Office Gossip: An Interview With Freddie Harrel

Freddie Harrel is a lady of many talents; following a sharp career detour from finance to fashion, she enjoyed stints at ASOS and Topshop before starting her hugely successful style blog and personal brand. Since then she’s launched her latest business venture, Big Hair No Care, and to top it all off, she’s recently started a family. I know right?

At our Office Gossip event at The Hoxton, Holborn, on Thursday 12th October, Freddie – alongside fellow inspirational ladies, Erica Davies and Alex Stedman – will be sharing her top tips on setting up your own business and discussing how she keeps all those plates spinning without a hair out of place! In-case you don’t get the chance to attend the event, we caught up with her beforehand to discuss the pros and cons of launching your own business and that all-important work/life balance.

Tell us about Big Hair No Care and how it came about? What inspired you to set up your own business?

Big Hair No Care started last year, but it came out of the blue. My husband had just gotten this amazing job opportunity in Geneva. We went to live there, and I was worried that it would slow me down. I needed something to do that I could set up quickly!

That’s when I got the idea for Big Hair No Care. I absolutely love a huge afro; my real hair has less volume, so I add extensions to it. I used to use human hair but then got super grossed out after looking into it and watching documentaries. I’ve never been happy with the synthetic options you find on the high street – too shiny, too flimsy – but thankfully I found a supplier years ago, and we then worked together to find a texture that matched my hair to perfection.

I had been using the extensions for years, with people amazed when I’d say it’s not all mine, but I had no brand to guide them towards, so that’s how the idea came up!

freddie harrel

How did you go about setting up your own business with everything else on your plate?

It’s a really tough one if I’m honest! The fact that I had the supplier and the product already massively helped. But last year we didn’t even have a website by the time I found out I was pregnant. I got hyperemesis (when you’re constantly sick), I ended up in hospital, my husband had already moved to Geneva, it was awful. I was very lucky I had friends who had an amazing website, antidotestreet.com, where they sell afro hair products so they sold our products on their site. All I needed was to set up a website that would link to theirs when the customer would want to buy, they looked after the fulfilment and the customer service and I had someone else helping me with social media. So that’s how I managed to do it remotely from Geneva. But it got too much – I was flying a lot for my other business – my personal brand – so something had to give and I paused Big Hair No Care at the end of last year.

We came back 5 months ago, both brands have been growing rapidly and I have a 9-month old baby so it’s really hard to find the right balance. I think the key is to invest in people, we often have this old-fashioned idea that we have to do it all by ourselves when starting a business, but I’ve learned that sanity is very underrated, to last long you need support.

How do you balance your new business alongside blogging and your other ventures?

Balance is a journey! And support is crucial – I’m lucky to have lots of it. My mum would travel to Geneva and now to London to look after Hugo if I need to be away, but at the moment my husband has some free time so he’s looking after our son full time, while I mostly work from home – it’s been blissful to both be able to work and hang out with the ones I love. It makes balance easier when you’re well surrounded, I find that it helps me get the energy and inspiration to do lots of other things. When I was living in Geneva, I was so lonely and down, I wasn’t nearly as productive as I am now.

I also have several people working with me – we have 4 girls in the shop, and I have 3 other consultants helping me with press, marketing, customer service, etc. When it comes to my personal brand, I have my two awesome agents Louise and Flora who help me manage everything.

Like I said, people are the key!

freddie harrel

What’s the toughest thing about starting your own business?

Finding the right people to work with, I’ve been burnt far too many times!

What’s the best thing about working for yourself?

Flexibility – I love that I can decide what to do with my time (although sometimes I’d wish someone could tell me what to do). The best part is that I can see my son while working.

Is this your dream job? Did you ever have a plan B?

At the moment I need to do better with balance to really say it’s my dream job, because it’s true I’m doing a lot and it’s not always enjoyable. But it’s very very close to my dream job! I absolutely have no plan B, but 5 years ago I didn’t even have a blog, I wouldn’t have imagined where I am now. So I don’t want to worry too much about what could happen next, I’m quite a positive person so I hope it’ll pay off.

freddie harrel

What are your top tips to anyone thinking about starting their own business?

