In honor of International Women’s Day, which is today, Sofia Synergy is launching a new column called, #OrthodoxEntrepreneur. This column will feature the exciting journeys and challenges of #OrthodoxEntrepreneurs who have chosen the road less traveled due to their commitment to creativity, change, and progress – it’s all about answering the call of your spiritual vocation, your reason, and purpose for being. We will feature their stories, the lessons they have learned, and their unique approaches to business.
For our first column, I am honored to welcome my dear friend Vesna, from Vesna Vestments. Vesna started making vestments in 2004 after a holy and wise Serbian nun guided her to answer the call of this unique profession. In her interview, Vesna shares what she’s learned as a female Orthodox entrepreneur, why she’s always been passionate and committed to living life consciously, and the importance of beauty in the Orthodox liturgy.
Jessica: How did you start making vestments? Where did this idea come from?
Vesna: I came to Canada in 1994 and a friend of mine invited me to sing in a church choir, every year we would travel to the US for a festival. One year, in 1998, we went to Chicago, and after the festival, we went to this Serbian monastery, called the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God. This was the first time in my life I saw an Orthodox nun in an Orthodox monastery because I came from a communist country and was very disconnected from the Church. It was a very impressive experience for me.
A few years later, I went back and the nun that was there was making vestments. She would always ask me, “What do you do for a living?” and I would say, “I make ladies hats.” After my third visit, she said to me, “Why don’t you make vestments? I think that this is something you should do.”
In 2004, there was a priest in Hamilton, Ontario that needed vestments, and she told me to make it for him; that’s how I got started.
This nun, Mother Epraksia, died a four years later. She was one of the most influential people in my life. After she had passed away, another nun told me that she had mentioned vestment making to a lot of people, but nobody ever came back. But I did, it’s all about timing. I was ready to hear it and step into it.
Jessica: Wow that is amazing! What made you ready to answer the call?
Vesna: At that time, I wanted to be in fashion – I was making ladies hats – but I couldn’t make a living off of it. I knew I wanted to have my own business and create something but I didn’t know how or what it was. As a designer, I was always chasing some moment in the future and trying to impress someone. Even though my designs were selected by Holt Renfrew, and I was doing well, it was very exhausting.
Had I not been working on hats for about 5 years prior to meeting Mother Epraksia, I would not have realized what she was giving me. If she had told me 10 years ago, I would have said, “No, this is not for me,” but because I had been working on being an entrepreneur, when she presented the idea of vestment making and explained the market, the product, and how things worked, it was immediately clear to me she was giving me gold. I knew this was what I was going to do.
It’s a calling. Everyone that makes vestments is under the protection of the Theotokos directly, and I know that I am chosen by her to do this. I am her choice, and I honor that choice deeply and profoundly.
Jessica: So what do you like about making vestments?
Vesna: When the idea was presented to me, it appeared like a very simple thing to do, but it’s not, it is, however, very peaceful. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The fabrics, the colors and the patterns are interesting, and every project is a creative project. So this combination of creativity and peace of mind, which I like to have, satisfies me completely. Behind the scenes, it’s a preparation and a process, and like everything else, it really is a miracle – everything has to click.
Jessica: When you see a priest in a vestment what do you think?
Vesna: Beauty will bring you up, it will bring up your spirit, and ugliness will bring it down. In an ugly space, you will immediately feel your energy is gone – you just don’t feel well. In Orthodoxy, it’s all about bringing beauty up, it’s all about beautifying things, like beautiful churches, iconography, music, incense, and the vestments – it entices our senses to receive the message and the glory of God. All of that, it brings you to one place, which is beautifying at that moment, your experience of prayer. Vestments are just one of the things that bring beauty and magic into that moment of prayer and service to God.
Jessica: In your opinion, what are characteristics of a good entrepreneur?
Vesna: Someone recently told me, entrepreneurs live in their own world. And I think that’s so true. It’s very complex and it changes very fast, you have to adapt to the environment. You have to see from 360 degrees; you have to be aware and effective with your time. You have to multi-task and manage constantly. It’s beautiful, but it’s also very consuming. You always have to keep an eye on the next step, there is always something new to learn and something that has to happen. The unknown is not something you can influence, but you have to be able to respond to it quickly.
You have to keep an eye on the basics, on what’s important: where are sales coming from, why people are buying, what do you offer, and why you and not somebody else. So being an entrepreneur is challenging and it’s not the road for everyone.
Jessica: How do you define success?
Vesna: In Africa, they never ever put a business ahead of the person. When they do business, the business is never more important than the person they talk to. I thought that was brilliant! And that is how I like to live my life. The people are far more important than what we actually end up doing. And you feel it, when someone is trying to sell you something like, “Let’s just get to business!” For me, I want to create an experience that is valuable – for me and the other person. That is my number one thing. And ideally, that experience is so valuable that people want to come back for more. Afterward, we complete the business transaction, and of course, deliver exceptional value.
Jessica: What have you learned from your journey as a female Orthodox entrepreneur?
Vesna: You have to be truthful to yourself. It comes down to rigor. What are you willing to put yourself through? Especially since everything goes through you. You need visionary thinking – where am I going and what is the next step? You need production thinking – how can I improve my process? As an entrepreneur, you are sensitive to the world and your engagement in life is much more complex than somebody who works a 9-5. The complexity of your life changes completely.
Imagine there is a party and 90% of people at the party don’t even know there is a party. 10% of the people know there is a party, and 3% of the 10% of the people are actually causing the party. The majority of people don’t want to go through the hassle of being an entrepreneur because it’s a lot and it will consume you. If you’re going to create something it will take a life out of you. Any kind of birth, whether it’s a picture, a dress or a song, if it’s never been created before, it will consume you 100% I guarantee that. We are talking about creation not application – something that has never been seen before. Even if it’s a business for yourself, it’s still creation because nobody has done it before.
Being an entrepreneur is the journey not everybody is willing to go through. 90% of people don’t want to go through the hassle, but you have to love it so much, you’re willing to go through the hassle.
To be an entrepreneur you have to be connected to your source, to your reason and your purpose. More importantly, you have to know why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Nobody can teach you how to run a business. You have it within you, but you have to choose whether or not you are going to access it.
Thank you, Vesna! You’re an amazing #OrthodoxEntrepreneur that is living a life of spiritual vocation, passion, and commitment to truth. Thank you for sharing your story with us. To learn more about Vesna Vestments please click here.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them… to be just like the Theotokos, protector of women and vestment makers.