Harjit Sohotey-Khann – An ethical business owner inspiring industry change

Meet Harjit Sohotey-Khan

Born in Uganda, I was one of the many South Asians who came to the UK in the 70’s as a refugee. My parents had to start their lives all over again, working hard to support me and my brother and brought us up with a strong value system of love, hard work, honesty, and kindness.

I live with my husband Asad whose extremely funny, works hard, and likes me loves to travel. My family is extremely important to me and I have a close group of friends who I hold very dear. I thrive on relationships, love nature, and pre-COVID love eating out, hanging out with friends, and exploring London.

What business are you currently running?

I run an online fashion business selling ethical fashion and homeware for style-conscious women. I carefully curate our collections, working exclusively with social enterprises, NGO’s and brands that share our respect for people and the planet.

We work only with innovative social businesses that have a strong sense of integrity and transparency in their fair trade practices, women’s empowerment programs, and environmental impact.

Assuming you are now in “Your Next Chapter”, what led you here? Was there an internal discontent or an external issue you felt strongly about that prompted a change in direction?

So many things happened that lead me to where I am now. It started with my work where I no longer felt fulfilled with my job. I spent most of my time wishing I was somewhere else, doing something more creative and purpose-driven. I was bored and disillusioned with the monotony and predictability of the daily grind, the rehearsed meetings, and the mindset that comes with working in certain sectors.

I’d also experienced my mum fall ill and it really made me question what life was about and whether I’d come anywhere close to making my own dreams come true in my 40’s. I’d always wanted to experience long-term travel. The type of travel where there’s not necessarily an end but enough time to really experience the world. So after a period of real soul searching, I quit the 9-5 and went travelling with my husband around South and South East Asia for a year.

It was whilst I was travelling that I came across many artisan communities who handcrafted textiles. Having always loved handmade clothing, I loved seeing how artisans used traditional, age-old weaving techniques to make lovely things. I didn’t know it at the time but this was the seed of an idea that later developed into my business – Jewelled Buddha.

What did you find most challenging about getting started/moving in a new direction?

Returning from a year of travel and trying to slot back into life was extremely difficult. My husband and I both felt overwhelmed by coming back and almost alienated because we have gone through so much, changed so much – yet everything was exactly the same. Re-adjusting back to the life we had before was immensely challenging.

After several months of initially trying my best to slot back into the rat race without much success, I realised that if I didn’t use that year away to change my life it would have been a waste. It was at that point I decided I was going to build an ethical fashion business with the inspiration and contacts I’d picked up.

Not having run a business before, it was really difficult to know just where to start, who to talk to, and what questions to even ask! After weeks of research, I found a business coach and a friendly business Facebook group full of supportive women who were on their journey of business too. It was only then I felt some sort of normality.

What have you found most fulfilling?

I love that my business has a purpose, is driven by values yet still inspires, and hits that sweet spot where women can truly appreciate the wanderlust and heritage behind the clothing and textiles.

I love the creativity and storytelling of my business.

I love the stories about artisans, age-old craft techniques passed down from generations to create beautiful clothing and writing even though it takes me ages!

I love that I can spend more time with my family and choose when and how long I want to work.

I have flexibility and control in my life which is I think what most people want. I don’t have to commute anymore and I’m constantly inspired by other women lead businesses.

It’s a good place to be.

Have you experienced self-doubt? What causes it to flare and how do you work through it when it hits?

God yes! Self -doubt, imposter syndrome, confidence wobbles – you name it. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t felt the same. It’s natural for everyone to feel this way at some point in their lives and at the beginning I felt it a lot.

Probably because it came from a place of not knowing things, but over the years, it’s gradually lessoned as my confidence has increased and I’ve learned so much and been supported by so many great women.

Whenever self-doubt does strike, I let myself feel it but only for a short while otherwise, it can become overwhelming and even debilitating. I try to work out what it is that makes me doubt myself and remember how far I’ve come.

