Have you ever faced challenges where it feels as if you may be thrown completely off life’s path? For Sheena Bloem, life’s challenges birthed opportunities to pursue a passion and launch a business. Today she is the proud owner of GritxGrace – a local producer of sustainable womxn’s wear, including swimwear and accessories.
Sheena first approached me while her business was still in its conception phase. With a genuine love for all things fitness, she knew that she wanted to make a mark in the industry. You see, Sheena is a passionate triathlete and an all-round fitness enthusiast who hails from Cape Town, South Africa. A fun-loving, sometimes feisty, always energetic go-getter, Sheena’s determination is often contagious, whether she is teaching yoga or competing in a gruelling outdoor physical challenge. She is also currently a consultant in the financial services industry. When not working, you can find her filling her cup with runs/hikes in nature (with her beloved furry friend), out on her bike participating in some “cycology” , or enjoying lovely wine.
We chatted to Sheena about what it means to be a female business owner in 2021 and how ethical and sustainable business practices are now more important than ever.
Why did you start your business?
Having been in the finance industry for more than 13 years, I always knew that I wanted to start my own thing, I just didn’t know what. Take me to October 2019, where a personal decision lead me to leave the corporate world. While starting my own business at that time was not the goal, it evolved into that.
They say many good things happen after you go through a bad patch in your life. Having started 2020 faced with a divorce after 9 years of marriage, my world was rocked, and I was shattered to my core! I had to start a new life, at 35. And then add the pandemic to this mix, lockdown, and being completely alone during lockdown. I was forced to face my truths during a period of reflection, and decided to come out stronger for it.
I have always been an extremely strong-minded person, and that has been my superpower – my mind gets me through everything. What I believe, I can achieve.
I saw a quote which said: “GRIT determines that life challenges will neither defeat nor define us, GRACE gives kindness to ourselves and others even when it is hard”. And this quote pretty much sums up my 2020 experience, hence the name, the turning point in my life, the birth of my business in the year that shook the world.
My initial plan was activewear, which is still in the pipeline, but as things evolved during the planning phases, swimwear became more of a focus. I discovered fitness after varsity. I realized more so than ever in 2020 that fitness is my true passion. It’s the one consistent thing in my life that lights me up each and every time. The earthly impact of our habits was highlighted in glaringly obvious ways during the pandemic, and this has been a catalyst in GritxGrace joining the sustainable fashion movement.
What did you do before you started this business?
I am a qualified Chartered Accountant, and worked in the finance industry for 13 years before launching GritxGrace. I am back in the corporate world after a perfectly-timed “sabbatical” in 2019/2020.
What is the one thing that you’re most passionate about when it comes to your business?
I have two. The two core values of my business are female empowerment and sustainability. I spend endless hours researching and assessing the suitability of suppliers to work with who align with these two core values. I work with a fantastic group of females in all elements of the business, barring the swimwear labels and the couriering. When you buy a GritxGrace piece, I would love for you to feel the passion of all the female hands who lovingly brought your garment into your hands (not just the physical making of the garment, but the labelling (on the activewear), the packaging, the graphic designing, the photography, the marketing….almost everything). Fashion is traditionally a very non-sustainable product. I focus on ensuring the value chain is geared towards ethical production, ethical business practices, and environmentally friendly products.
The world is moving towards a greener focus, and I want to move along with it. I also ensure that everyone I choose to work with follows sustainability and ethical practices within their business, however big or small. As a business, giving back in the form of donating a portion of our profits to organisations who align with these two core values is a priority too. These two core values are what drives me in each and every decision made within the business, fuels my passion and gives me purpose.
What has been the biggest challenge running a business?
Choosing suitable suppliers in line with the core values while keeping costs as low as possible often proves quite challenging. The other challenge, which very few warn you about, is the high upfront costs required in the fashion industry.
What has been some of the benefits or rewards of working for yourself?
Freedom of time, the feeling of satisfaction of seeing your literal labour of love coming to life, with every product launched.
Do you have a favourite quote?
I have three…
She believed she could so she did.
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.
Maya Angelou’s “Still I rise”
Three things you can’t live without?
My phone (with internet 😉 ), my dog, my healthy working body (thanks lockdown for this realisation).
What motivates you to keep going?
I believe wholeheartedly in my product and the business values. This belief is what drives and motivates me to ensure that GritxGrace is a success, even on the days when the doubt monster creeps in.
What tips can you offer to someone wanting to start out in this industry?
Don’t wait till you have everything figured out, and you have all the answers – this will never happen. Just start! One thing leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to another…. You will be amazed how the universe works with you once you just take the leap.
Any exciting projects or business developments you have in the pipeline going forward?
I have sooooo many ideas about products in the pipeline, which cannot be revealed at this stage. I constantly have to remind myself, that it does not have to come out all at once. This is a journey. This business is here to stay and grow, and I’ve got to keep it exciting.
Find out more online at www.gritxgrace.co.za. If you haven’t yet checked out their incredible range of versatile swimwear, I encourage you to pop by and see what GritxGrace is all about.