Thoughts From a Female Founder: Creating Something out of Nothing

how art school prepared me perfectly  for entrepreneurship.

I never would have thought that I would end up founding a business. I was diagnosed with dyslexia aged 5, I was lucky to have a primary school teacher that recognised the symptoms of dyslexia and didn’t label me as ‘slow’ or ‘thick’ but instead talked my parents through what this meant for me and how they could help. I spent many a maths lesson as the last child sitting behind on the carpet in tears needing the teacher to explain it to me again. I still don’t know my times tables to this day, but I’ve developed strategies of coping that work for me (using a calculator). Over time I learnt that alongside the expected symptoms of dyslexia (slow reading, bad spelling) the main areas I struggle with are my short term memory and slow processing.

Slow processing is something that has really helped me in developing AMMA. I’ll never be one to win a debate or even an argument as I can’t form my thoughts that quickly but it has meant that I am very considered in my thought process. I don’t tend to make decisions reactively but instead I spend time thinking and talking things through until I feel settled on what I believe.

During my degree in Textile Design at Central Saint Martins, there was one lesson that was repeatedly installed in me over and over again; how to create something out of nothing. Each term we would start a new project with the expectation that in 6 weeks time something would be created which didn’t previously exist in the world. I learnt how to be comfortable when everything was going wrong or ideas had dried up. I learnt how not to control an idea but instead guide an idea, nurture it and test it until it felt right.

The AMMA team drinking tea outside our workshop in Nuwara Eliya

I couldn’t think of a better parallel for my experience founding AMMA. Over the last three years, I’ve had to let it become a cultural and social reflection of an area that was new to me. I’ve had to have patience with my ideas, not forcing them before the time is right but instead having a steadfast assurance that it will become what I envisioned when it’s ready.

Studying at an Art and Design college was a revelation, at the university I attended 24% of the student population were registered with the disability & dyslexia unit. I had found myself in an educational system for the first time which provided me with everything I needed to succeed on my course (additional one to one support, funding and extra time) but the aspect that made the biggest difference was the reality that in one of the best art and design colleges in the world, 1 in 4 students were dyslexic or had a disability. For the first time, I saw dyslexia not as a disability but as a gift. I was surrounded by the next big fashion designers, graphic designers and fine artists, of whom a large percentage were dyslexic. This gave me a new confidence in my ability, and showed me how an educational system which is set up to foster creativity, is possible. If only I had the chance to learn in a place like that for the previous 14 years of my education.

Our founder, Josie, hanging up naturally dyed fabric on a washing line outside our workshop

Despite the importance of creative degrees, the UK government has cut huge amounts of funding to the ‘non-essential’ arts and culture budgets, £400m has been removed since 2010 . The school system isn’t established to cultivate creative thinking, and if creativity within education is a topic that interests you I encourage you to watch Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ and read his paper   ‘All Our Futures. Cutting funding to the arts, is short-term limited thinking, decisions made by people who don’t notice the impact that creative problem solvers have on society, culture and the economy.

I came to entrepreneurship from an unexpected direction. However, I think that if i took a more typical route and did a business degree I would of struggled with the writing and reading in an environment that wasn’t set up to teach people like me.

Living and working in Sri Lanka - where creative degrees aren’t a well-respected or recognised qualification, and where dyslexia is still relatively undiagnosed especially beyond the big cities - has challenged me to share this part of my story. I hope to learn more about these topics within Sri Lanka during my time here.

Photos taken by Megan Brown and Molly Fenton