Antonia Hiesgen is a travel advisor and founder of Alchemista, a London-based social business launched in 2021. Alchemista sells unique artisan jewellery, handcrafted accessories, and handmade jewellery from artisans around the world. The company’s mission is to create income opportunities for marginalized communities and artisans in developing countries by promoting and selling their handmade products. Antonia is also a certified Transformational Travel Designer, travel product manager and travel blogger with eight years of experience in the travel industry.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. What is your professional background? How did you end up with this career?
My professional background is in the travel industry. I started travelling at a very young age and went on my first solo trip to Australia by the age of 16. So when I left high school, I wanted to do “something in travel” like so many others. My major in college was Tourism Management followed by a master’s degree in International Development completed in Copenhagen, Denmark. Since then, I have worked in the travel industry as a travel advisor for large tour operators, youth travel organizations and adventure travel companies.
Spending much of my time globetrotting both for the job and to feed my passion for travel, I have encountered so many beautifully handmade products, such as homeware, jewellery, and accessories, made by artisans around the world.
From soft alpaca scarfs, to beaded jewellery from Guatemala, colourful dog collars handwoven by members of the Wayuu indigenous tribe in Colombia or contemporary seagrass baskets from Rwanda – many of these artisans simply don’t have access to our markets to showcase their incredible products. So I decided to merge my passion for travel and design with the support and income generation for artisan communities around the world.
Eventually, with every unique souvenir brought back to the UK, my idea of a business selling ethically sourced products made by artisans in developing countries started to take shape. Accelerated by the pandemic, which drastically increased the number of people in need, I finally launched Alchemista in late 2021.
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How did you begin your remote work journey? Where do you see yourself in the next year? What tips do you have for others who are working remotely?
I have been working remotely long before the pandemic started. The travel company I work for has no physical office, as our small team is spread across the UK. Working remotely is easier for some than for others. I tend to get distracted easily, so I need to make sure to have a clear agenda for my day, my week, and month.
Before deciding to work remotely, it is important to become aware of your strengths and weaknesses, self-discipline, and what impact not having a “physical” team around you may have on your performance and on your mental health. After working from home for a year I decided to join a coworking space and realized that I do benefit from an “office environment” a few days a week. Having worked with amazing teams and coworkers in the past, I just missed being around people and I found that a sense and feeling of community helped me focus on my work more.
Next year I see myself running a growing small business, working with amazing partners and artisans around the world and supporting vital educational and development projects. Besides, I’m planning to continue and grow as a travel advisor creating fantastic transformational journeys for my clients. Have I put too much on my plate? Never!
What is your self-care routine how do you find time to integrate it into your daily life?
I try to start my mornings with 15 minutes of meditation and finish my day the same way. I am still in the process of trying to find my ideal regular self-care routine, which I believe is incredibly important. You start off with one habit, two habits and eventually several habits become a new routine. I highly recommend checking out a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear, which is worth a read for everyone struggling with or wanting to improve their habits and routines.
Putting yourself first is important to your overall wellness. Given this, what are your best holistic wellness tips?
Listen to your gut and intuition. As an example, your body and mind will tell you when it is time to take a break. Sometimes it is not worth it to push through. So when you feel resistance, let go and relax. Energy is in constant motion, so nothing ever remains the same. Difficulties and tough times will pass once you’ve learned what you needed to learn in the school of life.
I am also a big fan of yin yoga, a slow stretchy type of yoga consisting of long held poses. It is amazing to see how flexible you become even just after only a few weeks of continuous sessions.
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Lastly, a little bit of an odd one but… I recommend getting a body scrub every now and then! In the animal kingdom reptiles shed their skin, dogs shed their coats and birds shed their feathers when the seasons change. I honestly feel like a newborn person mentally, emotionally, and physically every time I get one. For me it has almost become a ritual twice a year.
What was the toughest challenge you faced during your career? · How did you get through that period? What advice for people dealing with similar difficulties?
