I’ve told the story many times that the idea for Lois Avery came to me one day whilst I was in the bath, but the truth is, there were so many other significant moments and encouraging people leading up to that one “ah-ha” moment. Let me explain.
You see, the day I had my lightbulb moment—when it became clear that my destiny was not to be a construction and engineering lawyer, but to launch a brand of exquisite cashmere shawls—I was in the bath getting ready for a dear friend’s 40th birthday. Earlier that week, I had finally settled on the perfect gift—a scarf—and when it arrived I loved it so much I promptly bought one for myself. With that I realised how much I loved scarves, and how prominently they feature in my memories. Just reflecting back on this, I’m still amazed that in one instant everything can become clear.
Here’s the truth though. Lois Avery didn’t come to me in that singular moment. Yes, the idea in the bath really happened and I never thought about launching a cashmere scarf business before Saturday, 10 October 2015 (at around 2pm). But it had taken my whole life to get there. I’ve certainly had ‘Lois Avery’ in my mind for years, I just didn’t know who or what she was until that lightbulb finally turned on. There were so many wild schemes I concocted over the years, but I’d never taken any of them seriously. I kept dreaming though, and each of the ideas that I dismissed was a step closer to what would eventually be Lois Avery.
When I look back, I can see there were clear signs that, for whatever reason, were not obvious to me at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20, though, right? The list I’ve put together below is made up of some glaring indicators, wayfinders if you will, that if I had examined more closely, may have helped me to find Lois Avery earlier.
That said, there’s an old, but worthwhile, Ted Talk on the events that lead to a “lightbulb moment” that I highly recommend. Find it here and give it a listen.
1. The childhood game that I played
Once upon a time, I was nine years old (the same age as my eldest son right now) and I loved inviting friends over for playdates. We always played my favourite game—fashion designer. The game consisted of sketching a fashion portfolio and spending hours and hours lying on the floor surrounded by pencils and paper drawing dresses—always dresses with lots of colour and patterns. We then carefully placed our sketches into folders. I suspect that mine said “Jennie’s Super Special Fashion Portfolio” or something like that. This little girl was dreaming of becoming a fashion designer.
2. My love of 1990s fashion documentaries
I wasn’t very good at being a teenager and hated most of the years between 13 and 17. At that age we are so vulnerable and swayed by what our friends think and like. I went to a very academic school and their general philosophy was that if you weren’t good at art you weren’t creative. THIS IS SO NOT TRUE. But the thing is, even when times are tough we can do great thinking. You can still feel that rising sense of excitement and possibility.
At that time, long before the ‘September Issue’ there was a 90s fashion documentary taking you inside the industry. It featured Suzy Menkes and Anna Wintour and all the supers. I stumbled upon it one day on SBS (the foreign programme channel in Australia). I wish I could remember what it was called (any suggestions?), but there must have been six episodes. It wasn’t something that my friends ever mentioned or that I read about in the paper. Enjoying this programme—studying the fashion industry—was something that I did for me and no one else.
3. I made "Jennie changes" to my wedding dress
Do you know what else helped me during my teenage years? I sewed my own clothes. That was a pretty big sign to miss! I made classic 90s shift dresses, and adapted the patterns. I was always frustrated that I couldn’t draw a pattern from scratch, so I amended the patterns that my mum bought for me. I remember a blue floral dress that I loved. Rather than follow the pattern, I left splits in each panel. There was also a camel dress I sewed that I wore over a vest with white canvas trainers. There’s no doubt in my mind I’d still wear those dresses if I had only kept them.
I think that led me to work with the designer of my wedding dress to change her design. We started with her basic strapless French lace design and I added a bow around the waist (my favourite tweak), netting across the bust, and sheer straps. I went with a strapless design in the end, but kept the other “Jennie changes”. I was always proud that this exact design was later sold to other customers.
4. The way in which I tried to change my career
Stylist magazine runs a great column called ‘a day in the life’ and, one day, many years ago, a fashion lawyer was interviewed (for those of you that don’t know, I was a lawyer in a previous life). She dealt primarily with trademark issues and worked with clients like Christian Dior. Cue many calls to recruitment agents and trawling of jobs pages. But this shift in practice was difficult as this wasn’t my niche—I was an expert in building defects and engineering problems . No employers were interested. I researched profiles on in-house lawyers at companies like Asos and Selfridges, and I dreamed of being a part of that sector. I think the reality is that I didn’t want to be a fashion lawyer—I was inching towards fashion itself!
5. The friends I made
I was surrounding myself with people who inspired me and I didn’t even know it! Around six years ago I met some amazing women in the fashion industry and started spending time with them and attending industry events. I can see that the changes they made in their own lives—for example my friend Laura Turner set up the gorgeous boutique, hero —inspired and influenced me. But at the time, I just loved their company, and of course I still do, but I never thought, if I hang out with these people, my life will change, too.
My favourite line from the TED talk I mention above is “chance favours the connected mind” and I totally agree. Don’t believe anyone who tells you networking is bad or you should keep all your ideas and information to yourself. Share! Share! Share!
6. The conversations that I had
It sounds quite obvious, but sometimes others see things that you can’t. Pretty much ever since I met my husband he has been telling me I should be running my own business and that I’d be great at it. He definitely knows me better than I know myself. Sometimes you are so close to something that you just can’t see it.
I recently had tea in London with my best friend-from-high school’s parents. I hadn’t seen them for almost 25 years! The first thing my friend’s mum said to me, (after giving me one of her famous hugs) was that when she was told I was starting a business she said, “I hope it’s in fashion because I never understood why Jennie went into law.”
The thing is, there are clues all around us suggesting what we could be doing. Go back to the beginning and examine those early passions, have a think, be brave, and talk to those you love and respect. I bet you're closer to your own “lightbulb moment” than you realise.
Images: Top and bottom row courtesy of Marlene Lee