11 November 2022
This month we are following the co-founder of Manchester-based African-inspired fashion brand, Cultureville, who specialises in hand-crafted clothing and accessories that feature bold African wax prints in contemporary designs. We'll hand over to Ronke Jane to find out what a typical day is like running the business...
In the life of an entrepreneur, each day is unique and in my role as the co-founder and Creative Director of fashion brand Cultureville, this is certainly true. Within the span of a week, my days can vary from having a glamorous shoot on one day to a grueling day of accounting and admin the next, but that’s part of what makes it enjoyable.
I’m constantly being challenged, learning and developing. An added benefit for me is that I get to do it all with my sister, co-founder and best friend, Adeola. Although there is no “typical” day for me, here is what an average day in my life can look like.
My day typically begins at 10am, one of the perks of working for yourself is that you get to choose your own hours and as a night owl, I definitely take advantage of this on days where I don't have early meetings. I start my day by praying and reading the bible before getting ready for the day ahead. While I enjoy working from home, I find that I'm more productive in a work space, so I head over to our co-working space whenever I can.
11.00 – 11.30
To help shape my day, I start by writing a to-do list of the tasks that I need to get done and order them by priority. My co-founder and I have weekly strategy meetings which I use as the basis of my to-do list. I usually select four tasks to complete each day – two relatively easy, two more challenging. I think starting your week off by achieving something difficult makes you feel like you can do anything so I try to kick off my week by getting something challenging crossed off my list.
11.30 – 13.30
As the Creative Director of Cultureville I lead our digital marketing and communication efforts so some of my tasks include formulating our content strategy, planning our shoots, designing for upcoming collections and communicating with our mailing list. The first portion of my day is usually dedicated to one of these tasks.
13.30 – 14.30
As a late riser, I tend to do brunch rather than breakfast and I like to break for brunch after I've gotten into the swing of my day. For me, getting started is the hardest part of completing a task so I tend to take my break midway through so I can just pick up where I left off.
14.30 – 19.00
I like to switch between admin and creative tasks to stay engaged, so if my first task was something admin heavy like crafting a content calendar, I'll try to lighten it up with something more fun in the afternoon like creating a reel or writing a blog.
19.30 – 21.00
We are huge proponents of work/life balance at Cultureville therefore our social schedules tend to be packed. In addition to my role at Cultureville, I’m a poet and spoken word artist so in my evenings I can often be found performing at open-mic nights. On the days where I'm not performing, Adeola and I can be found hanging out with friends, either at a games night or dinner.
21.00 – 23.00
If we haven’t had dinner by this point then we’ll head home, rustle up something and curl up on the couch with a good Netflix show. The evenings are when I spend quality time catching up with my family
23.00 – 1.30
I really enjoy working at night , the world is quiet and I can focus so this is the time I dedicate to editing videos for Cultureville. I usually wrap up by 2am and head straight to bed.
While running a business can be extremely challenging, I am lucky to have a job that allows me to use all my skills and pursue my talents wholeheartedly. It’s so fulfilling to see all that work come to fruition when someone wears our items for a special occasion like their wedding and to know I played a part in their story.
09 November 2022
Small businesses in the UK have had a lot to contend with in the last few years, however, the UK’s brilliant independent retailers are among the most hardy in their sector. Figures from the Local Data Company have revealed that the independent retail and leisure sector was more resilient to the impact of Covid-19 compared to national chains with five or more outlets.* In this blog we are celebrating their incredible achievements and contributions, both economic and creative. We have curated a selection of some fantastic products from small businesses around the UK who have used the BIPC services, to help you narrow down the search for that perfect gift.
For those with a sweet tooth
One business who received support from BIPC Leeds City Region, Klara’s Gingerbread, makes and hand decorates gingerbread biscuits; each piece made using a traditional Hungarian recipe and carefully decorated by hand making a perfect edible Christmas decoration. Lactose free and vegan versions are available. Klara also runs workshops, both in Leeds and remotely for all ages to relax, have fun and learn how to decorate their own gingerbreads.
Cost: Between £2 – £50
Where to buy? Klara’s Gingerbread
Raise a glass
Selfish Spirits is an ethically conscious spirit brand based in Skipton, aiming to make the world a little bit better through supporting charitable causes and being as sustainable as possible wherever they can. Their signature product is a dark spiced rum made from molasses from Guyana and fermented and distilled in the UK. It has all-natural flavourings of vanilla, caramel, Mexican lime and a touch of blood orange.
Where to buy? Selfish Sprits
Make your mark
Martina Rocha Luz is a Leeds-based calligrapher and engraver offering a personalised engraving service to make your gifts extra special! Engraving is the perfect way to elevate a present and Martina personalises anything, from wine to perfumes. In addition to her engraving service, Martina also offers unique wedding signage and personalised stationery.
