How it started
It all started back in May 2016. I was in the midst of organising the biggest adventure of my life – A placement, a year long break from my course at Loughborough University, that not only defied convention but caused chaos for the placements team that were trying to facilitate my life-changing dreams and my determination to see all that I could see and to learn all I could learn. Thank you to Chloe who now no longer works at Loughborough (but is on to great things I am sure) and the rest of the placement and study abroad teams for making this happen.
Knowing that I was going to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, experience far away cultures and travel to extraordinary places. I did what anyone that grew up with the internet would do – I started a blog. Using my recent web design & WordPress skills from my previous business Haslo (delicious hazelnuts from Georgia) I created the blog. Now – any self-respecting blogger has to have a catchy name… So I thought for long and hard about what I wanted to call it and I decided upon a juxtaposition that made heads turn, The Social Mercenary.
Why? Well, I have always been inspired by social entrepreneurs across the globe and I fundamentally believe that social values and societal impact should be ingrained in every part of the value chain in order to create scalable and sustained impact. A business is of course about making money but I see no reason why the people and the environment that is enabling this wealth creation has to be damaged or unfairly treated in the process. I knew that the blog would demonstrate this careful harmony and so I believe I and others are now Social Mercenary’s, we are fighting for change, fighting for a better way of doing business but like Mercenaries we don’t fit any army or any mould, we are adaptable making our own path and carving out our own future.
My Ghanaian Adventure
(The amazing Challenges Worldwide in-country volunteers)
The blog documented my time in Ghana, where I worked with SME’s and helped with absolutely everything from their financial accounts to marketing to investment strategies’. I learned a lot from this process and have much to thank ICS and Challenges Worldwide for providing such an enlightening opportunity. You won’t believe the entrepreneurial spirit that surrounds Ghana, never before have I met people that can dream like Ghanaians. I won’t lie to you, the world is against many of them, Ghana is small, not particularly well known and getting their products or themselves to another more developed country is almost impossible. For example, last year my friend Prince got offered by OXFORD UNIVERSITY to represent Ghana in a huge debating competition, only to be rejected by immigration officials. This is of course just one example, but the passion, determination and underappreciated skills in this country, to this day, astounds me.
Overall Ghana taught me two things:
There’s a lot we take for granted back home and so it can be a shock to us when dealing with setbacks or challenges we never imagined. I for one did not expect 3hour long traffic journeys but I changed my perspective, enjoyed the views and the lovely hawkers that would bring the most amazing snacks to your vehicle.
I’ve never really been one to care about what I wear and having a history of Mental Health issues I often look back and think it had quite a lot to do with not caring much about myself. I always failed at trying to look like others and although I might have eventually made a great chameleon it really wasn’t representative of who I was as a person. Right now, if I had one word to describe myself it would be impassioned and as such Ghanaian fashion really took a hold of me. I began to really express my positivity, my love and zest for adventure and my gratitude for life all through the incredible prints I was surrounded with. It was at this point that I knew I wasn’t a Banker.
Hong Kong – The time that TSM became more than just an idea.
(Hiked up Victoria Peak at 4am for this shot)
After an amazing 3 months in Ghana, it was time to move on and in keeping with the theme of juxtapositions I went to Hong Kong which is as far removed and the complete opposite to the more laid back city of Accra in Ghana. Before departing, I briefly returned to England for 5 days and gave out a few presents, everyone I spoke to loved the prints and loved the bags that I had brought back! So, I decided at that point I would sell them! Upon arriving to Hong Kong I was shown the bustling life by a good friend Mike Gee (See his incredible coat here) and I lived in what can only be described as a coffin for a mere £300 a month. I can’t complain however because my room was twice as big as my friend Katie’s. Hong Kong was an unbelievable place and I truly learned so much over the course of my 3 months there.
(Lushious Hong Kong)
My time in Hong Kong started by working as a marketing intern for a Health and Wellness company that encompassed a great deal of spirituality, it was not somewhere you expected a banking student with ambitions to rise-up through the corporate world to be starting out, especially in Hong Kong. Despite being paid only £8 a day, I was given many challenges and tasks that I learned a great deal from. As you may realise the numbers here don’t add up and I was beginning to feel burdened with little free time and dwindling financial resources. I ultimately decided to quit. I didn’t just resign from an internship I defined a new life for myself. From that moment on I vowed never to work as a corporate employee ever again. This meant never living out my previous dream of working in the Investment Banking Industry. Thank you to Jay who was practically a mum to me in HK and to Soraya for all the help and support here!
Whilst at work I began telling Soraya about my blog and she said why don’t you have loads of different sectors or different businesses all in line with The Social Mercenary! This couldn’t have been said at a better time, I was currently reading Richard Branson life story and his ability to go from one unrelated business to another inspired me! After doing talking through my ideas with another friend Ed, we decided I should move from just the blog to the bags, he designed our first Logo – it took him 2 hours on paint and I still love it to this day but what it lacked in professionalism and design it made up for in enthusiasm!
I spent the entirety of my student loan and the savings I had using my network of tailors in Ghana and had 90 bags designed and made. I realise now that I was being very ambitious but what is life without going in head first. What I hadn’t expected was the delays, the quality control required and the extortionate cost of shipping! It was 3 weeks until my launch event at The Conrad Hotel and this was big for me! I ended up having to borrow £2000 from my Family for one week because a previous currency transaction got declined and my team in Ghana couldn’t ship the products without any money!
(Show time – the first event!)
