What did you do before starting your own business?
I was busy raising my four kids and had a counselling degree tucked away in a filing cabinet that I hoped to use one day.
How did you come up with your company name and why?
I was wanting to avoid using the term "fair trade" but at the same time wanted people to understand that my project was wholesome and positive...
What inspired you to start your own business and how did you start it?
I had been living in rural Cambodia for two and a half years. Initially I was completely overwhelmed by the poverty all around me and my family. Without intending to I found myself running a sewing project from my home. I could see first hand the difference it could make for these young women and mothers.
When our family moved back to Australia so my children could “be normal” I vowed to keep doing something that would help the marginalised women in Cambodia. I was so painfully aware that without the support of someone ‘back home’ connecting the product with the public there was no way for any community project in a developing country could survive no matter how great it was.
These past four years back in Australia have not been easy. The juggling act of solo parenting 4 children in the midst of studies, some major health concerns all in a brand new city has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my life. Through it all though I have tried my hardest to keep the promise I made when I left Cambodia which was to not forget the women there no matter how deeply suburbia sucked me in.
The frustration was of course that we needed to have people in Australia buying the items in order to keep the project going. As it turned out I became that person that I was longing for. Almost five years after arriving in Melbourne I am excited to have an online shop where regular mums and dad can access some of the beautiful things being made in Cambodia. I now do the selling and marketing side of things while my friend does the hands on stuff in Cambodia.Every item bought on here will change lives over there.
What is your vision for your business?
I know that there are a lot of great community projects who need a person like me who can help them tweak their product to make it more attractive to Australian customers as well as help them get more sales. I would love to support more projects and take them under my wing.
What is your vision for the world?
What I have learnt is to try to focus in on what I can do in "my world" and be that change that I long for instead of just feeling overwhelmed by the world as a whole. I know that when we can provide meaningful employment for women, their children benefit. And in turn the whole family benefits which in turn transforms the whole community.
What are the biggest challenges you have found in your business? And the biggest rewards?
The biggest challenges is when an aid organisation steps into our communities and hands out bags of rice and our knitters feel as if they have their needs met for the month and decide they don't need to work anymore. It's a very shortsighted way of viewing their finances and is a direct result of living in poverty. It's taking a lot of work to show these women that they can accumulate income over time and don't need to live day to day. The biggest reward is hearing about yet another community of women who have completed their training and are able to start a new path.
What’s your advice for a company wanting to incorporate ethical practices into their company?
Don't assume everything is kosher in the "fair trade" world. Talk to people who have been doing it for a long time.
What has been your greatest lesson in business and motherhood?
That stress doesn't help anyone. The more I can generate a peaceful presence the smoother things go. If I am kind to myself everyone else benefits.
Besides business and your family, do you have any hobbies you love to enjoy (when you have the time)?
It's not a hobby as such but every Friday afternoon I go to the Detention Center and visit men seeking asylum. It's the one time in my week my phone is locked away and I am forced to sit down at a table and just 'be'. I love this moment out of time in my week where I get to connect with those who have not tasted freedom for many years. It puts my life into perspective and I love that my youngest daughter comes with me and we get to share this special ritual together.
I can't start my day without coffee. What's that one thing you need everyday to kickstart yourself?
I wish it was something wholesome like an hour's walk before breakfast...but it's probably chocolate.
Who has been your greatest inspiration to you in your life and why?
This is going to sound weird but my greatest inspiration is probably that elusive "better version of myself" that I'm constantly trying to evoke.
If you could travel anywhere or do anything in the world what would that be?
I would love to spend some time in central Australia and connect with the people there. I love this country but feel as if I have only tasted such a small part of it.
If your children learn one thing from you what would you wish that to be?
To not travel to the other side of the globe and start a family there but instead remain within 5kms of their mother so they have support when they have their own kids.
Veronica and Happily Made have been nominated for an AusMumpreneur award in the MAKING A DIFFERENCE - BUSINESS category. Head on over to vote (Go to category #1 and find contestant #10 (Veronica Sherman) and ask your friends to do the same!!) and support this amazing business. Voting closes midnight 13th August 2017.