Cost: Prices start at £19.95
Where to buy? Martina Rocha Luz
Don’t get in a pickle
Northumbrian Pantry makes sweet and spiced pickled pears preserved in a special blend of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. The perfect pairing for a Christmas Stilton and a glass of port and equally delicious with whipped or ice cream or as a classic pear salad with walnuts and Roquefort cheese. Handmade in small batches using seasonal pears in the North Tyne Valley village of Simonburn.
Where to buy? Northumbrian Pantry
Harper and Willow, who used BIPC Northamptonshire, was created with the intention of bringing healthy, wholesome, delicious organic food to the market with their own personal twist. They use great flavor combinations with premium ingredients, resulting in an amazing taste experience. The muesli and granola doesn’t use refined sugar, processed oils, preservatives, additives and flavourings. All products are vegan and gluten free!
Where to buy? Harper and Willow
Look the part
April’s designs are inspired by the geology surrounding her in the North East of Scotland, she has continued to use nature as inspiration, despite moving to Glasgow where she used our BIPC in the Mitchell Library. Inspired by her photography of stones and geological sites around Scotland, she set out to create a collection of luxury textile accessories whilst upholding her personal values: buying less by buying better; supporting local businesses and sustainability first.
Where to buy? Agate and Ayre
Give the gift of giving
For those who are looking to give back this festive season, BIPC Greater Manchester’s Action Media Hire deck out a Police Interceptor Action Vehicle, which usually stars in TV and films, for their fundraising. The Santaceptor distributes sweet treats to children and collects donations to assist with the project operations and other local charities.
Cost: Up to you
Where to donate? Santaceptor
For those who love self-care
Natalee Onyeche’s Skin Solace is a sophisticated, luxury brand to reflect the high-quality ingredients used, which makes her customers feel pampered. Your skin absorbs 60 - 70% of everything you put on it within 26 seconds! With this fact in mind choosing the right products becomes more important. BIPC Nottinghamshire’s Skin Solace products are formulated to offer the very best nourishment and moisture naturally. Skin Solace aims to turn everyday occurrences into opportunities for self-care with the products it provides.
Where to buy? Skin Solace
Contemporary jewellery designs inspired by the beautiful English countryside and made by hand in the heart of Norfolk using recycled sterling silver. Good jewellery is something that makes your heart sing whenever you wear it - the necklace given with love, the cufflinks bringing individuality to workwear, or the tiny horse shaped stud earrings showing a love of riding. Wherever we see it, jewellery always embodies the essence of the wearer in choices that are as individual as fingerprints. Making jewellery by hand allows Helen, who used BIPC Norfolk, to make one-off pieces on commission for clients.
Where to buy? Helen Cross Jewellery
Dress to impress
Where African culture meets contemporary fashion. Manchester-based Cultureville offers statement looks and hand-crafted accessories, ethically sourced from West Africa. Their goal is to showcase the beauty and talent of Africa through bold and beautiful African inspired clothing and accessories.
Where to buy? Cultureville
For the crafters
The 'why' of Tas’ business is to make all people create moments to feel comforted and included. It does this through uniquely flavoured, consciously sourced loose-leaf tea and modern embroidery kits, designed and created locally in Cambridgeshire.
Where to buy? Very Craftea
For the K-pop stans
Get Ready for Business Growth business, SOKOLLAB, is an independent Korean music and lifestyle store bringing you the best in KPop, KBeauty, stationery and books. Visit their London and Birmingham stores or go online for authentic Korean gifts this Christmas!
Cost: BTS Proof Standard Edition £54.00
Where to buy? SOKOLLAB
Another of our scale-up businesses, BATCH #001 creates award-winning, sustainable, organic skincare products and beauty gift sets for dry, sensitive skin, powered by the bees, the land and the seas, using only natural ingredients, eco-friendly packaging, and everything is handmade, at their small female founded business. They offer a range of luxury and bespoke gift sets at all prices points, which are gift ready, wrapped, with a personalised note and free UK shipping. Choose from Bath Soaks, Body Scrubs, Bath & Body Oils, Beeswax Balms and Candles. Perfect for Christmas gifting!
Where to buy? BATCH #001
Bring the world home
Meaning 'friend of the people', AARVEN is an ethical homeware and jewellery brand founded by two adventurers, inspired by their artisans around the globe. From wood block printed textiles, recycled brass jewellery, to hand woven baskets, they design their joyful collections in collaboration with the world's best artisans. Working in close collaboration with over 30 artisan groups across Africa and in India, AARVEN uses ancient craft techniques to create contemporary heirlooms for the modern home.
Cost: Various - save 10% on purchases over £10 with code BL10 (expires on Christmas day).
