I first met Lauren in Ubud, Bali, in 2019. I had just arrived at Hubud — a co-working space in the middle of the Balinese Jungle, with cheeky monkeys everywhere. One week earlier, I had a well-paid and secure job as a consultant, which I'd manage to throw overboard to follow my dream; start my own business while traveling the world at the same time. Things had gone pretty fast since I made the decision. I hadn't really had time to think before that morning, where reality hit. There I was, almost 12,000 kilometers away from everything I knew, and pretty far out of my comfort zone.
When I walked into Hubud, the first person I saw was Lauren. She was friendly, she smiled, and waved me over… from that second, I knew everything was going to be alright. The following weeks we shared—and both overcame—the fear of getting on a motorbike for the first time and navigating the at times insane, Balinese traffic chaos.
I see a lot of myself in Lauren. For better and for worse. She is openminded, spontaneous, and has a knack for doing the unexpected. And on top, she is hilarious to be around. I truly admire her courage to follow her own path and live out her dreams—even the ones everyone else thinks of as crazy.
Lauren is a jack of many trades, a hard-working businesswoman, and a spiritual yogi at the same time. She mixes the best of both worlds in a way that I personally find incredibly inspiring. I look forward to visiting her latest project, Beluna, a co-working space for dreamers and doers, she has built from scratch in Ubud, following Balinese traditions and customs for bamboo craftsmanship. During Corona, Lauren has, unlike many foreigners, stayed in Bali. She helps struggling locals in the best ways she can, while the opening of her little gem has been postponed a bit for now.
I have no doubt that we'll be working together somehow in the future; only time will tell how. I could go on ... However, for now, I hope you'll get as inspired by Lauren as we are at LULU—LAND.
/ LOUISE BØGESKOV HOU
OK, LET'S START WITH THE EASY ONES
Name: Lauren Bagley
Birth month/year: 12 January 1988
Currently located in: Bali
What do you do for a living? Freelance Project Manager, Owner of Events company and Virtual Assistant Company, Owner and founder of Beluna Coworking, Bali
MOST OF US HAVE CERTAIN ROUTINES, LET'S GET TO KNOW YOURS
What is the first thing you do in the morning? Stretch! Then have a hot lemon water
What is a typical day like for you? Wake up, hot lemon water, put contact lenses in, throw on some tight yoga lycra items, head to a yoga class in Ubud (try not to think about the ten thousand things in my head and say ohm a few times), head home to shower, listen to a podcast, get dressed, journal, gratitude list then ‘To Do’ List –always a never ending list, usually transferred from the day before…! Jump on my scooter, head to a meeting with either a builder or a potential partnership, work from a café on my Beluna project, which is due to open soon. Drink loads of coffee, eat my first meal of the day around 1pm (I intermittent fast) usually a smoothie bowl and a matcha latte, then I head home, and continue with the Beluna task list, including many zoom meetings and lots of organising and administration. I usually work until 9pm in the evening, then try to switch off phone and laptop. Shower, put some chilled music on, and go to bed around 11pm.
And now that we're at it – what are the last things you do before bedtime? Switch all digital devices off, light some incense, read a book, do somemore stretching, have a hot shower and usually drown myself in coconut oil
How do you spend your weekends? Yoga, walks, lunches with friends, beach time, massage, dancing and most importantly lots of eating. The cafes in Ubud are a delight to say the least! I try to switch off from work things as much as possible as my weeks are so full on.
When was the last time you celebrated? Today, most days. I like to celebrate all things, especially the small wins.
WE ALL HAVE MORE OR LESS FLATTERING TRAITS
What is your guilty pleasure? Chocolate. Always. Anything chocolate.
What is your superpower? I have a white streak in my hair like storm from X Men. I can dislocate my hip on demand. I can smile when I’m angry (super power or slightly creepy?Who knows).
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT PASSION, NOT THE FRUIT
What could you spend all day talking about? Health and nutrition and magic potions that come from nature that can heal the human body. That – or the fact that loads of the Black Mirror episodes have come true. Can we talk about that?
What inspires you? Nature, dreams, art, colours, poetry, travel, culture, humans, kindess of strangers
LET'S DIG A LITTLE DEEPER INTO WHAT INSPIRES YOU
Repeat or shuffle? What have you been listening to lately, and what are you humming in the shower?
Poster or collectors’ items? If we gave you a million, what would be decorating your walls? Collectors items.
"I don’t actually follow the news... I stopped watching/reading it a long time ago."
Newspapers, journals, magazines, online platforms, digital media, podcasts… you name it – how do you keep yourself updated, and what are your news sources? I don’t actually follow the news (brainwashing). I stopped watching/reading it a long time ago. I prefer to choose the content I listen to so I follow certain people of interest or inspiration on Instagram, listen to podcasts of inspirational people I would like to learn from, a mixture of business, leadership, spirituality and health.
If you could have lunch with one person, alive or dead, who would that be? My grandad, my dad’s dad that I never met. I would love to meet him and hear all his stories and memories.
Books, movies, and/or series – what can you recommend?
YOUR LIFE SO FAR: SMOOTH SAILING OR OBSTACLE COURSE – A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PAST
Who was your first big love? Farran Wooler, at School. First love, first heartbreak, first boyfriend that had to carry me home because I was too drunk to walk.
What's the single best realization you have ever had? That we are completely and utterly responsible for our lives and that we create our reality, whether we choose to perceive things as good or bad, is up to us. Mind blowing. (and a lot of responsibility)
"Everyone thought I had lost my mind and would be back in a month or so (Lauren’s gone cray cray again)."
What's the best bad or crazy decision you have ever made? That moment that seemed so wrong but turned out so right. If you don't make bad or crazy decisions, have you then ever made a decision that changed your entire life? If you asked my parents, they probably wouldn’t know which one to pick with me…
However, I would have to say cancelling my wedding, quitting my well paid secure London job in the music industry, packing my bags and moving to Ibiza, without a plan, a place to live or a job. Everyone thought I had lost my mind and would be back in a month or so (Lauren’s gone cray cray again).
(I lived there nearly five years.)
AND A LOT MORE ABOUT THE PRESENT
How are you, really? It's nice to check in every once in a while. I am good, really good. Thanks for asking.
However the past few months have been challenging, confronting and eyeopening. Haven’t they? Who would have thought a virus named after a beer would affect us all so deeply and strangely and bring up all those vulnerable thoughts and moments that we all have that we didn’t know we have, and then make it a reason for your ex’s to message you and see how you are, and your friends to start sending you weird memes because they don’t have a job anymore, and then you just cry for no reason.
But yes, I’m fine. I’m fine.
When are you the happiest? When I’m eating. Preferably surrounded by loved ones and funny ones.
What scares you the most? Losing my loved ones
What keeps you up at night these days? My to do list usually, missing people, lucid dreams, the need to wee.
Tell us one thing people would never know about you by just looking at you? That I have an obsession with extremely spicy food and put chillis on everything, and can probably out eat the biggest man at the table.
What habit would improve your life? Daily meditation, to keep me more present. I do it, but still think of 10,000 things at the same time.
We all have qualities that don't really have any rhyme or reason. What is one thing you don't understand about yourself?
Why I am so bad at time keeping. I am terrible at it, always have been. My teacher used to make me write lines on the board at school, like Bart Simpson. But even she gave up.
What works for you at the moment, and what doesn’t?
Works: Morning routine, yoga, being in nature, dancing
Doesn’t: Too much time on the computer, not enough free time, feeling stressed and trying not to
When do you feel the most comfortable in your own skin? When I’m with my family or with my best friend Sophie, because she knows all my things.
