a social media manager, and starting a small business selling her own prints, paintings, and commissions. In January of 2020, she got an apprenticeship with Hammersmith Tattoo– marking the official start of her new life as a tattoo artist.

As a lover of literature, theatre, and visual art, and having grown up with the idea that careers in the arts were only a viable option for a talented and lucky few, I always treasured the idea of becoming a novelist or a playwright ‘at some point, later’. This was more of a childhood dream than an actual career plan– but I found the idea of ‘one day’ discovering a hidden talent for storytelling and living off of my creativity to be a comforting one. That’s why I loved hearing stories of incredibly successful people starting their careers later in life. Samuel L Jackson, Vera Wang, Harrison Ford, Julia Child– those are names you’ll find on lists of ‘famous people who found success later than you’d think’. What I find fascinating is that these lists seem to define ‘late’ as ‘any time after 22’, reinforcing the idea that deciding on a career path and succeeding in your desired field is something to be achieved by your early twenties. The fact is, for many people that’s simply impossible. The persistent narrative that the job you have early in life is the career you’ll have to stay on for the rest of it can be incredibly limiting, and disheartening.

Being able to work in a field that gives you fulfilment is, for many, the result of a lot of hard work and persistence. But for others, having to work outside of your ‘dream career’ is not the result of a lack of hard work and persistence. A lack of opportunity, access, and unstable circumstances on a personal and global scale can hinder our ability to start our desired career how, and when, we want to. 

Once employed, the safety of having a job and a regular income can often become an argument against any further change. ‘Why would I risk this financial security to try something that may fail?’ This is especially true when thinking of starting a career working for yourself, or in an industry traditionally perceived as ‘unstable’.

However there is a clear trend indicating that workers today are willing to change jobs and employers more often and more quickly than ever before.The idea of a “lifelong career” has all but disappeared in the UK today, especially for young professionals, who value work-life balance, and a sense of success, over financial success and longevity in a role. This readiness to start anew comes as the workforce is more skilled than ever, and hopefully as a result, better equipped to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment. ‘Upskilling’ on the job and outside of work is the new normal. For many, office jobs rely on highly transferable skills that no longer preclude workers from changing roles, employers, or careers. And this furthers the normalisation of more fluid career paths– within one field, as well as moving between them. Starting again does not mean starting anew, and in any new start, you’re always accompanied by the knowledge and skills you’ve built from previous experiences.

Anna’s linework and subtle use of colours in her drawings is remarkable– the result of countless hours of practice. But she reminds her prospective tattoo clients to look at her tattoos, not at her drawings. She notes that translating her artistry to tattooing is like learning to draw again. Her trust in the creative process, and patience with learning technical skills, is a wonderful reminder that change may be scary, but the results outweigh the initial investment tenfold. From marketing plans, to pet portraits and tattoo design, we chatted with Anna about her experience changing careers, and finding a professional environment that celebrates her creativity and her values.

You can find Anna on Instagram and Facebook @annajordan_tattoo to message her about commissions and tattoo designs, and on her shop to browse through her prints and paintings

“Why not you?”

Self-taught entrepreneur and artist Josie Devine doesn’t exclude any female form– as an artist, painter, and woman. Josie celebrates all female shapes, as well as female strength and beauty, through her artwork. Entering lockdown feeling unproductive (and by proxy, guilty), she started her “side hustle”, turning her passion for life drawing and painting into a business.

Josie’s work is striking. In an era that feels far removed from ‘heroin chic’ and the 90s’ skinny body aesthetic– and in spite of the continuing prevalence of plastic surgery and cosmetic injections– the mainstreaming of the online body positivity movement, the proliferation of ‘all sizes’ campaigns amongst high street fashion brands, and discussions such as those hosted by Jameela Jamil on her ‘i Weigh’ podcast, have meant women across the internet, and around the world, are revelling in embracing under-represented, diverse body shapes. 

While many still stand in front of mirrors, pinching and pondering, Josie paints a huge variety of body shapes, in the aim of empowering those outside the norm. At the end of the day, we’re all just babes who would love to be painted byjosiedevine.

Of course, ‘body positivity’ shouldn’t have to be an enforced affirmation. We all have those rubbish days; we wish our bodies wouldn’t have to be political statements or social media content, and most of us don’t want to have to think about them at all. Even if we don’t feel positive about our body image– we can find peace with that, and still manage to love ourselves. 

With a background in marketing, social media and e-commerce, it’s no wonder Josie’s company has been thriving. With hundreds of likes on Instagram, a stunning website, and over four thousand followers, Josie is onto a winner. And yet, she describes herself as a realist with a tendency to hinder herself, and a lack of natural self-belief.

Josie discusses how imposter syndrome created mental hurdles when starting the company, and how it affected her confidence as an entrepreneur. A massive obstacle to career progression, job applications, salary review requests and self belief; if you’ve ever struggled with imposter syndrome, this conversation is for you. 

Originally identified by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, this inability to own accomplishments and internalise success impacts women on an individual level, when starting businesses and believing in themselves, as well as on a macro-economic level. Relatedly, according to the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, only one in three entrepreneurs in the UK are women. 

Procrastination, lack of confidence to speak up in a meeting, failing to take ‘next steps’ towards goals, stopping yourself from making a funding application, or that nagging mindset which results in you doubting your abilities– that’s imposter syndrome. 

How do we deal with imposter syndrome? Most articles, psychologists, and research suggest multiple different approaches– journaling, affirmations, reframing thoughts, and developing coping mechanisms. Above all else,  talk to your friends, colleagues and family about it– and talk to us! We totally get it. 

Our aim is to give you the knowledge, the facts, and the tools, to deal with in-built obstacles in the workplace. We’ve all had moments of self-doubt creep in, making us reflect negatively on our abilities. Let’s be aware of it and turn the focus towards our resilience, strength, intellect, and our unique selling points.

As Valerie Young says, “have an imposter moment, but not an imposter life”. 

You can find Josie and follow her artwork via @byjosiedevine. You can commission and purchase her creations at byjosiedevine.uk

You can also listen to this conversation on Soundcloud, here:

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