Where to buy? AARVEN
The perfect accessory
Pom Pom London was born in 2015 with the aim of delivering affordable, stylish and contemporary products. All their products are designed from the UK, they are passionate about creating fashion pieces that are unique and fun for all ages and the expanding range is a reflection of this. Whether you are looking for a warm hat or a useful bag, there's something for everyone.
Where to buy? Pom Pom London
If the shoe doesn't fit
I Can Make Shoes teaches people how to make their own shoes from home using their beginner-friendly online tutorials, shoemaking kits and books. Whether you have difficulty finding shoes that fit or you're just a shoe lover who loves to craft, I Can Make Shoes is the best place to start! Our previous scale-up programme helped I Can Make Shoes founder, Amanda Overs, triple her team size and launch an online community. She's now taking part in our new business support programme, Get Ready for Business Growth, tailored to arts and culture businesses and fully funded by Arts Council England.
Cost: Various - save 10% on books, kits & supplies with the code: BritishLibrary10
Where to buy? I Can Make Shoes
Does what it says on the tin
Introducing KANKAN, natural body care in a can. A simple at-home refill solution. Nourishing botanical soap supportive for your skin health and wellness. Made from all natural ingredients, plastic free and infinitely recyclable. Oh and one tree is planted for every can sold ensuring your daily wash is giving even more! Delivered gift ready in reusable packaging.
Cost: Starter set prices start at £24 - use the code BRITISH LIBRARY KAN to enjoy 20% off your first purchase.
Where to buy? KANKAN
Design your own wardrobe
Sew Me Sunshine is an independent dressmaking fabric & haberdashery shop shipping worldwide. We have a curated selection of dressmaking fabrics, including a large range of sustainable eco fabrics & deadstock (ex-designer) garment fabrics, dressmaking patterns and high quality sewing supplies. Our one stop shop will help you make a handmade wardrobe that will make you smile.
Cost: Various - save 15% on all orders with code BRITISHLIBRARY15
Where to buy? Sew Me Sunshine
Cards for every Christmas
Jelly Armchair is a small family business specialising in big silly puns. Run by two sisters, Jelly Armchair has a collection of colourful illustrated cards, gifts and homewares designed to bring some silliness to everyday life and make you giggle (or grimace) at the pun based 'dad joke' humour. Cat, the illustrator creates beautiful, detailed artworks that you'll want to look at time and time again, and you’ll notice something new each time. Our collection of 'multipun' Christmas cards is suitable for all ages and even comes with a fully illustrated Christmas envelope.
Cost: Various - save 10% on all orders with code BLXmas22
Where to buy? Jelly Armchair
*According to COBRA reports (which you can access for free in many BIPCs around the UK)
21 September 2022
Our obsession with one metal has inspired some of the greatest art and creativity in history. Why are we so enamoured with it?
Gold is rare, malleable, remoulded and reinvented into countless forms, throughout many different cultures and civilisations. It is also incredibly beautiful.
We extract it from the earth to form objects that are coveted and often become more valuable over time until they become treasures. This process inspires great innovation and creativity. All in the pursuit of one, precious metal.
The British Library’s Gold exhibition showcases its own collection of golden treasures. On display are manuscripts, treaties and book covers of varying ages and from different places, cultures and civilisations from all over the world.
Here we see how this valuable commodity, when combined with innovation, creates new objects that can be protected, valued and resold. As we’ll discover, it’s a kind of intellectual property alchemy.
Innovation to extract beauty
Over the centuries there have been various places where people have literally, ‘struck gold’. These have become renowned; from the ancient mines of Egypt, India and Anatolia to parts of Europe, where explorers obsessed over a mythical place in the new world called El Dorado, the city of gold. More recently, it is the 19th century that springs to mind, with its gold rushes in Australia, New Zealand and North America as well as Canada’s famous Klondike gold rush in the Yukon province, immortalised in novels and film.
Each gold rush generated new migrations, economic development and new technology. It’s here that the patent system gives an interesting snapshot into what was going on technologically as speculators were investing in sophisticated ways to extract more and more from the same mine.
A patent is an intellectual property right that will protect new and original inventions and processes. The British patent GB1853 no.997, Apparatus for Washing Earths containing Gold, is one such example. Here, two mining engineers from France sought protection for a new technique to ‘dredge’ and ‘wash’ earth and materials derived from rivers to extract more gold. We can see an illustration of how their patent worked in practice here:
Innovation in transformation
Once sufficient quantities of gold are gathered, they can then be transformed into objects of various kinds. How the gold is used has inspired many different techniques over time that have lasted through to today. The use of gold leaf is over 5,000 years old. Ancient Egyptians developed techniques to hammer gold into a thin layer, which created just the same appearance as the solid material but with a more economical use.