How do you feel you have grown since you started?

1) I’m so much more confident than I used to be. Before I was a bit of a people pleaser but now I’ve realised that people should interact with each other in an equal way. I’m naturally shy, so I’m not used to putting myself out there or tooting my own horn, but every time I’ve done it, it’s always been positive.

2) I feel as if I have a purpose in life and in work. Being an ethical business my purpose is to create awareness of the social and environmental issues regarding fast fashion so that the fashion industry as a whole can change its’ model. As for life, I just want to live and enjoy it as best as I can.

3) I’ve also discovered who I am and who I always wanted to be. Travel and my business has given me so much joy and taught me so many lessons. It enabled me to explore my interests (I love hiking) and gives me so much hope and inspiration.

4) I don’t sweat the small stuff – it’s a cliche but I have a greater perspective on life and choose what I want to worry about.

Have you developed any particular habits/strategies that facilitate getting things done in your business?

As a solopreneur, it can be so overwhelming wearing so many hats. So there are three things I do to get things done:

Organise/ Schedule: To-do lists, social media, projects, events, random thoughts, and inspirations – I make sure I write these in a business diary or online tools such as Trello, Asana, or Plann for social media.Plan: Having a plan is so important in business. Whether that’s weekly, monthly, or quarterly, it’s important to have a goal and a roadmap to how you going to get there. I’d be lost if I didn’t plan anything.Declutter: I find decluttering my workspace helps me stay productive. Being a bit of a minimalist, I can get easily distracted if there’s a lot of disorganisation around me. I’m a methodical person, so if stuff spirals out of control, my brain tends to follow! 🙂

Why do you feel women in the 40’s and beyond make fabulous entrepreneurs?

I think women in the 40’s and beyond bring so much experience to the table. Building careers, raising families, and even going through life events brings a greater perspective to your business.

I look back at all the various jobs I’ve had in beauty, retail, hospitality, and marketing and all of them have been useful in so many ways to my business. The myth that women in their 40’s may be risk-averse or unable to fully commit to a business is so outdated.

There are so many women out there totally nailing their businesses, taking risks, and inspiring others to do the same.

What would you say to other women who are standing on the edge of their own Next Chapter, not sure if they can take the leap?

I’d say go for it. Life is so short. I was scared, no petrified at the thought of giving up a secure income and leaving the country for a year. But it was almost like a relief and I’ve never looked back. A lot of my fears were around what family would think, or I would be leaving my elderly parents and what would happen if I wasn’t around to help them. But as you get older you realise that you have to live more spontaneously and grab happiness at that moment.

We actually planned for several months before we left. So it wasn’t a whimsical idea. I would write down all the reasons that are stopping you. Look at each one and tick off the ones you can change. Usually, it’s the fear of taking the leap that stops people rather than the act of actually doing it.

If it’s a financial issue, work towards that goal of taking the leap and imagine yourself doing it.

What’s next for you? Share your vision with us!

My vision is Style Made to Empower – to continue to empower consumers with beautiful ethically made fashion, whilst empowering artisans with a sustainable income.

 

When I’m facing something new and challenging I…
I work through what I need to do, take a deep breath, and give it my all

 

I know my greatest strengths are…
I’m great with people, creative, good listener, extremely loyal, knowledgable about my industry

 

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…
Never apologise for being you

 

Some of my favourite books are…
Haven’t read for a while but the last two books I read were Anthony Bourdain No Reservations and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

 

My favourite podcasts are…
Sustainable(ish) by Jen Gale

Conscious Chatter & Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press

 

My favourite business tool or resource is…
Plan for scheduling social media, Canva for graphics, and The Girls Mean Business Business Diary

 

My favourite quote is…
One that comes out of my own mouth at the right time!

 

You can connect with Harjit here.

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Angela Raspass

Mentoring women in their 40's and beyond to build sustainable businesses blending contribution, fulfilment and financial reward.

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