SIMPLY INSPIRING WOMEN | JENNIE HOGG, LOIS AVERY
If you’re a regular here from the Online Stylist days then you might be familiar with my good friend Jennie - the fizzily joyous, Australian ray of sunshine and creator of Lois Avery cashmere.
We first met years ago when Jennie was a client of my online style advice service and have been firm friends ever since. We try and meet up as regularly as our busy lives and respective locations of Dorset and London allow. Catching up with this amazingly kind-hearted, talented woman who has an incredible zest for life is always a joy. We have many honesty chats about what’s it like running a business by yourself, the state of play when it comes to “being online and out there” and how we might have a chance at staying sane throughout the intertwined crazy of family and small business life.
As Lois Avery fast approaches its third year of crafting and selling beautiful Italian cashmere scarves, I thought it was about time I sat down with Jennie again so that I could share the most recent chapters of her simply inspiring story with you. There’s no “Lady Boss” or “Hustle” mantras here… just what it looks and feels like to run a business by yourself. The adventures, pitfalls, advantages and unexpected moments brought about by a love of all things Italy and sumptuous cashmere…
Jennie, Lois Avery has been in the public domain for nearly three years now, although I know it was in your head for a long time before the October 2016 launch! Tell us about three key things you’ve learned about yourself from your experience as a solo business owner so far…
“I have learned so much about myself from running Lois Avery, it’s hard to narrow it down to three keys things, but I’ll try!
It turns out that I am far more resilient than I ever imagined - I certainly attribute this lesson to Lois Avery. The mistakes and disappointment that I have encountered whilst growing this business are unavoidable. But here’s the thing, all the disappointments only made me stronger. Consequently each success means so much!
I’ve learned to trust my instincts. When there is too much noise in my head, and I’m drowning in conflicting advice, I’ve discovered the power of stepping back and letting my thoughts stew. I usually know the answer already, I just need a bit of space to realise it.
I am creative! As a lawyer, I would never have thought to call myself creative. I thought that ‘creativity’ was a resource limited to artists, but I now understand that creating is so much broader. I have created a business, products, and the beautiful world of Lois Avery.”
And in a similar vein, what three business experiences or lessons would you chalk up as being really valuable, even if painful at the time?
“I have learned to forgive myself when I make a mistake, this is so important. All I can do is learn and move on.
I’ve stopped wasting energy trying to please everyone, because not everyone will like me and that’s okay. If I’m true to my values, and I treat everyone with respect, then I’ve done my best.
It has taken me my whole life to appreciate that perfectionism is toxic and unsustainable … I really resisted that lesson. As the marketing guru Seth Godin says start ‘good enough’ and strive to be better. I think this is relevant to all aspects of life.”
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about running your own business?
“The biggest misconception is the idea of overnight success. I do not believe this exists, success comes off the back of years of hard labour that is never seen.”
I know that like me, you love Instagram for all its beauty and creativity and the App has had a positive impact on your business too. But as we both know, it can be an unrelenting beast with many pitfalls as well as all the positive aspects. How do you view the kind of content we see on there now as opposed to three years ago when you were launching Lois Avery?
“I am so grateful that I launched my business almost 3 years ago (pre-algorithm), as Instagram was such an important tool in sharing my message and building a young creative brand. I think that it’s a lot harder to gain visibility now, which is probably a mix of the algorithm and the significant increase in the number of users on the platform.
One of the sad consequences of the algorithm is that a lot of users try and ‘beat it’ which has led to a lack of individuality across the platform. I think there is far too much focus on sharing what will gain ‘likes’ rather than telling a meaningful story of your life or business through images and captions.”
Any practical tips for keeping a handle on the reality hidden behind those squares?
“I think it’s important to remember that we control our individual Instagram experience. We all choose which accounts to follow, so we can opt for ones that make us feel happy and inspired. If something doesn’t resonate with you anymore, or worse makes you feel bad, then unfollow. If you don’t want your account to have a wide reach then activate the private setting. Instagram can just be about sharing … it doesn’t have to be all about strategy and growth.”
What would you like to see more of on Instagram and likewise… less of?
“I am always looking for new accounts to inspire me, and more and more, I realise that I love accounts with story. I think this is the key element missing from Instagram these days. I’m a real sucker for beautiful photos showing insight into the expat life in Tuscany or Bali or Byron Bay; or an ambitious renovation project.
I tend to unfollow things that I want to see less of … like over-filtered travel accounts with the sole aim of ticking off as many insta-famous locations as possible. I want to follow travel accounts of people who connect and respect the destinations they visit.”
Would you be able to share a few of your favourite Instagram accounts that make you feel connected, uplifted or just generally happy when they post?
“I adore the account of Emiko Davies (@emikodavies) an Australian living in Florence with her family. I also love Irene Berni’s account @valdirose, showcasing her beautiful B&B in Florence (I’m desperate to visit). The account of @chateaugudanes is the wonderful story of the restoration of a chateau in France.”
When you remind yourself to do it (because we always say we should but it’s SO easy to forget!), how do you celebrate your achievements and successes either in terms of your business or family life?
“I’m pretty good at marking occasions in my family life. I am the Queen of the long lunch, and whether we are celebrating with our feet in the sand or around my kitchen table, those are the best days.
I find it harder to celebrate my business successes. There have been toasts to Lois Avery by the water in Italy, but I believe that it’s just as important to mark the smaller everyday successes, and I’m working on this.”
What are the type of things that induce that ever present guilt factor that we know lingers beneath the surface when it comes to balancing business with family commitments? (Jennie has three gorgeous kids and I think she does an amazing job at this by the way – I struggle with the one teen and one Labrador!)