Gold leaf can also be finely ground into gold paint combined with a pigment to create ‘shell gold’. Again, another economical use of gold which means that the gold, in its leaf and shell forms, can be used in as varied works as wooden sculptures to gilded porcelain to illustrated manuscripts; such as the British Library’s Harley Gospels.
But the value is not just in the commodity, it’s in the artistic creation. Many jewellers have registered designs for unique pieces made of gold and other precious metals. A well-known brand like Bulgari have a number of watches registered as a design, presumably as they are unique signature pieces of great value to the brand and its design heritage. Here is one such UK registered design:
Main illustration for design number 80800720005000
Registered design is an intellectual property right that gives companies or individuals the right to protect the appearance of a product, such as its shape or pattern. These are ordinarily for more than one piece that is in production.
But what about one of a kind creations using gold? Can they also acquire extra protection and value?
The golden rule of copyright
Each of the works on display in the Gold exhibition is a unique work of craftsmanship and art. Among the most modern is an Art Deco binding by Pierre-Émile Legrain (1889– 1929) of Colette’s La Vagabonde Paris, 1927. Like nearly all of Legrain’s work, they are one-off, original creations and so are automatically protected by copyright at the time of creation. You can call it the golden rule of copyright: if you create an original work it’s automatically yours to own (or sell). However, as Legrain died over 70 years ago, his work is now in the public domain so can be copied and reused. However, this doesn’t lessen the value of his originals, which sell at impressive prices at auction due to their recognised skill and scarcity.
All that glitters isn’t exactly gold
Gold is so valuable and treasured that anything associated with gold, almost unconsciously takes on this value, conveying a meaning that taps into our shared cultural experience and memory. This is where the modern world of branding has lifted this golden association and taken it into new places, in every kind of trade conceivable!
What do you think of, when you hear ‘golden arches’?
A search on existing registered trade marks is a fascinating look at how everybody wants to be associated with all that’s golden. There are over 1,000 trade marks that begin with the word, ‘gold’. From estate agents to media companies, the tourism sector to restaurants, to name but a few.
This goes to illustrate just how we love all things golden, that the value of a trade mark and its reputation is enough for businesses to invest in their brands with the hope of one day selling or licensing their name. This is IP alchemy taken to another level!
Why gold will always hold its value
But it’s not just the value of gold as a commodity, it’s the versatility of gold that exponentially increases its value. Its value may be in a beautiful jewellery design, a one-off work of art that features gold, an invention to find more gold or the power of association that makes us love a brand or business.
Gold carries a symbolism seen in every culture and time. It’s been considered sacred and it’s been considered profane. It’s inspired the best of our creativity (and sadly the worst of our greed). It is truly timeless and its varying forms are endless.
So next time you see anything golden, remember there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to its value. There’s creative alchemy, and sometimes a little IP.
Jeremy O'Hare, Business & IP Centre IP expert
18 February 2022
As London Fashion Week A/W 2022 comes to a close today, we’re feeling like it's about time to update our wardrobe! Stuck in a rut with your wardrobe too? Maybe you're feeling inspired to create runway pieces at home? From shoe making classes to vintage inspired clothing, we have BIPC businesses that are transforming the fashion industry to help pull you out of your rut. Find out how below
The Fold Line is an award-winning online sewing pattern shop. Founded in 2015 and based in the UK, they are the home for people who love sewing and making their own clothes, offering an extensive range of paper and digital PDF sewing patterns plus copy shop printing services. They are on a sewing mission to help makers find the perfect project and create a handmade wardrobe they love. If the designs from London Fashion Week has inspired you to try your hand at sewing, why not try making one of The Fold Line's best selling sewing patterns for beginners.
Co-founders Rachel Walker and Kate Underdown took part in the Innovating for Growth Free Scale-Up programme and with the help of experts' advice, marketed their new online shop to an established community following.
If shoes are more your style, why not try I Can Make Shoes, a London-based shoe-making school for beginners. Amanda founded the business back in 2010 to teach total beginners how to make their own shoes from home. Since we last spoke to the Innovating for Growth alumna, a lot has changed - she spent the first lockdown filming the same course content she had been teaching in-person for over 10 years and released it as an Online Course, this turned out to be great timing as people from all over the world had been wanting to take one of their courses but weren't able to travel the distance.
The past two years have been a very rocky road, as is the case many small businesses, but I Can Make Shoes has come out of it in a great position having had a chance reset the business and find their feet in the world of online training.
Inspired by beautiful bygone eras Revival Retro’s garments have classic style, feminine tailoring and flattering cuts. They are the perfect antidote to the fast fashion and throwaway culture of the chain brands on the high street and are committed to enabling individual style with inclusive sizing (8-28). For the discerning woman who wants a better shopping experience, their thoughtful design and considered approach puts people, planet and provenance first. Clothing that women will choose to wear again and again, that are easy to care for, enabling this desire and therefor lowering impact on the environment.
