Shabs Kwofie, founder of Amawrap www.amawrap.co.uk
My name is Shabs and I am the owner of Amawrap. We specialise in babywearing products and information about skin-to-skin contact; showcasing all the amazing benefits that these things can offer. Our range has recently expanded to include maternity wear and reusable washcloths, and we will also be launching organic cotton slings, by summer.
After a traumatic emergency caesarean and failure to breastfeed, I ended up going down quite a slippery slope in terms of depression. The only thing I could think to do was get out and about more but navigating my bulky pushchair down the apartment block stairs (while being mindful of my caesarean wound) proved challenging. My African Indian heritage kicked in and I did what my ancestors have historically done: I went to the local market, bought some fabric, and wrapped my daughter to me.
All I can say is that it changed my life. Eventually I could feel the depression dissipating (there’s lots of research into this topic and the benefits of babywearing), which allowed me to feel like I was in better control of my life. Getting out and about with my sling also allowed something else to happen – local mums and soon-to-be-mums saw my friends and I wearing my homemade slings and started trying to order from me. And with that, Amawrap was born!
How did you balance being a mother and professional?
Some days its really easy, and other days its nigh on impossible. I find it handy to have a loose schedule of work – meetings are absolute priorities as they involve another person, so I wouldn’t compromise there. Then deadlines, then everything else if I am lucky!
I do end up working in the evenings a fair bit; in front of the telly whilst watching something light-hearted. But thats only because I have preschool children and so am not able to work the standard 40 hours it takes to keep anything going through the day!
My work life balance at the moment depends more on environmental factors, but I make it work as much as I can! Things will only calm down as the kids get bigger……. right?!?
What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career?
Well as a woman you do end up sacrificing a little more, don’t you? Being a mother and my own boss means that I automatically end up being the person who’s on call if a child is sick or has an appointment, if there is half term, summer holidays or a lockdown, and everything in between!
And it can be a hard thing to juggle. Sometimes, trying to do both simultaneously means that you feel like you are spreading yourself too thin. There are still days where I feel like I am trying to do both at the same time, and failing at both. At those times I have to force myself to put my work away, even if it goes against everything I need to do, and concentrate on the children. The great thing about technology is that you can still make lists and notes whenever you need to.
I remember when I first had my daughter, making sure that my next job was much closer to home, just in case I was needed for some reason. There were many jobs that could have been perfect for me, which I didn’t even consider.
I remember when I had my son. He was preterm so we spent a week in hospital, but between breastfeeding and check-ups, I was working in there too (I had launched Amawrap by that point). Running your own business doesn’t stop, but when you love what you do, you tend not to mind!
Who inspired you and why?
Anita Roddick, the creator of The Body Shop, was a massive inspiration for me. She set up her business out of necessity; she was so ahead of her times in terms of recycling, in terms of animal testing, and environmental factors in general. I remember a few years back when her board of directors were being paid millions per year, she and her husband were taking probably a quarter of what the rest were because it was sufficient for them to live. They simply didn’t need more.
Environmental issues have always been something that I have been passionate about, so when it came to creating a product, it stood to reason that I would be having it made in the UK, to minimise our carbon footprint.
What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
Dont be afraid to make space for yourself. Women naturally tend to make themselves seem “smaller” when faced with overbearing people, unless they have made the conscious effort not to. Be aware of yourself and whether you are doing that or not.
Also, do the research. Make sure you have something to contribute. Don’t be the wallflower. Dont be afraid to ask questions. If you’re there, be mentally present.
Do you think women feel intimidated in business?
Yes. I believe that women are more easily intimidated, but then I also know that men are more likely to “fake it till you make it”, which I dont think is the worst idea in the world! See, here’s the thing about faking it till you make it. When you are “faking it”, you are actually doing it, but you’re simply telling yourself that you’re faking it so that any potential failure doesnt seem as hard hitting. But the point is that you’re doing it!! So don’t feign confidence. Find confidence. Especially if the outcome looks exactly the same on the outside.
Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?
