The Boundless Edit takes Lilli all over the world, including Nepal where she's involved in Quilts for Kids.
NAME: Lilli Boisselet
TITLE: Co-Founder & Creative Director
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Adventurous; Driven; Creative; Dreamer; Realist… Rule-Breaker!
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
It’s been a long and winding road!
After school I studied and worked in Interior Design. I was lucky to work in the office of the iconic Briony Fitzgerald, on projects with incredible clients with big budgets so there was lots of bespoke designs with incredible materials, custom leather handles with hand brushed metal screws, stingray leather inlays in tables, hand block-printed fabrics. It was an incredible experience and I’m eternally grateful to have had that opportunity. I ended up on a holiday in Madagascar and travelled with National Geographic photographer Anthony Asael, taking photos and visiting schools and working with kids - it was like a tap on the shoulder, I’ve never felt my heart so full before.
Since then, it’s been a mixed bag of following the opportunities in front of me. I’ve never wanted a “normal life”. I’ve gone from living and studying in France to yoga classes in India and Malta to studying the Gamsats for Medicine to become a doctor, to business development for a collective of oyster farmers, all the way to doing audits of mosquito net use in rural Uganda and to filming fashion shoots. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to explore my interests before finally landing on something I truly love.
A few years ago I began pursuing working in the Aid and Development sector wherever I could. I started volunteering on anything and everything; I wrote blog posts for charities whenever I could, and educated myself on the issues so I was able to add value. Eventually I started to get paid small amounts, and invited to work on international projects. I started to see a lot of inaction from people being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of charities to choose to donate to. So, a friend of mine (Erin) and I began working towards an edit of projects for women in business that we had personally visited and vetted.
I was a late comer to the world of business, but once I arrived I fell in love hard!
The Boundless Edit is still a baby, but we’re so dedicated to seeing it grow and thrive for the benefit of the women we work with.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do?
In everything we do, we create opportunities for women in developing communities to break the cycle of poverty through business.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?)
Not at all!
I imagined myself working as an interior designer in a firm, living in Sydney full time. My interest in building businesses came later, after university, when I began finding myself around incredibly entrepreneurial people for the first time in my life and I just loved it beyond words. It felt like home - it expanded my mind about what was possible.
I remember being about six and making custom-made wallpaper for my friends’ doll houses and trading them for musk sticks, so I guess that drive for creative business has always been there.
I’ve always been creative, but how I expressed it was narrow – as in traditionally creative. I remember being seventeen and my career adviser saying things like “Do you want to be a fashion designer or an artist?” Once I got into the business world, I started looking at business as the ultimate in creating. Business is the ultimate alchemy for me. To create something out of nothing, to have these dreams of a world only you can imagine and see it gradually come into fruition and change the course of peoples’ lives. The possibilities humble me everyday.
I guess the lesson in it, for the next 10 years, is to take the opportunities as they come, say hello to strangers and expand, edit, expand, edit my world constantly. To follow the things that spike my interest and just enjoy the ride as they evolve!
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
We count the smallest of achievements as a success, because real change happens as an amalgamation of building on day-to-day successes. A young girl who has been given the chance to go to school through one of our projects who graduates from her primary school first in her class; a new woman into the collective completing her first item for sale and being able to buy meat for the first time for the families’ dinner; a big custom order that we know will allow the families the ability to build new, thicker roof weaves for their huts to keep the monsoon rains out; a blog post about education for girls that gets hundreds of views.
I’m a people person; I don’t look at numbers as success. I look at human impact. I’m sure our CFO would say meeting our donation targets is more of a success than a primary school graduation certificate, because one allows the other. But to look at success in a monetary sense is so narrow. I hate the notion of ‘charity’ being a rich person giving to a poor person. I’ve been given much, much more value in my life by the communities we work with than I could ever give them in money. We look at the work we do as value exchange.
Do I consider myself successful? I don’t think about it. I remove myself from the equation – it’s not about my success, it’s about providing opportunities for the communities we work in. Fundamentally, I believe if we can achieve that on a large scale, it will be a success for everyone.
What do you still want to achieve (personally and/or professionally)?
