Wednesday 22 August 2012

Why I'm Terrified of Childbirth

Pic from Kaboodle

‘When I was pregnant I asked my Mum what labour was like,’ she said.
There were three of us in the shop downstairs. One mother and two with no idea.
‘Her reply was, well love, it's like pooing out a football.’
‘Aaargh!’ we cried.
‘It’s funny really, it's not the sort of thing my Mum would normally say.’

I was still wincing at the thought half an hour later. My first school friend was due to give birth any day and I didn’t know how she was going to manage it. It sounded impossible.

The childbirth talk continued into the afternoon.

‘It’s like having a bad stitch,’ the mother expanded. ‘A bad stitch in the wrong place.’

I felt a little better. I could cope with a stitch. I recalled my PE teacher telling us to lift our arms and run through the pain.

I don’t know if it’s the pain that worries me or the indignity of lying in the midst of all these strangers with my legs wide open. I’ve heard you have different midwives and by the end of the experience half the hospital has prodded your intimate bits, including a class of interns and a bored janitor.

A miracle of life it may be, but it’s not one of the beautiful ones is it?

My cousin told me the program ‘One Born Every Minute’ makes her cry.
Well I can’t watch it, it makes me noxious. All that blood and slime. No thank you.  

I’ve been brought up by parents who would take homeopathic remedies to cure a broken leg. It’s obviously influenced me and I half believe if I take drugs while in labour the baby might have issues with its aura later on. It won’t be the right colour purple or something.   

‘Gas and Air,’ I tell my husband, during another childbirth conversation. ‘That’s all I’ll take.’
‘You won’t be able to cope.’
‘I have a high pain threshold!’ I argue.
He smirks.
You’ll see, I think, you’ll see.

My friend has her baby a couple of days later. We whisper on the phone because the little one is asleep.
‘How was labour?’ I ask.
‘Worse than they say.’
My heart sinks. How can it be worse than they say when they say that it’s the worst thing ever.
‘We’re having goldfish,’ I tell my husband. 

But the truth is a part of me is stirred by what has happened to my friend.
I see the first few photos of the baby in his new home. So small, so vulnerable, so loveable.

‘Wow, you have a son,’ I murmur. 

She sounds so happy. I know she can’t stop staring at him.
The pain, the sleepless nights, she says, it’s all worth it.
Yes, I think, when the time comes I’ll be able to do it.  

The following morning I go running.
Five minutes in and I’ve got a killer stitch. It’s so bad I have to stop.
I think of my PE teacher telling me to run through the pain.
You run through the bloody pain, I think.
I try but I can’t. It feels like burning.
‘It’s like a stitch in the wrong place,’ the mother had said.
No drugs, I'd told my husband.
Doubt washes over me.   
Goldfish, I think, would make us very happy. 

Monday 20 August 2012

How to Set Up a Company While Working Full-time

An Interview with the Creator of Soraya Amaia Beachwear

We often think if only we had more time then we could do all those things we've always wanted to do.

But could it be that we’re very busy but not very productive? 

When I heard how Soraya managed to start her own swimwear company while working full-time for an investment bank, without any previous design or retail experience, I was so impressed I wanted to know how she did it.

Do we have more time than we think? Or does it just take a special sort of drive?

Soraya of Soraya Amaia Beachwear
You describe your company as a ‘Hobby that got out of Control’ – when did you get the idea to start a beachwear company?

It was always supposed to be a hobby, a creative outlet after spending 12hours a day analysing bonds and derivatives. After 5 years in the job in London, I jumped at the opportunity to work at another investment bank in Sao Paolo.

It was only a temporary escape to try something new. However it’s where I met so many entrepreneurial people that inspired me. My suitcase was full of suits and old, low key clothes, nothing expensive that would draw attention to myself as it wasn’t the safest of places. But I couldn’t have got it more wrong. I was taken aback by the wealth in Sao Paolo: so many women dressed in Gucci with perfectly manicured nails and the latest Chanel handbag. A cocktail in Sao Paolo is just as expensive as in a bar in Knightsbridge! Was I the only person who didn’t know this?  It was nothing like the other parts of Brazil I had travelled to.

