Name: Steph Essex
Current role and Company: Founder – FLYHAWK
Tell us about your background and what led you to your current role:
I am a former Superleague Netballer with a background in sportswear design and brand building. I’ve always had a passion for women’s sport, being a founding Director of the Netball Players Association here in the UK. After well over a year out from the sportswear industry, watching from the sidelines so to speak, I realised how underrepresented our sport is when it comes to team apparel, often nothing more than a bolt on for many brands or a tick box to win larger contracts.
The Netball community is a special one made up of so many inspirational characters; the go-getters, the team players, those that empower others and those that challenge the status quo. It’s time there was a truly aspirational brand for our sport – a brand that represents the 20 million people that play Netball worldwide.
What made you interested in going into this type of work (when you first started out in your career)?
I have always had a passion for design. After university, where I studied Civil & Architectural Engineering, my first job was at Bournemouth 7s Festival, a 30,000 people sport and music festival. I joined in 2009 and we recognised an opportunity then to create teamwear brand for the 400 travelling teams that attended the event. I jumped in at the deep end and put my hand up to take responsibility for this, creating our in-house brand from scratch. We then sold this brand in 2018, following a larger company making us an offer we couldn’t refuse. After the sale I stepped away, took some time out and then spotted a gap in the market to create something unique.
What have been the highlights so far?
- Launching FLYHAWK in January 2021 (mid-pandemic) alongside some of the biggest names in World Netball, including England Co-Captains Serena Guthrie MBE and Natalie Haythornthwaite, defender Stacey Francis and the most capped international player of all time, Jade Clarke;
- Designing the Netball Scotland match dresses for the 2018 Commonwealth Games;
- Announcing a multi-year partnership with Vitality Netball Superleague team, London Pulse.
What do you find are the down sides to the job (travel/long hours / missing family events/etc)?
Because I now run my own business, I have much more flexibility than when I was working for someone else, and didn’t get a say in how much I was travelling or when I needed to work longer hours. Now I don’t mind working long hours, because it’s a choice. The biggest challenges at the moment are coming from external factors, such as the pandemic and supply chain disruption due to the craziness in the world, but these are the same for everyone so I try not to let it stress me out too much, as I can’t control it.
What advice would you give women wanting to do what you do?
Find brands to work for (or create them) that truly add value to a specific community and have this as their focus over profits and get yourself in front of them! Apply for jobs, engage on LinkedIn, share ideas and keep knocking on doors. You do need to champion yourself to an extent.
What advice would you like to give the 25-year-old you?
Things always take longer than you think, so sometimes to speed them up you have to be bold and proactive. In your career, soak as much as you can up at 25; you have lots of exciting years ahead of you so enjoy it and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
What hopes do you have for the women working in the sport business industry in the future?
I would like to see more women in C-Suite positions in the sport business industry. It still feels like a male dominated industry, when it comes to senior positions, but the stats speak for themselves when you have women in leadership!
Question given to you … Have you experienced imposter syndrome over your career and how have you managed it?
I definitely experienced a level of imposter syndrome when Flyhawk first launched, as in interviews people would refer to me as an entrepreneur, which is something I had never really thought of myself as being, and so it felt strange. Now we have just had Flyhawk nominated for a National Award in the ‘New Kid on the Block’ category for the Small Awards run by Small Business Britain, so I am starting to feel like we really have created something unique, and I am more comfortable with the term ‘entrepreneur’!