A shortened version of this article originally appeared on ‘Dear Em‘
“Em is a place for young women to have a voice; to find ways to be stronger & more confident in managing stressful situations of all kinds; to recognise sexual harm; and, to learn to support one another.”
Fashion designer and business owner, Hortense Rothery discusses the challenges and triumphs of starting her own business and putting her needs first.
Written by Alice Black
Hortense Rothery is the owner and designer of up and coming fashion and accessories brand, Droplet. She’s driven, unapologetic, and ruthlessly honest. After leaving school at 17, she studied fashion in Dunedin and graduated with an A+ for her final collection. With several years of industry experience, $300 to her name, and an enviable ability to recognise her own potential, she launched Droplet. Inspired by values of fair and sustainable business practices and self love, Hortense currently produces unique garments and accessories using recycled leather. We discussed how prioritising her mental health has been instrumental to her success.
On your website, you list your primary business value as caring for your physical and mental health. I found that incredibly refreshing to read. I think a lot of us struggle with the social pressure to work beyond our capacity, and we put our health on the backburner until we’re seriously unwell.
How do you prioritise your mental and physical health while running a business?
Well I think that’s bullshit. Working that hard is so detrimental. Everything that goes up must come down, it’s just not good for the human body
I did that at fashion school. I ate lasagne toppers and I took caffeine tablets…and I created incredible work. I graduated with an A+ and I went to China for an exchange where I showed at Fashion week in Shanghai. The next year I was so depressed…so exhausted. I bought a sewing machine and I didn’t wanna touch it. And I didn’t touch it for two and a half years, because of the damage I had done.
So, I really developed the skill of: ’12 o’clock lunch time, get up and walk away.’ Have your break no matter what is in front of you,
Nothing is nearly as important as a break.
The world is changing where it is no longer cool to do an all-nighter, it’s not cool to destroy yourself for your work…. It was only from caring for my mental illness as a priority that I was able to start a business.
If I wake up and I wanna read an article, and have a coffee, and go for a walk, and have a nice breakfast, that’s a part of my working day. That’s still considered work, because I’m treating myself well in order to then sit down and do whatever it is I have to do.
I’ve got plants everywhere. I have a big beautiful window and afternoon sun. I’ve got good coffee, good food, a warm room. I’ve created this home and hub that is wonderfully comfortable to be in.
What’s your go-to motivation when you do get down / depressed?
Well, it’s an illness. And if you get a cold you go to bed. So, you treat it just like you should with any other illness, you stop working, you take medication, you go to bed.
It doesn’t happen as much now, but if it does I take it very seriously, because I got into a very unfortunate situation where I had treated myself as if I was better or was no longer depressed and just had anxiety…I am very aware that you don’t go into remission, you don’t get fixed. It’s coping and management, and if everything turns to shit then go to bed and you’ll feel better in the morning. Because if you push through it’s torture, and you’re just gonna feel worse about it.
I’m curating customers in a community of people that are understanding of mental health. And if I have a staff member that says to me “I need a mental health day”, I say go, please go. I can recommend a therapist. That’s just the way of the future.
How has feminism informed your work?
What I’m learning is, it’s harder to be a young woman in the world than it is to be a business person. I will experience sexism and I have done, but I’m having a hell of a lot more trouble with sexism in my real life than in the business world. It’s just trying to talk about my business in front of people and not be listened to, because that’s not what people are interested in. They don’t wanna hear you monopolise a conversation about business at a party. Well fuck you, I had to hear about your Engineering bullshit. Coz it’s a hell of a lot more than just tassels that I’m doing. I’m a designer, but I would call myself a business person first. My product just happens to be tassels.
So, I got to this point where I was like,
“I’m taking myself seriously and everyone else needs to as well”
And they do, because I don’t give them a chance not to. Because I walk into a room with power, and I am confident about all my decisions, and that’s the other thing about selflove-I’m just being realistic. I’m just saying I graduated with an A+, because I did-that’s not a boast. It’s not being cocky. It’s being confident and realistic because it’s the truth. And that’s something that men do all the time. That’s how they start their conversations. It’s the same way we are told to go into job interviews, you walk in there and you say “I am the perfect person for this job, and here’s why. So, I do that with all my interactions and I just know through experience that people are either gonna love it and get on board, or they’re gonna fuck off.
Can you tell me about your experience with other women working in the industry? Who has been your biggest source of inspiration?
Yeah, I like this one. I think about what Hilary Clinton said, when somebody asked her if she thought she would win if she was running against her husband, Bill. And she said, “if somebody asked him, if he was running against me, would he win, he would say yes immediately.”
So, first of all, my biggest inspiration is me.
The woman I look up to is myself and my journey, because it’s good, and it makes me happy. So that’s my first answer.
I’ve been asked this question a few times and I definitely find it hard because there are so many people that I take aspects of things I like from. I think the courage of watching your friends go through life and work it out at the same time as you and being completely honest about it-they’re probably the biggest role models. Watching your best friends break up in their relationships and carry on and push through or lose jobs or fall apart or whatever, and not just carry on, but teach you something about it… they’re probably the best role models I could have.
Friends, I think they give you that opportunity to be your truest, most ridiculous, wild self and try it out, and still just be completely accepted.
Your friends choose you.
So, making sure that you’re constantly surrounded by people like that is how I did it.
Georgia, Claire, Hortense & Megan
– Alice Black is a self described ‘ Big wolf on Campus / feminist ranter. She is currently in Auckland doing her MSci in Health Psychology with an interest in mental health, poverty and violence against women.
Check out her blog ‘Through the Looking-Glass Ceiling‘