So as you all know I love to support local and started a segment where we could share, learn and inspire! It is so important to support local and share your findings with others.
During lock down, we are going to do a whole lot of these to highlight these businesses – many of which are taking HUGE strain during this time – and shed some awareness and love to all.
So today’s feature is about a #girlboss deluxe! She has so many side hustles, while doing her day job and manages to still keep a smile on her face. I am in complete awe of this special lady. Please can I introduce you to Ilse Lewis.
I first came across Ilse because she is a scottie mom. Then I fell in love with her art. Then I found out she makes velvet tracksuit pants, the kind dreams are made of and then discovered she also has a Yoga mat brand.
Check out her website for more and to shop online! Her art is absolutely breathtaking – and you can buy originals and prints. From ink, charcoal and even digital drawings, you will be spoiled for choice.
We chatted to the lovely Ilse and she had this to day to us – what an inspirational lady!
Tell us about your businesses. You are one heck of a girlboss! Not only are you a very talented artist, but you founded a yoga mat brand and are now making the most divine velvet pants that are being snapped up at a rate of knots? Do you ever stop to breathe?!
Hahaha aw thank you very much for such a wonderful compliment 🙂 So I do generally have a lot going at all times, but I really do love everything I’m doing & I’m just excited to see where life will take me.
It all started purely as a creative outlet whilst I was completing my Masters in Social & Psychological Research at Wits University. I have a background in advertising as a creative, but after having made the switch to psychology, I realised that I hadn’t really spent any time creating just for myself in a very long time.
Everything I did was always for a client, but I missed the days I used to just draw and paint for myself. So throughout my Masters, which was a very stressful time for me personally and professionally (I was going through a divorce at the time and just generally really re-thinking every aspect of my life), I returned to creating artwork just for me!!
I started posting my drawings to Instagram and using the platform as a kind of visual diary where I would express my thoughts and drawings so I could come back to them and reflect on this difficult time in my life with the gift of hindsight, at some time in the future when the storm would finally be over. To say the universe had other plans than just for me to keep it al to myself seems like quite an understatement at this point!
As I kept posting, people kept asking where they could purchase my work and various opportunities started to organically unfold in terms of exhibiting my work, and contributing to other creative projects with custom artwork. I never intended to actually sell my artwork at that point, but I suppose I figured I had to respond to the demand, so I created an online store to sell my artworks.
With time, various print-on-demand platforms reached out to me to sell other products with my artworks on via their stores, so again, I went with the flow of whatever opportunities presented themselves and got involved. One day one of the print-on-demand sites I was working with launched a yoga mat as one of their new product offerings, so I created a mockup of one of my paintings on this yoga mat and just posted it to Instagram to see what people think.
The response was quite overwhelming and I just knew this was something I should pursue further. The only obstacle was that that particular yoga mat was not what I would really want to support, both in terms of the materials used in manufacturing, and the lack of conscious awareness regarding the life cycle of the product and its harmful effects on our ecosystem.
So I made the decision to launch my own conscious, premium yoga lifestyle brand that I would be able to create and direct in a way that would add beauty and magic to the world, without causing unnecessary harm to our bodies and our ecosystem in general – that we so desperately need to be more conscious of and live in harmony with, if we are to have a sustainable future within it. Currently, I am very much working on expanding NovaWoolf to encompass a range of yoga props and accessories, alongside the yoga mat collection, which will also continue to grow to include further designs. Then, I am working on expanding into a range of NovaWoolf activewear, and other yoga-related lifestyle products.
The velvet pants in turn, happened completely organically as my mom actually just one day made a pair for me for the winter, which I posted to Instagram. As with the artworks, and yoga mats, people instantly requested to purchase these pants, so now I am able to support my mom as well and slowly create a department for her to manage, which we plan on expanding into a larger range of loungewear and accessories.
