I had the pleasure of speaking with Ming Zhao of Authority Magazine about Teddy Locks and the journey so far.
I am excited to share the full article with you below:
Samantha Tollworthy gave up her dream job as a wildlife TV producer to help fight the war on waste — and built sustainable sock company Teddy Locks. Featured in Bloomberg, Ecocult and GMA, she has helped recycle and transform more than 10,000 bottles and 1,500lbs of waste into luxuriously soft socks.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was brought up in the south coast of England, my family were not big adventurers, but I always wanted to travel. At aged 18 I took my first solo trip to Mexico to help document the coral reefs, and from that point on continued to explore the natural world.
I studied Marine Biology at University and after much chasing finally landed my dream job at the BBC’s Natural History Unit. For the next ten years I worked as a wildlife TV producer, traveling to remote islands, deep into jungles and up mountains, filming for National Geographic, the BBC, Discovery and more.
But having been with my childhood sweetheart since I was 16, and traveling long distance for 7 years, it was time I moved for him. Relocating to London felt like a sacrifice, but I was quickly able to connect with other inspiring women and land jobs that still allowed me to pursue my career and travel to India, Australia, the USA and more. But the biggest sacrifice came when my now husband was offered a job in New York. A city not known for natural history production.
It was while we were living in this great city that my career would change entirely and instead of making shows I would end up building the world’s most sustainable sock company — Teddy Locks.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
Once my husband and I had moved to New York I needed to find a way of continuing my career. Unable to find work filming wildlife I compromised and took jobs that still involved travel. But shortly after returning from a shoot in the Philippines, my eco-anxiety hit an all-time high.
I had been all over the world, and no matter how far away I’d gone, I was still always confronted by single-use plastic- and back in the city was no different. All creatures of convenience, everybody was consuming single-use plastic multiple times a day — but it was when I was unable to convince even my most conscious friends and colleagues to ditch the plastic bag or to carry a coffee mug, I released I needed to take action, to find a way to fight our plastic problem and give consumers a chance to lower their footprint.
So, I decided to leave my dream job and spent 404 days developing the world’s most sustainable socks. Ethically made in North Carolina from recycled plastic bottles and upcycled textiles. Teddy Locks socks stamp out single use plastic, divert textiles from landfill and encourage conversation about sustainability. Not only that, but they are made by local family run businesses, support USA manufacturing and are designed to stay in your drawer, and out of landfill, for longer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I decided to build a brand that could help fight climate change and the war on waste I hadn’t factored in the natural trajectory of my relationship, and before the socks were ready for production, I became pregnant. At the point that Teddy Locks became 200% funded on Kickstarter and was ready for the big launch online I was 9 months pregnant. So, in the space of less than 2months I found myself welcoming my new business, my first child, and then a global pandemic into the world all at the same time. It was a challenge I had not foreseen, and one that only now I am learning to balance.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- I am determined. When I was making almost no progress building my own supply chain (extremely uncommon the fashion world) I decided to travel to North Carolina and show them how committed I was, that their trust and investment in me would not be wasted. This ended up being one of the best business decisions I have ever made, if I had taken no for an answer Teddy Locks wouldn’t be where it is today.
- I am passionate. I built Teddy Locks to help fight climate change and the war on waste. I truly want to make a difference and view every new and returning customer as a great achievement. Knowing that my brand makes a difference and that together we can have a big impact keeps me going.
- I love deadlines. Running your own business often means that tasks are truly never-ending, your admin will always be there and obstacles will always need to be navigated, but having a deadline helps to keep me on track. It helps create purpose in my week, and keeps me motivated through the hard work, allowing me to enjoy the social good.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Women navigate conversations and tasks differently to men. When you’ve had a board room full of men and a woman enters the equation there is a new balance, and it is unfamiliar. This same thing applies at a team level, on the office floor. Everybody will be bringing insight and new ideas, but now, having them delivered in a way that a previously male lead team may not be used to is unsettling. Ultimately, we are creatures of habit, we don’t like change — but women are starting to be take on big roles and we must learn to embrace it.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I had been selected to build the foundations for a new TV show. I’d delivered the pitches and developed the series. But when it came time to executing and taking the all-male team into the field, the senior members of the company crumbled. They weren’t ready to deviate from the norm and make such a big change. Instead, they wanted an experienced male to take the lead, and asked me to take a step down.
But having made myself, almost, irreplaceable they begged me to stay, literally the head of the company went on bended knees. But I knew my worth, and I knew they weren’t ready to put a female as the lead, in charge of a team of all males, I refused and instead ended up being recruited that very same day by a female executive. She wasn’t taking a leap, she knew how I would work, and for it wasn’t unknown territory.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
For the workforce to feel at ease around you they need to respect you, and respect as a female lead unfortunately needs to be earned.