I would love to continue supporting our projects abroad and continue adding to our portfolio. We have another project lined up in Rwanda this year which I’m so excited about, as the female entrepreneurial spirit in Rwanda is thriving! We’re in an era of collaboration in business and I would love to further explore how this is best applied with the Aid and Development sector. I also love creative writing and I’ve just signed on with a publishing house, stay tuned! Personally, I’m excited to have a big family and to nurture and grow these little ones in the world, and all the challenges and rewards that come with that - but not just yet!
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
I’m still studying, everyday - the world is my classroom!
Formally, I studied Interior Design and Architecture in Sydney, with a sub-major in Textile Design, but I also studied and lived in France, which looking back, I think was the undoing of my design career.
I became more aware of the world as a classroom, of experience teaching us what sparks our interest, rather than being forced to pay attention to a textbook. I’ve always been headstrong, but living abroad gave me the confidence to learn for myself and seek my own mentors.
I started photography as a hobby in high school, I used to sew dresses and style outfits and take photos of them on one of my friends in the backyard. I was also privileged to spend time travelling around Madagascar with Anthony Asael, a National Geographic published travel photographer, and sit down with him every night critiquing my images, the shutter speeds, the lighting, the composition, explaining how I could take a better shot. My best friend is in film production and taught me a lot about filming. I think a lot of it is down to practice.
In terms of Aid and Development, while I have no formal training either, I’ve spent years on the ground with projects and the incredible people who developed them on a grassroots level. I’ve got no time for ‘Red Tape’ and politics and tip-toeing around the issues and wasting donors money. I’ve got no interest to work in government aid agencies.
I’m a firm believer that change happens from a societal level and it’s that change that impacts government policy. Governments are not a good moral or ethical compass – legal slavery; legal race discrimination; legal disregard of women’s rights. These policies began to change when societal expectations changed and put pressure on the policies. This is why progressive grassroots efforts to evolve societal expectations are so crucial.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
We are currently working on a coffee table book for our project in Nepal - I had tears in my eyes looking through the proofs. It took my breath away. I can’t wait to have the final run published and distributed to share the incredible stories of these women.
Tell us about your workspace, and what inspires you about your workspace?
My workspace is anywhere with my laptop, it depends where I am. It ranges from a tent in the bush in the middle of Madagascar to a hotel in Paris, a slum in Nepal to a Bondi café. We have a workspace in Sydney, but I’m not there that often. I am inspired by change, challenging myself somewhere unfamiliar and uncomfortable, so this set up works well for me, but I’m sure it’s not for everyone!
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey?
Of course, always wanting things to move faster – looking at someone’s results ten years in and wanting that in year one.
My biggest frustration is when people tell me to give up, that nowadays society is selfish and no one cares about anyone else. I just don’t believe that’s true. I’ve seen most people be incredibly caring and generous. Sometimes the enormity of the issue of poverty can cause people to freeze, but I generally believe in the good in people. I think the lives of those in developing communities are so removed from a lot of people, there’s just no concept of what it’s like, and it can be hard for us as humans to empathise with something so different from our own reality.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work/workload?
Yesterday. We had some issues with a designer, we just hired the wrong person for the job, and we ended up having to pay them for work we couldn’t use. I felt like shit, I made a bad decision and wasted money that could have gone into one of our projects directly. But business is a learning curve – even for charities - and I’ll never make that mistake again. I cried and went for a run and then sat down and kept going with our new project with renewed vigour. Learn from it; onwards and upwards.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this increased or decreased as you progress in your career?
It’s definitely something I struggle with. I work a lot, six days a week between the different ventures I’m involved with and sometimes I yearn for that 9-5 Monday to Friday life where you can just walk away.
I’m a big believer that any of the roads you take in life are hard, so the differentiator is not is it hard or is there pressure, but rather, is it worth it? I try to look at it like this - pressure is one of the many challenges in life you can use to define your personality. How you choose to react defines who you are.
Sometimes you crumple on the floor and cry but sometimes you’re on top of the world - they’re both momentary. Instead of feeling the pressure I try to remind myself to ride the ups and downs and not to pin my worth on one or the other.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships?
