Operating with Empathy

Updated: May 26, 2020

In the business world, there are many moments where people forget about the individual on the other side. When you’re not sharing a physical space with someone and all your interactions are digital, it’s easy to forget that there’s another human (most likely, many) helping to facilitate your collection. In garment manufacturing specifically, many of these people don’t speak English as their first language, which can cause breakdowns in communication. This can be very frustrating, especially when you’re a solo founder or operating with a very small team and a tight budget.


Over the course of my career, I know there have been moments where I have been less than kind in business out of sheer frustration, miscommunications, and the like. Like I said, it’s easy to forget there’s another person on the other side of this, especially when they're a world away. When you're dealing with people you’ve literally never met in person, it’s even easier than you might think to treat people worse than you might in a real life scenario. There's a phrase my mom always said to me: "You get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar." This is true especially when applied to this situation. People are much more receptive to those that ask nicely vs those that ask with frustration or anger. Some people think being nice is a weakness, but it's more like a super power in my opinion.


Being kind can unlock doors for you like nothing else can.


What I’ve learned over the past 10 years in this industry, is that being kind and operating with empathy is part of being a good business owner and leader. Understanding your customers' biggest problems, helping them through those hurdles as well as sharing the highs and lows, allow you to better serve those customers in the future. As a freelance designer, building strong relationships with my clients and factory contacts has become so important in making my business grow. If no one wants to work with you because you’re blunt with zero compassion you’re going to have a hard time finding customers or clients. This kind trait can be hidden for a little while, but eventually bad attitudes bubble up to the surface and can really damage your business.


Recently, Steph Korey, startup founder for the suitcase company Away, had backlash about how she treated her employees. She resigned and stepped down as CEO and then reversed her decision quickly after. While I’m sure there is more to the story than what we have seen, where she really went wrong was her lack of empathy for her hardworking employees. When you are a leader with noticeable care and concern for the people you work with, it allows people to come to you with problems before they become mammoth sized issues.


Especially when the fashion arena, operating with empathy also means operating ethically. Consider those individuals that are producing your goods, wouldn't you want them to work in safe conditions? In many factory operating countries the conditions for workers are still less than they ought to be. When fashion startups start using factories that treat their workers fairly and pay an honest wage on a more massive scale, those unethical factories will struggle to operate. Eventually the scales will tip in a way that pushes them to use better business practices for their employees or they'll simply go out of business. Hopefully those workers can move onto more employee centric companies when that happens.


Operating your business with the right mindset is crucial. Use your empathy as a tool and consider an alternative point of view. When something goes wrong, Instead of getting upset or annoyed, think about what you might learn from the experience instead. Use it to build trust and understanding with the people you work with and come out on the other side with a little more wisdom.


It's much better than getting frustrated, I promise.

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