Since completing Innovating for Growth in 2017 where they learned to create a solid foundation for their business plans, their small business has built upon lessons learned and stayed true to their values whilst navigating the challenges of the last few years.
Sabina Motasem is a multi award-winning bridal boutique featured on vogue.com and in Elle. The entrepreneur and designer behind it is Sabina Ali whose dresses are proudly made right here in London with beautiful craftsmanship by an extraordinarily talented team. Having started in 2007, with a single wedding dress made as a present for a friend, Sabina's presence has steadily grown and she took part in our Innovating for Growth programme in 2012; it's an experience she calls "life changing" as it taught her the value of detaching herself and gaining perspective.
Like so many small businesses Sabina had to close her bridal shop in Islington but she believes it was the right thing to do. Her boutique is now online, becoming one of the first bridal brands in the country to pivot in this direction, and in 2022 she has started offering in-person appointments at bridal pop-up shops in Kings Cross, London.
The Maria Grachvogel brand of Fashion and Luxury is about fit architecture – making clothes exist for the wearer, rather than the other way around. She engineers beautiful clothes, in fabrics that make every shape and size of woman look and feel her most confident, beautiful, and feminine. With a deep belief that cut and fit is transformative to the body and soul, each piece is carefully considered with seams that sculpt the body and fabric that drapes perfectly to move and flow as you do with thoughtful design details to enhance and flatter or allow for many ways to wear and style. The finest craftsmanship goes into every, considered piece so it can be loved and worn for many years.
Watch the latest fashion film by Maria Grachvogel, Genesis - A New Dawn, which premiered during London Fashion Week on 21 February.
B_Boheme’s showcases how vegan, sustainable and ethical shoes can be desirable. The collection is 100% animal-free using the latest innovations in sustainable, plant-based materials, as well as natural and recycled materials. With their latest collection, they’ve upped the ante to create a collection with the lowest possible carbon footprint. It features three key styles that are designed to be bolder and brighter as well as durable and timelessly chic. They’ve focused on styles that women can wear to be comfortable while still elevating any outfit, the elegant flat shoe, the designer sneaker and the utility Chelsea boot.
09 December 2021
According to Mintel research (which you can access for free in many BIPCs around the UK), 25% of consumers say they are shopping more with local businesses due to Covid-19*. This isn’t just via the traditional bricks and mortar stores, but online as well, with 44% of consumers shopping more online during the pandemic, as detailed in their COVID-19 Retail and E-commerce: A Year On in the UK report. So, we’re bringing you a selection of small businesses who have used the BIPC services around the UK, to give you some inspiration for gifts, not only for Christmas, but year round.
Treats for everyone
One business who received support from BIPC Glasgow, Cubby Salve, founded by Margaret (or Mimi to her cubbies), makes gentle, small-batch, skincare. Each Salve & Body Bar is made with natural ingredients and is blended and hand poured by Margaret in Cubby’s Salve Kitchen.
Cost: Gift sets from £28.99
Where to buy? Cubby Salve
For those with green fingers
Sacpots are tough yet lightweight ethical plant pots designed to be shaped by you. Sacpots are rot-proof, water resistant, and can be placed inside or outside, available in hundreds of colour mixes. The elastic neck lowers water consumption and the insulating fabric accommodates root growth with full stretch indicating it’s time to pot on. Dispatched with a liner in a post box friendly envelope, your washable Sacpots will store flat after use. Handmade by Marcela Livingston in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Marcela received IP guidance to protect her idea and help with general market research with BIPC Leeds through the free access to its databases.
Where to buy? Sacpot
Pott(er)y about ceramics
Elena creates handmade functional and decorative ceramics at Sunken Studio and in her own studio in Leeds. Products include handmade mugs and bowls can be purchased via Instagram. Elena likes to play with surface patterns and geometries and decorate her creations with bright colours and uses natural elements she finds in her garden such as leaves to imprint and enrich surfaces. She is inspired by her surroundings and loves finding details and harmony in the shapes and colours of everyday life. Elena also finds inspiration from the places of her childhood, waves and rocks by the Sardinian sea. Elena used BIPC Leeds' ERDF funded Start-up Leeds programme to take her business to the next level, which included attending weekly workshops.
Cost: Various (bowl, pictured, £30)
Where to buy? Instagram
For the bookworms
Afrori Books has the biggest selection of books by Black authors in the United Kingdom. Covering every genre that you are looking for with thousands of books in store and online. They have a simple mission: Support Black authors, create diverse bookshelves and be a voice for justice. Founder, Carolynn, had a one-to-one with BIPC Sussex to finding funding opportunities and to access their free databases, including COBRA.
