In 2017, Senada Sokollu founded the brand fitbuddha. The creatively minded and socially engaged Senada was born in Munich, Germany as a daughter of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. Trained in Political Science and Journalism, She has worked as a TV correspondent for several international renowned news channels like Deutsche Welle and Euronews to report from crisis areas such as the Syrian and Iraqi border. Inspired and moved by the scenes she witnessed, Senada felt driven to connect her political awareness with a social support project.
I came across the fitbuddha brand at the beginning of 2020 at Berlin Fashion Week and was immediately impressed by the quality of the garments and the philanthropic and entreprenurial integrity of the story behind the brand.
fitbuddha is an interesting name, what’s the story behind it?
Whilst working as a Crisis War Journalist, for Deutsche Welle, I found myself living in Turkey for almost 7 years. During this time, I saw a lot of terrible things. Visiting refugee camps every day was very intense and at times traumatic. Practicing yoga was the only thing that helped me relax and be able to process the the terrible situations I was witnessing. The name for the business was inspired by the representation of the two words. Buddha represents peace, excepting everyone for who they are, excepting all skin colours, caring about people, nature and animals. Buddha came together with “Fit” as my idea was that the style of the clothes were oversized and therefore could fit everyone.
fitbuddha unites social integrity, empowerment, fairness, workmanship and beautiful clothes crafted for both women and men by women in need. Senada employs elder women who live in Turkish Villages. All products for and from fitbuddha are animal friendly. All wooden accessories are made from recycled oak wood and come from decrepit houses around the Turkish Black Sea Coast. Senada teamed up with a local company which recycles that wood and uses it for her brand. The fitbuddha brand is fair in production, respects animals as well as mother earth.
What does success mean to you?
Being free to be able to do whatever you really want to do with your time. I think successful people are trying to have a positive impact for society, bringing good into the world and value to people and the environment. Success is not about having a huge house or a fast car or an expensive watch, of course those things are nice to have but I think success is also being able to create your free time however you want to. Personal freedom is success. From a Journalistic point of view, being able to speak the truth and even if you are not able then still speaking the truth, this is for me a successful journalist and again about bringing value to the world.
Throughout your career, what mistakes have you learnt from? How do you change your struggles into strengths?
I used to wake up at 5am and read the news. Day after day, year after year; just so much bad news! Friends became frustrated and annoyed with the intensity of my conversation and that I seemed unable to break this unhealthy cycle. I came to the realisation that, in my opinion there is no such thing as freedom of press and that that applies to the whole world. You simply can not say whatever you want. This is what I experienced. I now believe that finding a middle ground is essential for keeping my life balanced. The good we do with fitbuddha offers a positive impact and makes a change in a very different way than I had hoped to do before.
What’s been your biggest entrepreneurial/business challenge and how has the Covid-19 Pandemic and resulting lock-downs changed or impacted the way you work?
Covid -19 has gotten more people interested in the world of fair fashion. The Psychology of large groups of people has started to change which has meant that fitbuddha has gained more customers with a deeper understanding of supporting European design and manufacturing as well as fair working conditions for employees.
A personal ambition was to open my own store and a key learning has been that one must turn challenges into positive outcomes. A personal ambition has always been to open a fitbuddha boutique. At the beginning of 2020 I was on the cusp of signing a contract but at the last moment it fell through. At the time it felt like a massive setback but with the current and ongoing situation it was clearly a win!
Another key awareness is how important it is to be able to adapt to peoples needs, we have been able to bring in new products that have worked really well such as the hoodies and boyfriend dresses with strong political statements and these have proved to be very successful as were our fabric face masks. You have to find a way to make it work.
It’s very hard to be unable to spend time with the women in Turkey and maintain the connection. The soul of the brand is dependant on this contact with all the women that the business helps and supports.
By the end of 2020 it was necessary to hire someone based in Turkey in order to maintain this contact. This has actually been very positive for the business.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity how do you build yourself back up? Which learned skills or tools do you put into action?
Friends are crucial. I have a small circle of trusted people which are key for me, meeting up, calling them up etc. Sports, meditation and yoga. Watching Oprah really is a source of inspiration when I’m really feeling stuck, or down or imposter syndrome kicks in. I love the motivational videos and talks she provides.
What tool, object or ritual could you not live without in your workday?
Honestly breakfast! I can live with no sleep but I’m horrible without breakfast! I need order and my table to be clear and my home to be in order and free of clutter especially in these times of home office. Doing some kind of sport everyday helps keep me motivated and positive.
What mantra do you live by?
Do whatever you want in your life, it’s your life so focus on enjoying it.
How do you balance work, family, friends and your wellbeing?
I’ve learnt how to say no! I’m 35 and in the last 7 years, I’ve learnt so much about work, life and balance. Knowing when to say no to invites, that it really is good to sit at home with my dog and watch Netflix and go to bed at 10. I have a small social circle- I don’t want to get attached to a lot of people, I prefer to be focusing on having 4-5 close friends and remaining in close contact with them. Once or twice a week I like to meet a friend, to not talk about work and relax over dinner. I also love to dance to hip hop music. Dancing helps to get rid of any negative bad energy.
What are the key things the fashion industry needs to do to become more environmentally aware, inclusive or diverse?
I think industry- packaging is a real issue, why not make recycled cartons standard? There are great alternatives out there.
In terms of diversity, I think we’ve got to start see more supportive images of naturally ageing women. It’s so crucial for women to see this in a positive way.
Production opportunities is also a key issue. We need to get back to small production. fitbuddha is botha social project and a fashion label. i’d love to see more companies involving climate refugees in their work.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurial women / journalists / business founders based on your experiences.
In my mid 20’s I found myself pretty close to burnout. This experience taught me to ensure my focus aims towards trying to find a middle ground. I’m looking for that allusive “something” that sits between work, which for me was witnessing real life crisis and the need to try to live a life of joy. So I’d advise the following;
- Make a plan
- Start even if you’re not ready- remember that you don’t need to be perfect and you will get the experience through your feedback.
- Find your style and your niche, you can’t be perfect for everyone.
Take a long deep breathe and keep going towards that light at the end of the tunnel. Even more so during this pandemic.