After deciding to break away from a fast-paced career in the fashion industry and start her own business a year ago, Stephanie Dickson has learnt more about herself than she could ever have anticipated. The founder of The Wedge Asia, a company that organises talks, events and workshops to inspire and motivate, tells us about her journey.
With her grounded and rather philosophical attitude towards life and business, her calm voice and approachable demeanour, Stephanie seems wiser than her twenty-something years. Her accent is not easy to place – a product of her third-culture kid upbringing, perhaps. I later discover that her mum is a holistic energy healer; is that perhaps where Stephanie gets her “zen” aura from? “I definitely owe a lot to her outlook and advice, especially since I began running a start-up!” she laughs. Currently running The Wedge Asia with her small team out of a buzzing co-working space in the centre of town, she says her entrepreneurial journey hasn’t just been about finding and following a successful business model; she did a lot of honest soul-searching, too, in order to discover a cause that she felt truly passionate about. In the end, that calling turned out to be to provide a platform to promote other inspirational individuals and businesses to the public through events, talks and workshops.
Tell us more about your life before cofounding The Wedge Asia.
I was born in Australia and am the eldest of four. My parents have lived in various places; I went to high school here, and to university at Monash in Melbourne. My dad – who works in hydroponics and agriculture – has since moved back here to Singapore. Before founding TheWedge Asia, I worked in marketing and events for Fidé Fashion Weeks.
That sounds very exciting!
Yes, it was, but it was also very demanding and fast-paced. After starting off as a volunteer for Men’s Fashion Week, which was run by business mogul Frank Cintamani, I quickly progressed to a full-time position, andmanaging a teamof volunteers. After four years of organising the company’s events around the world, I felt it was time to move on to the next chapter. I’d learnt a lot, really quickly – especially about setting my own standards high – and gained a ton of valuable experience. I’m glad I went through it all in my early twenties; I don’t think I’d have the energy to do it now, even though it’s just a few years later! Jerald, my co-founder, was one of my colleagues from that time. When I made the decision to quit, he was enthusiastic to come along on the journey!
Where did the concept for The Wedge Asia spring from?
When I started to consider what my business would be, I felt quite overwhelmed. I loved organising events, of course, but what type of business was I going to create with that passion? During my research, I realised that there were lots of inspirational articles and videos online, where you could gain a lot of knowledge; but there seemed to be something missing – they didn’t quite engage me like I wanted them to. As a newbie entrepreneur, I was seeking lessons. I wanted to learn from people who had been through the process, but I wanted more than just to watch people on a computer screen. Something I’d come to really believe in was the value of human-to-human interaction, and the way you connect with others’ stories when you hear them speak in person. You’ll remember how it made you think, how it made you feel; and, hopefully, you actually decide to take action on it, so that you grow from that experience. There’s just something about the empathy and the power of connection at group events – just think of TED talks – which is highly underestimated. That’s the reason why we started creating and running these workshops, talks and events for The Wedge, and it’s something we’re continually refining and working on.
Define what “living consciously” means to you.
To me, living consciously means being more present in the moment, and making a conscious effort to be kinder to yourself and those around you. If that cab driver wants to have a conversation with you on your morning commute, just put your phone down and talk! Living more consciously is not only something I preach, but something I try to live by in everything I do. I used to look too much at the past and the future, rather than focusing on the present. Today, I make a concerted effort to be more conscious, and that’s where the idea of building a like-minded community of people through The Wedge came into play.
It’s quite a new concept in Asia, isn’t it?
Yes. Funnily enough, people in Asia seem to be shy to ask questions after hearing a presentation, but that’s exactly what we encourage! Sometimes, the questions can be even more powerful than the speaker’s presentation. There are times when we’ll plant the first question, so as to break the ice and make the atmosphere more comfortable. We have also run several more technically based events, on tech or content marketing, for example; but I find both myself and other people really gravitating more towards real people’s stories: their pains, their triumphs, their experiences and the adversities they have overcome.
Is it right to say that Green Is The New Black festival, which you’ve been organising annually, is an extension of that?
Yes. The whole basis of The Wedge is to organise events which make people more aware, more responsive, and more conscious of the way they’re living their lives. Green Is The New Black festival really stemmed from this desire. It’s a platform to promote some great emerging businesses and change makers who are doing great things out there: for example, a retail company that supports the livelihoods of artisans, or an independent technology or health company that’s doing something innovative.
Which are your favourite “conscious” labels?
This necklace I’m wearing today is from Twin Within, produced by an Icelandic lady whose products help to support women in the Philippines. I’m also a big fan of beauty brand Ayelli’s 100 percent pure Argan oil, hand-produced by a tribe of women in Morocco. I admire both of these labels and their passionate founders because they’re very aware about the impact their businesses are having on others, are in the know about their supply chains, and live and breathe their brands.
It’s a very authentic and honest way of doing business, and there’s a big feel-good factor for the consumer. It’s not just about buying a product. You can connect with the founder, their story and what they’ve built, and you know you’re supporting a good cause. These are the sorts of incredible stories we want to share, and I think it’s a concept people are really catching on to. A trend of consciousness is permeating into different aspects of people’s lives right now: handmade products, sustainable fashion, responsibly sourced raw materials and so on. More than ever before, there’s a thirst for knowledge about products that do good, both socially and for the environment.
Do you think people can grow into entrepreneurship?
I’d always had a gut feeling that there was something more I should be doing. At the time I didn’t know what, but I knew the idea would come to me one day. When I quit my last job, all I knew was that I wanted to do something more meaningful than working in fashion, which was too materialistic for me. Also, I was tired of dealing with the personalities that came along with the job, and felt I needed to break away from all that. I love being around and getting to know real people. So, to answer your question, I definitely grew into entrepreneurship. When we started, I couldn’t predict everything we would create, not even in my mind: I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I’m so excited to see what our team can build in the next 12 months.
Do you have a mantra you live by?
I don’t have a specific mantra, but I do make a conscious effort to be more present and to be kind to myself. Practising gratitude daily is really important. When I’m doing my teeth, that’s when I tell my reflection that I love and accept myself – it’s actually called “mirror work”; you can read more about it in You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. It starts your day off on a nice note. Self employment is not easy – I’ve had to feed those thoughts to myself every day, until I came to believe them.
This article first appeared in the August 2016 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy for the full article, or Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!
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