In November last year some new SSE students contributed to the blog as part of a ‘Student Spotlight’ series. As their time with SSE is now coming to a close (where has the time gone?!) we thought it would be good to catch up and see how things have progressed, here Florence Norman, CEO of Sweet Cavanagh gives us an update.
The middle of the summer is always the quietest time; we are working with about 7 women at the moment. One of our graduated members Amy, is a wonderful example of someone who has thrown everything into her recovery. She’s now back in full time work and had this to say about her time at Sweet Cavanagh:
“Having the support and structure of Sweet Cavanagh enabled me to feel safe in the early stages of my recovery. It is so important to have a routine. Being creative is also key to my personal recovery. For many years, my illness saw me loose interest in doing anything enjoyable. Making jewellery reignited a creativity in me that I had suppressed. This social enterprise is so important – not just as a safe environment but also as the provider of free support (something that is few and far between). I am now back in full time work and miss my time there, but am extremely greatful for the support it provided. I feel my experience there is directly relevant to my current ability to work productively and do my job well. “
Amy definitely had the gift of desperation, and was willing to go to any lengths to get better. Hardworking, inspiring, determined and an excellent designer to boot, we certainly miss her. You can read her story and buy her collection here.
On the sales side I am thrilled to say that our consumer base is increasing! We now have two retailers, one is a beautiful little boutique in Notting Hill called Nellie Atelier, and the second is the London fashion forum London Ethnic. One of our greatest victories recently was winning a Google Grant, thank you mighty Google, which allows us to build our online revenue stream. We are also currently advertising in Glamour, which is such a thrill!
As the business is starting to grow, and slowly our sales are increasing with the development with our brand, it’s time for us to take a look once more at the social aspect of our enterprise. We recently sat down and asked ourselves some serious questions: How good is the support we are offering? What more could we do? How do we reach the women who need us the most? With these questions at the tip of our spear, we are turning our focus to improving our program. We will now be adding therapist lead support groups everyday instead of just wednesday, in addition we are now offering yoga and cooking therapy. Our biggest priority is raising the money to employ our incredible therapist, Maxine Korval, to be with us full time. At the moment Maxine works with us on a voluntary basis, and in order for us to continue and to grow and benefit from her genius, we need her full-time.
I hit my biggest challenge last week when someone, who shall remain nameless, told me our business plan didn’t work, we are not a functioning social enterprise and probably never would be. It was like a punch in the face, especially as I had met the person for 5 minutes when they provided this feedback. I have been building Sweet Cavanagh for almost two years, I’ve haven’t been able to take a salary, except for one beautiful month last year, and can honestly say that its success are both my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night. I have to admit that my confidence took a bad knock during that meeting and by the end of it I felt exhausted, disillusioned and ready to give up. However, with a bit of space, a few tears and a lot of love from my family, I was able to remember why I’m doing what I’m doing and why I’m nowhere near ready to walk away. I may be completely inexperienced, I may have failed two universities and spent 5 months in rehab, but I believe in Sweet Cavanagh and know that it can make a difference. Dealing with negative feedback and actually learning to take something positive from the experience were incredibly hard, but not impossible. Falling down is painful, but every time I get back up, I feel stronger than ever, so in a way, falling down is actually a gift.
As I come to the end of my year at SSE, I can genuinely say that I’ve loved my time there; being accepted was one of the proudest moments of my life. Spending time with my group is something I will really miss. We had the most amazing marketing session recently with Alasdair Inglis, and I left with a million ideas buzzing in my head. The best part for me has been the Action Learning Sets, which taught me so much about confidence, trust and holding onto true grit. They were a gift and I’m so sad we’ve finished our last one. Although it’s hard to leave, I also recognise that this is another milestone. So many wonderful things have happened this year and thanks to the SSE and the many opportunities they have given me, I have gone further than I ever thought possible.
Follow Florence on Twitter: @CavanaghSweet