I’m very honoured to feature Saundra, a wonder woman who has overcome adversity through surviving breast cancer. During which time she lost everything. And incredibly survived while raising her son single handedly to set up her fabulous accessories business SoS15 SoS15 Do check her brand out, for fun, vibrant and personalised accessories.
Discover why Future Female means basic safety for every female and how Saundra talked herself out of sexual assault. A truly amazing story of overcoming diversity.
FF: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
SO: I was raised in Peckham, south east London, along with my younger sister by both parents and then by just my mum.
I had a pretty standard, working class, 70’s/80’s upbringing in that I was aware of racism and sexism as an everyday thing. I had friends from different cultures so I got to understand early on that we were having different experiences. By the time I was at secondary school, I had started to feel that I didn’t fit in with most of the other kids around me.
My mum taught me I could do anything so felt confident taking my love of art out of my small-minded secondary school to a more cosmopolitan college to further explore my creative side.
My first route into the creative industries was as a graphic designer. I worked for local government for several years before starting my own graphic design business in 2000.
I am a mum of a 26-year-old man (insert screaming emoji) and raised him single-handedly. He has always been surrounded by women, I had him young so my female friends played a big role in his life. My mum and sister featured in a big way too and they all became my village of support.
My son was never embarrassed by talk of ‘women’s issues’ like periods, our relationships with men, our struggles, as he has been surrounded by women his whole life. I am proud of the man he has become, influenced by the positive women around him.
I built up a decent life for my son and I and we lived comfortably.
In 2009 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that was a big turning point. I lost everything as I was no longer able to work. In 2010 I declared myself bankrupt. No house, no car, no business and absolutely no money.
I was told by a consultant that I would be ‘back on track’ in a year but a series of serious infections and failed surgeries meant my treatment lasted over six years. During that time, I had over 20 surgical operations and countless hospital stays and appointments.
Being creative in some way has been a life saver and it wasn’t until I was doing nothing creative that I realized how essential it was to my soul.
I started sewing in around 2011. I taught myself to sew and began working with glitter fabric in 2015. I am working hard to get my brand the exposure it deserves and am trying to get back to having a half decent lifestyle.
My son is a wonderful human and we are very close. There is nothing more motivating than your (then) teenage son sitting in tears saying he would be all alone if you died. So, I made sure I didn’t.
FF: What does Future Female mean to you?
SO: To me, Future Female is about creating a better world for girls and women to live in.
I want females to be treated equally and without judgment. I want a woman to be able to walk down any street without fear for her safety.
I want future females to dress as they please, without the subtext of judgement, by others, of her character or sexuality.
I want all women to be able to look at themselves and others with acceptance and appreciation. I want change. And I would really like it now.
FF: The recent #MeToo hash tag caught the attention of many women who joined the conversation, what is your view and have you been affected by misogynistic behavior?
SO: My view is that far too many women have experienced unacceptable behavior or action against her by a man or by men.
Most women I know has her own version of #Metoo. My first was having a work colleague put his hand up my skirt in front of the rest of the team as a ‘funny’ gag.
I was 19. He was middle aged and I remember exactly what I was wearing which was a puff-ball skirt. It was my first job and I was the only female in a studio of around 6 men.
Being taken to a deserted building by a work colleague I considered a friend, under the pretence of a forthcoming work project. He took me to the furthest point of the building and lunged at me. It has always amazed me that my reaction was not to scream and push him away but instead to quickly create a narrative as to why the setting was not the best place to ‘get it on’ and how I was worried about his wife.
I talked myself out of a sexual assault. It plays on my mind that I didn’t kick up a fuss or report him to his employers or someone – he was a notable figure in a football charity.
FF: Describe your current work role and your creative process?
SO: I have been building my brand – SoS15 – since late 2015. I design and make the pieces myself, which are mainly glittery-based bags. I find influence everywhere, art, public opinion, popular culture, music…
I still design like a graphic designer in that all ideas start life as a sketch on a piece of paper before being transferred into design software for me to tweak. If it looks like a winner I will then cut the design from glitter fabric and make it into a bag.
My role has been doing everything! The business didn’t have funding behind it and I find managing every aspect of it a challenge.
What I can say is this, that every great thing that has happened to my brand, has been through Instagram and has led to female collaborations. Without exception. I have met some amazing, inspirational women through social media and SoS15.
FF: What do you love about being your own boss, and what are the challenges?
SO: I love the freedom! A male manager once told a director he found me ‘unmanageable’ which I am very proud of. Basically, I wouldn’t do what he told me to. I was supposed to be a designer with my own mind but he had forgot that.
The hardest challenges are continuing to believe in myself and my ideas. To believe I am good enough and what I do is good enough. I have struggled with this forever.
On a practical level, doing everything as mentioned above is challenging too.
FF: There is a shift in how and where women work, was it a natural progression for you to go it alone and why?
SO: It wasn’t an easy decision for me. I was a lone parent with a mortgage and commitments. For years, I had toyed with working for myself. I knew I could take my skills with me and had a lot to offer but the risks seemed high.
However, I wanted to spend more time with my son. I was fed up of missing school events. I was fed up of juggling child care. I had had enough of constantly trying to prove I was a team player whom could contribute as much as everyone else, even though I had a child(!). Exhausting.
Being a lone parent was tough. I just wanted to work and be a mum and feel both got my attention. Eventually, the pros won against the cons.
FF: What is inspiring you at the moment?
SO: My son has more belief in me than I do and that inspires me to keep going.
FF: If there was one thing you would change about your life as a woman what would it be?
SO: I’m not sure that I would change anything. Out of every difficulty has come progress.
FF: Are there key messages you are passing on to your children when it comes to gender equality, how important do you think it is to change your story around gender?
SO: I taught my son that violence and aggression against women is never ok and never acceptable. I taught him that talking is the way forward, discussion is powerful.
I hope I have taught him to respect women, that women make their own decisions, especially around sex and consent. That pregnancy is a big deal.
That he doesn’t get to say what a woman does with her body and contraception is everybody’s responsibility.
FF: What are you reading at the moment?
SO: Haha, I am reading ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’, Dale Carnegie, upon the recommendation of my son!
He says that interacting with people from the perspective of valuing everyone and thinking more about why others might behave in the way they do has been transformative for him. How could I not read the book after that?
FF: How would you describe your style?
SO: In progress! During my cancer treatment, the reconstructive surgeries and processes I underwent meant I spent a lot of time trying to disguise how I looked.
Even though I finally had successful surgery, I am not sure I have regained my pre-cancer confidence.
I spend a lot of time in jeans and All Stars. Luckily, I am never short of a glittery bag. I suppose I would describe it as low-key with an edge.
FF: A massive thanks to Saundra, for her inspiring words and sharing her story with us at Future Female HQ. Pop over to Saundra’s Instagram feed wearesos15 and take a look at her fabulous designs.