In Sao Paolo I met some of the fortunate people lucky enough to live this Miami-vice lifestyle and who were so generous and incredibly kind to me. But looking at their massive houses with pools and huge gardens, the obvious question in my mind was, ‘What do YOU do for a living?’ And if I was going to work hard to get that sort of lifestyle, did I have to spend all day looking at numbers? Or were there other routes than my current career?

Meeting so many women who were entrepreneurs in areas other than banking got me thinking. I don’t know what sparked my interest in designing beachwear specifically, but it definitely started in Brazil and the hours spent on the beach in Guaruja. It wasn’t until I got back to London that I decided to start my own company and even then it took months and months of work.

What were the first steps you made when you decided to take it seriously?

Before I even properly decided to start my own beachwear label, I enrolled in a course for Swimwear and Lingerie at the London College of Fashion. I had a degree in Economics but nothing even close to an Arts GCSE! I had to know what was involved in design and starting up a label. There was a high probability that I’d be awful at it, but it was all supposed to be fun anyway! Turns out that vision is a large component of starting up a label, and I knew exactly what I wanted.

Where did you get the energy/inspiration from after working a full day?

I got a new job after getting back from Brazil and when I started the label, I managed to postpone the start date for another month which certainly helped in getting things organised and the wheels in motion. There’s no way around the fact that working 12hrs a day and then spending 2hrs in the evening on Skype with the factory in Brazil on designs, materials and stitching consumes your whole life, but it’s temporary.

The beginning is very hard, not only do you have the designs, you have to continuously improve the samples, plan a photo shoot, get your logo approved, fill out endless forms, set up the website etc - but  most importantly, how will you market it?

My friends will admit that there was a period of about 5-6 months were I fell off the radar, particularly since I also had to focus on my other full-time job - and working on a trading floor can really take it out of you. Sundays were sacred though: going to the gym and catching up on sleep saved my sanity.  Once the label was set up and I managed to get a shop in Gloucester Road on board, Exotica Brazil, it was much easier to get my work/social life balance back on track. It really is possible to do it all if you want it enough.

You must have come across problems during the process. Is there any that stick out that almost stopped you in your tracks?

There are always problems. Mainly though because I was so inexperienced and learnt as I went along. How much stock do I buy? Where do I keep it all? Where do I source the fabric? The biggest shock was the VAT and import tax that you pay and when I got a call from customs telling me how much it was!! But the quality was worth the extra money of getting the swimwear made in Brazil. You can really feel the difference.

In your opinion, what qualities were essential to achieve what you have?
Vision, determination, organisation…oh and patience, nothing happens overnight. Know what you want and then figure out the steps to get there.

What’s the most rewarding thing about having your own company?

It is something tangible that I can say I’ve done. I can’t do that with my day job, no one outside banking understands what I do!

You say there is so much you want to do, are you thinking of expanding your collection beyond beachwear?

You would laugh if I told you all my plans, expanding the collection internationally would be starters but then why stop there?  Creativity isn’t just designing swimwear for me; I nearly enrolled in an interior design course, but realised I don’t actually have the time working 12hrs already and that I should concentrate on one area. I’m not sure what direction my label will take, but I always have big plans.  

Finally, do you have any advice for someone wanting to start their own 

Yes, do your background research: learn about your market and if there is a niche for you. But be realistic! It takes a lot of time before you can actually make money, so you will have to be prepared to work two jobs to support yourself. If you’re looking at starting up your own business in fashion, do your research on trend spotting and other similar labels. You can take inspiration from practically anywhere, too. Create a book with all your ideas, then write up a plan and organise your time. Finally, networking is incredibly important, if it wasn’t for my course at London School of Fashion, I’d never have met the owner of the shop that stocks my designs. Nevertheless, it is so rewarding, having your own label, and if you want it you can have it!

Visit to view her full collection of stunning beachwear.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Guest Blog by Oli Benet: Little Trouble in Big China

Picture from

I arrived at my hotel room in Xiamen, China, in the dead of night, tired and thirsty after a long day, to find a room full of tea, but no water. I took the lift down to the hotel entrance and went to the counter to ask the receptionist for a bottle. 

The meek yet pretty receptionist answered me in softly spoken Chinese. 

We stared at each other for a moment like two lost souls, and I repeated, 


She looked around nervously, as I imagine a bank clerk might if he had just been faced by a masked lunatic with a shotgun. 