It was a great relief when the bags came days before the big event and I cannot tell you how overwhelmed with joy I was at that moment. The bags were actually here! Oh and how beautiful they looked! I was so excited to be starting out at one of the most prestigious hotels in Hong Kong with the support of my incredible friends. The funniest moment of the whole day was on the way back from the fair, we hadn’t much money so we had to take the metro/tube each one of us holding a huge box of bags. Knowing we could not take the escalator we got the lift. I was lagging behind– typical weakling and the other carry on and pile in to the lift and as I see the glass door close the lift didn’t move. They had all gone in with these huge boxes and no-one had pressed the floor button! They were now crammed in a glass container with none of them able to move. I should’ve helped, instead I dropped my box and began rolling uncontrollably in laughter as they stood and helplessly watched. GOLDEN!
(At the Conrad with support from Patrick, Mike and Caz)
The day itself was exciting I cannot tell you the number of people that came to say hi and show their support! I am particularly thankful to the Loughborough Alumni who showed tremendous support! Especially Patrick, Kalam, Vanessa and Caz! At the event, I was looking around the stalls and I met Nick the founder of Elephbo who has been a tremendous source of guidance and inspiration. He upcycles cement bags from Cambodia and creates a beautiful travel bag that successfully raised a tremendous amount on Kickstarter. After the event had concluded I think we had sold 4 bags in total, not a lot and certainly not enough to cover the cost of the event. It was at this point I realised just what I had gotten myself in for.
Times got hard, but I still couldn’t complain, I was working at a surf shop on the most beautiful beach outside of Hong Kong and I was also proofreading and providing English and Employment tutorials to as many people as I could. This, was just about enough to survive the rest of my time would be solely focused to The Social Mercenary and selling the products. Shops wouldn’t take me seriously so I began to sell in every way imaginable. I would rock up to universities and just set up shop, I would be stopping people that pass by just to tell them about what I was trying to do, I didn’t even mind if I didn’t sell any of the bags. I would do this ferociously, selling 6 bags one day! This would continue until I got kicked off campus for breaking university policy by some angry officer shouting at me in Cantonese. I’m sure they just thought I was a silly exchange student. Big thank you to Josh who taught me how to sell and gave me the confidence to overcome my fears and to go out and grab my dreams by the horns.
(Talking to students- wheeling and dealing)
Often, I didn’t have money for lunch nor to do exciting things but my vision and my friends kept me going. I managed to scrape enough money together to attend another fair. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t very well attended but I later heard from Rebecka (a Swedish lady working in fashion but creating amazing hand crafted candle’s amongst many other things link here), that she was in awe of how I literally went out on the street and pulled people into the shop for 5 hours straight. This for me was a necessity – I needed the money to survive, let alone realise my dreams. I can’t thank her enough for the fashion wisdom she gave me especially in terms of design and scalability. A friend of mine Alessandro was studying video journalism at HKU, I had told him about what I was doing and it tied nicely to a project he wanted to do so he came and interviewed me at the fair. I loved it, the other stalls were so confused as to why I was being filmed but it really helped showcase the bags!
After a few months, I was becoming what I ate, a noodle, lucky for me. Ming, again a member of the Loughborough Alumni found me another job counting seeds! Daisy my boss was amazing and I enjoyed her company so much, I really felt appreciated and I learned a lot about leadership from her. I know my previous vow but this time I felt like it was on my terms and also meant that I now had enough money to enjoy Christmas with my brother in Japan which having not seen him for yonks I was rather excited about!
(Kyoto with the bro)
People started understanding what I was trying to achieve – Singapore
After a fantastic holiday with my brother in Japan <3 and realising my dreams and ambitions regarding The Social Mercenary, I have to tell you, I was actually not looking forward to Singapore, I heard it was boring in comparison to Hong Kong (which is somewhat true) and I was definitely not looking forward to studying again. But to my surprise I have had a brilliant time, made yet more incredible friends and developed The Social Mercenary further!
(The Last Supper inc. cousin Max)
Of course, I brought my bags to Singapore too! The fairs weren’t particularly successful – in fact I am certain Singaporeans are scared of bright colours. But I have learned a lot from the process I know exactly how to improve the products, what’s a good price for them and how to market it. I have been on the most fun photoshoots with so many people helping me out particularly Hugh for being a voice of reason and a great camera man and to Yashaswini for creative ideas! I have entered The Social Mercenary in competition after competition and this has helped me narrow and channel my business plan and envisage how everything will fit together.
(My first fair in Singapore at NTU)
There are countless more friends that have helped me along the way and I’m sorry I couldn’t mention you all <3 But one final shout out to the We Are The People (the first ever Kickstarter store) for showcasing my products in a special early-designer booth! This generated a number of fantastic links for me and taught me the power of crowdfunding!
(We love monkeying around at TSM)
I am now in my final week and it’s time to talk about the future and may I just point out this is a very exciting future indeed. This year has been an unforgettable journey and I picked up a few people along the way that believe as I believe that if you really but your heart and soul into you might actually change the world.
So I’m coming home… what’s next?
This summer I have 3 incredible people taking the bags to the States to showcase the incredible work from our team in Ghana. I have about 5 people in the UK that I can tell you right now are the most creatively gifted and ambitious people I have ever met who will be helping create events up and down the country to promote an imminent crowdfunding campaign. AND, I will be going back to Ghana meeting old friends and improving designs and formalising future plans – My old ICS colleague Quaye will be filming for me so I will be documenting the whole journey you can check it out here.
As Maxime a good friend of mine likes to say “I’m so FRICKIN’ excited!” and I truly am.
So I will conclude on the final and most contrasting juxtaposition of this whole story: I am a Banking and Finance student that is going into the world of fashion. Wish me luck.
Feel free to leave a comment below 😀