“There’s a real love there”

“I’ve learnt a lot through lockdown and I’ve got better and stronger at making the right decisions. Maybe it’s naive of me, but I’m a business and I’m very much a person that believes we’re all equal, so let’s try to understand and support each other during this time.” 

When you think about success what do you think of? Money? Career? A Family? The question often asked is can we actually have it all? We all know that being able to work in a field that brings us fulfilment is not only desirable, but something we expect comes with a serious amount of hard work and dedication. This is true of course, but it’s often even harder work when the industry is niche. Theatre is not only ever changing, it’s over-saturated, uncertain and inconclusive. One thing’s for sure, Louise Dearman is most certainly a woman who has reached success on all of the above. 

Louise needs no introduction. With a seriously impressive West End, National touring and International concert CV, a supportive fan base following on all her platforms and most recently her most important role yet, a Mother, Louise has repeatedly shown her commitment to it all. Additionally, Louise has managed to do all of this whilst ensuring she keeps life at its most real and most importantly, Louise isn’t afraid to call out problematic attitudes and behaviours which continue to plague parts of the entertainment industry. 

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

Having worked as an agent assistant myself for five years at leading London agency Global Artists, I’ve had first hand experience working both for and alongside Louise. We’ve shared some incredible moments together, witnessed changes and supported each other continuously. Louise was also one of the agency’s first ever clients, so she’s also grown up with the team, which I for one find rather charming. One thing’s for sure, Louise has always had many different strings to her bow. From starring in Wicked, to creating an album, to publishing a book – she’s always been creative in multiple ways and open for conversations around something new, which is exactly the reason we couldn’t wait to meet with her and discuss Growth. 

Louise’s outlook on musical theatre is incredibly positive and optimistic, and as she recalls the support she’s had from producers and other industry professionals as a new mum we understand her enthusiasm. As she explains, becoming a parent has had a significant impact on how she approaches her career and her choice of roles. Considerations on childcare, workload and scheduling have all taken a front seat in deciding who to work with and when. 

In the midst of a childcare crisis, Louise’s insight into returning to work in musical theatre after having a child is a welcome ray of positivity. Putting aside the pandemic for a second, because we can’t solve everything at once, her experience seems to be a great example of what to do (producers, pay attention!). Offering support with childcare and being flexible with schedules are vital elements to ensuring that, as Louise puts it no one “is made to feel guilty for being parents”. Similarly, the job-sharing system she encourages producers to consider could be a fantastic way to facilitate a more accessible industry, for new mothers as well as many other people who may not be able to work 8 shows a week– or 12, I’m looking at you Joseph.

It’s especially difficult at the moment to picture a time where theatre is back up and running as it was before. But what we should be planning for is a better return, where having a child does not mean deciding to abandon your passion or taking on a role which leaves you neither time nor energy to care for your baby. Let’s make best practice the industry standard, and emerge from this having grown.

“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.

“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:

“Your opinion matters”

We chatted with Clotilde Lelièvre (Clo) about Rue Clotilde and Clo’s ambitions as a 21-year-old entrepreneur aiming to promote best practice in the fashion industry by launching her slow-fashion and female empowering brand. 

Rue Clotilde is a sustainable t-shirt company with a mission to make their mark on the clothing world– however, not the clothing world we are all accustomed to. 

At the time of the interview, we believed the launch would be early August- however in the world of slow fashion, and in starting something new, sometimes you need a little bit more time. Rue Clotilde are aiming to be up and running for August 13th. They are currently taking pre-orders for the Honnête and Angel t-shirts. 

I. Fast Fashion vs. Ethical Mindsets 

2020 has brought many shocks to all of our lives– one being the global realisation that our most loved brands have created a production process that keeps garment workers in unsafe working conditions, earning little to no money, to maximise the brands’ own profits. The fashion industry has been exploiting its labourers for decades. 

The 2020 lockdown has really highlighted the issue. When the pandemic hit the UK, the EU and the US all our shops closed, and brands and retailers responded to the wave of closures as you might expect; they pushed the impact down the supply chain. With billions of pounds worth of cancelled orders, factories who had cashflow-ed the cost of fabrics, labour and overheads were left without income– therefore, the most vulnerable people in fast fashion were left without pay. 

It’s important to note that the majority of us have been aware of this exploitation for a very long time- maybe all of us, subconsciously. Even without a strong commercial mindset, us everyday high street buyers know that a t-shirt advertised for £6 can’t possibly have been produced in an ethical way.

As lockdown has eased, high streets are busy again– stocked with clothing and fashion items produced in exploitative conditions. Retailers, brands and the UK government must take action, and ownership of their culpability in this system. Has your favourite brand paid their order, are they still in negotiations for discounts or payment instalments, or are they doing anything at all? Track your favourite retailers’ actions via the Worker Rights Consortium.  

II. Feminism in Fashion

This conversation with Rue Clotilde not only highlights potential sustainable ways of manufacturing and producing clothing, but we also chat about the importance of feminism in her career and her relationship, as well as the message behind her decision to team up with Plan International UK, to try and influence change for women and girls. 

Your average ‘Feminism’ t-shirt is not feminist. The Rue Clotilde prints are plastic free, cruelty free, vegan, and empowering the workers who physically produced it. 

III. Education is Power

Clotilde also highlights her education journey in business school– surrounded by male educators and leaders who did not believe in her projects and ideas. Rue Clotilde was one of those ideas– an idea strongly discouraged by her tutors. Look at her now!

IV. Believe in Yourself

Clotilde’s biggest advice to small brands, and to women, is to believe in yourself, your career and your projects. Don’t be scared to be human and don’t be scared to use your voice, and tell your story.

Don’t be scared to be smart.

You can find Clotilde’s fashion brand Rue Clotilde via instagram and their website, make sure you follow the clothing company and check out Plan International’s work too. 

You can also listen to this interview on our Soundcloud

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