Agnes Wielgosz: Elisabeth, I was so intrigued by your varied experiences in life — especially your participation at the Danish Army where you served as an officer in the NATO missions in Bosnia and Kosovo during 1999–2000. Please tell us more about your involvement in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. What was your motivation for joining in?
Elisabeth Crossley-Wright: Agnes, Thank you so much for interviewing me, I’m thrilled to share my story with you. I initially joined the army because I wanted to learn to be a great leader, and their program was challenging and appealing. During my time in the army, atrocities in the Balkans (the genocides in Srebenica and Kosovo) were taking place, and it seemed natural and right to try to make a difference where I could. I was on two peacekeeping tours, SFOR in Bosnia and KFOR in Kosovo.
AW: Literature about women in peacekeeping missions (women’s service in the military) is limited. Is it true that women may not be welcome in peacekeeping missions because of the soldiers’ ambiguity toward the “feminine” conditions of peace missions?
ECW: I think the literature about women is limited, simply because we still are such a minority. As with all minorities, there’s an element of not having the strongest voice. Once you’ve finally been adopted into the fold, there might be a sense of not wanting to draw attention to yourself because that would again make you different, and not allow you to be part of the group.
AW: Being a successful female entrepreneur is no easy achievement. It takes an extraordinary amount of determination, resourcefulness and true passion to be able to actualize your vision. How did you turn jewelry-making into a fully-fledged, purpose-driven business? What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken?
ECW: There are many facets to risk taking. One is on a personal level, the fear of failure. I’ve decided that I can’t be held back by that. I don’t want to be limited by my fears, and I can only succeed if I give it my all, so holding back is not an option.
Another risk has been financial. Cash is king in a young business, and you need a lot of it when you start out. I’ve been growing organically, but I’m at a point where I want an investor, so I can scale to a much bigger level. As I believe my jewellery can make a huge difference to both the customer and manufacturer, I see it as a necessity that I’m able to scale. The bigger I get, the bigger a difference I can make.
AW: What are the bravest moments in your life and business that have defined who you are today? How do you practice being brave today?
ECW: The biggest challenge has been to convince myself that I could do this. On a daily basis I’m very aware of not being limited by fear of rejection and too many ‘no’s. A ‘no’ is just the world telling you that there’s another way of doing things. I’m a complete podcast junkie, and I find that listening to other entrepreneurs and their journey gives me great inspiration. It seems everybody succeeded by burning through their fear, and just kept going. My favourites are: Masters of Scare, (Reid Hoffmann), Desert Island Discs (BBC4), and Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations.
AW: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the UN’s global agenda for sustainability; it is a plan of action for people, the planet and the future. There are 17 goals, and the core message is: leave no one behind. How did your brand get involved in the SDGs? Was it challenging to integrate the SDGs agenda into your business supply chain?
ECW: After my time in the army, I took a job at the United Nations in Kosovo. I saw family trying to live on 1–5 dollars per day, trying desperately to claw onto any income or opportunity. The problem is that in conflict areas opportunities are few and far between. Investing in these areas and economies by way of opening a workshop, is the, in my opinion, only way of rebuilding individuals, families and societies. By giving people access to their craft and expertise, they experience opportunity, income and independence to take back control over their destiny.
When the Goals were launched, I knew I needed to combine my past and present by championing the goals through my jewellery.
There are workshops in Jordan, employing Syrian refugees, in Afghanistan, in the slums of Nairobi, and the list goes on. There is an extra cost associated by shipping from these areas as they are off the beaten track, but we are entering an era of very aware consumers, who ask questions about the products they buy, and who are happy to pay the extra — marginal cost. We need to put pressure on the really big players to change their supply chain. Its happening — although somewhat slowly for some brands.
AW: Global Goals, your newest collection, provides a powerful aspiration to make the world a better place — give where we collectively need to go and how to get there. To where will the profit from these charms go?
ECW: We believe we are the first Jewellery company to have interpreted the UN Global goals by way of a dedicated collection.
We have set out to create a community/club around our jewellery, curating an experience to live & breathe the Global Goals. Our jewellery is aesthetically pleasing in its own right, but also carries a deep-rooted meaning and symbolism. It has a higher intrinsic value which is over and above the gold value, on trend with millennials, as customers increasingly desire to contribute to sustainability. We are curating jewellery for the hyper-engaged, loyal group of consumers supporting purpose-driven brands, and giving them a platform to further amplify those brand messages.
The profits from the sales of our pieces go to furthering the goals. We work with (RED) and Project Everyone amongst others, and are always looking for new partners who can benefit from our profits.
AW: With Love Darling brand inspires people to become global goals advocates. You not only inspire your clientele, you followed by giving them a clear proof of impact. What advice would you give to up-and-coming jewelry startups to help them realize their dream of running a successful purpose-driven business?
ECW: I would encourage any entrepreneur to go where their passion is. On those days where things are progressing slowly, or not at all, it’s your passion that will be your primary driver. Also, you will be surrounded by nay-sayers. They will say its impossible, too expensive, too competitive, too difficult, etc etc. Listen to them, because there's sense in their objection, and their warnings might help you avoid some major catastrophes. But don’t allow them to put out your fire. Stay true to your calling. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. One of my favourite quotes is from NFL quarterback Roger Staubach, who said: “There are no traffic jams on the road to the extra mile”. So go the extra mile. The people who try to discourage you, most probably haven’t walked that stretch.
AW: What has been the best decision you’ve made in your professional life and business?
ECW: My best decisions have always been made when I made them, and followed my own instincts. Too much overthinking has never served my personal very well. They say that “You know when you know”. Albeit a little cryptic, I find that to be very true. Sometimes you just know in your bones to go for it or to hold back. I believe in following those inputs, because they have generally served me well. Don’t be scared of making mistakes, because you absolutely will. So become comfortable with that. The only way to avoid making mistakes is by doing nothing at all. And that not a place to live.
AW: If you could COMMUNICATE one thing to the female entrepreneurs what would it be?
ECW: I’m continuously inspired by people with passion. It doesn’t matter that I don’t share their passion. But if someone is truly excited about something, they are fun to be around. And I increasingly identify how the most impossible things become very possible and obtainable for people with passion. Where there’s a will there’s a way it seems. When I need to feel inspired I go into my car and listen to audio books or podcasts. It’s impossible to not be inspired when surrounded audibly by interesting people.