7 years, no itch, but plenty of learnings

Zeenya Owner, Chloe Wickman laughing because a firework candle was way more powerful than she anticipated

Birthday's are always a great time to stop and reflect

It’s not often you get to wish a woman in her 30’s ‘Happy 7th Birthday’ (unless she’s born on a leap year). It’s a pretty unusual feeling. With that in mind, I’ve decided to share my top seven things that I’ve learned about running a small business here in Aotearoa.  

Lesson 1: You are NOT your business. 
For so long I tied my self-identity to the success of my business. We all know that connecting our self worth to anything external to ourselves is a losing game. But I did it. Every blow Zeenya took in our early years was a blow to me and my, ahem, ego. I cringe just writing this. (Insert the yikes emoji). Here’s how it happened. When Zeenya first started I was still working a full-time job which I’d given my all to. It had me travelling all over and it was pretty clear that sometime soon, something was going to give. So after going from having a large part of my identity coming from my previous work, it’s pretty easy to see how I shifted this straight on over to the company. I worked hard, so hard. Hours and hours, sometimes with little to show for it, leaving me feeling worthless and terrible at business. Thankfully I had some awesome people in my life who could help me unpack this identity crisis and remind me of my unique strengths. That my value to the world doesn’t come from my work. I am more than just the work I do. 

Lesson 2: We can do hard things. 
I credit this phrase (which is one of my favourite expressions) to American Author, Glennon Doyle. Last year her book Untamed changed how I see the world. It reminded me of all the things I didn’t know when starting a business and to celebrate how far Zeenya had come. If someone had told me how hard it would be, I can’t say that I would have said yes to this specific crazy ride. Seriously, I knew nothing about clothing or running an e-commerce business when this all began. I remember thinking ‘how hard can it be?’ then throwing caution to the wind and just going for it. Oh yes, there’s power in naivety. The same ‘how hard shrug’ came up when it was decided to move some of our production from Brazil to New Zealand. And again when it came to navigating the new world of a global pandemic. Which at times has delivered massive highs and punishing lows. Despite my ignorance and with a lot of determination Zeenya is still here, so clearly, we can do hard things. 

Lesson 3: Noone else can make the right decision for you. 
I learned that if I don’t put my needs first, no one else will; regardless of how much they care for me. Seems like a weird thing to learn through business right? Well, sometimes we start our businesses with others, and sometimes that doesn’t work out. Business will test your relationships with yourself and with those around you. You can get all the advice in the world but at the end of it all, you are the only one who can make a decision that sits right for you. Sometimes these decisions hurt others. I won’t brush this hurt away with the phrase ‘it’s just business’. It can suck. Big time. The thing that I am proud of is that I came back to myself time and again because I knew I would be the only one to do that in the exact way I needed. 

Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to use your business as a platform for your values. 
Zeenya was always designed to challenge the status quo of how clothing companies have acted in the past. Driven to know who works for us, how the people are treated and the fabric choices we use have all meant that Zeenya is now a company which flips the bird to traditional mass consumption activewear. Stock is only replaced once it’s low, not because the seasons changed (goodbye seasonality). More recently Zeenya has given focus to supporting others to be uplifted by our community. This year we chose to do that through our Artist Collection which I can’t wait to be released in a couple of months. This time around we encouraged Māori artists to submit their portfolio or a design to be considered as part of the project. There was backlash from people for doing this. But I believe in a world of equality, so I’ll continue to grow a thick skin and put my values out into the world. If people don’t like it, they’re not my people. And that’s ok. As the Brit’s might say, those people can jog on. 

Lesson 5: The only constant is change. 
I realise this is a cliche but seriously, in the business world this one stands true. If you’re not open to accepting this, then you’re in the wrong place. Technology changes, products change, people’s expectations change (hello overnight shipping timelines anyone?). Ways of reaching customers change and we all know in our Covid world that your biggest events or projects can get canceled or changed at the last minute. Staying open and using curse words has really helped me with this. It often goes like this…something changes. Chloe swears. Chloe develops plan B and trusts it will be exactly how it should be. This also applies to learning. Don’t want to keep learning? Sorry mate, this business life is not for you. 

Lesson 6: Get support. 
Ask for help but be selective whose advice you actually take. I remember once asking in a Facebook business collective group what a good e-commerce conversion rate was. I got into a discussion with a woman who told me it should be 25%. As in 25% off all website visitors were going to buy from me. I was devastated. I distinctly remember sitting in my office crying. Zeenya was nowhere near that. A couple of months later I went to a networking event with people who specialised in this area who told me anything over 2% is good. I can tell you the relief was immense. Zeenya was in the game. I’ve had a range of mentors and supporters over the years, some good, some not so good. So be selective, and ask hard questions. You have every right to know their experience as they do yours. And follow your gut on these decisions - it usually knows what's up. 

Lesson 7: Don’t forget to have fun. 
Getting caught up in the grind is easy, making time to enjoy your business is essential. Remembering why you started it and what it brings to the lives of others. Do the things that light you up and when you can, pay someone else to complete the things that don’t. My current favourite ‘fun’ thing is making silly videos of myself and our community living their lives in colour. Making others laugh and encouraging them to move their bodies is my creativity at it’s best. But you do what makes you happy. Spreadsheets? Data? Sales? Go for it. We’re all blessed with unique strengths so keep celebrating yours. 

Being in business has a tendency to challenge us in ways unimagined before starting our first. Would I do Zeenya again? Not necessarily. Do I regret doing this? Never. Would I start a company from scratch? Absolutely. I was made for this. Creativity and problem solving is my jam. And the community behind Zeenya with our amazing Ambassadors and fans light up my life. Just like the activewear we sell. Funny that. 

Chloe back in 2016 when travel was still a thing and the Zeenya was really very much a baby

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