This organic flow of support and growth I have witnessed is just indescribable & I am so grateful that I’ve been able to continue to grow on this journey and that I’m able to support others alongside myself to meet their needs and achieve their goals too. It is such a magical time for me, that I never EVER saw coming that first day that I posted a drawing to Instagram out of sheer desperation to express all the difficult things I was going through at the time.
I am currently also still working as a lecturer, teaching research methodology to final year students, and I really hope that at some point I will have the time to continue to PhD study to further pursue my academic career as well, whilst still growing NovaWoolf!
I may need a few clones of myself to get it all done – do you know someone who can make that happen? Just kidding – I’m fully convinced that everything will work out exactly as it should and wherever my life takes me next, that it will be another wonderful, challenging, fulfilling chapter in this crazy beautiful life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
What are the top 3 learnings you have had to find out the hard way since starting your own businesses/brand?
Hhmm,…gosh there have been so many lessons!! Let me try my best to narrow it down:
The ultimate challenge in life is to return to oneself. When you stop listening to everyone else, and stop trying to emulate what others have done before you, and you really connect to your own authentic path, THAT is where the magic lies.
This requires a lot of inner work and reflexive practice, but it is the most rewarding thing you will ever do.
Never assume you are on top of things, or that you have anything figured out! Haha, this might sound discouraging, but being able to be in a constant state of being a student and being open to learning, to problem solving in entirely new ways, and to finding ways to incorporate lessons into your business in a way that is authentic to your vision is a humbling, yet liberating experience that leads to immense personal growth.
Know when to lean on others and ask for help.
I think it’s quite common for new business owners to try to control every aspect of their business, since you do feel like it’s your “baby”. But it’s so important to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, so that you can call upon others who might be able to compliment your skillset in a way that will help you to achieve your goals way faster than if you tried doing it all alone.
Burnout is also not helpful for anything, so you need to learn that delicate balance of maintaining the reigns where necessary, but outsourcing and letting go and trusting others in areas that you need ultimately really need the help.
What is your advice to individuals out there wanting to start their own business but are too scared of failure?
You absolutely must see ‘failure’ as part of the process. Its only through making ‘mistakes’ that you learn what works and what doesn’t. Starting a business can be compared in some ways to having a child – you are the ‘parent’, definitely, and you are responsible for directing the experience of this ‘child’, but your business will very much take on a life of its own and you have to allow it to integrate mistakes and wrong turns as part of the experience of growth towards maturity.
Second to that, just start!! Start where you are, with exactly what you have – it is enough. Things will unfold in amazing ways that you can’t even predict yet, but the only way to get there is to just put on your big girl panties, share what you are doing with the world, soak up every bit of feedback you receive, and revise, revise, revise.
A business does not exist in a vacuum – it is a functioning part of a larger eco-system that affects everyone that comes into contact with it in some way. So it is essential that you integrate feedback from your customers, and that you make space for the community you are serving to have a voice in what it is that you deliver.
I really do live by this beautiful quote by Joseph Campbell: “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” So be scared, and think carefully, but also just gather the courage to feel the fear and do what your heart desires anyways!!
How has lock down affected you on a personal level as well as your various businesses?
It’s obviously been a very tough year on many levels – many of which I don’t think we can even fully understand yet as it is all still unfolding.
Most of my stockists (yoga studios) are still unable to open their doors, which is just absolutely heart-breaking. The stakes are so high on each side of the coin – remaining responsible and protecting ourselves and others in terms of our health, yet risking our livelihoods and facing enormous negative economic impacts personally, and structurally.
Sometimes it all feels like such an impossible time to be going through, yet I have remained optimistic throughout it all, because I do feel that there is also a lot of good that is coming from this difficult time.
There is so much collective healing and restructuring that needs to be addressed in every segment of society, and I think we can see the layers being unearthed, examined, and re-created as we are almost forced to really sit with ourselves and each other to reassess our lives and the state of our world.
I really do believe that we are at the cusp of creating something more beautiful, more sustainable, something kinder, inclusive, something healthier. But it will require the active participation of every single person to get there and although this is a difficult time, I believe it to be a very important, defining moment for each of us.