I have been travelling to Poland two to three times a year since launching our moccasin slipper collection in 2015. Running my own business has always been a dream, so getting on a plane and meeting brilliant people who can help me to grow my business is a pure joy. This trip was short and packed with meetings, fuelled of course, by cups of strong Polish coffee.
Building trust and stronger partnerships
The trip involved meeting my main Polish maker and her team. Getting together with our makers builds stronger partnerships. As trust builds, the makers become more open to try new things, which is brilliant.
Refine the design
I listen to every bit of customer feedback I receive and do my best to improve the comfort or design of our slippers. Our makers and I discuss ways of improving our current designs, as well as the viability of new designs.
Listening is a key skill in business
I also listen to our makers to understand the challenges that come with handmade products made from natural materials. They take great pride in what they do. All of our makers have been making traditional moccasins for over 20 years. I respect their craft and, despite my limited Polish, try my best to ensure they know this.
Working now for autumn/winter 2020
We discuss production capacities and plan our year ahead. To get the volumes of moccasins we need in an autumn/winter season, our team of makers need to produce slippers all year round.
The joys of the journey
I fly into Kraków and then drive a couple of hours to Zakopane, which is in the extreme south of Poland by the Tatra Mountains. I hear the scenery is breathtaking, however, I have been unlucky with the weather - I always seem to bring torrential rain or white-out blizzards with me!
My fabulous Polish fixers
I stay with my Polish host family in a small village with a few traditional wooden mountain houses, a shop and a small local school. I love this family - four generations hang out at the kitchen table talking for hours. The Poles have a great sense of humour and there is lots of banter between siblings. There are seven adult brothers and sisters all with wives & husbands and 11 children. There is a granny who is nearly 90 and a mum who, despite speaking no English, gives me the best hug!
Culturally, the Poles from this region are very proud and very private. I respect both of these qualities. They laugh at the English and say we can’t utter a sentence without saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’. They are far more direct than the English but 100% sincere and very generous.
Sustainable living as standard
I love the way my host family live - nothing is disposable or wasted - no food is thrown out. Household items are bought once and maintained. Fashion and design schemes are seen as being frivolous - everything is rated purely on its practical use. They live sustainably - and not necessarily for environmental reasons - but because they have brought up to be self-sufficient, growing and rearing their own food and making what they have last.
A successful business trip involves
Coming back full of ideas and having met great people with whom I can form successful partnerships.
These are my business trip travel essentials
My work samples, yarns, trims and books take up most of my small carryon suitcase so there isn’t much space for personal items. However, I never travel without a good novel, my journal for scribbling new ideas, plus all of my many lists. My kids often hide letters in my suitcase which are always a real joy to find when I’m away from home.
The best things about returning to The Small Home
My family. I appreciate them all the more for being away from them. And of course, coffee just as I like it!