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In 2007, Anit Hora quit her dream job with no safety net, no backup plan and no idea of what she was going to do next.
After graduating with a degree in fashion design Hora landed a high paying gig as a designer for a major label in New York City. She was earning a good salary, had great benefits, strong job security, enjoyed her work and was getting promoted on a regular basis. Seven years into her seemingly perfect career, however, Hora found herself thinking, “This can’t be it.”
“I did love my job, but I didn’t love it enough to not want to try something new,” she says. “I worked as a full-time knitwear designer when I started making my own products. When demand started to grow, it became more difficult for me to balance everything.”
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Hora eventually couldn’t keep up with the pace of a day job and creating her own products, so she took off on a three-month backpacking trip around South America while she considered her next career move. As she traveled, volunteered and taught, Hora fell in love with the lifestyle and ended up staying for over a year and a half. “That’s when I realized that maybe the nine-to-five life isn’t for me,” she says.
But Anit says it wasn’t simple or easy to make the choice to leave her job and travel, especially financially. “Taking the leap is difficult but freeing at the same time. My best advice is to have a well-organized strategy, both financial and otherwise, ready for when you decide to quit your 9-5 and dive headfirst into your company.”
The trip taught Hora how different life was outside the big city. For example, she says she had very little patience for illness in her corporate life; the moment she felt sick in New York she’d race to get a prescription for antibiotics and try to return to work as quickly as possible.
It wasn’t until she came down with an illness in South America and tried to do the same that she realized this wasn’t normal behaviour. “They all looked at me like I was crazy,” she says. “They were like, ‘why would you want such a strong medicine?’”
That’s when Hora fell in love with herbal teas and natural medicines, which she studied formally upon her return to New York in 2008; first in classes at the Open Centre, then during an apprenticeship at an apothecary in Brooklyn.
She even started selling her natural health products at local craft fairs but eventually discovered they weren’t the natural products customers were looking for.
“Every time I’d go to sell them, these women would come up to me and ask for skincare and makeup stuff,” she says. “They’d come to me and be like ‘I’d buy this if you had this for face or hair or nails,’ and I thought, ‘yeah, I’d probably use that too.’”
In 2009 Hora enrolled in the Aveda Institute in New York City where she pursued her aesthetician’s license, but her savings were starting to dry up. At the same time, she needed money to buy supplies, create a website and build her new brand, Mullein and Sparrow.
To make ends meet Hora took up a day job at a spa while attending taking classes in the evenings and on weekends, building her business in what little time remained.
“I wasn’t sleeping very much in those days,” she says. “I don’t remember having any time for a social life or seeing friends, I remember being in complete isolation from everyone I knew, but it was so exciting that I didn’t see it like that.”
After years of balancing work, school and entrepreneurship Hora got the opportunity she had been waiting for in 2014, when she received an email from a representative at one or her favorite retail chains, Anthropologie. “That was such a surreal moment for me,” says Hora. “I was like ‘how did you even find me?’”
The company was interested in selling her products in their stores, but Hora couldn’t fulfill an order of that size from her home studio, so she started looking for a line of credit and a new workspace. Even with her purchase order, Hora couldn’t get her bank to provide the capital she needed. The demand was there, but it still took time for her to develop the bandwidth to fulfill a big order.
In reflection, she says she should have put more thought into financial planning. “I would have put more thought into my budget. Organization is not my strong suit so I would have brought someone on early on to help me allocate my resources more efficiently.”
Today, M.S. Skincare has products in a range of small boutiques and major retailers around the world, including Urban Outfitters, Free People, Nordstrom, Steve Allen and Anthropologie. But the greatest validation, according to Hora, happened when she was selected for an entrepreneurship fellowship from the Tory Burch Foundation as well as Goldman Sachs’ prestigious 10,000 Small Businesses Program, despite having no formal business training.
“There’s a lot of self-doubt that comes from doing this, especially if you spend the first few years by yourself figuring it out,” she says. “You just have to believe you can do it, and keep that sense of stubborn optimism.”