Long before the words ethical fashion, fast fashion or eco friendly had even been thought of, one lady’s passion for life and curiosity drew her to the heart of India where she discovered the fairtrade company, Anokhi, which would change her life forever. After 3 years of working for a company that challenges and encourages good business practises, Leona Mani started her own journey to support the greater good. This is Leona’s story on being an entrepreneur, founding The Good Place, dedicating her life to the fairtrade industry and all while bringing up 3 beautiful children.
Name: Leona Mani
Occupation: Founder of The Good Place
Mum: of 3
1) You are the Founder of The Good Place – a one-stop shop for luxurious ethical fashion and lifestyle shopping that contributes to the greater good of our environment and mankind. Tell us more about The Good Place and what lead you to start the company.
The Good Place arose from a desire to bring the ‘good’ into people’s lives – by promoting good products and the good people behind the products, telling their stories, and bringing the shopping experience to life through events and promotions in our Chelsea ‘shoppable’ gallery.
2) Prior to starting The Good Place you spent many years in the textile industry in both Hong Kong and India. What was your inspiration to leave your homeland of the UK to explore these parts of the world and why?
I graduated in International Business and decided that I wanted to travel and experience different working environments – it happened that my boyfriend at that time was posted to Hong Kong so I tagged along – living in Hong Kong allowed me to travel all around Asia. I ended up falling in love with India, ultimately moving to Jaipur for two years to work for a textile company. While I was there I also made a documentary about the Bishnoi, a tribe in the Rajasthan desert that saved the Indian Antelope from extinction.
3) Being a leader in your field and paving the way for people to follow requires such focus and belief in yourself. What obstacles did you face that challenged your vision and how did you overcome these?
Running any business is like a roller-coaster ride – trying to survive in a niche market that has only very recently started to gain traction has been extremely challenging. Also, the retail environment is constantly changing and developing, and keeping up to date with technology is always a challenge. The business has always grown organically – you never know what is around the corner! I am constantly trying to think of new ways of marketing – partnering with like minded people and businesses helps to gain exposure while creating variety for our customers.
4) As a female in your industry did you ever feel this inhibited you? Or did you find you had more connection when on the ground since most of the people at the source are women?
Most people in the industry tend to be female which is great. That’s what I love about it. One of my main objectives has always been to empower women in business and help open doors and create connections so that they may be inspired to develop and grow. Also, most of the artisans in developing countries are women, which creates necessary income streams for communities.
5) Along the way you have also founded My Fabulous Collection, Best Fair Trade, your own fair trade products AND sit on the Sustainability Advisory Panel of Green Rewards! Tell us why you set these companies up, how you became a member of such a prestigious panel and where you find your time!
Each business was created to solve a particular need at the time. As the retail environment changed, and e-commerce started to develop, I tried to keep up with advances in technology, constantly striving to find the best way to showcase and promote fabulous products and stories from around the world. I’ve been on the Green Rewards panel since it started 8 years ago – it’s been great to experience the growth and development of another business while developing my own. I think the expression ‘always ask a busy person’ is very true – I somehow manage to fit everything in.
6) When you were younger did you always want to start your own company?
Yes, always. I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I guess it’s in the blood!
7) What do you think has been your biggest achievements so far in both your personal life and your professional life? How do you think this has helped you to launch The Good Place
My biggest achievement in my personal life has to be my 3 beautiful children. I try to be the best role model for them – I think it’s especially important for girls to believe they can achieve anything they want to in life and there should be no barriers. As a single parent, my drive has always come from wanting to create the best possible opportunities for my children.
8) If there is one pivotal moment you could pin-point your career that has lead you to where you are, what is it and why?
I think living and working in India and experiencing horrendous working conditions in factories, especially child labour. I was lucky enough to see the other side of the coin where businesses were effecting positive change in their working environment. When I returned to the UK I was involved with the Bi-Centenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. Fair trade is a modern day remedy of slavery and that, combined with my experiences in India, gave me the drive to want to promote fair trade businesses.
9) You mentioned you are a mum of 3. How do you manage the work/life balance? Did you take time out to raise your family? Did you ever feel that if you took time out from work to raise a family that you would have to start all over again?
I do think women are very creative when it comes to managing work and kids. There is no easy way, and I do feel guilty if I can’t make a concert or a sports fixture. With three children it’s a daily challenge and I constantly try to put things into perspective. Running my own business does make it easier to manage. I was just starting out when I had the children so it was relatively easy to pick things up when I was ready to go back to work. The hardest part was finding the confidence to start back again, but I’ve long been a fan of the expression ‘fake it until you make it’!
10) What does ‘time-out’ or ‘relaxation’ look like to you? How do you keep yourself mentally and physically healthy?
To be honest, I don’t really get a lot of time out. My son is a chorister and has to sing services every Saturday and Sunday, so weekends are mostly spent in the Cathedral or on the sideline watching a sports match. I’m not very good at doing nothing and always have something on the go, either for work or school. Relaxation is definitely a glass of wine at the end of the day! I’m lucky that I have a lot of energy and self motivation – it would be very difficult otherwise.
11) What do you hope to achieve through the voice of The Good Place and ultimately what is your vision for your company?
I would like The Good Place to become both a high street and online brand that challenges the ideals of modern retail. In order to survive in the current retail environment, we have to deliver an outstanding customer experience, as well as a collection of products that are helping to create a better environment for us all.
12) What’s next for Leona Mani?
I am currently working on a very exciting project that will hopefully launch in early 2017 so watch this space!