Franziska Hillmer is the founder of moralisches-angebot.de, an online-store focused on sustainable lingerie & accessories (we recommend you to have a look!). She shares with us her path towards sustainable lingerie and how to become a ‘sustainable entrepreneur’.
Why does buying sustainable lingerie matter?
For me, it’s one of the few things that makes sense when it comes to shopping. Since we live in a fast fashion society, we should ask ourselves whether we really need that. And I’m convinced that we can buy most fashion items second hand. At least this is what I try to do. And if I buy, for example, a new dress then, of course, I try to support one of these wonderful sustainable labels. Just in October I came across Diario de una Couturier. Check them out – really beautiful designs. But regarding underwear most of us won’t buy used items… So we’ll buy new stuff. If we take a closer look at bras, shorts, and slips in the mainstream fashion industry, we realise that most of them are synthetic and full of pesticides. The material that is closest to our skin! Moreover, 11 % of pesticides used worldwide are used in cotton fields, even though cotton fields only account for 3% of the farming fields. That means that conventional cotton is full of pesticides. And cotton farming is a huge cause of pesticides in our environment.
“In city centres stores, there are pretty much no alternatives to these pesticide-filled underwear at all. We need to raise awareness that these cheap materials create environmental, social and health issues.”
What is your background?
I always wanted to make an impact regarding environmental issues. So I studied Business Management to understand the system and got a Master’s degree in Sustainability, Economics and Management, where I developed a better understanding. But then after a year in a regional management project, I decided to become a consultant for entrepreneurs in rural areas. I supported them by creating their business and
financial plans and encouraged them to consider sustainability issues within these concepts as well. However, beside the huge amount admin work that I didn’t like, I realised that the work I did was very far away from my original purpose. Consulting is about giving advice, supporting others, but ultimately, they are the ones who are creating something. I love to support others, but I really wanted to work on my own projects.
What triggered you to start your business?
The most important thing was that I gave myself time to think. At the beginning of 2016, I spent over a month in Vienna simply reading, thinking and visiting conferences. I focused down on my goals and other things that are very important to me.
There, I decided to launch moralisches-angebot.de, selling sustainable underwear and accessories to the german-speaking market. I know that some people think online shopping is not very environmental-friendly, but in fact, there are a lot of rural areas where you have absolutely no sustainable alternatives nearby (as I mentioned before – we need underwear), so you have to drive to the next shopping mall an hour away, which is not sustainable at all. So on balance, regarding the environmental footprint, I personally think this is a better deal.
What can you recommend for others, who want to become a sustainable entrepreneur?
Through working and meeting a lot of entrepreneurs in the last years, I’ve definitely learned some important lessons. The 5 following take-aways have been very important for me
1st, decide right
Before you just start to think about entrepreneurship and the perfect business idea, make sure that the brilliant idea you have, the course or the new job you might start, is truly what you like to do. So you have to ask yourself: Is it worth it for you to work all day every day in an office? To ask strangers for money to invest in your business? Are you okay with negotiating your hours to get a good deal? Does it fit with your ideals or is it just a means to earn fast money, where you have to do things you usually refuse? So if sustainability is important for you, you might avoid plastics, flights or meat and don’t like to support those things inside or outside work.
Or maybe it is a pretty good, world-improving idea, but you’re not the right person for this job, as you’re much better at giving gardening lessons or inspiring people to find their spirit instead of sustaining the financial market… Sometimes this is not obvious at first. How many people studied for years only to find themselves sitting in an office doing a job – in a life – they don’t even like!
Focus on YOUR purpose! I recommend an empty sheet of paper where you can write down and connect everything that’s important in your life: topics you’re interested in, family, sport, health, passion. Step by step you will be able to identify, where and with whom you like to spend your time.
2nd, take your time
You know what you like to do now – congratulations! When this is the case, we want to spend all the time and energy we have to reach our goals. Use this energy, but also take care of your own financial situation. It is really frustrating if you cannot prepare everything as you would like, because you’re dependent on making money with it.
