In the early days of starting a company, you will need to roll your sleeves up and become a jack-of-all-trades. Juggling the designing of digital sewing patterns on my living room floor was really fun. I had to remind myself that some of the ‘other stuff’ that wasn’t such a natural fit, still needed to be done!
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Page.
Rebecca Page is the co-founder and CEO of www.rebecca-page.com, a hugely popular global sewing brand with a community of over 600,000. She has spent over 30 years sewing and is the creator of the leading Sewing Pattern Subscription, The Sewing Summit and a published author. Rebecca has been featured in The Times, on BBC Radio 4 and in numerous industry publications. An entrepreneur by heart, Rebecca has run multiple businesses. She is a huge advocate for moving away from fast fashion to beautifully fitting hand-made clothes.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve loved sewing since I was about 8 years old. A few years ago, I was the stand-by contestant on the Great British Sewing Bee. I didn’t get to actually go on the show but after months of doing all the pre-filming preparation, I realized I wanted to follow my passion for sewing by creating a business in the industry.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I started, I was on my own and I had to be a jack-of-all trades. I also didn’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, which meant there was no filter or testing. At the start of 2018, I joined a start-up mentor group with the New Zealand Business Women’s Association and this was where I met my co-founder, Janine Manning. We incorporated Rebecca Page Ltd in March 2018 and the rest is history!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Following my passion and loving what I do gives me all the drive I need to keep going through hard times. Whenever I need a break, my relaxation is sewing! A few hours behind my sewing machine and I feel refreshed and invigorated to jump onto the next project or task.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Our revenue is up five-fold on last year, so I’m really happy with the pace of scale we are achieving.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ahh, once I was making matching PJs for our two eldest kids who were quite different heights. I was so busy watching Netflix while I sewed that I didn’t notice I had sewed mismatching bottoms together… I ended up with two identical pairs of pajama bottoms, each with one long leg and one short leg. From then on I made sure to concentrate more closely on the task at hand…although I admit this isn’t always easy with three small children!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a female-centric business in several ways; our co-founders and board are all female, as are the large majority of our remote-based team. We also buck the trend in that over half of our investors are female — we’re really pleased about sharing our journey with such an encouraging and supportive group.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Everyone in our team is based remotely and has complete flexibility as to how and when they work. The ability to manage families and non-work responsibilities, along with the time saved not having to commute, allows our team to establish a routine that works for them. This reduces stress and burnout, which means our team can thrive in their work and home lives.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are two people that I am especially grateful for who helped me get to where I am today. Firstly, my husband. In the early days, we took a risk together knowing it was likely I wouldn’t be earning any income for a while and that we would need to budget carefully. Also, my business partner Janine Manning. She’s an accountant by trade, and a highly successful Angel Investor. Janine has spent many hours helping create our financial models and teaching me the ins and outs of the investment world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In our team, we like to say we are “making the world a happier place, one stitch at a time”! With a mostly female team, in over 11 countries, we’ve created internal systems so team members can have their work fit around their family life (rather than the other way around). It’s been an enormously heart-warming process as we hired from within the sewing community and realized that so many people were struggling to get jobs that would work with school pick-ups or caring for family. Working remotely, doing something they love has been life changing for some of our team. Then when we work, we get to make patterns and classes that our customers love using, and that help them get clothes that fit better and last longer. It is a win-win.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- In the early days of starting a company, you will need to roll your sleeves up and become a jack-of-all-trades. Juggling the designing of digital sewing patterns on my living room floor was really fun. I had to remind myself that some of the ‘other stuff’ that wasn’t such a natural fit, still needed to be done!
- I studied Computer Science (and Psychology) at university so I found that following a systematized methodology like ‘The Lean Start-up Methodology’ aligned with the way I like to work. It really helped to follow the build-measure-learn loop, by testing on a small scale, and then continually reiterating, before implementing something new and then fine-tuning it. This has helped everything to fall into place at the right time.
- Understanding the importance of the data and metrics that makes the business tick. As new founders we sometimes forget to take a step back to look analytically at the progress of the business. When I was fighting fires, and had a long To-Do list, I found it hard to set aside the time for a proper look. I had to force myself to allocate the time, and this was critical in learning which KPIs I should be tracking and monitoring. I also learnt that KPIs are not set in concrete — they need to adapt as the business scales.
- Surrounding yourself with the right people, at the right time, is critical. I quickly learnt that it’s not easy navigating this on your own. I found talking to successful founders about how they went about scaling their founding team was really helpful, as the same pitfalls and problems kept coming up. As a founder, I had to look at my own areas of expertise and experience to honestly identify my skills gap. I found it difficult to take my fingers out of all the pies and to start delegating tasks to the team. If a founder cannot let go it is going to be difficult to scale.
- An oldie-but-goodie, that in a start-up, cash is king! It’s a delicate juggling exercise that can be tricky to get right all the time. Keep cash front-of-mind!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love, love, love more people to think about the sustainability of their clothing. Not just where it comes from and who sews it, but also having clothing really fit their body how they want it to. If you have quality clothes you love, that fit how you want them to, you are far more likely to wear them and look after them. This both reduces waste and has people feel better about themselves.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram — rebeccajpage
Instagram — therpfeed
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!