One of the hardest hit industries during the pandemic was tourism. In the UK about 25% of the workforce in travel industry were made redundant. I think the uncertainty about the future of our industry took a huge toll on people’s mental health. But then again uncertainty and lack of control is something we need to accept and work with rather than resist. Being inpatient myself, the pandemic taught me acceptance, patience and letting go. Rather than waiting it out, I used the extra time I had to plan, build, and launch Alchemista. The pandemic saw more new business launches than ever before and despite all the misery it has caused for so many, lots of people used to this time to reflect, transform, change focus, and put new ideas and visions into action.
Mental health and feeling good are crucial to maximizing performance. How do you prioritize your mental health?
A healthy mind (and body) is the foundation to be successful in other areas of life. I have learned this the hard way. I struggled with my mental health from a very young age all the way throughout my twenties. A constant up and down slowly turned into more “downs” and less “ups”. It is a downward spiral that becomes harder and harder to escape the further down you fall and build back mental strength.
Distracting yourself is almost never a good idea. I found it a lot more helpful to sit through my feelings and to observe them from a distance. Another great book that really helped me with this process is the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Lastly, mental health shouldn’t only be a priority for everyone already struggling, it is just as important to learn ways and techniques to stay mentally healthy in the first place.
Before the pandemic hit, you may have worked in an office or corporate setting, but what do you foresee happening now? How do you see companies allowing employees to work post-pandemic?
I hope that hybrid forms of work will become the norm. After almost two years of home office and remote work, many of us cannot imagine going back to starting your daily 45minute rush hour journey on a train so packed you cannot move, in order sit at some desk for eight hours, to then getting back on that packed train again at 6pm. However, human beings are social beings and meant to be around others. Flexible working and hybrid work models are only expected to grow and coworking spaces need to adapt their strategies to the expected influx post-Covid. With their emphasis on flexibility and community spirit, co-working spaces appear to be the natural progression of the traditional office model.
If you could have lunch with one person in the world, who would it be and why?
That’s a tough one! It needs to be someone who I can learn from on a personal and professional level, someone inspiring, wise, and intuitive.
I have always been fascinated with Hildegard von Bingen. Not known to many, she was a German abbess in the 12th century and was active as a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary and healer who was later canonized. As a woman in the High Middle Ages, she was way ahead of her time, researching holistic medicine and medicinal plants and became well known for her healing powers. She was travelling across what is today Germany preaching and gaining followers, which was highly unusual for women at that time. She also invented her own alphabet and language. Simply said she was an early day entrepreneur, author, musician, and doctor who found her passion in many different fields and defied societal norms of her time becoming an inspiration for many. I’m sure she would make an excellent lunch date if she lived today!
If you could inspire a movement, what would it be and why?
It would be the “find yourself, be yourself” movement. Sounds cheesy and cliché, I know but the reality is that too many people try to fit a role someone else - society, parents etc. - chose for them. Keeping up this facade takes so much energy that could be spent elsewhere. People work in jobs they don’t like, stay with partners they don’t get on with, try to please people who don’t reciprocate. The reason is almost always fear. Fear of change, fear to be alone, fear of being judged. But in fact, everything is in motion all the time and resisting change or turning a blind eye to the signs you’re being shown towards change won’t get you anywhere in the long run.
There is one more slightly less serious movement I’d love to inspire! The “not everyone needs to wake up at 6am” movement. Books like the 5am club and much of the new generation of entrepreneurs try to convince you that you need to get up before sunrise to be successful. Society still stigmatizes night owls as lazy. The truth is everyone has a different rhythm. My productive and creative hours are in the late afternoon and early evening. If I got up at 5am, I simply wouldn’t get anything done until late morning. Evolutionary there were the people that went hunting in the early hours and then there were the people who stood guard in front of the cave at night. So, my ancestors must have been cave guards!
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You can find and buy all our wonderful sustainable products on our website - https://alchemista.co.uk/. On Instagram and Facebook you can find and follow us on @alchemistaofficial.