Where to buy? Afrori Books
For the chocoholics
Lucocoa Chocolate, is London's first bean to bar chocolate making company based in North London. You won’t find any refined sugar or artificial sweeteners in these bars, instead Lucocoa opts for the healthier alternatives of coconut sugar and lucuma while also sourcing the best flavoured cocoa beans from around the world. Amarachi, founder of Lucocoa, used Innovating for Growth experts' advice to help scale her business as demand for her product grew rapidly.
Cost: Food and Drink hamper £60
Where to buy: Lucocoa
Get mistletoe ready
Our Circular Economy Start-Up Day panellist, FRUU, is a pioneering cosmetics company that specialises in turning fruit by-products into sustainable cosmetics. Started from the spare room of founders Terence Chung and Kelly Yee in 2017, FRUU developed as an initiative to add value to the waste produced in the agricultural waste stream, reduce the use of resource intensive materials, whilst making sustainability an accessible lifestyle. All products are designed, manufactured and produced from their workshop in London and FRUU is currently stocked in 1000+ stores in the UK, EU, Australia and South Korea. Terence also took part in Innovating for Growth to access professional expertise and advice on critical business areas, strategy planning, marketing and intellectual property.
Cost: Gift boxes start at £2
Where to buy: FRUU
Another from our Start-Up Day Circular Economy panel, Natasha from Urban Cordial started her business by foraging for ingredients in her allotment to turn them into cordials. Over a third of global food does not reach our plates, often because of the appearance of the item, even though it is perfectly safe to eat. Natasha, being aware of this issue, contacted local farms to source their surplus food produce and to date, Urban Cordial has helped to save over 100 tonnes of fruit from landfill. Urban Cordial’s production process is also zero waste with all fruit pulp going to the local farms to become animal feed.
Cost: Get the full range for £48
Where to buy: Urban Cordial
For those cosy nights in
A collection of single origin hot chocolates made with tablets and flakes of real chocolate; starting with White and then in varying cocoa percentages from Venezuela 58%, Organic Peru 70%, Academy of Chocolate Gold winning Haiti 75% up to a 100% pure cocoa! Everything, but the White, is registered with the Vegan Society so you can make it with your favourite milk.
Cost: Prices vary; use BLGIFT at checkout to get free shipping on all orders over £10.00 until the end of December!
Where to buy? Kokoa Collection
Handpicked luxury for the home and garden
At Sophie Conran they know that giving a personal gift to a loved one is the ultimate treat. Their collection has something unique to suit every special person in your life. From Sophie’s licensed ranges, exclusive collections and hand picked products, they have curated an inspirational shop for the whole home and garden.
Where to buy: Sophie Conran
I’m dreaming of an Italian Christmas…
Primo Aperitivo encapsulates the very best of Italy making the Italian Aperitivo easy to enjoy in a sharing format. In addition to the most famous Italian Aperitivo, the Negroni cocktails, Primo Aperitivo is the first brand to release the Americano and Sbagliato cocktails, carbonated upon bottling, which create the first ever range of classic Italian Aperitivo cocktails in a ready to serve format. Primo is committed to serve the best and most authentic cocktails sustainably: each cocktail is produced and bottled using 100% renewable energy and every ingredient is produced at the distillery to reduce carbon footprint and wastage.
Where to buy: Primo Aperitivo
Precious stones for a precious person
Innovating for Growth business, Tomasz Donocik, designs and manufactures bespoke and high jewellery sold worldwide in stores such as Saks Avenue (New York), Isetan Men (Japan) and Tsum (Moscow). If you are looking for something extra special, they also offer a bespoke tailor made service where clients can turn their dreams into modern day heirlooms.
Cost: Prices start at £250
Where to buy: Tomasz Donocik
For the creatives
Stitch & Story is a craft kits company based in London, revamping knitting and crochet as simple, modern and aspirational skills. They empower people to start their own creative projects and tell their own stories using chunky yarns, easy-to-follow instructions and online video tutorials. Stitch & Story believe in the power to create, personalise and achieve something meaningful by bringing out the artisan in everyone. Co-founder, Jennifer Lam, took part in our Innovating for Growth programme and with the help of IP experts; she has launched her business in international markets.
Cost: Various gift offers
Where to buy: Stitch & Story
Fashionable butchers for a Christmas lunch
A small but growing butchery located in Peckham and Beckenham, Flock & Herd aim to provide the very best possible quality and range of produce, combined with their service and experience. This Christmas they have carefully selected the best festive treats from Appledore Free Range Turkey to a perfectly dry aged Ayshire Rib of Beef, whether it’s a small lunch for two or a family feast there are plenty of tasty and delicious delights for you to enjoy.
