Check out how Julia Washbourne championed the sustainable use of bamboo by launching Bamboa, an eco-friendly home and lifestyle brand
We love entrepreneurs and small business owners at Honeycombers, which is why we’ve created Launchpad, a comprehensive digital networking platform (with IRL benefits, too) that encourages connection, business support and community. It is a privilege and pleasure to learn from so many talented and inspiring folks, so we’ve decided to share the love by interviewing some of the lovely Launchpad members. Looking for inspiration? Check out how Julia Washbourne gets it done like a boss.
How I get it done: Julia Washbourne
How and why did you decide to launch your business?
I came from Germany to Hong Kong as a purchasing manager for a German mail order company and have been living in Hong Kong since 2005. My work exposed me to the unsustainable resources and practices that plague global supply chains. Therefore I dedicated myself to finding a better way and, in the process, discovered the endless benefits of bamboo. I launched Bamboa as an eco-friendly home and lifestyle brand in 2008. Bamboa’s products range from bedsheets and towels to apparel and accessories. Our high quality and practical home and lifestyle products are made in rural communities across Asia. All of the products are made on a fair-wage basis as a stable source of income, thus helping to alleviate poverty in less-fortunate regions.
How do you think business can be a force for change?
Sustainability and conscious consumption is at the very heart of Bamboa’s business model. In addition, we also grow bamboo through our Grow Bamboo Initiative (GBI) which fights climate change and supports underprivileged rural communities. We work with local farm families to enable them to plant the bamboo in their community forest, for which they get paid. Furthermore, after three or four years, they can harvest the bamboo (under our forest management system) for their own use or to sell. This gives them an additional income and they don’t have to irrigate or use pesticides to help the bamboo grow, as it grows by itself. We have planted bamboo in two areas around Kathmandu, Nepal; one in a valley that is prone to landslides, and the other along the Bagmati river, which every year suffers numerous floods. We plan on planting bamboo next year in Sri Lanka.
Bamboa, for me, is more than just a brand. It has grown into a successful business that works for social justice, environmental protection and helping rural communities. It gives me a true sense of meaning and is very rewarding to see where we are making a difference. The GBI project has these three objectives: plant bamboo to combat our climate crisis (bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than trees, and absorbs at least 3x more carbon than trees); provide additional income to poor rural families; and prevent soil erosion, landslides and flooding through bamboo’s intricate rhizome root system.
What does the Launchpad community mean to you?
The Launchpad community supports founders and entrepreneurs to grow a business through media opportunities, education, and training. It will also be great to connect with other members of the community.
Being an entrepreneur and sole business owner can be quite lonely sometimes, so to have a community where there is exchange across the board is so vital for entrepreneurs.
What’s the one thing you cannot live without?
I can’t live without the beauty of nature, mountains, waters but most of all, dogs! Seeing a dog happy makes me so happy. Dogs, for me, are the best beings. They also have a very low carbon footprint!
How I get it done: Lightning round
On a typical morning: I wake up around 7am and put the radio on – I usually like to listen to the news to be updated on world affairs. Afterwards, I take my dog for a long walk and whilst she is playing with other doggies on the beach, I do various exercises such as resistance training, stretches, and yoga poses. When weather permits, we also swim together. I can’t think of a nicer way to start my day on the beach, it’s the perfect morning!
On other mornings when I train with my paddle club for races, I have to get up at 5am and hop on a minibus to Deep Water Bay to start my Outrigger Canoe training at VRC. I started this sport upon my arrival in Hong Kong, along with Dragon Boat, and also enjoy SUP and Surfski. I love doing water sports in Hong Kong, surrounded by amazing islands and the ocean. Hiking is also a given here. Nature plays a huge role in my every day life – to get grounded, to clear my thoughts, to strategise for my business, and come up with new products, it usually all happens outdoors.
