The British fashion designer talks about the benefits of bringing emotion to the workplace in her book, ‘If in Doubt Wash Your Hair’
Put your own oxygen mask on first. Award-winning fashion designer, successful entrepreneur and mother of five, Anya Hindmarch knows a thing or two about stress — juggling 60 stores, design, PTA meetings, and her Instagram-ready civil projects can’t have been easy. For over 30 years, this queen of handbags, with fans like Kate Moss and the Duchess of Cambridge, has also kept customers going with her witticisms. But in her new book, If in Doubt, Wash Your Hair, Hindmarch, 53, embraces fear, self-doubt and self-care. Thus the oxygen mask reference at the beginning of this article, which is also chapter three in her book.
The increasing focus on the self, and the quest for calm, could explain why self-help books are back in demand in the West. This includes the ‘part memoir, part manual’ hybrid by celebrities and influencers. According to NPD BookScan, a retail sales monitoring service for books in the US, the number of unique ISBNs in self-help went up nearly three-fold from 30,897 in 2013 to 85,253 in 2019. And modern customers no longer sound faintly apologetic about reading them. Recall the instant spike in interest last year when singer Adele recommended Untamed by activist and public speaker Glennon Doyle: “This book will shake your brain and make your soul scream,” she exclaimed on Instagram, crediting the source of her new-found ‘joy’.
Notes from the playroom
Confidence is a muscle
- Fear is the other side of excitement, Hindmarch writes in the book, as she explains how she overcame her fear of public speaking. It involved neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). “Confidence is a muscle you can flex… if I can do one good one talk, I can draw on that. So that muscle of working on it and incrementally improving on it is important.” She also recalls precious advice received in school from Sr Angela. “On my first day at Catholic school, she gathered us in the chapel and said: ‘If you don’t expect to be fully satisfied you will have a very happy life indeed.’ We have to have realistic expectations.”
Hindmarch has suggestions for readers in pursuit of happiness as well. “I didn’t write it as a self-help book, but kind of vomited out my creative journey,” she begins, during a video call with The Hindu Weekend. Describing what went into the project that kicked off when she turned 50, she continues, “I am a woman, a mother, a stepmother, a woman in business, a creative… it is about how doubt snakes through those roles. But I guess there is a lot of self-help in there.”
The British designer has packed this book from Bloomsbury with tips on lists, digital diaries and strategies that helped her stay organised to raise her five children. “I had no experience at being a mother when I inherited my three [her husband was a widower when she met him, and his oldest child was four], and this was baptism by fire.” She now swears by David Allen’s Getting Things Done, a personal productivity system and book.
Sending fashion editors climbing
Hindmarch started her eponymous brand as a teenager, following a trip to Florence (incidentally, her father, whom she names as her mentor in the book, also began his business at 18). Since then, there have been many achievements, one of them being an MBE in 2009 for her contribution to the British fashion industry. The former UK trade ambassador has planned unforgettable fundraisers for charity and for the Conservative Party. Back in 2010, then PM David Cameron was quoted praising her “organisational energy” as “awe-inspiring” in the Evening Standard.
- Tips on raising children include getting them involved and “sharing what is going through my head”. A strategy called Beat the Clock, courtesy her middle son, is for any of the children who want to go out late. They agree to a curfew and get back home in time to turn off the alarm by her bed. She says she sleeps better this way.
That passion over creative projects hasn’t dimmed — recent efforts have seen her stores filled to the brim with 90,000 plastic bottles. This was “part protest and part art installation” during London Fashion Week to promote her ‘I Am A Plastic Bag’ collection, a follow up to the ‘I Am Not A Plastic Bag’ tote that started an eco-revolution in fashion in 2007. She has convinced customers to take part in meditations while lying on a giant bean bag, another ‘installation’, and fashion editors to climb a giant blue net of tunnels (the immersive Weave Project at London’s Brewer Street car park). Experientials are her thing, as she proved once again with her big post-pandemic retail project, The Village on Pont Street, London. Launched in May, it has five stores, including The Plastic Store for recycled accessories, and The Label Store for decluttering. A pop-up retro hair salon was introduced in the conceptual space — professional hair washes being something Hindmarch felt everyone needed after lockdown (some of us agree!). It also connected with the title of her book.
Room for tears
‘If in doubt, wash your hair’ was often what the designer responded with, when asked to advise busy mums and working women. “It’s one of those things that can change your day, even if it’s so trivial and silly. And it stands for so much else.” That said, the winning takeaway from her book is that ‘emotion is a female superpower’. “Workplaces have traditionally been perhaps male, and emotion considered a weakness. I was upset after someone said something unfair to me at work one day, and was told, ‘Anya, you must take emotion out of this.’ It made me stop and think: no, emotion is what we do really well. Men know too that it is emotion that builds businesses and loyalties. We must never lose it, not just in the office but at home too!”
Since then, she has made it a point not to hide her tears and vulnerability. “I think communication and organisation are pivotal to my managing work and home [it certainly helped when she had to attend 16 school events in one week or plan Christmas gifts for all of her children’s tutors]. ‘Organisation’ is probably why I like handbags too.” True, her enthusiasm over zips, compartments and pockets is no secret. On her website, the Working from Home tote (at approximately ₹56,000) is designed for the pandemic, with a padded pocket for the laptop, and labels for headphones, glasses, stationery… “making you feel in control when everything is out of control. It is a pleasure to have everything in its place”.
Cleavage bags and lists
While the satin Maud clutch is a VIP must-have, and the Donkey Basket continues to charm, Hindmarch keeps finding new uses for her bags. In May last year, she designed the Holdster for ICU frontline staff in the UK to carry personal items over their PPE. And let’s not forget her “cleavage bags”.
Coming full circle with I Am A Plastic Bag
- In 2007, Hindmarch started an eco-revolution with the ‘I Am Not A Plastic Bag’ tote, fashioned from a cotton canvas kind of fabric. It was early days in the environmental conversation, and the idea was to promote a reusable shopping bag. We had 80,000 people queue up for it in one day in the UK. In 2020, we realised the problem was far from over, but the conversion had changed. How do we take what was already in circulation on the planet and reuse it, not putting it in landfills? That was how the ‘I Am a Plastic Bag’ line was created, made from recycled plastic bottles and the plastic used in windshields to prevent glass from cracking.
In an interview in The Telegraph a few years ago, Hindmarch revealed why one of her first customers, Princess Diana, held her bags close to her heart when alighting from cars. Apparently, it was her weapon against wardrobe malfunctions and unfortunate photographs, resulting in them coining the term. Today, with 15 stores around the world and an estimated net worth of 15 million pounds (according to The Times), Hindmarch prefers “a good cup of coffee with a friend” over “going to some fashion party”. She doesn’t compromise on her daily morning walks, usually with a friend.
One of the exercises in her book is to write down what makes one happy. “It isn’t always money, so sit down and unravel from a personal perspective: what is success to you, and the people who make you happy? There are common threads. What are your happiest moments? It’s not a new car.” While she has been criticised on online forums for her obsession with lists (she has them for ‘where to eat’ and ‘what to watch’ as well), Hindmarch insists this keeps her head clear. “Life is stressful, with lots of role changes. We need to be quite kind and manage to prioritise ourselves. As foundations of family, it doesn’t work if we don’t. We need to put on our oxygen masks.”
Bloomsbury, ₹559 onwards.