Cost: Various + £30 deposit payable on the phone
Where to buy: Flock & Herd
For those with a sweet tooth
If you're tired of board games and looking for a fun family activity to do on Christmas day, Sweet Paper Creations have just what you need! The business supported by the Start-ups in London Libraries project in Waltham Forest make and sell piñatas, made from recycled materials, for any occasion, you can even commission your own bespoke character! The profits from their shop help to deliver their “Make It and Break It” workshops, which provide a creative outlet for those suffering from mental health issues, stress, bereavement.
Cost: Various (Snowman, pictured, £30)
Where to buy: Sweet Paper Creations
Visit Delmora's online shop for the perfect gift to add a touch of Christmas sparkle to any outfit. Delmora took part in the Start-ups in London Libraries project in the borough of Bexley, they offer a variety of beautiful jewellery items and accessories to help you turn a 'good look' into a 'great look'.
Where to buy: Delmora
Make a splash
Haus of 420 have just what you need to unwind after the big day of festivities! Handcrafted using pure and organic CBD, essential oils and detoxifying natural spa mineral salts. It offers you consistency, relief, balance and calm resulting in the best nights sleep you’ve probably had in a while. Each bath bomb contains 50mg of CBD and 100% peace. Haus of 420 received local support in Lewisham from the Start-ups in London Libraries project.
Where to buy: Haus of 420
Spread the Christmas cheer
MerryCherie offer a beautiful range of positive wellbeing cards for you to share with your friends and family over the festive season. They are proud to be as environmentally friendly as possible, the cards are wrapped in recycled brown paper and safely and securely packaged in hardbacked/padded envelopes for postage. The Start-ups in London Libraries local support in Lewisham helped Sheree-Marie to start her business MerryCherie.
Cost: (Gingerbread card, pictured, £2.95)
Where to buy: MerryCherie
Handmade with care
Crafty North Londoner is a group of London based artisans producing non-mass produced handmade products, with sustainable and ethical practices at the forefront of their activities. The business supported by Start-ups in London Libraries in Haringey offer beautifully created products so you can make sure the gift you give is the most unique one under the tree.
Cost: Various (Mini Necklace Kit, pictured, £24+)
Where to buy: NorioKnots
30 September 2020
What does the future of business look like? In normal times many things can be uncertain, but with a pandemic almost everything is - demand might have increased, operations closed, plans paused, or business models changed entirely.
We know that businesses need as much support as possible and we’re here to help. Our newly launched free Reset. Restart programme helps you to understand your business, give you the tools to plan for future success and prepare for change in the short-term. The BIPC is here to help you take the power back and become more resilient, sustainable and agile.
To tie in with the launch of our new programme, we are featuring just a small selection of businesses who have come through the Business & IP Centre’s doors throughout the years and who have successfully adapted during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I manufacture a small range of alcoholic drinks from things that I grow or forage. So, by a year-long process of cold infusion I make fruit liqueurs, sloe gin, damson gin, etc. I also make two distilled gins, for which I grow some of the botanicals. On top of this, I run a small weekend cocktail bar, which showcases the products I make... A bit like a brewery tap room, the building I rent acts as manufacturing unit, bottle shop and bar. I also sell my products wholesale to local delis, bars and direct to the public through my website. There are lots of different strands to the business which I think was my saving grace when COVID-19 came along!
Due to the pandemic, we had to close the bar, which can be up to 90% of our income in some months. Very quickly I saw that alcohol was considered essential shopping (phew!). So I set up myself as an off-license with a table moved out into our doorway – we opened the day after lockdown. We had a lot of people come and buy direct from us – being an outside activity I think people felt safe.
The established online business went crazy. I offered free delivery to a fairly wide area of East London, which I did on my bike. I also created some new products, a hand sanitiser, two bottled cocktails which had previously been favourites in the bar and a bar in a box, where people could buy gin, tonic, snacks and have it delivered to their door. The new products and the free delivery were both taken up well by customers. And so we stayed connected to our customers and got by pretty well throughout the months of closure.”
Another business who has continued to flourish throughout the pandemic by capitalising on the benefits of an online offering is I Can Make Shoes. Its founder, Amanda Overs, explains how she’s managed to keep her head, or should it be feet, above water.
“During one of my mentoring sessions with Innovating for Growth delivery partner, Fluxx, they helped me realise the importance of starting an online community, which I went on to do. This community has steadily been growing and when COVID struck (which, in theory, should have put me out of business). I spoke to this community and heard what they wanted, which was online courses. I quickly pivoted my business, filmed and released my online course in two weeks and have since made over £100,000 of online course sales in under six months. It's kept my business open, my staff employed and opened up a whole new revenue stream.”
For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, it was also a good time to reflect on the business. “An opportunity to ask myself if I were to do it all again would I do anything differently? We had to incorporate COVID-19 secure regulations into the re-opening of the bar on Saturday 4 July, but it has also actually enabled me to do things I had wanted to do i.e. Table service, a smaller more sustainable menu, better use of staff resources, a lower impact business with lower overheads – all good.
