Susie Hewson: Woman Leader in Sustainability
We’re all quite in awe of Susie here at Women in Sustainability central.
Her passion, her energy and her impact!
Susie is the owner and founder of Natracare – the Bristol-based company which has been providing women with organic, natural and plastic-free period and personal care products since 1989.
We are especially delighted she took the time to give us this interview for the ‘Women Leaders in Sustainability’ Blog Series.
Read on and be inspired as well… Thank you Susie.
1. As a change maker within your sector, tell us a bit more about your background?
I’ve been an environmentalist in my personal life for as long as I’ve had opinions on the world around me (i.e. as long as I can remember) but I started my career as a graphic designer and, later a secondary school teacher. An unlikely start to where I am now, but the skills I acquired in these roles equipped me to develop Natracare through research, analysis and sourcing what I needed.
I also think that dealing with design clients and teaching school children helped develop my ability to have difficult conversations and make them productive.
2. What are the challenges you’ve had to overcome to get you where you are today and how did you address them?
There have been many different challenges. Back in 1989, seeking finance to start a business as a woman was excruciating! Once Natracare was up and running, I was speaking out about pollution and toxic shock syndrome. I had to deal with continuous harassment from big corporate brands.
I was seen as a threat to the cosy group of mainstream brands, but I stuck with it because I knew that I had an important message to deliver. We needed, and still need, an alternative option to bring to women. I have certainly developed a thick skin over the years!
3. What unique qualities do you bring as a woman that makes a difference in your sector?
Men have historically run pad and tampon manufacturing. It is a hugely polluting industry, which isn’t putting the health of its users and the environment first. I have used my empathy with nature and instinct for protection in building natracare. There is a lot to be said for products made by women for women. I have had insights of the unique challenges of managing periods, and particularly with health in mind.
All the world’s wars have been fought by men – and arguably, the war on the environment is being fought by the men in big business now. Just look who’s in the boardrooms of all of the most polluting companies…
Toxic pollution and ecological damage ranked top of the list for reasons to make a scene. And so I did. Very slowly, things started falling into place and now Natracare is turning over £19 million and selling products in 80 countries.
4. What advice would you give women who want to create more impact and influence in the workplace?
Believe in yourself. Bring the hard evidence for your recommendations – everybody loves a list! Being prepared to defend your analysis is absolutely vital for sparking interest, gaining support and ultimately, winning sign up.
It’s also important to network, to share your experiences and challenges with other women. Bristol has a hub of useful groups for women in business.
If you’re at the top, there are things you can do as a director to make your company influential.
As an organisation, signing the company up as a Prove It member of Go Green was a change maker for the company.
5. What successes have you witnessed that we should all be celebrating?
We have seen consumers rise up against plastics in a growing tide of determination – and it’s brilliant!
The generation of solar and wind energy is showing its relevance and positive impact, despite the UK Government’s current negative position on solar. The fight against pesticides and the protection of bees has taken hold due to great ecological campaigning and legal interventions. Brave and vocal young people have taken on the mantle to protect our limited resources and this finite planet. Now if we can just act with super human speed on tackling climate change…
6. When it feels like the world is going crazy, what keeps your vision and passion alive?
First I need to get a dose of the South Devon coastline. It’s where I go when I need to escape the negativity we all have to face, day in and day out. When you really care deeply about the world around you, it can be exhausting standing up for people and nature.
But it’s hugely rewarding when you can see the small successes snowballing into big changes. I focus on the smaller things that I can influence right now, and then I zoom out and join those small things together to form a bigger, better picture. It’s all that any of us can do in this world that’s dominated by forces bigger than us!
7. Who inspires you and why?
Mother Nature. She never seems to give up, so I’m fighting her corner, too.