What makes you feel insecure? Being in a large group of people and having to speak in front of them
AND OF COURSE, A SNEAK PEEK INTO THE FUTURE
"I am currently creating a dream and a vision I have had for a long time, something that will support many people to live the life of their dreams, whilst developing their personal skills, mindsets and growth and opportunities."
What's the best thing about the next thing you are during? I am currently creating a dream and a vision I have had for a long time, something that will support many people to live the life of their dreams, whilst developing their personal skills, mindsets and growth and opportunities.
"Plans are worthless– but planning is everything" – Dwight D. Eisenhower. What does the future look like for you – what are your dreams and goals?
Living in Bali, traveling more, more free time to spend with my family, continuing to build my business and expanding to other locations, learning new skills
ADVICE – EASY TO GIVE, HADER TO FOLLOW
"I’m quite hard on myself which can be a good thing and a bad thing, but I don’t allow myself to sit around and mope for long. I usually give myself a kick up the ass to put things into action and find a solution."
What (or who) motivates you in difficult times? Myself mostly. I’m quite hard on myself which can be a good thing and a bad thing, but I don’t allow myself to sit around and mope for long. I usually give myself a kick up the ass to put things into action and find a solution. Failing that, my mum usually tells me how it is when I need to hear it.
Good advice is priceless. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten? Remembering that nothing lasts forever. When I first heard this as a little girl it made me feel sad, but now I’m older, I understand it. And I like it. It makes me embrace every single moment and love it for what it is, whether it feels good or it feels uncomfortable. It won’t last forever, so just be in it.
What is the kindest thing anyone ever said to you or the best compliment anyone ever gave you? That I am like an onion (I know it doesn’t sound very flattering). But the person was saying that they enjoy getting to know me because there are many layers of me and that they can tell that the more I trust someone the more I allow them in, and that it makes them feel special to be in my world. I liked it that someone could get that about me and see me authentically.
How do you heal a broken heart? You don’t. You just mend it with gold and make it even more big and beautiful than before. Like the Japanese do with pottery – ‘Kintzsugi’
THE FORECAST – TRENDS AND TENDENCIES
What is going to be the next big thing? (concepts, businesses, ideas, mega trends, etc.) Online businesses and remote teams, Artificial Intelligence, Robots.
We would love to find out about cool new places and things to do in your area. What are your favorite places? Where do you like to go to have fun?
THE ONES THAT DIDN'T FIT INTO THE OTHER CATEGORIES
What is the most favorite, most useful, and most useless object you own, respectively?
Favorite: My scooter – I love the freedom of jumping on it and riding through the rice fields, it’s the best way to see the beauty of Bali
Useful: My computer, it keeps me in touch with my family, my clients, do my shopping, book my flights, take online programs and learn new things – endless possibilities from the box with the apple on it.
Useless: A pair of heeled shoes that I brought back from the UK with me at Christmas. No need for heels in Bali. Ever. But they look lovely on my shelf, collecting all the dust.
What was the last thing you searched for on your phone? Be careful: you might be required to show proof. ‘Isometric exercises’ – because someone told me to do them and I didn’t know what they were.
"Now, that I am on different time zones to my closest friends, we usually leave each other voice notes, then respond when the other is awake. It’s nice to hear their voices, and they are usually hilarious."
Call or text? Which is better, and why?
At the moment – text, because time is a bit limited. It’s nice to be able to respond at a time when I have space rather than rush a phone call. In fact, I prefer voice notes. Now, that I am on different time zones to my closest friends, we usually leave each other voice notes, then respond when the other is awake. It’s nice to hear their voices, and they are usually hilarious.
If I have more time – Calls.
Am I allowed to give 3 answers?
"It costs nothing to be polite, compassionate and kind."
What is your pet peeve? Oh god. There’s many – rude people, loud people, slow walkers, loud eaters, invasion of personal space, the list goes on!
But my number one would be rude people. I dated someone recently who was very rude to a waiter. I don’t like that, I think it says a lot about someone, and you know one day they will also speak to you like that. It costs nothing to be polite, compassionate and kind.
What is the most interesting thing in your trash can? An empty spirulina packet?... Awkward.
You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with it? Oh I would not want to give it away or sell it. Elephants are my favourite animals because they are strong, mischievious, loyal and the baby ones throw tantrums. I would make my best efforts to get to know the elephant and learn all it’s tricks.
THE BIG ONES
What is the meaning of life? To find the things that make your heart sing, and do that.
Whilst experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions, heart breaks, wins and losses, confusion, pain, joy, intense love, intense loss, laughs, tears, cuddles and experiences, all along the way.
Look, mom, I made it! – How do you define success? Living a life of freedom, that fills me with joy and allows me to live an abundant life, in all ways, a life that I can share with my loved ones and share and give to others.
THE FINAL TWO
Name three people you would like to answer these questions?
What does progressive fashion that makes a positive difference look like?
If you ask social entrepreneur Veronica D'Souza, part of the answer is to say no to seasons and sales, limit waste and overproduction, and get as far away from the constructed fashion wheel as possible.
We need to say yes to beautifully made timeless clothing that lasts beyond this trend and that. We need to strip down and simplify—in life and in our wardrobe. Fashion with a social conscience never goes out of style!
Veronica founded the clothing brand, Carcel, back in 2016, after having visited and researched female prisons around the world. She found that poverty is the primary cause of female incarceration and decided to do something about it in her own way.
With Carcel, she aims to create sustainable change within the fashion industry while empowering some of the world's most vulnerable and marginalized women, stuck inside a broken system, with production in prisons in Peru and Thailand in places riddled with the highest crime rates due to poverty.
The ambition is to transform the time the women serve in prison into a meaningful and productive stay while creating opportunities for education, developing new skills, and fair wages, in return for their know-how. Hopefully, the experience can be a way out of poverty for the women when released.
We have had the opportunity to meet Veronica at Carcel's tiny Copenhagen headquarter, showroom, and storage combined in one. Where we talked about how she found her own path into social entrepreneurship and had the chance to ask her a couple of questions about the past, present, and future. We hope you'll find the meeting as inspiring as we did.
CARCEL IS THE SPANISH WORD FOR JAIL OR PRISON.
DANISH CLOTHING BRAND, FOUNDED IN 2016 BY SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR VERONICA D'SOUZA.
ALL STYLES ARE MADE BY MARGINALIZED WOMEN SERVING SENTENCES IN PERU AND THAILAND, PRIMARILY DUE TO NON-VIOLENT, POVERTY-RELATED CRIMES, TO SUPPORT THEIR FAMILIES.
THE WOMEN WORK VOLUNTARILY IN EXCHANGE FOR FAIR WAGES, TRAINING & EDUCATION.
CARCEL DON'T ADHERE TO SEASONS AND SALES. THEY ONLY PRODUCE LIMITED QUALITIES TO ELIMINATE OVERPRODUCTION AND WASTE.
ALL MATERIALS ARE LOCALLY SOURCED AND CAREFULLY SELECTED BASED ON QUALITY, SUSTAINABILITY & DURABILITY.
BY SETTING UP AND RUNNING THEIR OWN PRODUCTION SITES INSIDE THE PRISONS, CARCEL CAN ADJUST TO DEMAND IN REAL-TIME
EVERY PIECE OF CARCEL CLOTHING IS SIGNED BY THE WOMAN WHO MADE IT.
INTERVIEW — VERONICA D'SOUZA
How are you... really?