I’m not sure how it’s possible not to! I used to be very social and out to dinner and drinks most nights, but over time, that’s not rewarding for me, I hardly ever do that anymore. The last few times I’ve gone out have been for fundraisers for the charities we support or to secure investors. I also don’t drink anymore, so that makes a big difference! I’m that friend that suggests catching up by swimming laps and then having breakfast on Sunday morning at 8am! I don’t mind, my vision is stronger. I get my kicks through business now!
Travelling takes a toll on my personal relationships in some ways, but it’s also allowed me to create friendships all around the world. My partner is living in London at the moment, so there are times when it’s very isolating and lonely. We’re a team though, with a common vision which gets us through, but working so much means it’s just not possible to spend as much time together as we’d like.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How?
Once I began surrounding myself with people with big, scary dreams, it became easier, I finally felt ‘normal’ to want to pursue this crazy life! I’m really fortunate I’ve had the chance to work on projects with some of my closest friends. Even our CFO is a good friend of mine and has come to see our projects abroad which has been amazing.
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights?
It’s a unique feeling in the pit of your stomach the first time your realise that other peoples lives are depending on your ability to make money.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
Definitely. I would be much, much more discerning about who's opinion I gave a shit about! I used to be a ‘gonna’ not a ‘do-er’ and the moment I shook the fear and broke that bad habit it was amazing the opportunities that started to happen.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
Always seek to exceed peoples expectations (especially your own). Be passionately adventurous and weird. Read Maya Angelou’s books sooner rather than later.
Who are some women in business you admire & why?
So, so many extraordinary women! Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop was the first women entrepreneur I looked up to as a teenager. She was the first to take the Fairtrade model to such a large scale; she showed business accruement and heart in a graceful, profitable combination.
Samantha Wills, for her adaptability and business accruement navigating the growth of a multi-national empire, especially in what can be a fickle industry, and embracing a rapidly changing social media landscape – and wearing her heart on her sleeve for women everywhere. I love a recent quote reflecting on her journey, “You’re definitely not at Cool girl status, but you’re most definitely at Kind girl status, and your Kind girl squad…is much more powerful, than cool.” I wish my sixteen-year-old self aspired to be a humble, confident Kind girl, rather than a Cool girl.
Lisa Messenger, founder of Collective Hub is just so fucking fearless. Lisa Wilkinson has spanned the most extraordinary career from Dolly receptionist to be such a voice of empowerment. Maya Angelou, because her spiritual presence was on another level. Tara Winkler, the founder of Cambodian Children’s Trust for her resilience and her honest assessment of a business model that had flaws and correcting it - for admitting that even charities with the best of intentions sometimes get things wrong, and that’s ok. I could honestly go on for hours. I feel so grateful to be a woman in an age of such celebrated female empowerment and opportunity.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
My highest admiration is for proactive people, who see every opportunity and don’t stand there waiting to be told, they launch themselves into it whole-heartedly. My partner Sam is the biggest inspiration to me, he is someone who knows how to set big goals and go after them, rain, hail or shine. I admire that so much and his conviction motivates me everyday.
Work life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it?
I’ve struggled with this a lot. I can be obsessive when I set my mind to something, to the detriment of everything else in my life. I recently read a book that talked about your business as an extension of yourself, as a way of finding yourself and what you want to contribute through your life. Maybe in that sense I’m working towards an integration of work and life. It’s a work in progress. In practical terms, I went through a sweeping edit in my life last year - Who/what enriches me, who/what detracts? Now I focus only on the people and activities that enrich me.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit?
When I’m running on minimal sleep, it’s really difficult to keep pushing forward. Sometimes I sit there crying into my hands, but eventually you get up and wash your face and write down the steps you need to take to solve the issues.
I’m a big believer that making a business work isn’t about not getting knocked down, but about getting back up when you do; to keep going the hundredth time you get a rejection and it’s 3am and the anxiety and accounts due are building up. I remind myself that it’s supposed to be hard, it’s supposed to be stressful, because life is give and take. It certainly doesn’t look like the #EntrepreneurLifestyle for me, but that’s the price I pay for the privilege of getting to pursue my dreams.
Why haven’t I given up? I think it’s about being resolute with the Why. I felt like quitting more when I was selfish about the business - when we first started, I wanted to ride in on my white horse and save people and base my self-worth on being that altruistic person. Now, I realise it’s not about me. I’m a conduit for giving opportunities to women in creative business in developing communities.