Probably pottering around with my plants and playing with my kids! I’ve become rather obsessed with my houseplants over the past couple of months, from finding wonderfully different varieties, to getting cuttings and attempting to root them (I even bought myself a little propagation station, its all very pretty!)
I find caring for my plants really great for my mental health – I can block everything else out and marvel at the beauty of a leaf opening, or feel excited that a cutting is starting to root, and if the weather’s nice, I’ll also do the same thing for my outside plants!
I’m trying to encourage my children to share my passion with me, but I don’t think plants come in Teen Titans variations, so thats a resounding no.
What do you love about your job?
I love speaking with the mums, and assuring them that whatever they’re feeling at that moment is absolutely valid. Because so many new mums, flooded with hormones, struggle and dont understand why their emotions are all over the place. They need validation and assurance, and I’m honoured that I get to speak to so many new mums and am able to provide them with these assurances.
And of course being at baby shows and cuddling so many babies! I am passionate about being able to educate so many new and soon to be parents about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, which will give them and their babies the absolute best start in life. It feels so great to know that I helped them to do that, especially given the rocky start with my own first born.
I also love the fact that I’m showing my children how to make it work owning a business and taking care of home and kids at the same time. My daughter now wants to work at Amawrap when she’s grown up (except for Fridays – she plans on being a rock star on Fridays).
What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made?
To concentrate full time on Amawrap. Not only was it the best decision, it was also the most scary! I will say that I didnt just go in all guns blazing – there was a time when I had a full time paid job and developed this in the evening and on weekends, with an 18 month old in tow. Needless to say, I wasn’t sleeping much at that point!
What’s the worst career decision you’ve ever made?
Very early on in my business I got sucked into an advertising sales call, and spent thousands of pounds that I didnt have (so it went on the credit card) on an advertorial, only for it to reap me sales of about £150. I had no idea what I was doing at that point, I was sold a pipe dream and fell for it hook line and sinker! That was a valuable (and costly) lesson to learn – if you don’t have it, you cant afford to spend it. Also, everybody is going to be selling you dreams, with no assurances to back them up. Those lessons have helped me plenty through the years! I cant be too hard on myself though, I was only a few months into the business so I wasn’t as versed at fielding sales calls!
How do you organise your time?
Loosely! The best way for me to make it work at the moment is to try and be as fluid as possible, and keep my sense of humour!
What do you think is your greatest strength?
Knowledge of all of the ways that skin to skin and babywearing is amazing for both caregiver and baby. Its a huge, fascinating subject! For example, did you know that if you were carrying newborn twins in your wrap (yes it can be done) and one twin sitting against one breast was hot and the other twin sitting against your other breast was cold, your body would literally adapt to give each twin what it needed to regulate their temperature? The human body is amazing!
To be able to do this job to a brilliant standard you need to understand about things like that, along with newborn babies spine and hip development, brain development, etc.
What do you think is your greatest weakness?
I’m at a wonderful crossroads at the moment where on one hand I’m ridiculously thinly spread. Coupled with the fact that I over-analyse everything, it means that I could really do with another pair of hands (scratch that – another brain maybe?) Well at least I know that once something is done, its done.
How do you make decisions?
I guess it depends on one’s priorities. My focus is keeping my mums happy. So that has to come first and foremost for me. And making sure that my products are made safely, and in the UK.
My business is of such an emotive nature, its a fine balance between making decisions with your head and with your heart. But if its something that I’m really struggling with, then I have no reservations with reaching out on social media to my mums there and asking them how they feel about it!
What do you read?
Books about attachment, skin to skin and baby-wearing, as well as books on the Civil Rights Movement and World History. Books about mental health. Books with lots of swearing in them! I find that very cathartic! I haven’t read a fiction book in 8 years as I’ve been raising two little hurricanes and building this business. But recently I discovered (to my embarrassment – how did I not know this before?) that local libraries have an online service, so you can take books out online and read them all on an app! So now that I know this, I would love some recommendations for some light reading!
What do you think are the secrets behind getting to where you’ve got to?
Passion. When you have passion, you have a focus.
Combine your passion with knowledge. Read. Learn. Excel!