It's a good opening question ... The first thing I think about is when I lived in Nairobi, and when I would ask someone I was working with how they were, the answer would always be plural. We are good. My wife is good. My children are good. My animals are good. The "How are you?" is never about one person; it's always about the community you belong to. I always thought that was nice, instead of talking about the I ...; I didn't really sleep well last night ... you know! I like that the individual emotions are dependent on the greater well-being of a bigger whole, and therefore in order to feel good, you need to invest in your community.
So, I'm going to do it the Kenyan way ... We are really good—both from a family perspective, which is, of course, the closest circle. I feel extremely lucky and grateful that we live here in Denmark, where it's possible and has been possible even through the shutdown, to move around and be outside. Not having to be stuck in a small apartment with the kids and not being able to go anywhere. You just really get to appreciate nature and freedom in these apocalyptic conditions. I feel extremely privileged about health, as well, when there is something like this going around. We are all healthy, and I think that is the bottom line. We are really good.
Also, our employees are healthy, which is really important to me. Obviously, it has been and still is a challenge right now because there is a lot of overpopulation in prisons. It can be detrimental if COVID gets into the prisons we work with, so far, knock on wood, everyone is healthy. We're trying to navigate the best possible way and work with the governments and the prisons to figure out how we work around it—when it is safe to go in and teach, or do work, and when it's not—basically to protect them.
Oh, and the team here in Copenhagen is good, as well. We are all good and healthy.
"Today, more than ever, there is a connection between what has happened in the past and where we want to go in the future. There is no stillness about now."
On the broader range, I'm also very excited about this time. Even though it is full of chaos. A lot of things are coming to the surface that need to be dealt with, discussed, and experienced, not just COVID-19 but also race, gender equality, and capitalism; there is a lot of big conversations right now.
Actually, I have probably been waiting for those conversations my whole life. And been part of them. But they haven't been mainstream topics in society. So, I'm really grateful and happy, but it's also a very vulnerable time and a tough time for many people. It's not just waking up and feeling happy. It's a complicated and thoughtful time. It's full of emotions, and I think historical emotions. There is some kind of...
Okay, this is me, rambling ...
The "How are you?" is for me both "How are we as a community?" but there is also something about the collectivity of time. Today, more than ever, there is a connection between what has happened in the past and where we want to go in the future. There is no stillness about now. We need to understand, deal, and connect with the past to figure out how we move forward. It's the progressive energy in that, which excites me. The progressive energy in the fashion industry, in production, in the conversations that are happening, but also in all the societal movements regarding equality.
Well, that was the long answer to your question.
For people who are unfamiliar with the brand, where did the story of Carcel begin?
Well, it's a brand, but it's actually so much more than that. It's a vision—multiple visions. We have set up production spaces inside of women's prisons in Thailand and Peru. The idea was formed after a visit I had to a prison in Kenya. I started researching and learning that particular women are most often incarcerated due to poverty-related crimes—women who come from low levels of education and extremely marginalized groups in society. Women who have children, who are mothers and when incarcerated, can't provide for their families anymore. When released, there is a lot of stigma in society, and it's very difficult to get a job.
"The point with Carcel is to enter a space where nobody really goes.A place where there isn't a lot of interaction and definitely not a lot of opportunities for making a wage to provide for yourself, send money home, save up, and become included in the economy."
The point with Carcel is to enter a space where nobody really goes. A place where there isn't a lot of interaction and definitely not a lot of opportunities for making a wage to provide for yourself, send money home, save up, and become included in the economy. These are some of the most marginalized women in the world who are most often forgotten about. We want to provide opportunities here and shed light on the women's capabilities, so they can gain dignity and continue to provide for their children, which makes a big difference for them. It's about self-esteem. It's about feeling that you can be a mother, that you can give your child a birthday present, and support them in school. Many of them actually lost connection with their children before because they were ashamed that they couldn't contribute to their lives and be some kind of provider. It's also about education and learning a different skill, so they don't necessarily have to go out into the streets and continue trafficking drugs, which is what most of them did. The question we asked ourselves was: How do we then create a sustainable business model that can create these jobs in a dignifying way? The way we thought about it was looking into places where there already is an incredible tradition for crafts amongst women in rural areas. Places where their craft is something we honor, where they're actually the best, and where they have the skills to be able to contribute with their know-how, so it's a real exchange.
Carcel is also about looking at the materials we use because thinking about the environment is fundamental for even existing as a fashion brand. That's a key driver. We are an extremely dogmatic company in many ways; we source locally in each country of production and only use natural materials that can become earth again. For now, we use alpaca wool from Peru and handmade silk from Thailand.
What did you do before you started Carcel?
Oh, where do we start? Actually, I was really into music and literature and very idealistic. I wanted to be part of and participate in the world. I've always felt strongly about social justice on a global level, but I'm way too impatient for politics.
I went to UWCAD, an international school, as I got a scholarship to study in Italy when I was 16, together with 200 people from 80 different countries. That was a major game-changer. I came from a small village in Denmark and suddenly found myself in a microcosmos of the world. I was like, wow, okay, you can make friends everywhere, and I was exposed to so many different cultures. That experience made it even more obvious that I wanted to be part of the world somehow and contribute to it.
However, at the same time, I was extremely cynical about NGOs in general, and the UN, like the classic, "do good" field. Not to generalize that every NGO isn't good, I think there are many great NGOs, but unfortunately, there have also been a lot of inefficiencies and focusing more on the fundraising and the fundraisers than understanding how to create solutions that people really want to use. That really didn't motivate me to go into those fields.
"I decided to apply for business school. I thought, if I could get a better vocabulary, infiltrate capitalism from the inside, and understand why it's creating so much harm, then maybe I could find a way to work within it, change it, and somehow make it work for good."
Instead, I chose to look at what I thought was the core evil of the world. The things that were really bad. For me, there were two things; capitalism and the military. This was when I was a bit younger (ha-ha). So, I decided to apply for business school. I thought, if I could get a better vocabulary, infiltrate capitalism from the inside, and understand why it's creating so much harm, then maybe I could find a way to work within it, change it, and somehow make it work for good.
One of the things capitalism does very well is scale. If you could make good solutions scale, you didn't have to convince people to be less selfish. You could just use the system against itself. That was my motivation to go to business school. My mom was like: "Seriously, you do literature and music. Are you sure you really wanna study finances and budgets?" and I was like: "Yeah, there is this whole world of evil, and I know nothing. I want to have a better vocabulary and not just a big anarchist sign."
I think I was lucky. Right when I started, there was a new movement of social business and social entrepreneurship. It was the first year, and it was exactly what I was looking for without knowing it—how to make sustainable business solutions where doing good and solving problems in society is ingrained in the core. I became a supernerd and studied all the cases and literature I could find.
Together with two friends from school, I started my first company in 2011. We tried to apply all the knowledge we had gained from case studies, particularly inspired by the bottom of the pyramid theory ... maybe now is not the time to disclose the literature list (ha-ha). But anyway, we stumbled across a study that said that menstruation was the biggest cause of school dropout for girls living in poverty. This was in 2011, and the study was from 2007. Still, nothing had really been done about it. We thought it was weird that there was this obvious fact from the UN, stating that this is the biggest issue, and then there was just not much else.
My friend was part of a group that was using a menstrual cup. At that time, it was completely unknown, the really early days. She was German, and in Germany, it was connected to some kind of a hippie movement. In Denmark, it was seen as something very gross, unnatural, and weird. We all tried the product, got superexcited, and immediately saw an opportunity to use the cups in a different context. We developed our own product, moved to Kenya, and then founded the business,Ruby Cup, together with women and girls in the slums. It was a very anthropological approach, where we lived there. Everything from the packaging to the marketing, the pricing model, and adjustment to different living situations was done together with the women!
