It’s time to get away from this profits vs ethics thinking. Because it’s limiting you and is slowing down the well-needed change in the fashion industry.
I was half-listening to a Clubhouse talk the other day, while (of course) trying to do something else at the same time. I mean, who hasn’t done that before! Anyhow, the chat was about leading a sustainable business and I almost zoned out. But a person who started speaking brought my attention back.
They were stating strongly that a business can be either sustainable or profitable. There’s no way around it.
I already felt my blood pressure rising but the fact that others started agreeing and encouraging that first person made me properly angry.
Look, money is already a taboo topic for any small business. But if you’re into a business of making the world (or fashion for that matter) more sustainable and ethical, then it gets especially touchy. Some brands, which we normally associate with sustainable fashion, starting to claim that they are not sustainable, isn’t helping this either. Even more, I am lately seeing some of my clients being attacked and shamed for, well, wanting to make a living out of doing business sustainably.
So can profit and sustainability go hand in hand?
I’ll tell you right away: I do think that they can.
But for this, we need to shift our mindset about the meaning of business, money, profit, and ethics.
To unwrap this, I partnered up with Nikki Trott, a podcaster, consultant, business coach, entrepreneur and overall a brilliant woman on a mission of helping others thrive. Nikki herself went on a journey from a profit-oriented, fashion industry career, to passion before anything, to finally finding a balance that works for her and the others. She founded Conscious Accelerator, a platform to help those who want to create profit in line with purpose. Today, I’m bringing you a part of our conversation.
If you've ever been shamed for wanting to make money out of your passion or ethical business, if you don't believe you can create profit driven by purpose, then read on. This one's for you.
We learn as kids what success looks like. It usually revolves around piling up material goods. You know, buying a big house or a better car. Travelling across the world several times a year. Building a 6-figure business. That’s what successful people do, isn’t it?
At least that is what Nikki was told, as she was building her career in fashion.
Nikki worked in marketing and brand strategy and her clients included some of the biggest names of the industry, like Mulberry, H&M and Mango. She was on a plane every week from London to New York, or around European capitals, and her projects were a dream of any marketer. She was certainly making the money.
“Everyone kept telling me how successful I was”, Nikki remembers. But it didn’t feel that way. She didn’t feel successful, though that’s what it was supposed to be like: “I tried to convince myself that I’ve made it. At the same time, wait-it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel fulfilled”. Nikki realised quite quickly that success based on prestige and making money alone is an empty feeling. It’s a sugar rush, that’s thrilling at first but leaves you hungry. And easily addicted, as Nikki could see around here. She also realised what this kind of success means for others and the planet. The industry she worked in showed this clearly.
A profit-over-anything model is what got the fashion industry to the point where we urgently have to make some changes. A business that looks for infinite economic growth on a finite planet is not possible without serious social and environmental damage. To most of us, this is clear now. Yet, we get constantly reminded that profit is the main measurement of success.
Nikki decided to break away from that, once for all: “My business is thriving, but it doesn't mean anything. To me, this is not what success is. So I left that business behind, and everyone thought I was crazy. My dad was like: Oh, my God, if you become a hippie…”, Nikki told me laughingly.
Yet, she was serious about her decision.
Passion first but not alone
At first, Nikki decided to go independent and move away from the industry. She started her own consultancy, but something was still missing. It wasn’t only the industry that needed the change. She needed to change as well.
This is how she started her own spiritual and career journey. It wasn’t an overnight change but it made her discover her purpose and mission in the world. It was her wish to help others first. And now was the time to stop denying that and focus on her impact on the world.
As she entered into the coaching business, her initial approach was the exact opposite of what she was doing previously: “I had initially thought that I'm going to say goodbye to all the money. It doesn't matter, I don't need it, it doesn't fulfil me. And I'm going to find, you know, my purpose. I'm going to help people. That's my mission, who cares about the money!”
She went consulting and coaching visionary, mainly female entrepreneurs. Perhaps unexpectedly, she learned a lot from them too. There are many structural and systemic reasons why most CEOs today are men. Among others, she discovered, the belief that the internal values are in opposition to profit and success is what keeps many women down. Nikki learned that passion is what will get her and other entrepreneurs far but they still need to sustain themselves. Even if the world is telling us that making money out of a passion is wrong or not even possible.
I certainly have seen this too. I meet many passionate women who truly want to make this world a bit better place. Women who are ready to advocate for the garment worker’s rights, rethink the materials they’re using and buying, and do everything to reduce their personal and professional impact on this planet. Yet, when it comes to paying ourselves a living wage, we feel weird about it. And we often, especially as small businesses, fail to do so.
“Money isn’t evil”, Nikki says: “Business isn't evil, it's just a framework that you can use in any way that you want to. And I finally figured that I want to work with those who are using their businesses for good.”
That’s where we come to the next point.
The power of small businesses
The reason why we think about profits as immoral is that they often are. Again, the fashion industry is a primary example of this: big companies prioritised profit over anything for too long and today, we feel the urgency to respond to this. This is why the sustainable fashion movement is growing, it’s a response to that. We prioritise ethics and the environment, which I definitely agree with. What I don’t agree with is the belief that they can’t truly be a part of a business. That it’s a choice we have to make.
It doesn’t have to be.
It’s time to get away from this profits vs ethics thinking. Because it’s limiting you and is slowing down the well-needed change in the fashion industry. Nikki is a strong believer in this and the more she works with entrepreneurs and small business owners, the more potential she sees in them. Thus, she helps them to change their mindsets and create profit and positive impact from their mission.
Small businesses are the blueprint of the sustainable future in fashion: “But we need them to succeed on their own terms”, explains Nikki.
That’s exactly the reason why she started Conscious Accelerator: to empower entrepreneurs to thrive and profit with purpose, creating a more positive impact for themselves and the world. She does this by combining her rich coaching and consulting experience.
If you’re a small business owner reading this, here’s what this means for you.
Nikki starts by helping you to get rid of your blockers and fears. She helps you to recognise and stop self-sabotaging your ideas and progress. After this, she works with you to define your purpose and get very clear on your mission and how to communicate this to the world. By this, she means being precise and crystal clear,so that you find a way to create a business or develop your existing business based on your personal values. Finally, together, you will develop concrete and full strategy for your brand and business. How this looks is completely tailored to you and your needs. Nikki offers one-on-one coaching and consultancy, as well as programmes in small groups (up to 10 people per group). In both cases, the programme adapts to your pace, trajectory, and needs.
The goal of Conscious Accelerator is for you to succeed in your own way and leave your legacy. It will equip you with the expertise you need to make your business a success. It’s that mix of personal and professional support to remind you that you’re not alone, whether you’re just starting your business or fine-tuning it.
A quick note before you leave: If you end up hiring Nikki as your business consultant, let her know how you heard about her. This way, you will support me too, as I’ll earn a small fee for this. However, please know that the above text is fully my opinion and interpretation. Nikki nor anyone else hasn’t interfered in the content of it.