Journal

WOMEN OVER 50 MEAN BUSINESS | MEET OUR CO-FOUNDER BEE FRIEDMANN


A free spirit with a passion for wanderlust, Bee's journey to distant lands started long before she sat down with our Co-Founder Amy to create Hiro + Wolf. Read on as she discusses ancient crafts, her South African upbringing and why we should have more support for middle-aged women entrepreneurs. 

You are one of H+W Co-Founders and mum to two dogs, one cat and one very talented human, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your day to day life?

Growing up in South Africa I was always fascinated with the brightly coloured craft available for sale on street corners. My dad lived and worked in Equatorial Africa and as a child I spent many hours in his study staring at his carvings and paging through his book collection - I always knew I wanted to travel around Africa and craft has enabled me to do this.  

Many years ago before the internet I used to take my son, Conor, to South Africa every year for the long summer holidays.  We had an old Fiat Uno (called Meisie - which means girl in Afrikaans).  In we would climb and off we would go in the search of hidden treasures. Back in the early 90's you could not check out websites or browse through online catalogues, so you just went with your nose. We travelled many miles over dusty. open roads to find either beautifully crafted pieces, or nothing at all. Often we would come across an empty building where a craft group had been based at some point, only to be pointed down another bumpy road to their new location.  Sometimes just finding a place is the adventure.  I have great memories of Conor squashed into the car amid boxes of baskets, beads, carvings and fabric. 

I have always been interested in craft and its ability to uplift both urban and rural communities to a position of sustainability and economic stability. I believe it is very important to preserve the ancient skills of basket weaving, beadwork and wood carving. Unfortunately these skills are now on the decline; economic migration seeing more and more young people move to the cities.  Economic stimulation through craft gives young people the opportunity to stay in their villages to continue with their families' traditional crafts thus keeping communities together. This is a large part of what I work towards.

My days can be very varied - they include anything from following up leads on email to planning mad adventures, to mundane accounts!

Before starting Hiro + Wolf three years ago, what were you doing?

My last job was 'Events Manager' at the Design Museum - I was there for around 4 years.  In 2010 I resigned.  My son was on a gap year and so I decided to return to SA to spend some time with my 89 year old mum. It was hard to leave a secure, well paid and very enjoyable job but equally it was the best decision I ever made!  In November 2010 my mum sadly passed away. I am so glad I had the last year with her. It was good to reconnect after leaving South Africa 30 years prior to follow my dream of living in Europe.

On returning to the UK, I decided not to go back into full time employment.  It was time to turn my 'hobby business' into a serious business. This is where it all began.

What were the challenges that you faced when starting your own business?  

Starting up a business is one big challenge. I would say the overall biggest challenge is financial, as things don't happen overnight and it takes time to get established. In the beginning, the last person to get paid is always you!  Belief in yourself and those around you is very important.

How does the age gap between yourself, in your 50's and our Co-Founder Amy, in her 30's, reflect on your partnership's dynamic?

I think this works to our advantage.  I can sometimes be a little blinkered as to what is new and trending and Amy opens my eyes to this. I bring my knowledge of working for so long in Africa to the table. Amy is a brilliant and fresh designer and I am good at seeking craftspeople to interpret her designs. We really work well together and over the years we have come to know each other's characters - what makes us tick and what tips us over the edge - to the extent that we are now finishing each other's sentences!

Importantly, we do not compete with each other  - our egos never get in the way and I believe the age gap has something to do with this.

Do you think there is enough support for middle-aged women starting their own ventures? 

No, absolutely not! I have always been a bit of a lone wolf so when I did try to seek advice/financial help I found doors to be shut as I was over the age in which you are 'supposed' to start out. There were grants out there to encourage 'young' entrepreneurs but nothing for 'older' entrepreneurs.  This has now changed a little but I think more advice should be available.  Recently I read an article that suggested middle aged women wanting to return to employment dye their hair, rethink their wardrobe and lose weight!  This is not the advice I am after.  It would be great to see more support for older women who are serious about a change and passionate about beginning their own ventures.  Luckily, in the craft industry as a whole, there are a lot of savvy, mature women and I am very proud to consider myself to be one of them.

If you could choose two favourite things from your job, what would they be? 

Travelling to find beautiful things that are made by talented people and passing these beautiful things onto appreciative like-minded folk.

What are your top three spots to visit with the pack at the weekend?

Epping Forrest, Victoria Park and La Bouche Deli on Broadway Market.

From H+W's latest collection, could you share your most-loved pieces with us?

Our collaboration with Dashing Tweeds is one of my all-time favourites. Wolf's current wardrobe includes every piece from this collection, and I love the fact that this fabric is woven in the UK exclusively by Dashing Tweeds. Also, its reflective quality means I can spot Wolfie from a mile away if he's off the lead after dark.

Another favourite is the Shwe Shwe Navy Circles pattern. Shwe Shwe is a traditional South African fabric, so it feels close to home. I love the indigo colour and the smell! Opening a postal parcel of this fabric plunges me right back into the down-town fabric shops of Johannesburg that I used to visit with my mother.

Last but not least, the Kikoy Botanical collection. The acacia yellow leather reminds me of the African sun and the stripy fabric reminds me of wrapping myself in a kikoy after getting out of the warm Indian Ocean on visits to Kenya.

Dashing Tweeds 'Yellow Raver' Collar £36   Kikoy Botanical Bow Tie, £15  Shwe Shwe Navy Collar £30,  

 

Follow Bee and Amy's journey over on our IG for more travel stories, sneak peeks and woman power.

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