A day in the life of 19-year-old, Ashika Thaker, begins early in the morning, starting with working on one of her businesses, called Unravelled, from home. She then plans what she needs to get done for the day, whether that’s a phone call meeting, or time spent speaking with her business partner, Diana Grant-Richmond. Heading to school, Thaker attends her full load of classes and squeezes in time between to do assignments and homework. Her day doesn’t end when her classes do, she continues business work, more meetings and writing and practicing pitches. She also tries to schedule photo sessions with her photography business, which she then must balance in between the rest of her time.
“I eat sometimes, in between,” Thaker laughs. She’s taken a break from working in Slate, a space at Mount Royal University dedicated to entrepreneurs. Now, she sits in front of a large window in the Bissett School of Business building, sipping tea.
“My day usually ends around 1am, 2am, because I’m just constantly working, there’s a constant list of things to do. When I’m not doing homework, I’m working on [Unravelled], when I’m not working on [Unravelled] I’m taking photos, when I’m not taking photos I try to sneak in a nap.”
While most students often complain about being busy, Thaker’s schedule certainly proves that she is among the busiest. Besides pursuing a degree in marketing at Mount Royal University, she also runs two businesses and volunteers her time with Enactus, a student organization that seeks to create social entrepreneurship projects to better their community. It’s where the idea for Unravelled, one of the two businesses, blossomed.
Unravelled is the newest of the two ventures, a zero-waste yarn company that transforms excess corporate clothing into high quality t-shirt yarn. Thaker and her 31-year-old business partner, Grant-Richmond, currently sell the yarn online and hope to employ an individual from the Mustard Seed, an organization that they work with, to help them move into the apparel and home items. This part of the venture will work on a 1:1 model, which will give one item to homeless individuals in Calgary for every item purchased.
The idea first came to fruition as a project idea for Enactus, and grew into a viable business when they began selling the yarn. Recently, they pitched the idea in a competition at Mount Royal called Launchpad, and won $10,000 from JMH & Co. to invest in Unravelled.
“I think the idea behind Unravelled is important because it’s something that people don’t expect to be a problem and people don’t really think about as a problem,” muses Thaker. “Textile waste is the second largest waste producer in the world and every single one of us on this planet contribute to it in some shape or form.”
Grant-Richmond believes that Thaker can bring something to the venture that nobody else can. “She’s unbelievably creative and she’s got incredible taste. She’s definitely our arbiter of style and arbiter of taste for the brand,” she says. “She’s just a lateral thinker. She sees things that I could never see.”
The enthusiasm surrounding Unravelled didn’t exist four months ago, when the business idea hadn’t yet been sparked. This was a time when Thaker was more focused on creating her first venture in photography.
“All of the success and all of the good things I’ve accomplished in the past year have nothing to do with luck.” — Ashika Thaker
“I have had a camera in my face since the second I was born. My dad was a really, really talented photographer, and I grew up watching him take pictures of just about everything and everyone,” explains Thaker. “It was always something that I loved seeing him do, and so the second my dad trusted me enough to hold a camera, I started taking photos.”
The blossoming love of photos grew with her as she got older, taking photos everywhere she went, on vacation and of her friends. In high school, she created a portfolio but says she never really had the guts to start a business until she reached university, realizing that if she couldn’t start it now she never would. She semi-regularly takes on portrait photography jobs, and has expanded into other types of jobs, such as event photography.
Regardless of what others told her, she knew it was something she had to pursue. “I just never stopped taking photos, even when it was super frustrating and even when people didn’t see enough potential in me compared to other people, I knew that I loved it and that’s all that mattered,” says Thaker.
Above everything, balancing such a heavy schedule means that your relationships can be strained. While it’s unavoidable, Thaker quickly learned that the people who stick around are the ones worth putting effort into. Being an entrepreneur has helped her find friends who are truly supportive even when she can’t always put effort into connecting with them all the time.
One of those people is Emily Bartlett, the president of Enactus Mount Royal and an entrepreneur in her own right. “I’m super similar to her in [being busy]. We have very similar interests, and I think when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re as busy as people like Ashika and I, then you need to hang around people that are interested in those things too so then your work life becomes your social life as well.”
Entrepreneurship is rarely an easy career, and you’re always at risk of spreading yourself too thin. A particularly rough patch comes to Thaker’s mind. Getting some rough criticism for Unravelled, not scheduling any new photoshoots, struggling to keep her grades up, and running into relationship trouble all came into play at once.
Heading to class one day, she remembered suddenly that her class had a networking event. She felt ill, and she hadn’t properly dressed for the event, wearing ripped jeans and a hoodie. She brushed off her outfit, thinking that the event would be casual. She walked into the class, and the first glimpse she caught of a person was wearing a full suit. She realized the mistake she had made.
After that incident, she immediately realized she couldn’t spread herself so thin anymore. She dropped a few things and re-focused on what she thought was most important.
Any sane person might think that the stress that comes with entrepreneurship isn’t worth the struggle, but that’s why not everybody is an entrepreneur. Being able to find your passion and working hard for it is something that Thaker has learned to enjoy.
“It’s taught me to really love challenges and things that seem impossible but I can make them possible,” she says. “I love the idea of seeing possibility in things that people don’t. I like seeing challenges and being able to think, we can do this better, or something can be fixed.”
Overall, Thaker recognizes that her success isn’t something that came naturally. She’s worked hard to get to where she is now, and to her, it’s been worth it.
“All of the success and all of the good things I’ve accomplished in the past year have nothing to do with luck,” she adds. “I was so subpar. I was an average student with average grades and average friends and a really average life but I didn’t want to settle for that anymore. I think it’s a really important thing to take away that anyone, if they can push themselves and make goals, and motivate themselves and surround themselves with the right people can pretty much accomplish anything.”
- By Amber McLinden