FINDING LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS OF TRAGEDY
5 MIN READ
Syreeta Challinger founded Moments of Sense and Style – a lifestyle brand and online studio – after her life took an unexpected turn when her fiancé Rob suffered a brain haemorrhage and stroke while on holiday in Sydney, Australia.
Rob was left paralysed on his right side, blind in his right eye, and suffers from aphasia that impacts his speech. Before, they lived a hectic life working in the creative industry in Hong Kong, but after tragedy struck, they abandoned the life they knew and moved back to the UK for Rob's recovery.
Together, driven by Syreeta's incredible optimism and determination, they've built a business about appreciating life's beautiful moments; an innovative and conceptual approach to dealing with life-changing events.
Here, Syreeta – who lives by the phrase 'play the cards you've been dealt' – shares the path to her success, how she makes time for herself, and her advice on starting an online business.
Life dealt us an awful hand and the decision to go back to the UK was one based purely on where would be the best place for Rob – with his family.
We were in survival mode. My sense of self was lost completely. I lost my identity, my home, my job; my life as I knew it was shattered in a heartbeat. It was a situation over which none of us had control, but it has been an incredible learning – about love, life, who I am as person, what my values are without societal trappings. It's genuinely been the making of me.
Back in the UK I struggled to find work. When I went for interviews and I was frank about my home situation, I would fall at the final hurdle. No doors were opening for me, so I decided to create my own. It was pure frustration that spurred me on.
Moments of Sense and Style started as a blog at first, where I shared our story and inadvertently curated an aesthetic. I tried to shy away from oversharing at the start, both to protect Rob and for some self-preservation. But it's hard to say why we started without sharing the full story.
Once Rob and I decided to open up about everything it really resonated with people. With my background in product development, I chose to create a range of scented candles that represented our experience. It wasn't a smooth path to land on the idea, but once I did, it felt right, and when I shared it with Rob he was moved to tears.
The drawings followed a few months later. I could sense Rob needed a purpose too, so I briefed him to draw each destination of the scented candles. For a long while after the haemorrhage Rob was only able to communicate by drawing. I had to teach him to hold the pen again, how to draw simple shapes before it started to flow. I had no idea how it would go, but he flourished and created stunning pieces.
Yes, we wish to create products, but not for the sake of it. Everything we create is deeply considered and aligns with a need or desire from our life as it is now, with respect for the provenance and raw materials. We are a brand but also refer to ourselves as a studio. By embracing the path of a studio alongside our wares, we are able to work on projects that complement our ethos and help spread awareness not only of brain injury, but the importance of wellbeing to our health and inner world too. It's more of a movement, a fluid label, one that leaves room for us to grow and change.
Our ultimate goal is to have a bricks and mortar space that is our home, but doubles as a store and place to connect. To have physical space to hold for people and welcome them into would be wonderful; especially those affected by brain injury too. That's the dream.
I wake up an hour before Rob to ensure I have time to myself. Yoga is my key to grounding and staying steady. Running a startup and being a full-time carer means no day is the same, so to have the moment of peace – whether it is five minutes or half an hour – helps massively. I also read a lot, which has taken the place of the physical travel I used to enjoy. Now, I wander and lose myself in words.
My advice to anyone wanting to start an online business: ask for help. My strengths are most definitely front end – creatively-led tasks and product development. But as a startup, you have to wear every single hat. It is not easy, especially when Rob is having a rough few days, which does happen. But that is the world we are in now. It is built on shifting sands and we have to adapt. It's not all love and light.
I have Googled how to code to build my web shop, learned how to take product shots, packed orders and plodded to the post office – the lot! But as time has gone on, I've realised it's OK to ask for help. You can be anything you want, but you can’t physically do everything.
Recognise how your body feels when doing a task or taking something on. Listen to your senses and your gut. They will not fail to guide you.
And be patient. Success isn't an overnight thing. You may well need a side hustle and that is OK. Grit and perseverance are true allies on this new path.
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