As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild in the Post COVID19 Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Faye.
A former journalist and teacher turned activist and entrepreneur, for the past six years Jackie has been working in a conflict zone.
She is the founder and CEO of One January, an Austin, Texas-based company, making ethical activewear from recycled plastic to empower women.
Jackie holds the record as the first woman to do six IRONMAN triathlons on six continents within one year, and believes that sport can change the world. She’s seen its power firsthand in Afghanistan — the worst place in the world to be a woman, according to the 2018 Women, Peace and Security Index — where she trained young women to swim, bike, and run.
You see, she is on a mission to use sports to empower women who are the most in need and hold the greatest potential for positive change, like the millions born into conflict or extreme poverty each year — many of whom don’t even know their date of birth. If these women get the chance to apply for official documents, like a national ID or passport, they get assigned a birth day — One January.
For the first time, these women, who have been previously denied a fundamental piece of their identity, can now have a sense of self. Jackie’s company is named in their honor. One January will work to empower these women by giving 50% of profits to its nonprofit partner, She Can Tri.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?
I was a journalist and had the opportunity to go to Afghanistan in 2015 and I have worked there for the past six years.
In my time there, I was exposed to a world where, for the most part, women did not have access to sports, and for me personally, I know sports changed my life. I would not be the strong woman I am today if I did not play sports. And I’m not the only one — 80% of female Fortune 500 executives played sports.
So, I thought if I could get more women playing sports in parts of the world where it is really tough to be a woman, then over time we would see change.
But first things first, I wanted to show women that they can do whatever they want even if they are the first ones doing it. So, I decided I was going to become the first to complete six IRONMANs on six continents within a year. And if you don’t know what an IRONMAN is — it is often defined as the toughest single day sporting event in the world. It’s a 2.4-mile (3.8 km) swim, 112-mile (180 km) bike, and a 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run. I completed that goal in 2018 to launch my nonprofit, She Can Tri. In 2019, I started training the first women in Afghanistan to swim, bike and run.
And that was extremely hard. In Kabul, there are only two pools that allow women and we had to schedule cycling super early in the morning because that was the only time it was safe. Resources are extremely thin. It’s not like these women could just walk out their front door to go for a run. So, with my nonprofit I worked to find them safe spaces to practice, covering all transportation and equipment costs. We also planned training camps in Spain, the UAE, as well as Bamiyan, a safe province in Afghanistan.
After a year of working with these women, I took our top two athletes to compete in the IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai and one, Zeinab, made history crossing the finish line carrying her flag. Both of my top two athletes went on to earn scholarships to study in the US. So, while we were small, we really were changing lives.
But I want to see more women crossing the finish line. Zeinab made history in February 2020, the next month, COVID19 stopped us in our tracks, but it gave me the opportunity to think of how I wanted to rebuild moving forward.
People all over the world were rooting for our little Afghan team, but I wanted to make it easier for the women in the developed world to get involved. In March of 2020, I got busy developing One January.
I wanted to make products that I loved and believed in. I wanted to make sustainable activewear that would give 50% of profits to help women in need.
The majority of our products are made from recycled plastic. We work with manufacturers that promote fair labor and sustainability. And we are raising money to build a Sports and Peace Training Center to empower women impacted by conflict from all over the globe.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or take-aways you learned from that?
You know, we are really just getting started on the business. As far as the nonprofit, I am so thankful for our struggle because I learned so much. I truly have a deep understanding of what it takes to train women in places where this is unheard of, and that has enabled me to develop a really strong plan moving forward. I trained the Afghan women for a year but you could really get that down to half a year if you had more interaction. With a Sports and Peace Training Center, we will have a full-time program. And at the end of each program we will go to compete and I dream of dozens of women carrying flags from all over the world across the finish line of international races, truly changing the image of women in their respective countries.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I think listening to the stories of other women who have accomplished really big things has helped me take on some really big goals myself. I loved Samantha Power’s book “Education of an Idealist” and Lynsey Addario’s “It’s What I Do.”
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I want to empower the women impacted by conflict, but you know, what’s interesting is that in my work I have found that when women from developed countries “help” a woman in need, the woman in the developed country benefits more. It puts her life in perspective when she sees how great the struggle is for a lot of people on this planet. At least that is what my work in Afghanistan did for me — it really made me a better human.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Remember we are all in this world together and if we come together we can make it better. I believe that with everything in me.
Thank you for all that. The COVID19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I was in Afghanistan throughout the entire pandemic and I guess I feel lucky, while I was not near my closest friends and family, I developed some great friends in Afghanistan. This past year, my job that paid my bills was at NATO’s Resolute Support Headquarters as their multimedia producer. In my spare time, I was working on One January. If you look at our pictures for our products you might be surprised to learn they were taken in Kabul, the models work for the military, and the woman behind the camera is a combat photographer. If Afghanistan taught me anything, it’s that you make it work with the resources you have, and that is what we did. Basically, I recruited all the women on the camp where I worked to help me with my business. I think a lot of people are worried about what will happen to Afghan women as the US troops leave, but just because the US troops are leaving, my work there will not stop.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Not being able to network in America has been tough, and that is really what I am working on now. I’m in Austin and I’m trying to meet with as many people as possible to tell them about our work. I think our story is strong and our journey is far from over. Now, I just need more people to come along.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I read a lot of Mark Manson. I love him. So, I’m going to steal his words. I think the anxiety has come from an increase in awareness of the problems, but not an equal increase in awareness to the solutions. As humans, we have a choice: we can be paralyzed by the problem or we can get busy with a solution. One January is solution-focused. I just need more people to be aware of what we are doing.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the post-COVID19 economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that it will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, post-COVID19 growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate?
If COVID19 taught us anything, I hope it has taught us that we need one another. No one is an island. And we need to take care of each other to take care of ourselves. Everyone has value.
How do you think the COVID19 pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
You know, slowing down is not always such a bad thing. I hope people realize that when they slow down they can make better choices about who they choose to interact with, where they shop and what they eat. I hope it has taught us to live with more intention.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the post-COVID19 economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization?
Look, I think COVID19 made people realize how much they like wearing workout clothes to work from home. Hopefully, that will continue in some fashion. Also, people are starting to head back to the gym. They are going to need something to wear. Why not wear activewear made from recycled plastic that really will help another human being? What else do you want from your activewear? One January is activewear for a better world — who doesn’t want that?
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Look in the mirror. It is so easy to look out at the problems of others, but look at yourself and what you can do each and every day to be part of the change. It is hard work, but it is rewarding. I promise.
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson” quote? Can you share how it was relevant to you in your life?
“Everyone puts their pants on the same way.” In my work in Afghanistan, I realized job titles meant very little. Sometimes, the local shopkeeper was more intelligent than a high-powered government official. I met men and women with an elementary school-level education who were smarter than some Ivy League grads. And I met some of the kindest people who were extremely poor and would literally give you the shirt off their back. Some people have more opportunity than others and that may allow them to reach greater heights in life, but they still put their pants on one leg at a time.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Visit onejanuary.com and check us out on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @onejanuarysport for more information. Buy something while you are there and let’s get this training center built.