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Starting out: How to find success in sustainability in the creative industries

Work by Justine Boffa © Lisa Boffa
Written by
Eleanor Harvey
Published date
29 July 2021

As part of the Starting Out event series for 2021 graduates, the UAL Sustainability Alumni Network recently hosted an online talk: How to find success in sustainability in the creative industries.

It was an opportunity for 2021 graduates who are currently job hunting and passionate about the climate emergency, to hear how two recent graduates navigated graduating during a pandemic without compromising their belief systems.

We’ve rounded up the highlights from this engaging talk below.

Meet the speakers: 

Blue and pink swirled pattern with SABINNA in black
Clothes hanging on copper hangers with BEATRICE BAYLISS
Beatrice Bayliss/Facebook


Something that’s really common when working for a small business or setting up your own business is having to do multiple roles, often requiring completely different skillsets.

For Franziska as Head of Marketing and PR, this means finding solutions that help manage her time effectively. To help in her journalism research she uses Readly a website and app where you can browse all kinds of magazines, without having to purchase physical copies. It’s particularly useful for “editor research and finding their email addresses” she says.

For Emily, setting up a fashion line in the middle of the pandemic she had to do everything herself, from the making to the marketing and the packaging. For her, marketing was the toughest side as things that would normally be easy to sort out, like booking models, suddenly became impossible. So she had to get creative; “I used friends and family members who felt comfortable in front of the camera,” she says, “as well as asking customers who sent in photos of themselves in my designs on Instagram”.

Five women stood together smiling
Woman in a blue top and grey shorts lying on a red rug outside

Building brand awareness as a small sustainable business 

One of the hardest challenges both Emily and Franziska face is getting their business in front of customers.

For both, Instagram is an unrivalled tool, and not just for selling. Emily uses Instagram to find magazines and different platforms that match the ethos of her brand, “and also there are Instagram accounts which highlight small businesses who really want to support small sustainable brands, you don’t have to pay any money.”

One of the main issues with this, however, is you can’t ensure the people you approach to promote your brand share your core principles in sustainability. For Franziska and Emily, the best way to avoid any problems is to develop a relationship with influencers and editors initially, rather than just asking for support. As Franziska mentions “it’s really important with influencers to engage with them first and make yourself really approachable and let them know who you are. If you follow the editors on Instagram you become familiar with what they write about and what is important to them.”

Emily adds, “it’s definitely better to talk to them first and get an idea for how they operate and what they do, what their target audience is, so you can then tailor your ask and have more chance of them supporting you.”

Woman in an orange dress
Woman in a grey, halterneck top. With the words 'As seen in Support Local' over the top

Develop and maintain your network

Building these relationships is all part of developing your network and support system, something which is so important whether you’re starting a new job or setting up your own business. Emily’s key advice is to “talk to people!”.

And Franziska agrees, adding that having “a support network is so important.” A big source of support for her was online support groups, particularly in a year when everything moved online.

Girls in Marketing are really great. They have a membership society that offers lots of webinars and events. It’s paid, but I believe it’s really worth it, and they have a discount for recent graduates. Find your niche and what you’re interested in, do your research and see what groups you can join. Gals who Graduate is another one."

Another great way to develop your network is to find a mentor. Franziska’s top tip is “ to find someone who’s in a job similar to you or who’s in a role you want to get eventually, who can coach you along the way.” There are different ways to find a mentor; UAL has a mentor programme but you can even just find someone on LinkedIn with the job you want and get in touch with them. She adds that “something that is really underestimated is to just reach out to people and ask because a lot of people will answer and help you.” As she points out, “the worst thing that can happen is that they won’t reply or say no”.

Emily also points out that you don’t always have to be reaching out to strangers for advice; “My family were really useful during the lockdown. There were some days where I wouldn’t have achieved anything with my business, and it just felt like such a waste. But I would air what was happening in my head. Everyone has their own ideas and perspectives, and you never know who will inspire you to think differently.”

Selection of pottery on a pink table
Photo of four women having a picnic

Trust in yourself and your abilities 

It can be incredibly hard not to compare yourself to others. If you’ve just graduated, want to set up your own brand or are applying for jobs it can feel like everyone else knows what they’re doing. But it can actually be a source of inspiration.

As Emily says take what others are doing and make it work for you, “learn from [others] – from their content, their website, from what they’re doing and harness it rather than be intimidated by it. There’s always going to be someone who’s better than you, and that’s not good for your mental wellbeing.”

Franziska adds that for her, it’s important not to let imposter syndrome take over, to remember her worth and the unique skills that she can offer; “you leave UAL with this amazing skill set, and so I need to be more self-confident and believe in myself more because I think I have a lot more to offer than what I tell myself sometimes.”

One amazing technique she uses to keep imposter syndrome at bay is by writing a success log; “I write down all my achievements in my phone and refer back to the list when I am having a bad day, everything from landing press coverage to launching a pop-up.” It’s a really great way to remind yourself of all your achievements, big or small.

It’s not about being excellent at everything immediately either, and both speak about how knowing where you can improve your work is definitely not a weakness. As Franziska says, “keep telling yourself that you’re good at what you’re doing, and if you think there’s room for improvement, which there always is, then work on that and work on your skillset, because ultimately that’s what’ll get you far.”

Woman wearing an oversized, cropped jacket with a flowery pattern
Photo of a person wearing a boob tube top, stood behind some white, wild flowers

It takes time 

Being a sustainable business means things are likely to take longer than you maybe want them to. But Franziska points out that there are clear signs that change is happening; “the whole industry is shifting and there has definitely been an increase in demand for sustainable fashion overall. You can see it on Instagram, with fashion bloggers, sustainable brands are getting more of a platform and audience. But like every change, it happens at a really slow pace, which sometimes can be super frustrating. But stay determined and passionate and keep at it.”

For Emily, the best advice she can share is “Don’t panic! Don’t force things, keep at it, things will happen when they are meant to.”

Two women, one in a pink and red dress and the other in a leopard print dress with a black hat
Black top laid flat with converse and a selection of books

Helpful resources

A massive thank you to Emily and Franziska for sharing their expertise and time with us. Below is a list of the resources they mentioned:

UAL Support