Babe of the Month is a monthly interview series created to promote inspiring women online.
For this month’s feature with an inspiring woman I got in touch with a fellow Londoner – Sju Smatanova. She is the founder of BySju, the brand making a name for itself in the fashion scene with its handmade hats. Just this week the Slovaki designer created headlines when Will.I.Am showed up to the Met Ball wearing one of BySju’s pieces.
So what sparked this passion for hats? And what is it like to run your own brand at 27? I grabbed this mega cool boss lady to talk about what she’s learnt from starting her own business, and why she made her granddad cry with a picture from Oxford Street.
I obviously think you rock, but for those unfamiliar with you, could you describe yourself and what you do?
I see myself just as a human being, like everybody else, eagerly wanting to do what makes me truly happy. And it just happens that some hours of the day I dedicate to one of my passions: hats.
”…when you wear a hat, at some point there’s going to be someone who’s going to chat you up. That’s for sure.”
I have this idea that those who wear hats are these creative souls who are about a million times cooler than the rest of us. Or what would you say wearing a BySju hat says about a somebody?
I’d like to think that people who wear hats are being themselves. They are bold; and comfortable in their skin no matter what other people think of them. This is my first impression of a person who wears a hat. I also think that someone who wears a hat is ready and open for an interaction. Because when you wear a hat, at some point there’s going to be someone who’s going to chat you up. That’s for sure.
Which one is your favourite?
My favourite is probably The Grey from the latest SHAPES™ collection. I like the fact that I can reshape it, so I usually wear it differently every day. I wear a lot of black and white, so grey is like a no brainer for me. I also like The Blue!
Tell me about your journey of starting up your BySju.
5 years ago my grandfather gave me his first ever bowler hat as a gift. I started wearing it everywhere and really made a connection with it. It helped me to be more confident and a bit more playful with my fashion choices. I never wore a hat before but this time it was just so easy. It also had a very unique shape that was nowhere to be found and I then started searching for hat brands with contemporary design, but couldn’t find one that would speak to me.
At the same time I was also working in the City, in finance and felt really disconnected with my job. I did not feel my work had value (even though I was paid well) and so all of this combined slowly formed the idea to start my own brand.
So we know you are rocking it, but what are some of the challenges?
I find the most challenging to actually sit behind the computer and do the work. I get easily distracted but I also realised that there’s no other way around it. Especially at an early stage of your business when you just have to do what needs to be done because there’s just noone else to delegate this to. I have learned not to fight it but understand that it’s all part of the job.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt since you started your business?
To be dedicated and patient. Nothing comes easy and everything takes time. If you really find something you’re passionate about, go and do it. You really have nothing to lose when you try, but everything when you don’t.
If you could change something about the fashion industry, what would that be?
I wish the criteria some people in the industry are using to value others would have a bit more of the human factor in them. Because life isn’t always just revolving around clothes. Sometimes it’s also cars and cash (joking!). No but seriously, someone can say “well it’s just fashion, it’s how it works, get over it”, but I actually think it also applies to other industries [too], not just fashion. I just wish people were a bit more conscious and aware when dealing with other people, be it in fashion or finance or wherever.
London seems to be a big influence on your brand, tell us about that.
London celebrates individuality probably more than any other city in the world. So that aspect really influence my designs everyday. I also lived through a lot (good and bad) in this city and it helped me to peel down the layers I have built around me for so many years. It took me to great highs but also brought me down to the ground equally quickly. And I needed that to get to the bottom of my being, which influenced the message (or the soul if you like) of the brand, and that is self liberation and self expression.
What has been your proudest moment since you started BySju?
My grandfather once told me a story about when he was in London just after the WW2. He said he went to this huge street called Oxford street and saw all these big stores everywhere he looked. He said that one day if he wins the lottery, he will buy me a store on this street where I will be able to display our hats (he always referred to them as ours).
My proudest moment was last year, when our collection was displayed in the front window of Topman. I sent him a picture of that and he cried because he was so proud. For me, that was the best moment of my life.
”You don’t have to be the first one in what you do, you just simply have to be good at it.”
What advice do you have to young women who dream of starting their own brand?
To young woman but equally to young men I advise to always follow your dream! To be a bit more practical: do your market research first and well, find out about other brands and make yours unique. Differentiate yourself. But if you do that [whilst] following your heart, it will come naturally. You don’t have to be the first one in what you do, you just simply have to be good at it.
OTHER INSPIRING WOMEN:
Photographer CHLOE SHEPPARD
Photographer FRANCESCA ALLEN
Tattoo Artist TATIANA KARTOMTEN
Illustrator MARIA HERREROS
DJ HANNAH FAITH
Artist REBECCA LARSSON
Indonesian blogger ROSALINDA TIJOE
Fashion blogger CLARISSA HENRY
Instagram twins ELISABETH & VICTORIA LEJONHJÄRTA
All images are by BySju