But there may not always be time for that, so instead we must use the most powerful skill available — and that is to make people feel welcome. Start a meeting with a simple how are you, ask them about their weekend or their family. Build trust, be personable. No tense business call will end well if it starts off on the wrong foot, no new connection will be lasting and memorable if it is all just business.
Let those around you know that you too enjoy hobbies, have a family or like to laugh, break the ice, but then deliver with confidence, certainty and accuracy to remind them why you have earned your spot at the table.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
When schools, daycare and opportunities open back up we will see a return of the female workforce, and more of the workforce will be college-educated females than males. Times are changing and we must learn to accept that stereotypes no longer apply. Instead, we must continue to teach our children about equality and respect, as well as offer students of all genders the same opportunities. But while we help the next generations to avoid the same disparity, we must lead by example. Large and small corporations must shuffle their infrastructure, offer training and reward hard work. Once we have more powerful women in our lives, the only unease will be ‘there’s my boss’.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
When I was launching Teddy Locks I traveled down to North Carolina, to meet with my potential partners — from the spinning mill to the packaging company. Of the dozens of meetings I had, only two of them were headed by female leads. But there was one meeting on this trip that I will never forget. While negotiating a packaging deal with the owner of a printing company he said he was sure there was a way he could do a deal for a pretty girl like me. The inference was enough for me to cut the meeting short. Unable to find the right impolite words, I cut ties with him and those who had introduced me to him. A 100% female founded company wouldn’t need them to be successful. I would, and did, find another way.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The biggest one for me is parenting and emotional labor. Although we are seeing a shift in paternal leave and movement towards a 50:50 split in parental responsibility, we are still a way off. Instead, women are pursuing careers while still being responsible for gifts, house supplies and social planning. We must juggle it all, while still trying to excel. There is no break from these responsibilities, and instead women must find a way to deal with their home lives at work, and their work lives at home, simultaneously working at least two full time jobs.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
Launching my business while 9 months pregnant was not great timing. There was stress before my daughter arrived, and it certainly didn’t waiver once she was here. For the first six months I found myself crying on a weekly basis — and doubting my parenting and business on an almost daily basis. Both of these exciting and full-time jobs required all of my time and attention, and I simply didn’t have enough for either.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
The biggest shift in creating more balance was being able to send my daughter to childcare. For a few days a week I don’t have to rely on the evenings to get work done, I can instead work hard in the daytime and then fully enjoy my time with her when she is home. This isn’t just better for me though, this means I now have time for my friends, family and husband. It has relieved some of the guilt and allowed me to better schedule my days. I don’t think as a business owner I will ever have the freedom I had as an employee, but I can now see a way to enjoy evenings and weekends.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
Personally, I have never been one to wear make-up or do my hair for work. I’ve always been enamored by the women who find the time to do so. But, since growing my business, I have found that being proud of my wardrobe, the sustainable items I’ve found or thrifted, has helped me to fight imposter syndrome. I am able to stand tall and present with confidence, knowing that I am wearing my values and am true to my brand. It may not be the clothes themselves that add value, but the confidence they help bring certainly does.
How is this similar or different for men?
I think that what you wear can directly impact your confidence, whoever you are, but there are more challenges for women in finding “appropriate” work attire.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A Great Idea — 42% of startups fail because there’s no market need for their service or product. You need a great idea, one that intrigues, and makes people want to know more — and you need to be more confident in it than your potential competitors. I chose Kickstarter to gain proof of concept — and being 200% funded certainly did that.
- Passion –The only person who will be driving your business, product or service forward is you. If you are not passionate about it you will not be able to overcome the enormous challenges that come your way. Passion is the only thing that will keep you going when all you want to do is quit. I am passionate about the natural world, I know the sacrifices I have made to get this far, that is what keeps me going.
- Purpose — if you set yourself goals, some small, some almost unattainable you will be able to see past the obstacles directly in front of you. If you don’t know what you are aiming for then how can anyone else? My goal isn’t to have the biggest sock company in the world, my goal is to have the biggest possible impact, and the more people who discover Teddy Locks the more single-use plastic we can stamp out.
- Perseverance — Nobody is going to do it for you, and society isn’t going to change overnight. Instead, you must pave your own way, and create a path for other female leaders to follow. It could be your perseverance that sees more powerful women at the table.
- Forgiveness — It is likely that the same people who hold you back, knock you down or doubt you may also be the same people who later sit in the same room as you. Holding a grudge or resenting missed opportunities won’t help your future. But learning from those experiences and encounters, using them as motivation to succeed will.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love the chance to meet with Lisa Bühler’s of Lisa Says Gah, she has built a cult following and helped bring sustainability and ethics into the mainstream. The brands vision and identity is unrivaled, and a fantastic advocate for slow fashion.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.