The project was extremely meaningful, and we learned a lot from just starting a company in a different country. There are a lot of things to be said about that, but it was also a lot of fun. That's how I got into that whole field of social entrepreneurship.
"I had never gone to a prison before. I knew nothing, and I couldn't find very much. It always makes me curious when you can't really find anything on Google."
While I was living in Kenya, I visited a women's prison in Nairobi because I was curious about why women were incarcerated. I had never gone to a prison before. I knew nothing, and I couldn't find very much. It always makes me curious when you can't really find anything on Google. For me, it's always about speaking with people: How is it? How do you feel? What is going on? Where are you? The women's answers inspired me to start Carcel. They needed employment, financial inclusion, and something to do they could feel proud of. They needed to be able to be providers for their families. We just needed to find a way to create meaningful and educational employment that would make the women feel valuable.
COVID-19: No one can get around the fact that there is a worldwide pandemic raging; How has it affected you, Carcel, and your employees here and in the prisons in Thailand and Peru? How have you dealt with the current situation?
We have changed our business radically. We saw it as an opportunity. In order to explain that, I need to explain our business model. Like I said in the beginning, Carcel is more a vision than it is a brand. The brand needs to follow the vision. The vision is a lot of different things. What connects everything is an ambition to be a driver for positive change. Both when it comes to the fashion industry and at the same time creating opportunities for responsible employment and new ways of ethical production, inside a system that is meant to deprive you of everything, which is an oxymoron in itself.
"Because the fashion industry is as damaging as it is, there is a need for finding new ways of existing. It's very challenging, but if we are not trying to do that, I don't think that the industry should exist at all."
Because the fashion industry is as damaging as it is, there is a need for finding new ways of existing. It's very challenging, but if we are not trying to do that, I don't think that the industry should exist at all.
We have always been against seasons. We don't have sales, and we don't have collections in order not to be part of the traditional retail wheel, where you basically sell things in stores for a few months, then it goes on sale, and then there is a new collection—so much waste and devaluation of quality and value.
After having worked in the industry for a few years now, I know that retailers are extremely happy if we have a sale-through rate of 60% for an order. If they buy something and sell 60%, that is like the most successful you get. They still stock a brand if it sells in between 30-40%. That's the norm worldwide. Everything else is sold on sale, thrown out, or sold on outlets.
If you just look at that ...
I think there are so many meaningful conversations going on. Especially about materials and innovation when it comes to recycling—and that's great—but if we don't address the consumption pattern, the way we buy and sell products, then we are actually not changing much.
We have been working with many different stores, and until now, what we have done in order to not become part of that system is that we have bought back stock that the stores couldn't sell, and then we have sold it to other stores. Great when you want to save the world, but very bad for business (ha-ha)! We couldn't handle taking the cash flow risk, and we couldn't grow that way, without either compromising on being part of the system and allowing stores to put our products on sale or go out of business.
We have been thinking about that for a long time, and when Corona came, and we basically shut down the world, it was very easy to see that the sell-through rate would be terrible. It wouldn't reach anywhere near 60% because the stores were closed. We thought, now is the right time to do it, to go out of this model. Either we would be left with so much unsold stock that we would have to allow the stores to put it on sale, buy it back, or think of a new model—anyway, the current model wasn't working that well for us. So, we kind of took it as a brave kick in the butt.
We love our retail partners, but let's just say we will be back at some point with a new model. For now, we are stepping out and doing everything online. This also means that we have been able to cut down prices, which I think is a big conversation when it comes to thinking in sustainable ways. If you actually pay proper wages and invest in good materials, it's also an expensive product. There is something about trying to make the prices more accessible to more people. Therefore, we removed the retail markup. Right now, we are developing a new way to be in stores where the stores won't have any stock! We're experimenting with a new way of digital retail.
"There is a value in being physical—this is not a hateful argument towards shops—I love shops! It's just the way that it works right now that doesn't make sense."
There is a value in being physical—this is not a hateful argument towards shops—I love shops! It's just the way that it works right now that doesn't make sense. There is something about redefining and cherishing the reason for being physical. How can we extend that emotion and make that even more special, and when does it make sense to be digital, so we don't continue the way it works today?
We have to admit that we are slightly biased when it comes to the fashion industry and sustainability. At LULU—LAND, we only want to promote brands that attempt to change the status quo of the industry. In your opinion: How are we ever going to get out of this mess we have created? What have you learned? And how can we move forward?
I think I already kind of answered part of this question, like what I have learned and how it works. You sometimes have this conversation; Who is supposed to make the change? Is it the consumers? Is it the politicians? Is it the brands? Who has the responsibility? I think that is such a stupid conversation because obviously, we all have to change! The answer is manifold. There is a need for a business model that allows brands to be seasonless. That is currently not possible. We were set up to be seasonless from the beginning. However, we realized that it was impossible, or close to impossible, in the way retail is set up, and if you want to work with stores. There is a need for structural innovation that makes it possible to work in a different way.
"I honestly feel that if we aren't working on a better solution, we should probably shut down as an industry. In my personal opinion, I don't think there is a right to continue to exist if we don't ambitiously work in better ways. "
We need new business innovation more than guilt. Obviously, if you have a way of doing it, more people would. Right now, it's a shaming game. You shouldn't continue having collections and seasons, and brands are like: "So how are we going to survive?". I honestly feel that if we aren't working on a better solution, we should probably shut down as an industry. In my personal opinion, I don't think there is a right to continue to exist if we don't ambitiously work in better ways.
There is a little bit of time, but not a lot. We should spend that time figuring out how we can use real creativity to create change. Creativity in fashion today is as much about the model as the expression of the garment. There probably isn't a piece of clothing that we haven't seen before somehow. Where fashion is really strong, and the reason why it makes sense to not just kill it is that it can be a powerful way to communicate movements in society, identity, and expression—that's when it becomes progressive. I think that what we have seen for many years is a regressive industry. It's been about clothes and not so much about what is going on in the world. It's been pretty disconnected from the fact that the planet is falling apart and that people are not getting paid. If we do not change that or start working with it, then the industry simply shouldn't exist.
Something that is really on my mind right now, particularly right now, is that there is such a huge need to deconstruct, and there is also a lot of anger that makes sense, but we also need to reconstruct. That inspires me as a creative thinking person. It's much more the construction than the deconstruction.
"At Carcel, we believe it's less about the "need" and more about creating the "want" to change. Talking to the "want" will make it possible to transition humanity to the post-consumer era, the next perception of beauty."
Carcel has always been about a desire to create a movement that people want to be part of. That's also why the clothes need to be beautiful and attractive, and the brand needs to look cool. We want to create an emotional space, which is not a rational argument. We're getting told so many things from a rational point of view ... "did you know that..." and then we are supposed to change behavior, but we don't want to do that.
At Carcel, we believe it's less about the "need" and more about creating the "want" to change. Talking to the "want" will make it possible to transition humanity to the post-consumer era, the next perception of beauty. We need to transition to somewhere and not just say: "everything is shit," "capitalism is shit," "politics is shit," "the climate is shit" that creates apathy. I think that's what we all feel. This feeling of "I don't know what to do about it" and "I can't think about it too much because nothing is good; we shouldn't even be breathing; there are already too many people on the planet, my phone is made by I don't want to know who, and the Internet is using too much CO2"—it's never-ending. What we actually need is human beings to feel agency to create change and drive that change. We can only do that through creating a "want" and "desire" to change.
