Embrace Your Unconventional Self

Bryony Farmer, Founder & CEO of Precious Stars | Image Courtesy of Precious Stars
BY GAYLE JO CARTER September 30, 2019

When Bryony Farmer found herself housebound and sometimes bed bound — a Lyme Disease diagnosis came later — she didn’t let it hold her back. Instead, as the then 15-year-old started to feel better, she took it as an opportunity to become the entrepreneur of her dreams. Away from the pressures of school, Farmer embraced her “unconventional” side creating her Precious Stars YouTube channel and ultimately her website, with the goal of giving every girl and woman the ability “to have a fun, comfortable, eco-friendly, and hassle free period.” Farmer, now 22, talked with Aspire about what it takes to launch a successful YouTube platform, a socially conscious business, and why it’s more than okay to be “unconventional.” Excerpts below:

Q. What does it mean to be unconventional?

I am never one to just do things to fit in. When I was younger, I really loved wearing dungarees but they weren’t in, so I would get my mom to make me some. I’d wear them and some people would say: ‘Don’t you know that’s not in style?’ I wouldn’t care because this is what I wanted to wear. That was one part of it. Another bit is that I’m very strong willed. My parents would say ‘stubborn.’ If I really believe in something, that is what I do.

When it comes to the education side of it, even when I was at school and they tell you: ‘These [tests] are important, these are going to have an impact on your life, you need to focus.’ I would be telling myself that, but there was a part of my brain that just didn’t believe it. I was dyslexic. I thought: ‘How am I going to get my views and opinions and my strengths across when I really struggle to get things down on paper? I do much better when I verbalize things but there’s no test that we do that takes that into account. I think that’s one of the reasons I disassociated from school quite early on. Even though I was good in lessons, behaved and worked hard when I wanted to, I was very much aware that wasn’t going to be what defined me.

Q. How did Precious Stars get its start?

I got Lyme disease. l started getting sick when I was 10. When I was 15, I really crashed. I was halfway through my last year at school. I got so bad that I woke up one day and I couldn’t remember how to put my school uniform on. That was the day my parents said, ‘Ok, we’re not going to push you anymore, you need to take a break.’ I was just so relieved to not have that pressure when I was struggling.

I always had this strong belief that I wanted to run my own business. When I started to get a little bit better, but still housebound, I started my current business. The idea came to me when I discovered that the products made a big difference to me in my life. That’s how it started. I embraced being even more unconventional.

Q. What’s the good side of being unconventional?

If you’re unconventional, you’re quite unique. That means you stand out from the crowd. Very rarely do people who fit that sort of title of ‘normal’, make it to the top or do something that they stand out. If you’re unconventional, you do things in a different way, you probably have a different way of thinking to other people, and you can take a different perspective on some issues that cause people to pay attention. Particularly in the current climate that we are in, we need more and more creative skills within the working world. Businesses are really asking for this. A lot of the time kids who are unconventional will have these particular skills and they’ll do really well with them. With the internet, it’s meant we can make our own career paths.

Q. Is there a downside to being unconventional?

The biggest thing is dealing with other people’s opinions. In school, it was really quite difficult because I really didn’t have a big group of friends. I got along with everyone and I wasn’t bullied, but I did get teased from time to time. I was definitely considered the weird one in the group because I didn’t like the same things as them and I wasn’t afraid to stand out. That was really hard back then. When I got out of that environment where people had a certain set way of thinking, I was able to embrace that and find people who were like me.

The internet does give you access to a wider audience and that was actually a good thing. The negative is you still deal with negative comments. Even on YouTube now, I’ll get messages like, ‘this is weird why do you do this? Or ‘You’re so odd’ or that kind of thing. It honestly goes over my head now because it’s got to the point where there’s so much positivity around it. I’ve seen the difference it can make being someone who can speak up and is willing to talk about something that matters to me and showing other girls that they can do that. It doesn’t bother me anymore. At the beginning, especially when my classmates found the channel very early on, there was a whole thread of them saying really nasty things about it. It was a real growing moment for me because I really only knew about it when I met up with a friend from that school. It was after I had already left. She said there was a thread going around and do I want to see it. I said, ‘no, I don’t want to see it.’ I knew it was going to be really bad. That was a growing moment for me. In the past I would have wanted to see it: that morbid curiosity we have that wouldn’t be good for me.

