From Fabrics to Brands and Blogs

“I've never felt happy with the jobs I've had, so I figured the issue was probably me.”

Image of Rhiannon James

From Fabrics to Brands and Blogs

In search of more creativity and freedom, Rhiannon James took herself on a journey of mini-projects, new connections, and self-discovery. Here's how she pulled together the threads and created a portfolio career that finally fits.

What work were you doing previously?

I used to work as a technologist for a fabric wholesaler.

My job was to approve the quality of fabrics being used for garments to be sold to high-street retailers. I would arrange to test different fabric qualities, weaves or prints to ensure they were fit for purpose and could perform well in the garments they were intended for. I used to spend my time communicating with fabric mills in the Far East, checking test reports, inspecting fabric samples and submitting test reports to the retailers for their fabrics.

What are you doing now?

I'm working as a freelance digital marketer and writer, and currently setting up a website for my artwork.

I've also just secured a new position as Sales and Marketing Coordinator for a textiles company in New Zealand.

Why did you change?

I did enjoy my technical job but never felt like it was very 'me'.

It was an interesting role and I was good at it; however, over time it got more and more administrative as retailers wanted more paperwork. I found I wanted more creativity, variety and freedom in my work – the job was getting repetitive, particularly because the wholesaler I worked for only made one type of garment!

I didn't get excited about it anymore, had stopped learning anything new and found myself doing the same thing every day. I needed more.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

We'd taken three weeks over Christmas to go back to New Zealand to see my family.

I had the chance to really reflect on what I wanted the next year to look like. I decided I wasn't going to settle anymore and started to look for other options.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes!

I feel so much more free. I'm excited about life again and see more opportunities now.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss the people and the office banter.

I don't miss the monotony, the stress or the tick-box paperwork.

How did you go about making the shift?

I've been on a long journey of self-discovery.

I've never felt happy with the jobs I've had so I figured the issue probably lay within me rather than the job itself.

I read a lot online to do with 'finding your passion' and how to make it your career. I found the book Free Range Humans by Marianne Cantwell an inspiring resource. I spent a year analysing what it was that I was drawn to, what interested me and what I wanted to learn more about.

I've always had an interest in writing and have kept journals all my life. After finishing uni I saw an advert asking for travel stories from from Kiwis, so I jumped at the opportunity and applied. My work was accepted and then published in a book, much to my delight. But I didn't believe it was something I could do for a living.

I went on to work in different jobs, including travel agency and furniture sales, where I saw opportunities for writing by beginning company blogs. This helped add more fun to my work and built my experience. I began my own blog a few years ago to practise my online voice and help zone in on what I wanted to say.

This experience only fuelled my interest in the digital world. Eventually I created a website using Wix, and learnt about how to run an e-commerce site.

For the past two years I've slowly built my knowledge of online marketing tools through reading everything I can, looking to companies I admire and really analysing what it is they're doing.

I don't think I'd realised that all the skills I'd been building or that my ideas and interests could be incorporated into a valuable service for someone. I took a month off when I left my job and this gave me that freedom to begin to form ideas about how my skills could be used.

I spoke to old colleagues and friends about what I was moving into and was introduced to resources I hadn't known about before, such as a free business service called Wenta. I set up a meeting and was given so much amazing free advice about tax, insurance for bloggers, pricing etc. They also set me up with free seminars in my area where I met other bloggers and learned more about social media tools. This was encouraging as I literally knew no one else doing something similar!

I saw an advert online for a digital marketing role helping a young fashion designer. This appealed as it had so much variety, creativity, and felt like a way to throw myself into the deep end, learning about self-employment from someone who was already doing it. I also liked the idea of helping a small brand as there was much more flexibility. I sent her some ideas for blog posts and social media campaigns I had and we went from there.

I currently have an ongoing contract with this client, and it's helped to grow my confidence enough to start applying for other contracts, seeing new opportunities.

Being part time it's also given me the chance to try out other things, such as volunteering for the mental wellness charity Mind on their courses to see if this area is something I'd like to work in. I've also had more time to work on my own art projects: in fact, I'm in the process of setting up a small jewellery business label of my own.

My freelance work has now helped me to secure a new job as Sales and Marketing Coordinator for a textiles company in New Zealand.

What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?

I got to the point where I was so fed up I just left my job.

In hindsight it would've been better to have saved more or made more contacts in my new career first.

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

I saved for half a year so I had enough income to last me six months as a back up.

I also had the full support of my husband and we knew we could scrape by on his income if it got to that point. Luckily it didn't.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Holding onto the belief that it would work.

It was hard work listening to colleagues asking me what I was going to do when I wasn't even sure myself. I struggled with self-doubt the whole time but knew that overall it was the best move for me.

I'm so pleased I didn't give up on myself.

What have you learnt in the process?

I've learnt to take more action.

To contact people and ask for what you want. To make a decision and act on it. And to undertake manageable bite-sized trials, to test out what potential new careers feel like, over a short period. That way I can be sure about how I feel and what the realities are.

I've learned that actually routine is something I want and value; I just want to have more choice and variety within that routine.

I've learned to really look at all areas of my life for the skills I have to offer, not just from jobs, and to value myself more. It has been scary as it's so unknown, but I've learned to stay in the moment more, rather than living in the potential future and worrying about all the things that could go wrong. I've had to learn to trust my (future) self to handle whatever comes my way!

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I wish I'd saved more so I had more to invest in myself for training.

Unfortunately, that didn't occur to me at the time!

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

I kind of knew what I liked but didn't really understand how I could make a living.

I recommend trying out anything you are remotely curious about in a small, low-risk way. Then you will know whether to go deeper down that path or not.

To find out more about Rhiannon's jewellery project, visit www.miss-james.com.

What lessons could you take from Rhiannon's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.