What are some of the challenges you experience because of the way you do business? When we met you outside of the shop during the Corona lockdown, you mentioned that social media can be harsh and challenging at times?
When you talk about things—it's like at a dinner party—if you bring up intimate and personal stuff, people will comment on it. You need to make a choice. You can't both share everything and then get frustrated when people have opinions about it. For us, part of being progressive is also to be transparent. To allow people to make their own choices and give information about everything—the production cost, labor costs, the materials, the business model—all of it.
However, the most challenging with our brand is that we are operating within a system, which is a prison system. We are doing that in order to create an impact for people who basically have close to no opportunities, but it's also a complicated situation.
It's a really emotional conversation. Particularly in the US, where there is a horrible past and present of putting people in prison because of race and private companies exploiting prisoners as free labor. But it's not just in the States; exploitation of prisoners is taking place globally. Obviously, that is what we are trying to change by creating a different model based on fair living wages, code of conduct, and protection of prisoners' employment rights in order to create rehabilitation. But there are not a lot of great examples to lean against.
We realized this when we had a social media backlash in 2019, which came as a big surprise. Until then, we had been in the media a lot, but only with positive stories. It was a big debate about what we are doing as equal to modern slavery. People on Reddit wrote that we were white supremacists that wanted to exploit poor women of color. It was a huge challenge to communicate how complex this topic is in only a few sentences.
Still, at the end of the day, it also motivated us to pick up the phone and call everyone we could find on this planet in order to talk about this and the different aspects of prison labor. We contacted people from the UNODC who are working with prisons, the ILO (International Labour Organization), and the American Prison Association, amongst others. There is a global framework that everyone has agreed to, and it's called The Nelson Mandela Rules, which are basic human rights for people incarcerated. It's a human right to have access to a job in prison if the job is fairly compensated and voluntary.
However, there are no guidelines to ensure that a prison job is fairly compensated and voluntary. What we realized was that the reason people reacted was that this is not the norm. The norm, across the globe, is that companies are exploiting incarcerated people and that they don't have any rights. This is what people know. It's so brutal and crazy. So it makes sense to doubt our little company, to be critical towards our intentions and demand answers.
For us, this was a wake-up call. We needed to bring in people, and we needed someone who could check on our practices. We asked ourselves: Is there an NGO? Is there a union we can engage with? Is there someone we can look into to improve ourselves, and who can help us find out what we are doing well and where we can do better? But we couldn't find anyone specialized in ethical employment rights for prisoners. In general, there is very little research globally around the topic of work and incarceration. Because of that, we started creating a draft of the first global 'Code of Conduct for Protecting Prisoner's Working Rights' because we needed it ourselves, and we thought it might be useful for others.
We got advisors from different fields, from the UN, from the ILO, from the unions, and asked them to look into this. We started working with a consultant, Luke Smitham, from Kumi Consulting in London, who has in-depth experience working with extremely vulnerable supply chains like mining, places where there are child labor, and risk of exploitation, which can be the case when you're incarcerated. We asked ourselves: How can we create a codex and different steps of implementation that protect prisoners' rights?
We were invited to speak at The OECD Annual Garment & Footwear Meeting in Paris, where guides for responsible business conduct are discussed within the fashion industry. We invited all the unions we could find, governments, NGOs, not to say: "Listen, Carcel is a great idea" but to say ... "Listen, there is an issue here; we have a global population, who is currently working, and no one is upholding their rights. These are some of the thoughts and things we have learned ... We then made a roll-out plan, but are delayed due to COVID-19. Our goal is to both create a case with implementation research and work to lobby for global attention to this group of people. However, this is just to say that we are also very engaged on a political level to actually be part of progress, but within a broken system.
That doesn't mean that we are for or against prisons. I think that's what people sometimes misunderstand. If you work with a prison, then you are pro prisons. That is not how we feel. But, what we do think is that a large group of people in prisons are being forgotten about who deserves a chance to be included as capable humans beings.
"I like constructive criticism, it allows us to have so many meaningful conversations, and it gives us something to work with."
For us, the most important thing is to hear what the women want and what matters to them. They say that having a job is essential for them in order to be able to contribute to their families and to have their dignity back. They are so proud to be a part of this, and it means a lot to them.
Obviously, you get in doubt when you experience a backlash like that, but I think that is a healthy thing. We should always get in doubt when we are critiqued. I like constructive criticism, it allows us to have so many meaningful conversations, and it gives us something to work with.
Compared toRuby Cup, this has been extremely challenging.Ruby Cup had a straightforward vision. Who doesn't want to keep girls in school? We can all agree that it is not a political topic. Labor in prisons is a political topic. Some people think that prisoners are criminals and don't deserve the right to work and shouldn't get a job. Others believe that prisons are evil and shouldn't exist—if you even engage with the people there, you support prisons' existence. There are a lot of different aspects to it.
I think communication is essential, and that's something we are working on right now. From the outside, you could get the idea—if you don't know us—that we are this huge, wealthy company that has set up production in prisons to exploit cheap labor. However, when you meet us and sit here, you realize that we are 2 1/2 employees and underfunded (ha-ha). We've got so much positive exposure that people sometimes think we are a much larger company. It's not that I'm not proud of the brand, but it's easy for people to think that we are super wealthy, but that's not really how it is at all! That's also why transparency is so important to us. We want to make sure that people understand that everything made on the products is reinvested into the business. No one is exploiting profit from this.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, we are working on a new way to be in retail that eliminates stock and waste—that is the core focus.
We are also working on creating a production facility outside of prison in Thailand—even though we can't go there, so the women who are released can still work together with us if they would like to. We have four women from our team coming out next year. Last week, we learned that they have gotten amnesty, which is many years off their sentences. We are planning for it and also planning to do it in the right way. Corona has speeded things up in some ways, but in other ways, it has also been, "Okay, let's wait a few months more and do it well and hopefully go there and be a part of the process."
Right now, we are also in the exploration phase on how to make our own silk. We probably want to set up a weaving mill outside of prison. Also, there is a lot of natural dye in Thailand. We are thinking in the outside space in terms of different types of craftsmanship that we can use for different projects and products.
Oh, and one of the important outcomes of Corona, which I didn't mention before, is that when you have a humanitarian crisis and a global pandemic like this, overpopulated prisons start to release people before time. We actually just had a woman released who was supposed to stay there for 5-6 years more. As a result, we have started a small production outside of the prison in Peru, with our first employee called Vanessa. During the pandemic where everything was shut down, and we couldn't rent anything, somehow, we managed, and she managed.
This was ahead of time. It has always been something that we wanted to do, but we thought that most of the women had so many years left that we would wait and do things in a different order. All of a sudden, it was like: Okay, she is out. How do we get a machine? How do we get started? We feel really lucky and fortunate to have her on our team, our first employee, on the outside!
Does the work the women do for Carcel have anything to do with them being released ahead of time?
Officially, no. Unofficially, it's different from country to country. If you don't have a hard sentence in Peru, it diminishes your time if you work. But if you are in for a hard sentence, like drug trafficking, it doesn't affect your sentence. But your papers, good behavior, and recommendations do. In that sense, everyone in the prisons can see that it's a really positive system. The prison director in Peru wants us to employ everyone because it changes a lot. She says there are an entirely different energy and positivity among these women. Their goal is to get as many women into the Carcel project as possible because it leaves them with some kind of prospect and creates a positive culture. The same in Thailand.
Does it give the women hope for a better future?
It is always hard to speak on behalf of someone else, but it is also very difficult not to say that it gives them hope because they can't call you up or be here for this interview and answer themselves.
