Hannah is a chameleon, a modern day renaissance woman. We met when we were both living in Shanghai; she was working as a landscape architect. She was also running races, braving the stand-up open mic, doing food and historical tours throughout the city, and starting to get interested in 3D printing. Now, she lives in London, helping run makerspace FabLab. She’s started her own business, she’s telling funny stories in front of crowds, and she’s putting the two together as she works to build a supportive and productive community of women makers in the city. And yes, she’s blooming!
Interview by Alana - @onthestaircase
You’ve tried and done so many things. But they fit together, there’s a narrative there. What are the guiding values or ideas that push you from one opportunity to the next?
I always like to challenge myself. I’m working on traveling toward my fears. I think you can think a lot about your fears and it can stop you from getting places. But if you move toward them, you’ll stumble on something along the way.
So, I’m saying yes to anything that people ask me to do. I’m trained as a landscape architect, but I’ve been doing graphic design, interior design, and logo design. Even if I don’t know exactly what to do yet, I’ll just say yes now, just to see what happens! I’ve always liked being creative, so figuring out those things are a bit easier.
I’ve also always been a kind of nervous person, and I would like to be more confident. That’s part of the reason for getting involved with standup comedy. Even doing it occasionally really terrifies me. But it seems like something that will make me better at public speaking and able to talk to different groups of people. And it’s already really improved my work life immensely – being able to communicate more easily now.
What you’re saying about this really resonates with a project you just worked on – making snarky motivational posters about overcoming failure for the Makerspace. Tell me what you think about having a willingness to fail.
Yeah. I have definitely failed a couple of times on stage. And in a way it felt good? Like, “If that’s how bad it gets, then that’s not that bad at all.” It’s definitely given me a lot more confidence to say – “You know, I might not do it well this time. Or I might do it really stupidly for a long amount of time. But then eventually, I’ll crack it. At least I tried my best.” And I’m proud of that bit. Rather than always achieving things, I’m really proud of actually just trying my best.
How do you try and build that into a greater message for women in the Makerspace or any other communities that you’re a part of?
“Makerspaces” are so often run by men and so, through no fault of their own, they have often designed it for themselves and for their own needs without having thought about what women might need in order to be there. For me it was okay to walk in, but I was aware of my negative feelings about the place. And I reckon there are other women who feel the same way, who aren’t as comfortable walking into a space and perhaps failing. A lot of times as women, we worry about not being perfect and that really affected me.
So I wanted to help try and make a difference there. I was trying to think about the design in terms of gender neutrality, and how actually the way we design spaces affects the way we perceive that space and who feels comfortable in that space.
Also, I set up this organization called WeMake with Clare Cunningham, another woman who’s in 3D printing. We organize a meeting every 2 or 3 months and it’s completely free. It’s to showcase some of the stuff that women are doing when they overcome that barrier, walk into a makerspace, and realize all the opportunities that are there. There are so many opportunities –we’re learning, we’re growing. Everyone should go into one. The only restriction you have is just how much you’re willing to put into it.
A few months ago, we had this lovely girl who designed a robot for an event, Robot Wars. She was 10 years old, so her parents were involved. Her mother was a fashion designer, so she helped design the skin of the robot through the same methods that she uses for fashion. That’s something that her husband laughed at her for; he’s the engineer that built the robot. But she said, “No. This is how we’ll do it. This is what I know, so I’m applying my knowledge and that’s the end of it.”
And he realized through this process of working with his wife and daughter, what it meant to be a woman in an engineering space. And he saw it all around him. So, as a result, while he was working for Robot Wars, he got really passionate about wanting to make sure women were welcomed and represented. When he found out about our event – he signed them up. He gave a really lovely introductory speech and then sat down and the girl and her mother – also known as Team Glitterbomb – spoke. So it’s things like that – really inspiring.
Let’s talk more the empowerment that comes out of pushing yourself; out of making and trying things and building collaborative trial-and-error creation communities. You mentioned how these experiences can help you grow, which is what Bloom is all about. How will you bloom in the next year?
Well, I’ve just launched my own Etsy store! I think that I’m going to start making stuff not just for myself. When I do that – it’s very DIY, it’s very adaptable. But making things that are actually sellable and usable for other people – it’s a big difference. If you’re making something for yourself, it can be kind of shabby and a little bit broken. But making something for someone you have no connection to, who’s paying you for it, is a very different experience. And I think that’s where I’m hoping to grow. Refining an idea. Not just making a quick something for every weird idea that I have, but making a product. Failing a lot and being okay with it is good, but I’d also like to really achieve something I’m proud of.
Creatively, what are the things that interest you most especially when it comes to 3D printing?
Definitely making stuff with my own hands. I spent a lot of time being a designer in an architecture office and I would draw out all these beautiful things I could never get my hands on. I’d never see them again because they’d maybe be built in 5 or 10 years time.
But this – this is instant prototyping, instant results. I can check for successes, failures, and adjustments to be made by a few millimeters. I can sculpt it how I want to, using my hands with these [3D printing] machines. Using these huge, scary machines to produce something very pretty is appealing in a specific way. I’m the only woman in this particular makerspace and all the men make all of these engineering things, and I just come in and make pineapples and rainbows and brightly colored things. No one else has done anything like this, used the machines in this way – and that inspires me.
How does the storytelling element, comedy, fit in?
I wouldn’t say I’m confident enough to just do standup comedy straight – if I have a presentation, I have a focus and a theme. I have some rules and boundaries to work within. It challenges me a lot. I can’t really talk to anyone in the week leading up to it, and I want to throw up the day before. I freak out a lot, lots of nervous tics, and my housemates dread it.
But it inspires me that I can make people laugh. That power is incredible. You can change everything. You can get out of any awkward situation, you can make new friends – I can go to a bar by myself now and know that I’m going to be okay.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Being really happy and loving and caring about other people and standing up for people in a way that isn’t aggressive. I want people to be able to come to me. And I want to inspire.
(lots of squealing noises)
I’m really hyperactive and silly all the time. That doesn‘t come across really, does it? I sound very sensible and reasonable.
A KICK BUTT FORUM THAT AIMS TO INSPIRE, COMFORT AND UNITE INCREDIBLE WOMEN (& DUDES) THROUGH DYNAMIC INTERVIEWS