Eco-friendly, reusable menstruation pads from Precious Stars | Image Courtesy of Precious Stars

Q. What is your advice for others who are unconventional and who haven’t found their path yet?

I would say, ‘It will come when it’s right. You’ll know it when it happens because it will just click.’ I would never imagine I’d be running a business selling eco-friendly period products when I was a kid. I knew I wanted to run a business and I had an interest in biology and an interest in the whole reproductive cycle and I was often the agony aunt who kids went to with their problems regarding contraception or periods and that kind of thing. I was also interested in medicine but knew I wasn’t going to get into medicine because my grades weren’t high enough. I didn’t have that kind of ‘Aha moment’ where it all clicked together and created this one perfect thing. So I would say, ‘Try different things, go with your gut instinct.’ If your gut is telling you something that you should be doing, you’re better off going with it because at least then if it’s wrong, you’ll know you gave it a shot rather than thinking ‘What if?’

Q. Is that what you have you done, gone with your gut?

Yes. For me, if something feels right, 9 out of 10 times I’m usually on the right track. It’s also about trusting in your beliefs. So, if you need to take a break, if you think something is too much for you or too hard and you need to stop, trust in that. We’ve gotten to a place, particularly within education, particularly in the U.K., where we just push and push kids. When you know you need to stop and take some time for yourself, you need to listen to it and stop because you will almost certainly be right. That’s really important to recognize that you know your body and to trust your mind and your instincts.

Q. You started a business that makes a difference, how important is it when starting a business to do something for the social good?

Certainly going into the future, especially with climate change, it’s going to become more and more important. To progress as a society we have got to find a way to come back to connect to each other. I hope all businesses in the future will have some sort of social purpose or good that they’re doing and not just be massive profit machines. More and more people have the option to work for businesses that have a social conscious. A place where they can feel like they are actually making a difference in the world and they are part of that. Corporations that don’t have these values are really going to struggle to recruit good talent into them in the future because people will want to start their own businesses or to go and work for already established businesses which are doing some sort of social good.

I firmly believe that anyone who has been fortunate in their life should give back to those less fortunate in whatever way that works for them. It doesn’t matter how big or small but something because everything has a ripple effect. If we all helped one person, the world would be a much better place and businesses can really reflect in their values. Also, customers’ attitudes are changing. They want to buy from more ethical and sustainable brands which really helps boost that. So if what we buy and what we’re looking for in businesses are adapting that can only be a good thing.

Q. Tell us about building a business on YouTube, what are your top tips?

1. Choose something you believe in: At the time I was housebound; pretty much bed-bound. I found these products — reusable menstrual pads — and thought they really helped. So, I started making the pads with my sewing machine, just trying them out and then I thought I could make a bit of pocket money by selling them online. At the same time, I was making videos to raise awareness because when I found them there was only a few videos on YouTube and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, more people need to know this stuff exists. It’s amazing.’ So I thought, ‘well, I can talk about difficult subjects, like periods, really easily so I’ll start a channel and I’ll do weekly videos so there is consistency for my subscribers. That’s how it took off. As my subscribers built, my customers built. That was when I realized I had a business. Suddenly, I had to do a tax return and I better start marking down what these orders are. That was how it got started.

2. Be consistent: Make sure to upload new content on a regular basis, on a schedule. Some people who really focus on YouTube and that’s their main source of income, will do videos almost every day. Some will do them once or twice a week and some people will do once a month or fortnight because they have really high tech video.

3. Make it professional: If you want to give a more professional image, you should take some classes or bring in somebody who can do it because the standard of editing has really gone up on YouTube. If you don’t have any editing experience that’s really important or at least have a session with someone who does know what they’re doing so you can learn some top tips. A lot of stuff can be learned online these days so even if you don’t have that skill you can find an article or you can watch YouTube videos about how you can make the most out of things, like iMovie. That’s how I did it. I’m completely self taught really and that’s how I learn in general. In regards to the business, you’ve got to have a consistency.

4. Build trust: With YouTube, in particular, people don’t really buy from you just because you’ve got a good product, they buy from you because you’ve got a good product and they believe in you and they trust in you.”

Bryony Farmer, CEO & Founder of Precious Stars | Image Courtesy of PreciousStars.co.uk

Q. You had to drop out of school due to Lyme disease, how did being sick inspire you?

I had a very privileged life. I’ve got very loving, supportive parents. So I have had a lot of good from that perspective. When I got sick that was really the worst thing that ever happened to me. It gave me a chance to experience what it was like when you have hardship. I’m very grateful I did go through that because I think I’m a better person coming out of it. I have more empathy; I have more understanding that sometimes people have difficulties that they can’t control. I think health is one of them. Even though my family could afford to pay for private doctors that doesn’t mean that they could fix me.

It also got me out of the school system. Particularly now we have kids with depression and anxiety and stress related and eating disorders from school. I was able to avoid all that. I was relieved from that stress, I didn’t have that pressure on me and it’s meant I’ve really been able to create a life I really want, rather than what I think I should be doing.

I’ve built my business around what I want, which in the future is a family, and to be earning my own income while spending time with them. You can really create the life you want rather than following this age old thing of thinking you have to go to school, go to University, be a doctor, or a lawyer and only that will make you successful. Now my life goal is just to be happy and to have a business that allows me to live a life I enjoy. I feel very lucky to have had a chance to do that before it was too late.