"Whenever there is a bleak day, a shutdown, or business challenges, I always think about our teams in prison. They are incredibly positive and extremely powerful—they really want this!"
Whenever there is a bleak day, a shutdown, or business challenges, I always think about our teams in prison. They are incredibly positive and extremely powerful—they really want this! I may think that life is a little bit hard and that it's challenging to be an entrepreneur sometimes, but their energy motivates me. They are so proud whenever they see their work in magazines or when someone writes an article about us. For them, it's a cultural acceptance—even though they are prisoners, which is such a cultural, social stigma.
One of our women in Thailand said that she thought she was cabbage, which translates to feeling like garbage in Thai, but now she feels that she is a valuable human being. Being incarcerated is so full of shame for these women. We can't possibly understand or relate, but we can listen and try to create ways for the women to be heard and act.
We had the princess of Thailand visit our production facility; she is the UN goodwill ambassador for female prisoners' rights. She came to visit our project. It was such an incredible experience for them to get to show her their work and give her a present that they made themselves. That is basically the highest level of acceptance they can think of; how can we make something for a princess when we are not supposed to be anything?
How will you look back at 2020, and what are your hopes for 2021?
You know, I was always sad that I wasn't born in the 60s. Back then, conversations were about something—at least that was how I felt growing up in the 80s and 90s. I felt that I grew up in a very shallow time. With really shallow music—a lot of it—very bad dance music. Of course, there was some good music, but most of it, like mainstream music, was horrible in the 90s. It was reflected in design as well; everything reflected this shallow wealth era. I think that the conversations were like that as well. People were not going into deep topics, and if you did, it was the "political" conversation.
"You know, I was always sad that I wasn't born in the 60s. Back then, conversations were about something—at least that was how I felt growing up in the 80s and 90s."
In the 60s, things were about something, and things changed. They were also painful and cost lives, but stuff got done; the mass movement for civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and a lot of other things that are fundamental for how we even think today. I hope that what we are going through in 2020 and hopefully also in 2021 and 2022 is about that. So that the chaos, the pain, and the change are what's necessary in order for us not to have a planet that is heated by more than 2 degrees in the best-case scenario. We will know that within 7-10 years. That's the time frame we have. We need chaos. We need radical transformation. We need either a complete breakdown or a really fast revolution. I'm hoping for the last. But if not, then we need to break down. That is what I hope to look back on this year, but also in the years to come — that it's not just another year. My nightmare would be that we end 2020 or start 2021, and everything is back to normal like it was at the beginning of 2020. Then I would feel really sad. But I don't think that is going to happen. Hopefully, 2020 brings a lot of positive change.
"We need chaos. We need radical transformation. We need either a complete breakdown or a really fast revolution. I'm hoping for the last. But if not, then we need to break down."
What does the future look like? Where do you find your inspiration for the further development of Carcel?
Carcel has always been a very collaborative project. The fact that we were started with a Kickstarter campaign and everyone in Denmark who worked at Carcel worked for free for the first two years, made everyone involved, from interns to the women in the prisons, part of shaping the company. That's also pretty much how it is today. We are a few people who are getting paid now—a little bit—but I think the inspiration and the ideas always come from a collective. We meet new people along the way, and they become part of the journey, in everything from our design processes to strengthening our ties in Peru and Thailand.
"We want to build something bigger than Carcel. That's the dream. Carcel can hopefully be a catalyst for change, and that change can then be a platform for other people to engage."
We set things up in a way that'll hopefully allow our facilities to be its own function run by the women, where they can have other clients and customers. We want to build something bigger than Carcel. That's the dream. Carcel can hopefully be a catalyst for change, and that change can then be a platform for other people to engage.
I hope that it will be a continuity of a collective and collaborations with a lot of people who can chip in and who can participate. In the world I think we should live in, it's never about ownership. We need as many people to get involved as possible to at least try to address some of the things that we have been talking about.
Anything we missed you'd like to add?
Not other than, I think it's a really exciting time. It's nice to think about the fact that we are not alone. I don't think we are a hero company leading the wave. There is a massive movement going on right now, and we can all learn from each other. There's also a new generation who is not stuck up in whether it's "do good" or "fashion," is it "business?" or is it an "NGO?" The young generation sees the world much more connected. It doesn't have to be either-or, and I think looking at the world like that makes a lot more sense. We are moving in the right direction. It's not a conversation on whether we should have sustainability anymore. I'm not concerned if we had the time. If we had 40-50 years, we would definitely get there. My concern is the timeframe that we have if we want a habitable planet for the number of people we are today. We have to do whatever we can to speed up the process—and sometimes that might be inappropriate and not wanted conversations.
Veronica is a passionated, business-savvy, social entrepreneur by heart. Prior to Carcel, she co-founded the award-winning social business Ruby Cup in collaboration with local women in Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived. She is recognized as a 'Global Shaper' under World Economic Forum, the youngest jury member at INDEX: Design To Improve Life, a SOCAP selected entrepreneur, a senior fellow of Humanity in action New York, a UWC graduate, and co-author of 'The Road Map for Sustainable Leadership'.
At LULU—LAND, we have a soft spot for great entrepreneurial stories and love to share them.
Honestly, when we first got to know about Puori, we were a bit skeptical; were these products really any different than all the other supplements out there? However, when we looked into how they are made and tried the products ourselves, our skepticism was put to shame.
Today, we wouldn't recommend any other dietary supplements. We admire Puori's strong commitment to environmental sustainability and how they have managed to use their ambitious standards for product quality and safety as a competitive advantage.
Puori was founded in 2009 by the two Danish entrepreneurs, Oliver Amdrup and Julius Heslet, who had a strong desire to supplement their own active lifestyles. The problem; finding products that they could actually trust to be safe and of high quality.
The mission was clear from the beginning: to be the best at offering pure, clean, and superior products that make a difference to people's health and wellbeing.
The first product they launched was a high-quality, potent omega-3 fish oil - a gap in the market which no existing product was able to fill. Since then, the product portfolio has grown to address the main nutritional deficiencies in the developed world in the most uncompromising way possible.
The ambitious adventure has grown into a global company with many dedicated employees, partners, and loyal customers. The two young men attribute their success to the fact that there has always been a great deal of boldness and innovation in Puori. Put in their own words:
"Without the boldness and our innovative mindset, we would never have set out on this amazing journey. It now means that we cultivate a culture within the company to foster open innovation and change. Those who dare to think aloud and differently are rewarded."
Another factor for their success is transparency and third-party testing. Initially, Puori used IFOS testing of their fish oil supplement, which expanded into full transparency testing across the entire product portfolio that guarantees the safety and quality of all their products. Every single batch is tested!
Puori's initial surge in growth has been through the success of CrossFit® - the exercise methodology that spread throughout the 2000s and since evolved into a profound competitive sport.
The CrossFit culture is still an essential part of Puori's heritage. However, everyone has their own unique exercise strategies, and they try to address the needs of all physically active individuals. They consider health an ever-evolving journey centered around making quality decisions within the four cornerstones of a good life: a healthy diet, physical activity, recovery, and balance.
Puori don't sell quick fixes; they help people understand their origin and show them how to achieve their natural potential. They strongly believe in a preventative lifestyle and a holistic approach to health. When the modern diet falls short of providing the nutrients we need, Puori provide the purest natural supplements for a healthier future.
We are fortunate to be able to offer Puori supplements in our shop and got the chance to ask one of the founders, Oliver Amdrup, a couple of questions:
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU STARTED PUORI?
