Read our exclusive interview with Anya Hindmarch


School Notices talks exclusively to the inspirational Anya Hindmarch about her new book, her life lessons and overcoming self-doubt


If In Doubt Wash Your Hair – the title of Anya’s new book might sound like a slightly vacuous statement but break it down and actually it’s solid, sound advice. Wash your hair and you’ll feel better about yourself and if you feel good then it’s likely that your day will be better too.

Similarly, on the surface Anya Hindmarch, doyenne of the handbag world and famous fashionista, might conjure up an image of glamourous frivolity, but she is in fact the complete opposite. Reading her book you are struck by her honesty, her kindness and her depth. The book also explores her battles with self-doubt and the life lessons learnt along the way. 

Whilst everyone was living it up at Uni, Anya had been to Florence, sought out the factories and was designing handbags from her kitchen table. Yes – she was brought up in an entrepreneurial family where profit and loss accounts were Christmas lunch conversations, but she was also brave and never doubted her decision to follow her dream. Marrying a man 12 years older and with three young bereaved children is testament to her gutsy but determined character. Yet at the same time in her book she talks at length about self-doubt, imposter syndrome and overcoming her crippling fear of public speaking. “Every day I doubt that I can do this – that’s the truth and point of the book.” This is a lady who may well own and run a multi-million dollar global business but who at heart is still fitting all the pieces together. Her self-doubt makes her human and approachable and her emotional intelligence is the bedrock of her success.

So why after 50 years has she decided to share her pearls of wisdom (and trust me they are pearls)? Having spent the last 50 years learning, she’d now like to share these valuable life lessons. And no one is more qualified: CBE, MBE, Ambassador for Greenpeace, and UK Trade, Trustee of the RA and Design Museum, Non-Exec Director of the British Fashion Council, Trustee of the Royal Marsden Cancer charity and Verve Cliquot Business Woman of the Year. She has a lot to talk about, but true to character, she approaches everything with both modesty and honesty.

Building a business legacy requires grit and determination and not being afraid of dipping your toe in the water. Anya believes that much of her business success and acumen comes from her belief that “emotion is a female super power” and one that should be celebrated. A chapter from her book is titled “Anya, you have to take the emotion out of this”, a sage remark from a textbook business point of view but the polar opposite to how Anya runs her business.

“Running a business, you are dealing with people and that’s all about connections, relationships and emotions. The highs and the lows are the whole point, so I would pick EQ over IQ every time.”

As an entrepreneur, Anya is aware that you do need to be a risk taker. “I’m quite comfortable being uncomfortable if that makes sense. It’s scary but you need to be prepared to back yourself and go out on a limb for what you believe.” Having said that, self-doubt always lies in the background but “it’s learning to sit with it knowing you will find your way through”. Another important life lesson learnt whilst dealing with her phobia of public speaking was that “fear and excitement are the same emotion” and it’s all down to how you perceive and interpret things.

As well as running the business, Anya knows that “creativity feeds my soul” so makes sure she has time to regularly visit museums and art galleries for inspiration. Her imagination is extraordinary and has taken the humble handbag to new heights through her inspirational marketing campaigns. Chubby Hearts saw key London landmarks emblazed with large inflatable hearts and Chubby Clouds did the same. Anya Hindmarch was also the first accessories company to have a scheduled show at London Fashion Week – testament to how respected the brand has become. Thanks to Anya the handbag is no longer a boring practical accessory but a fun statement with personality. Think the crisp and chocolate packet bag, bags with eyes, faces, characters and personal photographs.

For the more traditional customer, the exquisitely made bags are still available and are always celebrity favourites. Anya’s active imagination has never allowed the company to stand still and her current project sees Pont Street turned into a small village community where “stores will open to house all the ideas we have had over the years. It will be ever evolving and be a place where we pour all of our creative energy and collaborate on the subjects that interest us”. The perfect antidote to Covid lockdown. “It’s very exciting but also terrifying.”

But how does she juggle it all? Five children, a full time job as well as the many other charity and public positions she holds. For Anya, organisation is the bedrock of her ability to cope with life. “It’s essential, critical and key for me coping and also allowing me to be creative as well. People say creatives are disorganised but I will say that they’re often not”. Like her handbags, organisational thought has been given to every aspect of her life, while the handbags have pockets for just about everything, Anya would be happy to label her kids if she could!

Anya’s mantras
  • If you are happy, your children will be happy
  • Put your own oxygen mask on first
  • Fear and excitement are the same emotion
  • Creativity will eat strategy for breakfast
  • I would label my children if I could
  • Be yourself; everyone else is already taken
  • Life is just an ant wiggle
  • Silver linings – grab them with both hands

 

Of huge importance to Anya is the environment and sustainability. Well before it became trendy she was “scrabbling around to find a way of communicating an important message” and developed the I’m NOT a Plastic Bag campaign (2007). With no idea that it was going to be the success story that it was, she had already sourced a company to buy back the unused stock. In contrast the canvas tote bag sold by Sainsbury’s went viral with 80,000 people queuing to buy one. While in Taiwan there was a stampede resulting in 33 people being injured. “It was quite overwhelming in many respects.”

In continuation of the campaign the I AM a Plastic Bag was born. Anya has spent years refining the material made from plastic bottles to create a luxurious bag that will last and be sustainable. The collection continues to grow and develop. “This is a forever thing for us – it’s taken so long to do the research and development and you can now buy a beautiful handbag in a lovely fabric knowing that you are helping the planet by using plastic bottles.”

Along with the environment, Anya sees the privilege of her position within the fashion world to champion other matters close to her heart such as “gender equality or just being kind”. Helping the next generation to reach for the stars is also something Anya believes in and when asked what advice she can give to aspiring entrepreneurs she is quick to state “Start young. Don’t wait for the perfect time and age to start a business, just start in a casual simple way and go with it”.

Family is everything to Anya and lockdown has re-enforced just how important her husband and children are to her. Watching her eldest, Hugo, battle cancer has reminded her what is important in life. Being able to spend more time with her family over lockdown has been a blessing and having a happy home life is probably, in her eyes, her biggest achievement. One chapter of her book is titled “If you are happy, your children will be happy” and she sees her life ambition “to be healthy and to be kind and to pass that baton well”.

Always looking for silver linings, Anya believes that lockdown has enabled people to re-evaluate what is important in life. “We probably all need a re-think around expectations.” There is another mantra Anya has lived by since her school days from Sister Angela who declared “If you accept that you will never be fully satisfied, then you will be very happy indeed.”


 

If In Doubt Wash Your Hair: A Manual for Life (Bloomsbury) is available now. amazon.co.uk anyahindmarch.com


 

This article features in the Summer issue of ‘Noticed’ magazine

 



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