Q. What advice do you have for others with health issues who may be finding it hard to get out of bed?

There comes a point where you have to change your mindset because you don’t know when you are going to get better or if you’re going to get better. It’s just thinking: ‘What can I do now? What’s a goal I can set realistically for myself?’ When I was really, really ill, one thing I used to do is I’d have a to do list and I’d have at least three things every day that I would do. They could be the simplest things in the world like get up and brush my teeth or cook lunch. If I was feeling better when I woke up and I was writing the list, I would write ‘Make progress on making this bag’ for example because I like to sew. If you have a list of things to do that are achievable, where you feel like you’ve actually done something, where you’re ticking things off, that really helps your mental state.

There’s a lot you can do while you are in bed now. With the internet, if you’ve got a laptop you can still study to a certain extent. In the U.K., we have the open university which has free learning courses on it. You can start and pause and stop and make your way through that slowly. Set a target of some kind, a goal you want to achieve and don’t put any pressure on yourself to do it in a certain time frame. Try and change your mindset from ‘Ok, I can’t do anything’ to ‘What can what can I do?’ And if you’re in pain, allowing yourself to not push yourself then and instead watch a video, have a treat. Self care really makes a difference.

Q. How do you deal with the people who don’t get you or what you are doing?

You’re never going to make everyone happy, so I surround myself with people who do support me, who do get me, and what I’m doing. I listen to them. There’s quite a well known thing which is that: ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So I try and surround myself with five people who are really supportive; who get me; who understand me and won’t push me to do things that don’t fit into what I do. I try to give that same back. I try to think about how I want to be treated. Lyme helped teach me how to have more empathy for people. I tend to think a bit more before I say something, ‘How could I word this a bit better so maybe it’s helpful to somebody, not hurtful.

Q. And what about those negative emails and messages?

I tend to ignore them. My policy is if something just happens once, I ignore it. If it’s continuous, then I would confront it. Once you have said something you can’t take it back, even with 1,000 sorrys. So I take real care to think through stuff beforehand. Most of the time I only encounter positivity. I’ve had people ask, ‘Would you really call yourself a success?’ That’s going to be the biggest thing I deal with in terms of negatively. I just say ‘How do you define successful?’ Because for me being successful is having an income, living a life that I enjoy. Maybe I’m not earning hundreds of thousands at this point but you never know in the future. I’m working on it. To me it’s not a necessary thing. I’d love to have a Tesla car and a big house in the future but I don’t think it’s essential to my happiness. Happiness is what comes first for me.

Q. You have had a great deal of support from your parents, what is your advice for young people who don’t have that kind of support?

1. Know your values and goals and write them down. As long as you know what your values and your beliefs are and what you want to achieve, that is the most important thing. I’d write them down or create a poster with them on it so you know what you believe in. Then ignore what anyone else says about that.

2. Surround yourself with people who support you. In this day and age, it’s so easy to go online and find supportive chat rooms and people that way. You maybe can do a meetup in a cafe, you can start groups, Eventbrite and Meetup, where you can organize these free meetups and say ‘Hey, I’d like to meet other people like me’. I have a group that I take part in here in the U.K., called YENA, Young Entrepreneurs Network. We meet up once a month and talk about what works for us and what it’s like being an entrepreneur and the things people get and don’t get. It’s really good to kind of de stress. We even had a retreat that happened last year which was fantastic for me. Even though my parents are really supportive, my friends don’t understand why I work weird hours, I might be working at 10 p.m. at night for example but these guys get it, they get that you might just have to check your e-mails because you can’t completely disassociate from work and that kind of stuff which is really great. There are support groups out there you can find and I encourage people to do that.

Q. What are your plans for the future?

When it comes to business I want to expand and increase profits. I recently reaffirmed my strategy and vision for the business which is to provide a fun and eco-friendly periods across the world for anyone who menstruates, because not everyone who bleeds identifies as a woman. Fun is not a word that people associate with periods. I want to make all these pads and cups with colors and prints to make it that much easier to raise awareness. Raise profits at the same time so I can continue to pay off the mortgage and do some more charity work. I’m really keen to do that.

I’d also really like to focus on the education side of things. I want to take a look at what different educational systems around the world are doing and what’s been successful and not successful. I would love to get involved in my local community particularly because we don’t have much cohesion anymore. There are lonely older people; inequality here between the north and south. I’d like to see if there’s more that I can do with that by using my creative skills and thinking outside the boxes on some of the problems. I’d like to show the value in creative skills that kids should be encouraged to explore. That’s one of my side projects I’m currently working on. It’s in the very early stages but it’s happening.

*Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.



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