OA: I was an entrepreneur in the health and wellness space. I went from being a personal trainer to the owner of a CrossFit gym to create a corporate training app and work as Regional Director for CrossFit HQ in Europe.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START PUORI IN THE FIRST PLACE? WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM? DID YOU HAVE AN EUREKA-LIKE MOMENT?
OA: Julius and I both had trouble finding the perfect fish oil = free from environmental toxins based on lab reports, caught sustainable, high amount of Omega-3, and always fresh. After researching for a long time, without finding exactly what we wanted, we decided to embark on a journey ourselves.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MAIN CHALLENGES GETTING TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?
OA: I think when you ask most entrepreneurs, they will tell you that it is a journey of challenges, not a single event. It all boils down to your passion for the vision and values, as well as your dedication to never surrender.
HOW DO YOU COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER ON THIS JOURNEY?
OA: We have always shared the same vision and values but very different capabilities. Julius is more of a Specialist, and I’m more of Generalist. Thus we have tried to use each other strengths and weaknesses along the way.
CORONA VIRUS: NO ONE CAN GET AROUND THE FACT THAT THERE IS A WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC RAGING - HOW HAS THE CURRENT SITUATION AFFECTED PUORI? AND HOW HAVE YOU DEALT WITH IT?
OA: The US market is one of our main markets. Therefore, we obviously see uncertainty at the moment, which has affected our future growth investments. On the other hand, we also see tendencies that people are focusing more on preventative health, which is the key to our brand – many of our products are developed with this in mind.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
OA: We are launching a major new brand-line extension which targets the needs of a growing consumer population, combining our clean and 3rd party tested product and development competencies, with specialist and experts within a new segment of consumers. Stay tuned post Summer 2020.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION FOR THE FURTHER DEVELOPMENT OF PUORI? WHAT OR WHOM INSPIRES YOU?
OA: It always starts with a need or an opportunity to improve something. We find inspiration from many directions, not just within the health and wellness space but also within consumer movements and other industries.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR PUORI? THE NEAR AND DISTANT FUTURE? WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS AND GOALS?
OA: We want to play a significant role in changing the supplement industry towards more transparency around environmental toxins and products' quality. One day, our transparency project, created in collaboration with The Clean Label Project, will become the industry standard for consumer goods to ensure safety and quality in all areas of food consumption.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED PUORI?
OA: Keep your focus on your key differentiator and continue to develop your brand around it, so everything you do supports your uniqueness and makes more unique and you stand out to your target audience.
FINALLY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER ENTREPRENEURS OR PEOPLE WHO DREAM ABOUT STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
OA: Set a clear direction of where you want to go, but don’t expect your path will be what you expected. Stay true to your values, your strategies will change, but values should not. And finally, never-give-up and never stop learning.
Ouch, that's a complex one. This explanation by Derek Sivers somehow resonates with us, and we hope you'll find it as interesting and inspiring as we do!
"Watch," or actually just listen, and let us know what you think.
There’s a true story about the student who showed up late to math class. He copied the problem that was already written on the board, assuming it was homework, and solved it that week. Only afterwards did he find out the teacher put it on the board as an example of an unsolvable problem.
This question — “What is the meaning of life?” — is the classic unsolvable problem. For thousands of years, people have been trying to figure it out. It’s the punchline cliché of unanswerable questions.
But right now, let’s be the naive ones that don’t know it’s considered unsolvable, and just figure out the meaning of life in under 20 minutes. OK?
LIFE IS __________
What word do you think goes in that blank? Life is what? Any ideas?
Let’s look at some of the different options that philosophers and smarties have said.
LIFE IS TIME
Some say life is time. Life is all about time. The definition of life is the time between when you’re born and when you die. So the literal meaning of life is time.
So if life is time, the way to have a good life is to use time wisely.
How can you use time wisely? Five ways.
1. Remember it’s limited
If you find out tonight that you’ve only got one year left to live, you’ll make the most of this next year. If you act like life is infinite, you won’t.
To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.
Give yourself tight deadlines. Remember you could die at any time. Don’t delay.
How can you use time wisely?
2. Be mostly future-focused
Make most of your current actions serve your future self. Learn, practice, exercise, delay gratification, save and invest your money, and build towards your ideal future. People who do this are more successful and even happier.
But too much future focus leads to being a successful person on your 4th marriage, with no true friends. Too much future focus can take time away from important things that need you to be in the moment.
How can you use time wisely?
3. Be somewhat present-focused
Sometimes, pull your head out of the future, and give your full attention to the present. Relationships, communication, and sex require this.
But too much present focus is hedonism: living only for immediate gratification with as much excitement and novelty as possible.
Too much present focus leads to an empty bank account and no impulse control.
Too much present focus robs you of the deeper happiness of delayed gratification, achieving long-term goals, and developing valuable expertise.
How can you use time wisely?
4. Be somewhat past-focused
To remember your past is to live twice.
Keep your life in the context of the past, to see how far you’ve come.
Put aside time to re-interpret your past events, as a powerful reminder that you can re-interpret your present and future, too.
How can you use time wisely?
5. Get in the zone
You know the feeling of flow — where you’re focused on work that’s not too easy and not too hard — where the work itself has clear goals and is its own reward.
People at the end of their life who claimed to be the happiest with their life were the ones who had spent the most time in this state of flow.
For a good life, pursue the work that puts you in this state, and avoid the things that pull you from this state.
Let’s say life is time. What do you think? Pretty good argument?
Let’s look at another perspective.
LIFE IS CHOICE
Some say life is choice. Life is all about choice. You make a hundred little choices a day, and a hundred big choices in your life. These choices change your entire life. Your life is created by your choices. Therefore life IS choice.
So if life is choice, the way to have a good life is to make good choices.
How can you make good choices? Four ways.
1. Let instinct trump logic
The different parts of your brain started developing at different periods in evolution. The oldest part of your brain, the one that’s been evolving since we were fish, deals with instincts, fears, and gut feelings. The newest part of your brain, the one that’s pretty uniquely human, deals with logic, language, and predictions.
This newest part is still in beta. A $5 calculator can beat it at math. But this oldest part was launched a billion years ago, and has been in production and development ever since.
Everything you observe and learn is first processed by your logical brain, but then the results are permanently stored as instincts, fears, and gut feelings. Your instincts and emotions hold the culmination of everything you’ve ever observed and learned. So you’ll make better choices if you listen your instincts, instead of relying too much on your $5 calculator beta brain.
How can you make good choices?
2. Stop at good enough
You now have more options than ever. You try to choose the best option, the best career, the best school, and the best boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse.
But thinking this way makes you feel worse about the choices you’ve made. You’re more aware than ever of all the options you didn’t choose, and the benefits of each.
So don’t seek the absolute best. Stop when you find an option that is good enough. You’ll make an equally good choice, but more importantly, you’ll feel much better about it. Happiness counts.
How can you make good choices?
3. Set limits
Every choice you have to make causes a little bit of pain. Having choice in life is good, but having more choice is not always better.
You’re happier when you let other people make some choices for you. If you’re very sick, you want your doctor to choose what’s best, not say, "There are dozens of good options. What do you want to do?" This is the appeal of religion. It gives you rules. It makes many of the choices for you.
So set limits to your choices in life. Cut off some options. Give yourself rules.
How can you make good choices?
4. Choose important not urgent
You know the difference between what’s long-term important versus short-term urgent.
What’s urgent are emails, texts, tweets, calls, and news.
