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Fashion designer, entrepreneur and author Anya Hindmarch has been vocal about the self-doubt and anxiety she’s experienced throughout her career. Despite having built up a global fashion and luxury brand – and five shops in Chelsea, including a cafe – Hindmarch, now a CBE, has described being overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy.
At The Telegraph’s third annual Women Mean Business summit today, Hindmarch opened up to Telegraph fashion director Lisa Armstrong about how she channelled this doubt into creativity, and other lessons she learnt as a woman in business.
Hindmarch described the sense of momentum surrounding being an entrepreneur in “the moment of Thatcher’s Britain” as “intoxicating”. She was 18 at the time, and had known she wanted to start a design business from a young age. “When you’re young, it’s probably easier to take those risks,” she said. But the fear surrounding taking risks can be crippling – so how should we overcome the self-doubt that we might face at work?
Hindmarch cites the title of her book – If in Doubt, Wash Your Hair – as a good initial approach: the best bit of advice she ever received, she said, was to wash your hair if in doubt. She has described washing her hair as "like therapy", and something that makes her feel "calmer".
In her own career, she said that there is a lot she learnt along the way that she wishes she knew earlier, including that “confidence is a muscle and you have to exercise it”.
“We need to embrace doubt,” she said. “You know more than you think, and you just need to learn to trust yourself.” Pushing yourself through incremental steps can help you realise your full potential.
Self-doubt can feel particularly debilitating when it comes to taking risks, and Hindmarch admitted that taking risks does “make [her] feel sick at times... It doesn’t get any easier, but you learn to trust yourself,” she said.
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Hindmarch also learnt that “business is fun”, and that to be a good boss you need to “take your team with you” through hurdles and “make it fun along the way”. She has kept core members of her staff for decades, and her husband is also involved in the business. “Working with your partner is something you [need to] think about quite carefully, because you need to be as respectful to your partner as you might be to a colleague. But it’s a real privilege and great fun.”
She added that she “strongly believe[s] in collaboration”, and her staff come into the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. “We’ve found the collaboration really good for our business… we all get a kick out of being together,” she said. “It’s quite tiring being on Zoom all day.”
She added that a year or two into launching a business, it “inevitably gets quite hard… but it’s at that point that you really need to tell yourself not to give up.”
“You will hit lots of brick walls, and you need to find ways to get around or through them,” she said. “I think that if you’re determined enough, you can do anything”.
Balancing business with parenting can also be difficult, and Hindmarch cited a piece of advice she received from her mother in law: “if you’re happy, your children are happy”. Your children are happier if they have fulfilled parents around them, she explained.
“Learn to live with the constant fear at the pit of your stomach,” she advised. “It’s worth the highs you get when it goes well”.
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