The no project
Banker-cum-clothing-designer Samantha Hardman knew owning her own label, Bento, wasn’t going to be all glamour, but as she says, “I didn’t want to be that person who woke up when I was 80 and thought, ‘I’m so glad I didn’t take a chance, I’m really glad I ended up doing a job I didn’t like for the rest of my life.’”
It wasn’t a new interest though, “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I have this distinct memory of getting up really early one morning and I had decided that I wanted red gloves. I would have been in primary school, so I was maybe 10. We had this whole cupboard at home which was just full of fabric. I put my hand on the fabric and drew around it and cut it out, doubled the fabric up and then sewed around it and then turned it inside out. They were the dodgiest gloves you’ve ever seen but they were red gloves damn it. And it’s just something I’ve been obsessed with since such a young age, the way things look together and not really the art of it; so much as the way people choose such specific things and have such specific taste.”
Sam took a fashion short course (four hours) with the intent of considering fashion marketing. At a meeting with her teacher, where she was meant to be giving him marketing advice, Sam found herself instead asking him questions about how she could start her own label, and shortly, she was resigning from her big bank job to become a fashion designer. Her colleagues were surprised, and impressed. “I had people I didn’t even know stopping me in the corridor saying you’re that girl. I had one guy stop me outside work. He said, ‘you know, if I could do anything I’d be a blacksmith’. I had people doing that left right and centre, just telling me their dreams. Like, ‘if I could do anything, I’d be a snowboard instructor’. It was really weird having all these people sharing their innermost desire for life with you, off the cuff, because you’re doing it.”
Many facets of starting your own fashion label are challenging, thankfully Sam’s background in banking meant her savings were in check, but she knew selling would be a challenge. “I expected selling to be really horrific. It’s like, I think (keeping in mind that I have never experienced childbirth), people say childbirth hurts, you know it conceptually, but until you’ve done it you don’t know how it feels. I knew conceptually that selling was going to be terrible, but nothing prepared me for how demoralising and soul-breaking selling is. Only a few people were really rude to me, what really drove me crazy was the lies, about why they couldn’t take the label on; and people ignoring me.”
Sam’s approach was to find a positive in the nos. For every no she received from a potential stockist in the month of September, she put aside $3, and every Friday she gave the total to a random homeless person. “The no project was about stopping me from being scared of those nos and having some little glimmer of incentive to chase the nos and to stop it being about me. If I got a yes, fabulous but if I got a no – at least someone got a little bit of joy out of that no. Don’t get me wrong, it still crushes me when someone says no, but I don’t take it personally.”
Whilst Sam is realistic about the project being just as much for her as the homeless people she’s given money to, some are convinced it’s more than that. Reading her blog, which follows all of her adventures from banker to fashion designer, this recount is particularly touching, ‘Joey asked if I was sure when I gave him the cash. I apologised that it wasn’t more. He told me he’d been to church for the first time today and asked in all seriousness “are you an angel?”. I laughed and told him no. He reached out and touched my shoulder “to be sure”.
This article first appeared in Nothing to Nobody magazine.