What’s important is spending a thousand hours to learn a new skill that will really help you in your life or work. What’s important is giving your full undistracted attention to the important people in your life. What’s important is taking time to get exercise, or to collect and share what you’ve learned.
But none of these things will ever be urgent.
So you have to ignore the tempting cries of the urgent, and deliberately choose what you know is important.
So life is choice? What do you think? Pretty good argument? Let’s try another.
LIFE IS MEMORY
Some say life is memory. The future doesn’t exist. It’s something we imagine. The present is gone in a millisecond, so everything we experience in life is a memory. You could live a long life, but without a lot of memories, you only experienced a short life. If you don’t remember your life, it’s like it never happened. So life is memory.
So if life is memory, the way to have a good life is to make more memories.
How can you make memories?
Change routines. Break monotony. Move. Make a major change whenever you can. These are your chronological landmarks. These are the hooks where you’ll hang your memories.
Document it. Blog it. Not in a company’s walled garden, but in a format you can archive and look through in 50 years, or your grandkids can look through in 100 years. Keep a private blog for your future self, and tell the tales of where you’ve been, what you did, and the quirky people you’ve met along the way. You’ll be surprised how much you forget if you don’t record it.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. What about the forgotten life?
So life is memory? What do you think? Want to do another?
LIFE IS LEARNING
Both my smart friends and my spiritual friends insist that the meaning of life is learning — that the reason you’re here is to learn. Not just for your own sake, but for everyone alive, and future generations, the meaning of your life is to learn.
So if life is learning, the way to have a good life is to learn a lot.
How can you learn a lot?
Instead of talking about learning techniques, let’s talk about getting the right mindset, so you can learn more than you realize.
You’ve probably heard about the Fixed mindset and the Growth mindset.
The Fixed mindset says, "I am good at this" or "I am bad at this". This starts in childhood when your parents say, "You’re so good at math!" You think, "I’m good at math!" But then when you do poorly on one test, you think, "They were wrong. I’m not good at math.” Most people think this way. You can hear it when they say, “She’s a great singer” or “I’m just no good at dancing.”
The Growth mindset says, "Anyone can be good at anything. Skill comes only from practice."
Two impossibly hard tests were given to hundreds of children. After the first test, all of the students were praised, but half of the students were privately told these 6 words: "You must be good at this." The other half were privately told these 6 words: "You must have worked really hard."
When they were given the second test, the students who were told, "You must be good at this", did 20% worse on the 2nd test. Those 6 words encouraged a fixed mindset that made them feel there was no point in trying. You either are or you aren’t.
The students who were told "You must have worked really hard", did 30% better on the 2nd test. Those 6 words encouraged a growth mindset that made them feel that working harder made all the difference.
So that’s a +-50% difference in performance because of 6 quick words by one teacher.
Multiply that by all the people in your life, all the days you hear feedback, and all the things you tell yourself, and you can see how this simple difference in mindset can make or break a life of learning.
Parents, pay attention to this. You may be harming your kids when you tell them they’re good at things.
Successful people, pay attention to this. You may be harming yourself if you believe the praise that people give you. People tell you you’re great at what you do, never just that you must have worked hard.
So... life is learning? What do you think?
Should we look at the Buddhist idea that life is
Nah, that’s no fun.
NOTHING BUT REPLICATING DNA?
Let’s change the subject.
A few years ago, I started learning Chinese. I’m fascinated with the writing. I’m trying to memorize how to write these characters.
Chinese characters look complicated, but they’re mostly made up of smaller simpler characters, the way that English words are made up of Latin roots and such. So you can remember the meaning of each character by knowing the meaning of its ingredients. For example:
语 language = words 讠+ five 五+ mouth 口
So... Language is words that at least five mouths speak? Brilliant!
谢 thank you = words 讠+ body 身+ inch 寸
Hmmm... This one is not so obvious. Maybe the idea is that when you say thanks, you speak words that give a body an inch of respectful space? That’s interesting.
名 name = evening 夕 + mouth 口
So your real name is what’s spoken by a mouth in the evening? That’s kind of romantic.
I get so curious about the historical or cultural meaning behind each one.
Let’s change the subject.
Talking Heads were a great band from the late-70s to mid-80s. Their lyrics were really evocative and mysterious. They made you wonder what they were really about.
Then I read an interview with the Talking Heads where they said that many of their lyrics were just random. They would write evocative phrases onto little pieces of paper, then throw them into a bowl, and shuffle them up. Then they’d pull them out, and put them into the song in that order. They did this because they liked how the listener creates meaning that wasn’t intended.
We assume that if someone writes a song, then sings it on stage into a microphone, that it must have meaning to them.
But nope. It was just random. Any meaning you think it contains was put there by you, the listener, not the writer. Like a Rorschach test.
BACK TO CHINESE
I got so curious about the historical meaning of these Chinese characters that I got a Chinese etymological dictionary that tells the full history behind every one.
I looked up the examples I gave here, and found out those characters were just phonetic! Those composite character bits were NOT chosen for their meaning at all, just their sound!
So it seems I’ve just been putting the meanings into them, myself. They actually had no meaning at all!
It blew my mind. I had been memorizing hundreds of characters for months, reading all kinds of meaning into the ingredients of each one.
After recovering from that, I thought: How many other things in life really have no meaning? What else have I been putting my own meaning into, thinking it was true?
I know that we’re wired to do it. I know we survived on the savannah for eons because we evolved to look for patterns. Our ancestors are the ones who noticed the patterns of the tiger stripes or the lion face in the grass.
A moth is so deeply wired to fly towards the light that it may never accept that your light bulb is not the moon.
We are so deeply wired to find patterns that we may never accept that many things are just random.
We should have the same sympathy for our faulty wiring as we do for the moth. Evolution taught us to do this thing, but didn’t teach us to stop.
Give us some dots and a line, and we’ll see a face. Burn some toast and we’ll find Elvis in it.
A carrot from my garden looks like Jesus. What does it mean?
A black cat crossed my path as I walked under a ladder on Friday the 13th. What does it mean?
An old friend calls just a minute after I was thinking about them. What does it mean?
What does it mean that you went to a prestigious well-known school? What does it mean that you didn’t?
What does it mean that your good friend died? What does it mean that you’re tall?
What does it mean that you have a lot of followers online? What does it mean that you don’t?
What does it mean that you’re female? What does it mean that you’re male?
What does it mean that you’re an entrepreneur? What does it mean that you’re not?
What does it mean that all of your previous attempts at something have failed?
Nothing! Nothing at all.
Nothing has inherent meaning. Everything is only what it is and that’s it.
So let’s get back to our original question and wrap this up.
LIFE IS _____
What is the meaning of life?
LIFE IS ______
You can tell by the variety of answers that they are just projected meanings.
You can choose to project one of these meanings onto your life, if it makes you feel good, or improves your current actions.
But you know the real answer is clear and obvious now.
Life is (just) life. It doesn’t mean anything.
Erase any meaning you put into past events. Erase any meaning that’s holding you back. Erase those times where people said that this means that. None of it is real.
Life has no inherent meaning. Nothing has inherent meaning.
Life is a blank slate.
You’re free to project any meaning that serves you.
You’re free to do with it, anything you want.
ABOUT DEREK SIVERS
Derek Sivers is a notable American writer, musician, programmer, and entrepreneur best known for being the founder and former president of CD Baby, an online CD store for independent musicians. He started CD Baby somewhat by accident in 1997 when he was selling his own CD on his website, and friends asked if he could sell theirs, too. CD Baby went on to become the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients.
In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby to focus on his new ventures. His current projects and writings are all at sivers.org.
You can read more about Derek in his own words here.