05 April 2011
Simon Hawthorne - Social Entrepreneur
Simon Hawthorne is a serial entrepreneur. During his 30 years in the fashion business he has also set up a music, retail and wholesale business; retail fashion shops, a 24-hour embroidery business; imported stone flags from India; and held licenses for Umbro, Ben Sherman and The Football Association. During this time he co-launched The Message Trust, with his brother Andy. For 18 of those 30 years he has worked in India, building schools and orphanages, before going full time with his charity Life Association and launching Dalit Candles, manufactured in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai to help raise awareness of the plight of the Dalits and funds for Life Association.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
My dad was a keen ornithologist (a zoologist who studies birds), but by profession a journalist. I was drawn towards both as a potential career, but the idea of making money in business appealed as a teenager, for the wrong reasons, and by the age of 30, hopefully for the right ones.
How did you get involved in business?
Shortly after becoming a Christian at the age of 19, I was recruited as lead guitarist in The Bill Mason Band, a new-wave/punk band during the 80's. During a gig at Manchester University, I was talking to a guitarist called Nick Stone who was supporting us. He had a small leather business and needed help getting some orders out. He was also leaving to learn glass blowing and after a month I took over his modest business for just £350, hand making leather belts, which ultimately led to forming my fashion business Hothouse.
What does life look like after losing your business?
When our business failed so spectacularly, it would be dishonest to suggest it wasn't a frightening and devastating experience. Although we all continually experience God's grace, it often takes a major loss of some form for us to recognise it. My wife and I are now experiencing a life of faith, in that we have no resources of our own to influence outcome, but with that has come Monday mornings with no fear, and a focus on what we really want to do. So, though we would never have chosen this route, we are now (just) at the point where we can thank God for the outcome.
Has the economic downturn affected your new social enterprise Dalit Candles?
The current downturn has not measurably affected us, as, with Dalit Candles being a new start, we have no track record to bench mark ourselves against. Having said that, there are clear indications that the full effects may not yet be being felt, and we are being prudent for that reason, which I confess is unusual for me.
What biblical text or narrative has inspired you in your work?
Most recently I have been looking again at Jesus words, 'do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.' Rather than being a suggestion or subject for debate, this is a command. However, most of us live a Western form of Christianity that is more influenced by materialism than Scripture.
It is a great privilege to be a wealth generator, but the question for us as Christians, in a world where 80% live in poverty is: who should be the beneficiaries of that wealth?
What makes you happy?
A good quality glass of Australian red wine. A beautiful sunset. My border terrier. My wife. My wife's cooking. Not necessarily in that order, but if I can have them all together, even better.
What would you do with a million quid?
Buy a 2006 Audi A8 for £12,000. My last car was a brand new Aston Martin DB9 Volante so that is being very conservative for me. Build 50 schools and orphanages in India. Buy my wife a cottage by the sea side.
What is your dream for society?
I am currently making a documentary in the Daharvi slum which is being serialised on BBC radio. Despite abject poverty, they have a great sense of community, contentment, almost full employment, virtually no crime and recycle 80% of Mumbai's plastic, as well as being incredibly enterprising. They waste nothing. In our film we are comparing this with David Cameron's ideas for Big Society. Whilst that level of poverty is unacceptable I believe we have much to learn from them.
How does enterprise bring wellbeing to the world?
I believe we are designed to work. Enterprise is the creative process where work ceases to be toil, and where the outcome benefits not just yourself, but others.
What is your most and least green credential?
Most, would be walking 10 yards from my house to my office.
Least would be trying to heat a five bedroom farm house.
What do you invest in the next generation?
I hope that our work in U.K. schools encourages young people to realise that we are enormously rich in this country, compared to the rest of the world, and of our responsibility to share our resources. However I know that the education that the Dalit children receive in our schools in India, totally transforms their opportunities in life, and that our children's homes save them from the very real risk of a life in bonded labour.
Tell us a joke.
A man walks past a wall on the way to work and hears a voice "13.......13.......13.........13" the man looks and sees a hole in the wall, he looks through the hole and gets poked in the eye. The voice then said '14.........14.........14.......14.'