On dealing with self-doubt and criticism: Self-doubt and criticism are natural behavioural occurrences in the human mind – they are there for a reason, for survival. I let these thoughts in, observe them objectively, and see if there is any fundamental truth to the critical thoughts. If there is, then there is something I can improve immediately or in the long term. The mind is malleable and it is incredible how you can adapt, change, cultivate, and nurture your mind. I always have to remind myself that nothing is permanent. I try to cultivate optimism and see the things that I’ve done that have lead to success or growth and express gratitude. I face my flaws and try to work on them. And I acknowledge my strengths and try to focus on those. I know I am far from perfect and see it as a journey to improve on myself.
We all have to learn to be easy on ourselves and not to beat ourselves up too much. Life is hard enough as it is, so we can become our biggest friend, and not our own enemy, and be kind to ourself. Life is too short!
On the hardest part about the job: Being an entrepreneur, you have to wear so many different hats, which ultimately means you have to manage so many different sides and areas of the business. It is challenging and hard sometimes yet, at the same time, interesting as you learn so many different skills.
The challenge is then to find the right partner and team to delegate these tasks to, who you can trust will do an excellent job and treat it with as much dedication as you would. I’ve had wonderful partners and teams I’ve worked with but, at the same time, there are a lot of rotten eggs out there. It is very hard to find motivated and good staff who stick with you through thick and thin. I have been lucky to find some amazing women and staff who have contributed tremendously and I wouldn’t have been able to continue without them.
I also find it extremely hard to say NO, but I’m gradually getting better at it, but still learning how to say it diplomatically, without hurting the other person’s feelings.
On keeping stress levels low: My morning exercise and beach walks help start my day off in a balanced and stress-free way. Catching up with my great girlfriends over lunch, a hike, a paddle, or dinner is also super beneficial. We need our tribe to share and talk to. I am so grateful for all my amazing girlfriends.
I use deep breathing exercises to calm me down and, when at home or on the roof terrace, I play my favourite dance music and just dance, sing, and have fun!
On staying motivated and energised: Yoga and meditation help a lot – this is part of my morning routine with my dog – and it just completely uplifts my spirit and motivates me. Travel has always been a huge part of my life and I get so excited when planning a trip, in particular when it’s a bamboo field-trip. This gives me a great motivation. The competitive sports or paddling with my paddle club are super important for me to stay energised and motivated. Being surrounded by beauty, whether it’s beautiful architecture or nature is a great source of energy and inspiration for me. Also being with friends is super important for me to stay motivated.
On winding down in the evening: Going for a lovely dinner with my partner at the end of a challenging day is a great way to unwind. When eating, I try to slow down and savour every single bite. I do enjoy a lovely glass of wine with a delicious dinner. Usually my partner selects a superb wine! During COVID-19 it’s been easy to just turn on Netflix, but I’m now listening more to inspirational podcasts, usually on personal development.
On the advice you’d give your younger self: I would say be true to yourself and don’t think about pleasing others. Do more deep diving and connect to your inner being and soul. Find out about yourself; how you tick and what profession or career would make you truly happy that gives you meaning. I’d also tell my younger self to join a sports team to compete and learn about team spirit. This is so important for kids to learn to bond at a young age and learn resilience.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf,” is my mantra. Life will always be full of “waves” as in challenges, some small, some big. Surfing is a skill that can be learned in order to navigate and ride the waves safely and, ideally, with the least effort. It’s also about being flexible and adaptable and making the best out of what is given to you.
Catch Julia at our panel discussion!
Want to learn more about building a sustainable and ethical brand that does good in the world? Join the Launchpad panel discussion on 9 February where Julia Washbourne will be sharing more about her entrepreneurial journey, along with Sarah Garner, Anushka Purohit, and Rohaan Sajnani. And we’ve got a special deal for Honeycombers’ readers! Although it normally costs $580 to register to attend a Launchpad event for non-members, the first 30 Honeycombers readers can join the panel discussion for FREE with the discount code readytolaunch. Register now!
Launchpad is a comprehensive digital networking platform (with IRL benefits, too) that encourages connection, business support and community. It is designed to make the entrepreneurial journey not only easier, and more successful, but also a whole lot more fun. Launching (teehee) in January 2022, the platform offers almost daily activities for members to connect, along with weekly masterclasses, member networking roulette, small-business mentoring and media profiles on Honeycombers.