In this interview, I caught up with Talia Hussain from the Global Online MBA class of 2016. Talia tells me about Ramnation, her ethical fashion business, and explains how she balances studying for the flexible Global Online MBA with running a small business and pursuing impactful goals. 

Tell me a bit about your company Ramnation.

Ramnation is a boutique line of men’s knitwear developed with a focus on minimising negative environmental impact. The whole product and supply chain has been sourced, produced and manufactured in the UK without the use of harmful chemicals, finishes or dyes. The raw materials used are biodegradable, organically processed and sourced from small flocks of sheep that are not industrially farmed.

Where does your passion for ethical sourcing come from?

I grew up in the Canadian countryside with lots of wildlife. Living and growing up in nature, it became obvious to me that modern industrial practices are really destructive to the environment that we live in. We need to find a new way of managing within the limits of earth’s environmental support system– destroying our fragile home is not the way to go.

Talia Hussain, Global Online MBA student & small business owner.

What has been your biggest achievement with Ramnation?

There have been so many challenges and there continue to be so many along the way. One thing which I didn’t think about when moving into the fashion sector was having to build an entirely new network of contacts. I don’t have a background in the fashion industry so I had learn a new industry segment, dive in and work out how things are done. Looking back it’s an achievement I’ve managed to do it. I guess I’ve been quite successful – I’m contacted every now and then to be interviewed for a website or provide a quote on the sustainable fashion industry. When I meet someone in the fashion industry we seem to have friends in common so I’ve built up a good network. I’ve gone from zero to something quite quickly.

What have you learnt from running your own business?

A lot of the time you have to dive in and do it. I learnt early on to ask for help, whether it’s a specific resource, skillset or contact. I’ve found that people are really generous with their time when you ask for advice or guidance. It’s a difficult thing as we all like to think we know what we’re doing but it’s been a challenging and fruitful development for me.

Why are you doing the Global Online MBA? 

I’d thought about doing an MBA in the past but the timing never seemed right. There were a lot of things in my business that I thought I could be doing better but there were also a lot of things outside of work that I wanted to be doing to be impactful both in and outside my business. Now the timing is right to step up to a new level of working in the business, the format of the Global Online MBA was really attractive – being able to study alongside my regular life was a huge factor in deciding to do an MBA.

How do you balance running a business and studying for an MBA?

Everyone who does this will say that they have to give up something. You don’t get to do as many things as you did in the past. I’ve been giving up box sets and weekend trips. My very patient partner also has to give up parts of the weekend with me when I need to have meetings with my group. I think that was a real struggle for everyone at the beginning, not realising how much time you have to set aside and how much your life will change. You have to prioritise and choose what you spend your time on.   

What are your goals outside your business and studies? 

Global Online MBA students on campus for the Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Design module.

I’m really interested in sustainability and questions around how you create and thrive without polluting and destroying our ecosystem. On the MBA I’ve met likeminded students who are interested in the same questions. With three of my Global Online MBA colleagues and Dr Paolo Taticchi (Director of the Global Online MBA), we launched the Sustainability in Business Career Club. We’ve been holding events themed around sustainability, and how you can create wealth without environmental degradation or exacerbating climate change.

Outside of Imperial College Business School, I’m a Fellow in the Royal Society of the Arts. The Society has just launched a sustainability network and I’m on the steering committee responsible for the launch of a pop-up sustainable department store. There are conversations around how to take sustainability to the high street where consumer culture happens and how you get people to think differently about their shopping choices whilst they’re actually doing their shopping.

I’m developing the skills I need to take on such an enormous project on the Global Online MBA. We’re currently developing the business plan and financials for the launch which are things I would have really struggled with in the past but now I’m developing the skills to take on that kind of project.

When did you know you were ready to take the MBA?

I received an invitation to an information session on LinkedIn. It said that Dr David LeFevre would be talking about the design and delivery of the programme and I thought it sounded interesting. I chatted to a bunch of people at the session who are now in my cohort and it just seemed like a fantastic opportunity.

The online aspect of the programme, being able to study flexibly as it suits you, was also incredibly attractive. Set dates and times don’t always fit the schedule of someone who doesn’t have the conventional nine to five day or someone who’s involved in different projects and might have to attend different conferences and meetings to keep themselves going as an enterprise. That was a huge draw.

In the past doing an MBA would have meant giving up a year of your career and life. I understand that would be an investment for a lot of people in moving forwards but when you’re already doing lots of things and involved in many projects, stopping them didn’t seem like an opportunity for me, especially when you are doing things that you care about.

I am good at time management so when the opportunity came for flexible online study over two years, I was at the point with my business where I wanted to do more and had done as much as I could without help or guidance. It just seemed like a door was opening onto a new set of opportunities that I could take up. It absolutely came at the right time, when I was ready to take on new challenges and do more.

What would you say to a woman running her own business or in a busy job considering the MBA?

Don’t underestimate how much time you actually need to give to this. The Global Online MBA is incredibly rewarding in unexpected ways. Classes like Corporate Finance have given me the most in terms of expanding my understanding of the world. Expect to be surprised about how it will change the way you think about things. Be prepared to give something up but you’ll get a lot in return.

What was it about Imperial that attracted you?

The connection between the Business School and Imperial interested me. Imperial has a fantastic reputation in the technology industry and I have a background in website and online communications design. The MBA is practical and has a focus on innovation, and how you apply innovation and technology in business.

Is there anything else that you want to say about your experience on the Global Online MBA?

I really enjoy the global aspect. We were all on campus for the Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Design (IE&D) module last week and we were working with people from all over the world. One of the interesting things about working with your syndicate group is that you’re not in the same country and sometimes not in the same time zone.

The experience of this is really valuable because that’s how the world of business works now. I’m based in London and I’ve worked with clients in Vietnam before. I also volunteer for an organisation in Canada. The idea that your colleagues are going to be down the corridor – especially as you move into senior levels – is an outdated concept. Being able to manage your work using technology like Skype, Google Docs or Google Hangouts is incredibly useful and valuable.

It’s also not just about learning the tools, it’s about getting people on board to do something when you’re not sitting next to them, so there’s also the people management and team building aspect of it which can be a hugely challenging and emotional experience. Being able to pull off project work in different time zones and countries, and come on campus for the IE&D module last week was a huge achievement. I’ve really enjoyed the peer aspect of the Global Online MBA. It’s been unexpected but amazing. I love my peers and our WhatsApp group is by turns helpful, informative and hilarious.