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The Accidental Mumpreneur

This was written before the Mumpreneur Awards at which I was awarded Inspirational Business Mum 2010!

As a finalist in the Green category of the Mumpreneur Awards I started wondering how I became an accidental Mumpreneur
I didn’t ever plan to be a Mumpreneur.  Firstly, I didn’t ever plan to run my own business and secondly I didn’t intend to have children… so how did this happen to me!

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Pachacuti really was an accident – it was only meant to be a research trip for my MA.   I met two groups of workers who had organised themselves into co-operatives, but both had experienced arson attacks due to the threat which they posed to the intermediaries’ monopoly of the supply chain.  Outraged by these clear injustices, I decided to return to Ecuador in order to provide a sales outlet for these groups who were unable to trade locally.  My intention was to sell the knitwear over the summer before starting my fully-funded PhD in Andean textiles.  However, I hadn’t envisaged the success of my first collection, nor realised the positive impact it would have on my producers’ livelihoods, so at the end of the summer I reluctantly turned down my PhD.

In 1996 I found I was pregnant but carried on working and travelling.  To be honest, I’d never thought of having a child and had never even held a baby until I was 9 months pregnant.

Sienna on  holiday in France last week

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At 7 months pregnant I was sailing off the coast of Belize when we were shipwrecked on a reef near a deserted island.   After making it to shore in the middle of the night, on an island known for its poisonous spiders, we were eventually rescued a day later by the Guatemalan Navy.  After a  scan at a Guatemalan clinic to check the baby was ok and the news I was expecting a boy, I made the long journey back to Colombia to take a flight back to the UK, technically now after the latest travel date for pregnant women.

Half an hour into the flight I felt contractions.  I called a stewardess and of course the plane became rather a commotion once everyone realised that someone was potentially going into labour on their flight!  Fortunately there was a midwife on the flight who rubbed a tub of Vicks into my stomach and made my walk up and down the corridors for hours  which seemed to do the trick and I made it home without further incident.

 

My daughter was born at a stage when the business was making very little profit and I was having to pay back the debts resulting from a large theft in Ecuador at the inception of the business (but this is another story… armed robber, death threats – it was an eventful time!)

I was back to work immediately, taking her to a festival where I was trading at just 12 days old and slinging a hammock up for her beneath rails of clothing!

A year later I was a single mother, working a 70 hour week and juggling childminders and nursery. My daughter accompanied me on my trips to South America from the age of one until she started school.  Working was not financially viable at this time due to childcare costs, but I had more than my own daughter to think about as I already had hundreds of women and their children reliant on my trade, so giving up was unthinkable.

Eighteen years since starting Pachacuti, I have a wonderful, beautiful teenage daughter and more recently a fantastic husband and part-time American stepson.  Work/life balance has undoubtedly got easier over the years as the business has grown and I’ve been able to afford to take on more staff and take more time off work.  That’s not to say that I don’t still work incredibly long hours, but I do now succeed in taking a week off with my family in the Summer Holidays, although this is something I have only managed to achieve recently in the past two years.

Yes, of course I regret not having more time with my daughter when she was younger.  I used to pick her up from childcare at 6pm every day and I frequently worked over the weekends when she was younger as well.  I was drawing no money from the business, so no treats or holidays for years.  I could’t afford to buy anything new for Sienna when she was born and relied on hand-me-downs from friends for years to keep her in clothes and toys.  However, I know that the impact Pachacuti has had on the lives and families of 1200 producers has been so significant and this could not have been achieved without some level of sacrifice.  I may not have had as much time as I would have liked with my daughter throughout her childhood, but through the rural work programmes we have created in the Andes, hundreds of women are able to earn a good income working from home, caring for their families, instead of migrating to towns and cities in search of work.

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In the area where we weave our hats, 60% of schoolchildren have one or both parents overseas which is indicative of the poverty and the huge migration away from rural communities.  Alcoholism, truancy and suicide rates have soared amongst teenagers with absent parents in these communities and this is why the work we are creating is so important.   Not only are we providing income and social support for home-working mothers, but we are keeping families and communities together.

And at the end of the day, despite the inevitable guilt which goes with being an entrepreneurial mother, I’ve been told at numerous parents’ evenings throughout my daughter’s education that she is the happiest, most well-balanced child they have come across…and happy children make happy families!