By Marése O’Sullivan
The What I See team headed to Cecil Sharp House in Camden on Monday to check out the Ladies Who Impress event, organised by Jana Bakunina.
The theme was ‘London In Her Eyes’, and the host made sure to quiz her guests of honour on how they see London. Jana herself moved to London from Ekaterinburg in Russia over a decade ago and has since established a career in media. With wonderful guest speakers in the shape of Jenny Dawson, founder of chutneys and jam business Rubies in the Rubble; Katherine Grainger, Olympic gold medallist and Homicide PhD graduate; and Xiaolu Guo, filmmaker, novelist and one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013, we were certainly inspired.
“In the modern day and age, whom do professional women, juggling work and family, balancing desire to look good with cravings for treats, carrying The Economist and Grazia in their totes, find impressive?” writes Jana on her blog. “I realised that there are lots of amazing women out there from very diverse backgrounds. […] And so I have decided to do something to celebrate those amazing ladies and inspire other women to be more confident, daring, creative, enjoy life and give more to others.”
Jana plans to regularly host events to encourage interaction with women in the public eye who have made huge achievements. Sponsored by GOSH Food and fundraising for Alzheimer’s Disease International, Ladies Who Impress was a true revelation of the strength and determination of these women.
“Entrepreneur, athlete, writer…let’s look beyond these labels,” said Jana.
JENNY DAWSON, Founder of Rubies in the Rubble
Jenny’s home-grown company, Rubies in the Rubble, started in November 2010 and the young entrepreneur, who has a Masters in Maths from Edinburgh University, has quickly developed a knowledge of her market. Inspired by her mum, Jenny hit on the idea of using surplus fruit and vegetables to make delicious and resourceful chutneys and jams. Now she’s selling 300 jars a day.
“I stumbled across something I was passionate about,” smiled 27-year-old Jenny. “I realised I can make a really fun business out of [food that could be] wasted.” She said that approximately 60% of thrown out food is good. She employs several disadvantaged people at her stalls and kitchens to help them get their pride and self-confidence back in a work environment – two of the women that work for her are homeless.
Her chutneys and jams have had interest from America and she plans to expand the range of products that she and her business partner Alicia Lawson currently produce. “I guess the thing that all entrepreneurs have in common is a little naivité or lack of fear,” she declared. “Even if you fail, give it your best shot. I care about it so much – [but] if it all goes to pot, I’ll try and laugh about it…if possible!”
KATHERINE GRAINGER, Olympic gold medallist and PhD graduate of Homicide Studies
Although she is a three-time Olympic silver medalist and a six-time World Champion, Katherine revealed the struggles she went through to achieve victory as an Olympian. She fell into rowing at university. The mantra behind her team’s first silver Olympic medal was “We’ve never really reached our limits. Why don’t we tap into something we’ve never tried before? We believed it was possible – the different mindset transformed us.” Her competitive nature encouraged her to pursue the sport, but it also led to downcast periods in her life where she felt disappointed in herself. “I genuinely felt like a massive failure,” she said of not receiving gold at Beijing in 2008. “It was really tough to come to terms with it.”
She promised her mum that she’d compete at London 2012, although she didn’t know if she would at the time. “[Mum had said] ‘Promise me you’ll be in London, because I know you can do it.’ It’s just hard work,” she told us. “You don’t make assumptions [that it will not be].” Her determination paid off at the 2012 Olympics when she won gold in the double skulls with Anna Watkins. “I love what [the sport] brings out in me…the journey is worth it.”
She revealed that Princess Anne told her that she had no foreknowledge of the Queen’s surprise appearance in the James Bond spoof during the Opening Ceremony. When the Princess asked the Queen what made her do it, Her Majesty apparently declared: “We needed to find a way to beat Beijing!”
XIAOLU GUO, filmmaker and novelist
The bestselling author of UFO In Her Eyes (the title of which inspired the Ladies Who Impress event name) and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, which was nominated for the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction, also made an appearance. This multi-talented lady has penned screenplays, poetry and fiction and is known for the deep emphasis on cultural awareness and alienation in her feature films, which she directs and produces. Xiaolu studied at the Beijing Film Academy and earned a Masters from London’s National Film School. She was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists this year.