We had a chat with Andrea Babic, founder of sisu socks, on what it was like to be born in what was Yugoslavia, raised in Canada, and to fall in love with Berlin.
Read on to learn about Andrea’s badass founding story, one that will empower you to shine and live to your fullest potential, which so happens to be sisu socks’ mission. Every aspect of her business is to support women - and if you read the full interview, you’ll see that you can even contact her directly if you’d like personal advice on starting your own project. It’s also pretty cool and super generous that with every pair of socks sold on the sisu sock online shop, 0.99EUR is donated to Terre des Femmes.
1. When did you come to Berlin and what brought you here initially?
My journey to Berlin was quite the adventure. I left the Yugo region in late 1994 when I was five because my family immigrated to Canada. I grew up there and moved around to different countries for my studies in the meantime. I officially left Canada in March 2016 with the aim of moving to Berlin. Since we all know of life’s beautiful curveballs, my permanent move to Berlin didn’t happen as planned. I had to stay in the south of Germany in a town called Wiesbaden (#represent) for nearly 12 months. For someone obsessed with the feeling of Berlin, 12 months in a small town where I didn’t know the language nor had any family or friends, was 12 months too long. I officially made it to Berlin in April 2017. What brought me to Berlin initially? Love. On so many levels. My partner is German, and I love him. I visited Berlin for a day trip back in 2014 and fell in love harder than anything I’ve ever experienced. So yea, love, and the feeling of home. As diaspora, the feeling of home always had a confusing definition, so when I felt at home here, I was hooked.
2. One of the biggest challenges when arriving here is finding a network of friends and collaborators. Did you struggle with this? What were some things that helped you to expand your network here?
I struggled with this for a long time. I met really lovely people in various situations but I hadn’t met my people. As much as I try to be open with people that I meet, I also have a hard time finding people on my wavelength. I am picky and life is short. I spent a lot of my years spending time with the wrong people, I think that’s normal - oder?
I had finally made it to the city I was in love with and I needed to find real friends that I could count on for a last minute coffee date or sleepovers and snackin’. I missed that so much. I missed my people back home, my family and it was really hard adjusting and feeling normal without that. I had relied on my partner to be all of those things for me and it wasn’t fair nor healthy and I felt like if this was going to be how life was from now on could I ever really continue a relationship with someone that’s from a different place in the than me? Would one of us always lose out on something? Language, career opportunities, friends, family? Until one day, I felt like I wasn’t losing anymore.
Looking for friends made me get the heck out of my comfort zone. I hated this. I’m already such a fearful person of being in the spotlight that I would start sweating just at the thought of having to approach people. Most days I wanted to give up, clinging on to anyone that resembled a friend. I didn’t give up though. In the end, I think I got really lucky because I met a lot of incredibly talented, friendly, hilarious and brilliant people at Enklave, a coworking space. I’m still friends with many of the people I spent time with there. But I made an effort. I asked people to hangout, outside of work hours. Whether it was coffee, a drink at a späti, or dinner at my place, I kept at it because these people were important to me and I needed to let them know that. When you find your people, don’t let them go.
The more people I considered friends, the more comfortable I got with myself. I ended up going to more events and meeting even more people. Lately, I have been trying to go to women-focused events because I want to find other women who are in similar situations. I also want to help women go to a place where they feel comfortable in their own skin again.
3. When and how did the idea for sisu socks come about?
The idea for sisu socks was lingering in my heart and head for a long time. My late father was a business owner so I always had that instinct in me. After his passing, I knew I had to honor him in a special way. Moving to Berlin - a place I wanted to be for so long was part of my grieving process.
I wanted to continue my passion for supporting and lifting women up to the place that they deserve to be because I was tired of being placed beneath it. And, I was tired of seeing other women not see their worth. I have also been passionate about funky socks for a really long time. Eventually these things ended up coming together. I remember exactly when this moment happened: I was crossing the street near U-Bahnhof Möckernbrücke and having a chat with my boo. But the seed was initially planted after I read Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Trust me, the editions of what this business was going to be were endless. A good idea flourishes when you allow it to evolve!
This was my first step to independence and my first step away from job dissatisfaction. I spent most of my career thinking that something was wrong with me because I never found a job where I was happy. It was also the first step into making Berlin really feel like home. I always felt it deep inside, as it was the only place in the world where I simply felt okay to be me. Starting my own business rooted me (which is a perfect transition and link to the next question - haha)!
4. Has founding the company helped you to feel more rooted in Berlin? Do you feel that it's supported you in "finding your people" / expanding your network?
100% yes. It gave me a focus. It gave me the passion and drive. Once I had those, I knew where to go. I only go to events that speak to me on a personal level, that I can relate to on a level that is more than just trying to influence my bottom line. Also, I think that the people who are intrigued or attracted to what sisu socks does and what my mission there is, are naturally on a similar wavelength as me. Meeting people from all over the world who have provided me with honest feedback is the reason I keep getting up in the morning. I love making people feel comfortable, to make them laugh, to make them feel like they aren’t alone in this crazy ass city - ‘cause I felt that a lot in the beginning and I don’t want anyone else to have to feel that shit again.
Owning a business isn’t rainbows and butterflies, kids. It’s a goddamn rollercoaster and it is mentally exhausting but on the other hand it has given me confidence that I never knew I had.
5. Do you have any advice for new expats in Berlin in regards to reaching out and finding like-minded people to collaborate and socialize with?
The biggest piece of advice I can offer to anyone, ever is: don’t be afraid to look stupid and definitely do not be afraid to ask for help. Just as you would willingly and with open arms offer someone your help, you are deserving of that same level of respect and time. If you are willing to offer that to someone else, genuinely and without any expectation of anything in return, why wouldn’t people offer you the same? If you love something that someone else is working on and you feel that it connects with you - reach the fuck out - people love to hear that their life and their mission is positively influencing someone on a deeper level. We all love to hear that our work on this earth is making a difference, even if it's just for one person.
Honestly, what is the worst that could happen when you get out of your comfort zone and try to reach out to someone to meet for coffee or to collaborate? What is the worst thing that could happen if you ask someone for help? They say no? HA! Like you haven’t been through worse things in your life! I keep reminding myself of this every day.
6. As the mastermind of sisu socks, do you have any advice for other newcomers who are considering starting their own businesses and projects?
You cannot do this on your own, if you’ve convinced yourself you can, check your ego. I have asked for help every single step of the way. And take it from my experience, if you have big dreams for your business and your mission, then find a cofounder, someone who is equally as passionate about it or damn close! I’m having a difficult time managing this on my own - lesson learned.
Go to events that you feel excited about, even if you have to go alone - find the other person in the room that’s alone and connect. You obviously know about Clustered - so you’re already on the right path!
Be open to anything, even if it scares you. Life is so random, you will be surprised at what all these connections will bring to you in the future, especially when you least expect it.
Lastly, if you’ve made it this far into this article, contact me. My heart fills with joy when I can help other people. Contact me if you want to start your own business or project, I might not have all the answers but I can at least lead you in the right direction and offer a new perspective. You can find me on LinkedIn. Don’t be shy, I’m expecting you.