If you start your business before you’re really ready, you’ll feel a lot of pressure due to the need to earn a profit. Thus, the thing you love pretty quickly becomes a burden and you won’t be able to focus on your idea and to concentrate on the next right single step.
Typically, you’ll rush and soon you’ll only create a poor copy of the thing you really had in mind… or you’ll quit, disappointed in yourself that you failed. Take the time you need, handle your idea with care, even if it needs 2 years of preparation – this is okay!
Reduce your working hours as an employee or take another job, where you don’t have to spend so much energy. For instance, I really loved to work as a barmaid or waitress during my studies as it was very active and communicative – a perfect tonic to reading and studying.
3rd, define the steps
This is the uncomfortable part. Yes, you should write a business plan. Even if you’re not going to ask a financial institute or someone else for a loan and you would rather not use crowdfunding or similar sources. It is simply for you. As a consultant for entrepreneurs I guided and supported others how to write their business plans and made it clear how important an exercise it is. And yet with moralisches-angebot.de, I was going to start my own project and it cost me a lot of mental effort to do it.
Unfortunately, as humans, we’re really good at advising others, but often not good at accepting advice from ourselves (because in our mind everyone else is much more important… ).
So, be your own boss. Sit down, write YOUR concept. Make a detailed plan: what your idea is about; what you’d like to achieve; who is your target market which marketing channels would you like to focus on; which legal structure fits your plan; how much money will need for which investment; which corporation partners might you need; how you plan to develop in the next years; what are the possible funding programmes out there… et cetera.
All this will definitely help you to make things clear – and to gain confidence because now you will be able to explain it to others in a professional manner. What I realised later on was that when I plan to take new steps and become insecure, I can just check what I’ve written down in my business concept and can reassure myself: Yes, you’re on track! Other things will go differently – which is also fine.
4th I need your money…
Likely you’ll need more money than you can invest on your own. And of course, most people feel uncomfortable in asking for credit. Mostly, we don’t want to burden others or we are insecure, not sure whether our idea is good enough. Is it worth so much money? Are we worth it? Do we really have the entrepreneurial spirit? And of course we won’t act outrages.. and what if all went wrong!? Stop that!
If you have done the first three steps, it means you know what your purpose is. If you have taken your time and if you have defined your steps, if you have calculated everything properly, then there is no reason why your idea – why you – shouldn’t be worth the money the project needs! Be self-confident!
And you know what? You should even ask for a bit more money than you need. You need 4 euros? Ask for 5! Because even though requesting money is not easy, it’s a much better feeling to ask once than to ask twice. The other way around, when you don’t need the extra money, it gives much air to breathe and the opportunity to pay it back earlier. What a great sign to your investors!
Investing money has a lot to do with trust. For a financial institute it is not that important, whether you ask for a bit more than you need. What is important is that you can pay right on time, that they can trust you, that you spend the money wisely. How great it is, if you can say, “hey, we didn’t need everything” or “I can pay it back one month earlier!”. You can bet, they’ll give you money again, if you need it next time.
5th Respect yourself
We often take much more care of people we love than we do ourselves. What’s more, if we have a job, we really hurry to arrive on time – but why do we so easily quit getting up early in the morning to go running? Just because we only do it for our own well-being?
This behaviour is too far removed from being a free spirit! I think freedom is not allowing our weaker selves to distract us from our needs and wants – just for us. And again: We’re only able to give if we respect our own feelings and needs, because then we’re satisfied, balanced and powerful. Our health, our body, our mind is the most important gift we receive in life. So to care for others we have to care for ourselves first – to have enough energy for all the great things we like to achieve.
It is the same issue when it comes to our careers. Society tells us we have to get the best education to become successful. But you will only be successful, if it fits to your interests, your personal attributes and passion as well as to the ideals you have. So, again, respect that and make sure that you work for your own purpose and not the things others prefer or society prefers. Then you will earn success, maybe not in terms of a really high bank balance, but definitely in terms of the quality of your life. Then, you’re able to achieve true value.
Thanks a lot Franziska for sharing your story, for your action towards a more sustainable lingerie and for your wise advice!