I still feel disappointed and inadequate and like I can’t do it at times, but The Boundless Edit is bigger than me and I just have to get out of my own way and allow it to happen.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
That it’s a glamorous lifestyle.
I spend a lot of time in front of a computer in Sydney or jet lagged taking cold showers out of a bucket or desperately trying to shield my laptop and camera from a monsoon downpour with garbage bags!
There’s that misconception that travelling for work is so exotic… a lot of the time we are working 18 hour days, shooting, editing, interviewing, designing, writing, meeting contacts, and then up at 4am for a call because of time differences. We obviously travel for the charity on the slimmest of budgets, or we could be camping in the middle of the bush to be with the remote communities we work with.
But I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s a privilege to be able to meet the incredible people we do on our projects.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
Learn to love a cold shower!
You need a sense of adventure and empathy – but you have to be able to control it, or the extremes of poverty you see will overwhelm your heart.
Be a practical optimist and an uplifting realist. Believe in the goodness in people. Be disciplined. Be afraid of not trying, not failure. Take the big, shoulder shaking belly laughs where you can and soak them in.
Everyone has an important story, ask lots of questions, be patient and learn to be better at listening than talking.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what?
I would, absolutely; earlier, harder!
I believe every road we can go down will be hard work – you shouldn’t choose not to do something because it’s hard, you should choose it because it’s worthwhile, because it achieves a goal that’s important to you.
When I had the 9-5 stability, for me the difficulty was boredom, lack of flexibility and not getting to work on what I was really passionate about. Now I choose the freelance lifestyle, the difficulty is different – the instability, having to push yourself everyday, the long hours, the stress of knowing peoples wages are being paid by you. But for me, the rewards outweigh that. Nothing is perfect, no matter how beautifully curated an Instagram feed can be! So it’s about weighing up what’s more important to you and for the life you want to create for yourself.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
I was raised believing I am equal to the boys around me and I hope the legacy of the work we do means the same can be true for young girls everywhere.
It might seem like a simple thing, but we can take for granted the enormity of growing up with that mindset.
“I was raised believing I am equal to the boys around me and I hope the legacy of the work we do means the same can be true for young girls everywhere.”
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important/(why did you want to be involved in this interview)?
This takes on a new level of importance in the communities we work in. Women making opportunities for themselves through business directly becomes a means to be able to feed their children, to educate their young girls especially and to ultimately have a say in the family unit and broader community. Earning their own money gives them ‘a seat at the table’ in strongly patriarchal communities.
You can sponsor all the children to go to school you like, but until there is an improved level of respect for women in developing communities, the cycle of poverty won’t change. When we support women in business and entrepreneurship, our voices become louder in the home, in the community, in the country, in the world. The ability to earn money means women have a say on how the money is spent, and all the data continues to say that for every $1 a woman earns, 80 cents is invested into the family unit (for a man, it’s just 30 cents invested into the family unit).
Personally for me, bringing women together with role models, like Samantha, makes anything seem possible. When we have access to role models who speak openly about the highs and the lows; suddenly we don’t feel like we’re in it alone. We become fearless. I truly believe we have opportunities in our generation to be progressive and impactful and compassionate like never before; the future is female.
“When we support women in business and entrepreneurship, our voices become louder in the home, in the community, in the country, in the world.”
What are some of your favourite quotes?
“Women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.”
- Timothy Leary, educator, author.
“From those to whom much is given, much is expected… Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the greatest experiences of your lives…
I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you addressed the world’s deepest inequalities… on how you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.”
- Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (From his 2007 Harvard Commencement speech. The transcript of this speech is my bible.)
“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured. I realised, somehow, through the screaming of my mind, that even in that shackled, bloody helplessness, I was still free: free to hate the men who were torturing me, or free to forgive them… and freedom is a universe of possibility. And the choice you make between hating and forgiving, can become the story of your life.”
- Character ‘Lin’ in Shantaram, Gregory David Robert, author.
“When you grow up, you tend to be told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash the walls too much… That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you was made up by people who are no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, the world is malleable… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
- Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple.
“Fail often. Always show up tomorrow.”
- Samantha Wills, creative director of Samantha Wills and founder of Samantha Wills Foundation