Lessons in leadership from the founder of radical fashion brand Aqua & Rock

·4-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Dea Baker founded Aqua & Rock, a sustainable fashion brand, back in 2019. A pioneer in the industry, Baker is fully committed to seeking out innovative means to rise to the challenge of creating more ethical fabrics. The brand has since gone on to win a Drapers Changemakers Award as 'One To Watch' and has even created their own sustainable fabric "Aqua Triblend," made from a mix of recycled plastic, upcycled clothing and organic cotton.

Here, she shares with us what it takes to lead a fashion brand changing the face of the industry.

The three most important qualities for a good leader are…

"To inspire and encourage, at all times. To bring out the best in people, nurturing their talent and helping them reach their full potential and to lead as a first amongst equals. My hope, as a leader, is that I help my team become more confident, more creative and more inspired."

My personal strength as a leader is…

"I pride myself on recognising and nurturing talent in my employees, and in helping them to navigate their weaknesses. I build teams where everyone pitches in, everyone has each other’s back and everyone is given the space to grow and develop."

The biggest priority for my business right now is…

"To expand and to grow. Now that we’re starting to emerge again, after the incredible challenge of the pandemic, we’re setting our sights on developing our global strategy and taking Aqua & Rock to new markets. We’re also expanding our product portfolio, not just across clothing and footwear but our interiors collection, too. The most important consideration, in every conversation about ‘what’s next’, is always, how are we growing our sustainable story? How are we innovating and contributing to our planet’s wellbeing as we expand as a brand? It’s a constant consideration for us."

The economic outlook may be uncertain, but I’m mitigating risk by…

"Staying resilient, adaptable and resourceful. The best things are created under pressure and that’s so true of Aqua & Rock. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved as a start up fashion brand in the toughest of climates."

I keep my team motivated by…

"Embracing their creativity, exposing them to new approaches, new opportunities and encouraging them to trust their instincts. One of my brilliant designers said this to me: “I have learned so much in the last six months, working here. It’s been so creative, such a different journey and I’ll never look at fashion the same way. I love that everyday is different.” and I smile every time I think about it. Encouraging creativity in my team is one of my proudest achievements."

The hardest decision I’ve had to make as a leader was…

"I had to close a production line I’d worked hard to establish. It was heartbreaking, having to say no to the manufacturer, knowing that the quality wasn’t good enough. I hope I don’t face a decision like that again but in the end I know we did the right thing, our dedication to the achieving the highest quality possible has earned us respect in the industry."

The worst mistake I’ve ever made as a leader (and the lessons I learnt from it)…

"Overpromising. It’s easily done but incredible damaging. I now go to extreme lengths to make sure I understand everything about the product, the production line and what goes on on the factory floor. It’s the only way I can ensure I don’t disappoint our customers."

An effective leader will always…

"Drive people forward with the sheer energy of their vision. I like to think I’m a great problem solver too, always managing to find creative solutions to new challenges, but really, it’s the passion, the vision, the grit and determination to grow Aqua & Rock into all that it can be that makes a difference."

An effective leader will never…

"Blame others for failure."

My role model for leadership is…

"I think Anita Roddick is incredible. What an amazing woman! She built the Body Shop, with its pioneering ethical practices and community work, from the ground up and didn’t compromise on what she believed in."

The one piece of advice I’d give to a new leader is…

"Failure is not a person who fails, it’s a person who did not get up. It’s tried, tested and true - you’re going to mess up, it’s going to be hard but it’s all part of it. Get up, learn, adapt and grow."

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