On a personal level:

  • Don’t be too proud: you are going to need help and support.
  • Love yourself: save time for the things and people you love, treat yourself, turn off your phone, meditate, exercise, go shopping, eat well. This is hopefully a long journey, so you need to make sure you can last the distance, physically and emotionally.
  • Have fun: simple but so hard to keep in mind. When it gets super scary and stressful, remember how lucky you are to even have the opportunity to try to make your own mark.
  • People are key: invest in them.
  • Trust your gut: if it doesn’t feel right it means it isn’t right.
  • Be cool with mistakes: how else do you think you learn?

On a brand level:

  • Brands are experiences: you need to ask yourself what is the experience you want to offer and why would it be appealing?
  • You are your first brand: no point starting a brand if you’re not going to treat yourself like one too. It means getting out there, showing your face, because nowadays people want to know who’s behind a brand.

You also host various talks, public and corporate workshops to empower women – where do you find your strength and drive?

From my own journey I think. You ought to see me when I was much younger, I wasted so much time hating myself. I think there’s so much more we have to learn and discover about ourselves, I think we can live much more fulfilling lives and it’s a fun journey. Because I’m so passionate about it, I love working around it too – which helps with the drive and energy!

Who do you turn to for business advice?

My husband, my friends, my family, but I’m just about to start working with a business coach.

Who do you look to for inspiration?

Sophia Amoruso, Oprah, Sarah Willingham, Gabrielle Union, Michelle Kennedy and Sharmadean Reid.

freddie harrel blogging

What inspired you to start blogging in the first place?

I was working in fashion already, but I was in digital marketing, which I used to love but then started to dislike. The blog was just a weekend hobby, a project to keep me happy and to explore my creativity.

What does a typical work day look like for you? What’s the first thing you do in the morning?

First thing I do is fill in my 5 minute journal (I love it, it’s amazing!) then I go and get my son whose day starts at 7.

I don’t have a typical day, I either work from home, go to meetings in town, work in the shop, go out to take photos – no day is the same.

Do you think it’s important to have a work/life balance and do you think you have your work/life balance right?

It’s super important. I have a marriage and a family before I have businesses, but like I said balance is a journey. I don’t have mine right at all but I’m getting there!

freddie harrel

What are your top tips on achieving a work/life balance?

  • Be committed: when you’re working, you’re working, and when you’re not, you are not. I have this app that blocks social media and emails while I’m working. I do lots of sessions like this, it really helps my productivity. Likewise, when I’m not working I try to be more present and enjoy the moment with my family, I leave my phone behind and switch it off early in the evening (I try to!).
  • Make time for your friends: I send Doodles around now, I’m tired of these conversations where we’re saying “oh we should get a date” and it never happens. I try to have something planned once a week. Because really we all have time to meet up with people we love.

How has working life changed since having a baby?

I need to be more productive! Before I would work all day, from 8 to 8 but with lots of interruptions, multi-tasking etc. Ever sicne I’ve had my son I had to learn to be much more organised, and it’s actually quite fun – these brief moments when you feel like you might have your sh*t together.

Is there anything you miss about office life?

There is! Thursday and Friday evenings in the pub right after work, everyone coming down – I used to live for these moments. I definitely miss those.

What’s your home office set up like?

We’ve just moved back from Geneva where I had a whole floor with my desk and my closet displayed as a showroom – it was the best thing about being there really. When we moved back I moved my desk to the shop where I sometimes work from. So my home office is my kitchen table, but our kitchen has a very high ceiling with lots of light coming in, an Aga that keeps it warm and both our table and floor are made of old wood so it feels like working from a barn!

Do you think it’s important to have a dedicated working area at home if you are a freelance blogger?

You definitely need space, with all the clothes, the photo kit etc. You’ll also definitely need a desk, so if you can I totally recommend having your own area.

freddie harrel working

What are your favourite interiors trends of the moment?

I absolutely love a velvet sofa – we have two at home. I also love burnt colours, all these new prints we’re seeing everywhere in the kitchen and on bedding, and a lot of rose gold too.

Office Gossip Event

We hope Freddie Harrel’s words of wisdom have inspired you to set up your own business, or at least given you a realistic view of what it’s really like so you know what you’re getting yourself into!

To hear more, join Alex Stedman, Erica Davies & Freddie Harrel as they share their top secrets to a successful career @ The Hoxton, London. Plus, enter our competiton to win £250!

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Follow Freddie on Instagram @freddieharrel and her business @bighair_nocare

All images are courtesy of Freddie Harrel.

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