an interview with jess holdaway

an interview with jess holdaway

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." Jess shares her wisdom with us in our latest interview.  

Jess is an absolute inspiration. Running one of the best social enterprises around, FRANK stationery, with a buy one give one model, selling epic stationery and donating over 75k books to children. As well as having a two-year-old boy and working alongside her husband! Read about how she does it and what beauty means to Jess. 


If you were at a bar and someone asked “What do you do?” what would you say?

Paper Salesman! Hahahaha (I am just fulfilling my lifelong dream of being on ‘The Office’). I would say I am a designer who runs a business with my husband making beautiful notebooks, journals and diaries that give back to children in need.


Where did you grow up and what was it like?

Up until I was ten years old, I grew up in South Africa. We immigrated to New Zealand on new years eve of the year 2000 (Y2K). I genuinely thought our plane would drop out of the sky! But we made it.

Growing up in South Africa was magic. I had the chance to live in the bush while my parents showed tourists and guests around the incredible wildlife! I spent my days barefoot, searching for snakes, listening to elephants, smelling that sweet African air and being lulled to sleep with the sweet sound of sunset insects.
I miss the hot air, the sounds, the smells and the wildlife but I am completely head over heels in love with New Zealand. This is my home. Summer is when I thrive though! Can’t escape the love for a scorching hot day.

What does a normal day look like for you?

Every day is slightly different in my life! However the things that don’t change is getting my baby boy out of bed, changed and fed and repeat.
Usually, if the weather is good, you will find me and my whanau down at the beach either swimming, surfing or playing with the sand. I will cancel any social engagement just to be at the beach! For a South African who grew up inland, the beach is the most magical thing to experience! The novelty of it has still not worn off.


What is something you think people don’t know about you?

We’ve just moved out of Auckland to the beautiful Mangawhai and I have recently taken up surfing which I adore. My favourite animal is a turtle, so if I can get any closer to them in life, I would be so happy!



How did you decide on the buy one give one model?

We had seen the model done successfully overseas and chatted with a few founders on how it worked and the impact they were having etc. This helped us decide on what we wanted to do with FRANK. One thing that appealed to us what that with this model, the giving isn’t an afterthought, it’s completely woven through and built into the business from day one. We didn’t want to simply be a profitable business that tacked on giving, we wanted it to be in and through everything we did. This model does that. We were donating products before we were even profitable. It was important to us that this business was about the giving as much as the selling.


Do you think business’s trying to do good, are more heavily scrutinised than those not claiming to change the world?

I think anyone trying to do good is more heavily scrutinised than those who aren’t claiming on changing the world and for good reason. People who are doing ‘good’ are often dealing with vulnerable communities and people, this means they should do this with immense care and wisdom. The most feedback I have heard from people is whether the giving in a business is authentic. Are they doing it because they believe in it, or are they doing it cos it’s good for business a.k.a a marketing ploy? These are all good questions and criticism is crucial to our improvement. If we don’t have people poking holes and looking at things more closely how can we ever improve?

We have received questions and pushback about things in our business and at each turn, we have talked at length about the feedback and decided what to do with it. Many people criticise the Buy One Give One model and with good reason and it’s not a perfect solution to child poverty in New Zealand, but it’s a damn good one while we work with other organisations and communities to tackle this problem together.

I really believe in business doing good, and think it’s certainly becoming the norm which I am excited about. But because it’s still so new to the world, it needs improvements, it needs tweaks and we are open to that.


What are your top three mantras/ways of life/things to live by?

Three sayings I love are:

If I can get used to feeling inadequate, I can do anything.

(this pertains to the feeling of starting something and not feeling good enough, and just being ok with that feeling, cos we will encounter that feeling wherever we go in life, as long as we’re taking risks.)

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Feel it all.
(You can’t feel the high if you don’t give room to the low)

How do you deal with stress?

Not particularly well to be honest. I may not be able to bring you any good wisdom here unfortunately. One strong feature that runs through my family is burn out/breakdowns and I am not immune. Over the years I have gotten better at recognising my physical and emotional signs of burnout, but truthfully it creeps back in.

I find that ritual really helps my manage stress. Focusing on the small rituals that anchor my life, like making tea, showering, eating yum food, cuddles with my boy, saying morning to my husband all help bring me back to the ordinariness of life which is what I crave when I feel overextended. Giving my attention to these things brings me back to reality and out of my fantasies and desires, which is the usual reason for burnout.

Who influences you?

Wow huge question! The biggest influence on my life currently would be my little boy and my husband. By far they are my favourite people and what they have to say is immensely important to me. They have both taught me so much and influence me in ways that I am so proud of. I feel so grateful that my little family are such beautiful people.

What does beauty mean to you?

I used to believe that beauty was about wholeness and perfection. That beauty was represented in things that made me feel like I could be whole and complete, but I am unlearning that.

We live our lives pursuing things that we think will make us whole and complete, something that will satisfy us and make us feel like we’ve reached ‘beauty’. Something that will make us feel at peace. This can drive us to work so hard that we burn out,  always wanting more and more. It can cause us to change our faces and clothes at a careless rate and can influence how we value people who don’t seem to be reaching for the same wholeness.
And what’s more, is we think that a whole bunch of people out there have it! That somehow they’ve found the ‘wholeness’ and ‘completeness’ and they're living in it! But it’s not true.

Beauty to me is leaving that fantasy behind so that we can start to enjoy our lives without always thinking that there’s something better out there that will make it perfect. Beauty is being freed from the fiction that there is something out there that will make us whole and complete. When we disinvest from that idea, we actually have a real shot at finding deep satisfaction and peace. It’s when we accept our fragility, that life is a struggle and difficult and there is nothing out there that is going to fix everything that we finally feel beautiful and fully accepted.
It’s depressing and equally liberating.

Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility. – Susan David



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1 comment

  • Great interview, good questions and loved the answers, well done.

    Tim Brown

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