As the co-owner of HNDSM, I often get asked how I navigate entrepreneurship, what it is like to have my husband as my business partner, as well as the joys and hardships of the business. The Peer Portraits Series has been a great way to learn a little more about people we work with and admire. I wanted to take this opportunity to answer some of your questions. Here is a little insight into the inner workings of being a young, female entrepreneur today. Please share your thoughts, questions, and comments. I would love to hear from you!
We’d love to know more about your background, upbringing and the road that brought you to where you are now, personally and professionally.
I grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and it was great. It is hard to describe how different it is to grow up in a developing nation in Africa compared to what I have heard and seen from the childhoods here in Canada or The US. The appreciation of nature has been a big part of my life since I can remember. I love the outdoors because of living in Nairobi. As kids, when we were off from school, my younger brother and I would spend most of our time outside playing sports barefoot in our garden, riding motorcycles, going on camping trips and exploring Kenya as a family. I know that feeling of the sun on my skin so well, the way the air smells after the rain, the brief coolness while standing in my school uniform at morning assembly with the bluest sky overhead. I feel especially nostalgic about my childhood because I know that I cannot recreate what I had for my son even if we lived in Nairobi today. It has been sixteen years since I left for university and a lot has changed in the country over the years. My parents still live there in the home that we moved to when I was twelve years old and I love going back to spend time with them. I’m happy with the path my life has taken; leaving Kenya has brought me a lot of blessings. For one, it led me to AJ and of course, HNDSM. We partnered up on the business after we got married and I joined him in New York about four years ago. I had to learn a lot very quickly about running a business as my previous background was in healthcare. When I think about it now, it makes perfect sense for me to be an entrepreneur. Both my parents had their own businesses when I was growing up. I learned a lot more than I realised by listening, witnessing and absorbing the lessons of an entrepreneurial life. My mum and her sister had a women’s boutique and my brother and I often were at the shop while she worked. I would sit with the tailor, or watch my mum write the accounts out in a ledger or hear her pitch different outfits to her customers. It is pretty cool looking back now as a fashion brand owner because all those lessons still apply today. I do laugh to myself because my mum would bring home clothes from the boutique for me to wear and I wonder if I was a tween that dressed like a middle aged woman!
How do you feel about your name? Has the relationship with your name changed over the years?
My given name is Noreen which I really love. It is a Persian name that means eyes of light and that always felt special to me. In the Muslim community, there are a few variations of the name and it always bothered me when people assumed my name was the most popular version rather than what it actually is. I correct people when they mispronounce it but sometimes even close friends don't say it properly. That makes Nunu an easier choice. You can’t really mess it up. AJ and I met in our first year of university and it was around then that he started calling me Nunu. It quickly stuck amongst our mutual friends and his family. I like the name and it fits with my personality but there really isn't a sweetness like someone calling your real name. I sometimes feel like I have an alias because people either know me as one or the other.
What is something you believe everyone should experience in their life?
I believe that everyone should experience processing failure. My life coach calls failure, “feedback” and I agree with that. Often, it seems like failure is the worst thing that could ever happen and can be closely tied to shame, embarrassment or anger. As humans, we either gloss over failure as a way to avoid dealing with a situation going sideways or failure can be very overwhelming and really bring a person’s energy down. I think in processing failure, there is a lot to learn about yourself and the world around you. When things are going well, it is easy to ride the wave and keep the momentum going. Key lessons come when things don’t go as desired and the outcome is not success. While it can be hard to see it in the moment, there are hidden gems in that space that can help propel you forward and bring you to a better place than you were in before.
What was your favorite moment today and do you have any favourite grounding rituals?
My grounding ritual is definitely starting the day super early while it is still dark out. I simply love that quiet time in the morning to share coffee or tea with AJ and get some deep work done before the house starts waking up. I never thought I was a morning person until I got older and realised how much I need sleep! Now I am the annoying person that falls asleep during movie night (even with friends over) but that also means that I am the person that is responding to emails at 5am and right now, I prefer being the latter.
My fondest moment of today was gathering blankets and pillows from around our house and building a fort with my son in his playroom. It wasn't a huge fort which meant that we could cuddle really close and read his books together. He is so active and engaged in his environment as he gets older that at times, it is hard to pin him down and grab a quick hug. Those few moments together were cherished.
Work from home essentials? How are you coping with this new reality?
I am very fortunate to have the extra space for a comfortable home office. I find it’s important for me to have my own desk and designated work space while working from home because it helps compartmentalize and keeps me in a clear headspace. It is also a way to stop work from seeping into every aspect of life, which has been known to happen since AJ and I share the responsibility of operating HNDSM.
I am a creature of comfort. Especially in the winter months, I like to be warm and cosy. I have a mellow yellow hot water bottle that is always close by, a vintage men’s flannel and of course, my HNDSM Merino. I live in my Merino.
As for coping with this new reality, I generally go through waves of compliance with my meditation practice but since there is a little more consistency with the stay home routine that COVID-19 has imposed, I am able to meditate every day again. It feels really good and is undoubtedly helpful with dealing with the mental journey of self-isolation for almost eleven weeks now! I need to workout regularly not only to burn off steam but as a way to really push myself and bring a next level of intensity to my day that is absorbed into every other thing I do.
Friday nights are date night at our house and AJ and I will play some good music, have a glass of wine and hang out. Bringing in a feeling of normalcy is key with keeping anxiety at bay with respect to the uncertainty of this pandemic’s timeline. Our weekends are truly our time off, if we can help it. We love going for walks with our son and dog, cooking together and we definitely need a movie night to unwind and totally relax.
Any advice you can give to young creatives in and out of the current context of the virus.
I would say, without a doubt: work hard. When you think you’ve done enough, do some more. Put every effort into your work and you will see results. We all have down days - give yourself a short break if you need to but keep your chin up and keep moving because victories are in abundance and they are right around the corner. That and, celebrate the good moments. They reflect all that tireless work you put in and they are worth appreciating!