“It’s always hard juggling business and family. I feel terribly guilty when I’m stressed and forget things. My youngest son recently had a term of swimming lessons at school, and I kept forgetting to pack his kit week after week. My Dad was over from Australia thankfully, and he took on the job of dropping off the forgotten swimming bag each Thursday!
It’s an eternal struggle to find the right balance, and I think you just have to accept that you will go through periods when it’s not balanced. Just keep going, do your best, and tell your children that you love them all the time.”
You and I talk about anxiety and mental health a lot when we get together – it’s a factor in most people’s lives now and I think any conversations around it are healthy and to be encouraged. What makes you anxious and have you found a way to deal with those moments when it can sometimes take hold and feel all consuming?
“I suffer from anxiety, and have done so for most of my life, but it’s only in the last 2 years that it’s had a name.
I have experienced many 4am worries about my business. I suspect that all small business owners have. But here’s the thing, I know that if I didn’t have a business then my anxiety would just attach to something else in my life as those feelings are not rational.
For me, dealing with anxiety requires a holistic approach- a course of therapy and daily mindfulness practice has been life-changing. Neither came naturally, and I’ve really had to work and persist to get the benefit. Anxiety doesn’t go away though, you just have to accept it’s part of who you are and build a life around it.”
For me, subconscious comparison is a big factor in increasing my anxiety levels and will leave me in a hideous self-doubt spin at the drop of a hat. Have you experienced this whilst running Lois Avery and can you share anything you might do to try and help yourself out of those moments?
“I think that we all suffer from self doubt and comparison at times, I know that I do. I think that the reason for this is that we invest so much of ourselves in our businesses and any rejection can be misinterpreted as personal. Furthermore, working from home can be lonely at times and mess with our perspective.
When I feel like this I just have to step away. A run or a walk in the park is the best way to get some perspective, or a debrief over coffee with a friend.”
In your Lois Avery Journal, you shared a post about the lessons learned over the first two years and talked about showing your face. When you are the face of the business, you might feel uncomfortable about putting yourself out there. How would you advise someone to deal with that and what’s helped you over the years?
“I am still incredibly uncomfortable putting my face out there, and at times I have felt quite overwhelmed by it, but I know that it is vital for my business that I do it anyway.
It has been suggested that I hire a model, and despite my hesitancy to put my image in the public domain, I have resisted as I think that this will make Lois Avery look like every other brand. I receive so many catalogues through my mail box every day that I never open as they all look the same. Non-model mother of three, Jennie, as the face of Lois Avery is part of the magic, and I suppose this knowledge is what motivates me to keep going. It’s a bit like public speaking, the only way to be comfortable with it is to do it again and again.”
Tell us the most glamorous and exciting thing that you’ve done so far on your Lois Avery journey and also the least – the one that no one would possibly imagine as a behind the scenes cashmere moment!
“The Lois Avery launch shoot took place in Positano with amazing photographer, Carla Coulson. Boating along the Amalfi Coast with a team including a hair and make-up artist was pretty glamorous!
The least glamorous? Gosh there are far more of these examples to share. As a small business owner you need to be very careful how you spend your money, which means that I often put wholesale orders in the back of my car and drive 3 hours outside of London to deliver them. That’s not very glamorous, and the only place to get a coffee along the way is McDonalds!”
Are you able to share what’s next for Lois Avery and any hopes and dreams you might have bubbling away under the surface?
“I want people to find Lois Avery, love our scarves, and feel joy wearing them. I’m always looking at new products, but I haven’t found anything good enough for Lois Avery as yet.
Oh, and I’m pretty excited about a new style of cashmere scarf we are launching in the autumn – it’s completely different to anything I’ve done to date.”
As a small luxury brand owner, on your journey so far you must have come across a few others that you love. Would you be able to share one or two and tell us what drew you to them?
“It goes without saying that I adore our mutual friend Laura’s gorgeous boutique, hero, in Stockbridge. Laura is one of the most inspirational people I know, and she is constantly doing new and exciting things at hero. I think it’s that ability to continually adapt which is the key to the success of a small business.
I also love Emporio Sirenuse. It’s a small boutique and resort wear brand that is part of the famous hotel, Le Sirenuse, in Positano. The beach dresses are so chic and capture the spirit of life on the Amalfi Coast perfectly.”
Next Italian destination on your list?
“My list is long! I want to explore the Tuscan Coast, and I’d love to take my husband to the Ligurian coast … there are so many secret places to visit beyond Cinque Terre.”
Three favourite Italian dishes… if you can pick only three!
“Spaghetti vongole, calamari fritti, and a scoop of Zabaglione gelato (a sort of custard flavour with marsala).”
Best place in Italy for coffee?
“It will probably take you 2 days to get there from the UK, but a morning cappuccino and cornetti (Italian croissant filled with cream) at Bar Ingrid on the volcanic island of Stromboli, is absolutely worth the effort!“
I find there is a lot of perception around small businesses that are built on creating things of beauty. Assumptions are often made, perhaps based on the more pleasing aspects of story-telling imagery, that the creative entrepreneur journey is a breeze, life is one glamorous photo op after another and I hear the word “lucky’ bandied about frequently. Going behind the scenes reveals so much more and I love reading the stories of the challenges that drive creative business owners onward - it always leaves me feeling inspired and motivated.
Reading our chat back as I compiled this post, I felt compelled to drop Jennie a quick message to tell her how flipping proud of her I am! Knowing her from her lawyer years and watching her go through the ideas and dreaming days, on to making Lois Avery happen and still further on through the stages that can sometimes seem so difficult, her tenacity never fails to amaze me.
And as for those beautiful cashmere scarves? They really are the softest clouds of gorgeousness that have me longing for autumn already…
Photography by: Melissa Schollaert