I decided to break into a full charades demonstration, using my years of family Christmas experience. I even cheated a little as I held an imaginary bottle to my open mouth, gurgling: 

‘Gagagarr, water!’

Then I screwed the imaginary lid back on my imaginary bottle.

‘No smoking inlis!’ she answered, her panic driving her to combine every word of English she knew in one momentous sentence.

I repeated the charade with renewed enthusiasm.

‘Graagragraa, yummm water water drinky drinky water,’ rubbing my stomach, and pouring my imaginary water all over my face and hair, feeling like an actor from a low budget shampoo commercial. 

She wrote down a number on a piece of paper and pointed at the phone. 

I returned to my room and dialled the number she had given me. Another softly spoken male voice answered in Chinese.

'Water? Can I have some Water? There is no water in my room,' I said, knowing that I was at a clear disadvantage, unable to perform my Oscar winning charade performance over the phone. 

Eventually after a long ‘aaaahh’ he answered ‘no’ and we both hung up the phone, none the wiser. 

By now I really wanted some water, so I called a friend living in Spain who speaks Chinese from my mobile phone and asked them to call the hotel to ask them to bring water to my room.

A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and I was presented with 2 bottles of water. Feeling confident now, I showed the man a photo of a can of beer in a magazine. He nodded his head and disappeared down the corridor, only to return later with a can of beer.

‘Yuan?’ he said
‘You what?’ 
‘ I did, but you didn't understand me...’
‘Oh! Can you charge the room? I have no cash...’

I may as well have read him an extract from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. An uncomfortable silence ensued. 

‘Here, you can have the beer back!’ I said, not knowing what else to do.  

He refused, clearly thinking I was inviting him to share the beer with me. Instead he walked into my room, dialled for reception and passed me the phone.

‘She doesn't understand me!’ I said, trying to pass the phone back.
He wouldn't take it, so I went through the motions.

‘Hello, can you charge a beer to my room,’ I said to the nervous receptionist. 

There was a long pause. 

‘........water?’ she said.

I tried to pass the phone and the beer back to the man, but he wouldn't take them. He pushed the phone into my hand while we stood together wedged between 2 beds trying not to make eye contact.

I could feel the receptionists' alarm through the handset.

I really didn't want this beer any more...

It was a moment of pure gridlock. There was growing panic on both our faces as we spluttered broken words that neither of us understood. I couldn't see how it would end.

Finally the man took the phone, mumbled into it for a while, then walked out of the room.

Yuan, you ask? 

No, I'm pretty sure I lost.

Monday 6 August 2012

Triple Flu Jump

Picture from

‘What better time for your immune system to break down but during the Olympics.’
This wasn’t a quote from a sarcastic athlete but a facebook status I noticed.
As I lay limply on the sofa for the 6th day in my own flu soup, it dawned on me that this person had a point.
If I’d been sick at any other time, I would be watching ‘Murder She Wrote.’
At least with the Olympics, I still feel connected to society.   
For the first few days, I felt connected to the athletes too, as my joints ached as if I’d done every sport that they had.  
Of course until yesterday I hadn’t come close to doing any exercise, opting for a bath over a shower so I didn’t even have to stand up.  
But yesterday I did get involved in vigorously flapping my hands and blowing at the telly.
It was the triple jump and Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia was in with a chance of a medal.
The problem was her competitors were drawing ever closer to her highest score.
I was concerned that Caterine smiled when she did a bad jump and looked annoyed when she did a great one.  Had she lost the plot?
My husband, the Colombian element in my life, was nervous and excited. I was equally altered.
‘We have to create counter wind!’ I cried, as a dangerous competitor got up to take a run-up.
It wasn’t very sportsmanship like, but we started sweeping our hands towards the telly in the hopes of creating a bit of wind resistance.
It was silly perhaps but since the athlete’s jump got a red flag, my superstitions were cemented.
I couldn’t stop now. What if the next athlete did a huge jump? I would only have myself to blame.
For every jump after that, I flapped my arms, blew and created tropical rainstorms.  
On her last jump, Caterine secured a silver medal.  
Finally I could flop back onto the sofa, coughing and spluttering; another productive day in sick city.