Plus, I had been quite old school in my approach to the business, never borrowed any money and have no debts. I have always run the business in a way that has felt personally sustainable – and not having to worry about servicing a debt is great.
One thing the Innovating for Growth programme taught me when I thought I was looking to scale-up (as I thought this was the way that businesses inevitably must progress), was a clearer understanding of what I didn’t want. Which is a difficult but extremely useful lesson! Not to be confused with feeling like a failure because you don’t fit with what appears to be the standard of success...”
Another business, who previously used BIPC Norfolk for support on intellectual property, has also used this as a time to reflect and refocus their business. Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project, had onboarded over 20 retailers when they launched to wholesale in September 2019 and she partnered with Not on the High Street and Joules a couple of months later. By January 2020, they were looking to increase this number to 45 after a successful trade show. However, when COVID-19 struck, retailer orders stopped and conversations were put on hold.
Hazel explains, “This enabled us to focus our efforts on our online sales, via our own website, as well as Not on the High Street and Joules. We worked on our SEO/CRO, blogs, and used social media platforms to drive sales and grow brand awareness. As a result of this, our sales far surpassed those experienced last Christmas.”
Hazel continues, “The rise in sales can of course be explained by the change in consumer habits in the lockdown period; shoppers were no longer hitting the high street to find gifts for loved ones, they did this from the comfort and safety of their homes instead.”
Much like Becky and Mother’s Ruin, The Wood Life Project were also able to work on their sustainability, “During this period, we spent time preparing for becoming Grown in Britain (GiB) certified, and successfully gained accreditation in June. We also gained our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accreditation in July.”
Hazel is now looking forward and is currently working on a new range of products to complement their existing product range. These include seasonal children’s products especially for Christmas as well as some products for adults and the hospitality trade. They are also now back in discussions with the large retailers too. Watch this space for The Wood Life Project products in a retailer near you soon!
New products and innovations are continuing to pave the way for businesses to continue trading and move forward. Innovating for Growth alumna, Central Vision Opticians, founded by Bhavin Shah has done just that. Bhavin explains “We’ve had to adapt the business as a result of coronavirus and I believe it has had a positive effect. We were already a multi-award winning practice and I’ve always been looking at ways to innovate and offer more to our patients. As a result, safety now became a very important priority in a way that we’d never considered before. Not just for our patients but for my staff and myself. I re-mapped our entire customer journey from the point of first contact, to when patients entered the premises, how the examination was conducted to trying spectacles. After identifying all of the potential risk points with my staff, we planned and found ways to make everything as safe as possible.
I had been planning to invest in new technology that would allow us to examine our patients’ eyes in more depth, so we could identify problems more quickly and accurately. This technology also had the benefit that we could examine patients without getting as close as before, which meant that it would be safer as well as more thorough.
We also noticed a few common symptoms that patients were experiencing as a result of lockdown and working from home. Many children have become more short-sighted because of reduced outdoor time, excessive screen use and close-up work. We had already been successfully working on innovative programmes to help reduce the rate of this type of deterioration, so we were able to help many children who became short-sighted (myopic). We also noted a surge in patients who were experiencing symptoms of eyestrain as a result of working from home and additional VDU/screen time. We created blog posts and information guides to help alleviate the symptoms from home where possible and invited those with lingering eyestrain to attend the practice for a specialised assessment to solve their problems.
I believe that the crisis has helped to focus the way we help our patients and has increased the value we can offer in keeping their eyes safer and healthier with better vision than ever before.”
For Becky and Mother’s Ruin, there continues to be positivity, “It is hard to know what the future will bring for us. What the crisis has taught me is that the business does have a good resilient core, and that we can only live in the moment and try and respond creatively to changes as they happen. So I ask myself, is everything OK today? This week? And if so, I think that is all I can hope for, and I am grateful! I think being a tiny multi-stranded business makes all this possible.”
If you are looking to Reset. Restart your mind set, business model, market opportunities, customer offer, social and environmental impact, products and services, marketing, finances, funding options or digital productivity, visit our free programme page to find out more and to sign up to our webinars.
17 September 2020
Julie famously founded The Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table in Cambridge, with only £600, as a means of paying school fees for her children. Being seen on the arms of celebrities and bloggers such as Taylor Swift and Liberty London Girl quickly gave the brand global recognition.
To celebrate Julie's upcoming event, Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE, in partnership with Santander, we caught up with her to find out more about her business journey, and why every business should have a dog for company.
Championing the self-employed cause
Julie’s monumental start-up success from “a cup of tea and a big idea” to a globally recognised brand is living proof that anyone can set up a business they’re passionate about from their kitchen table. Throughout her rise to business success, Julie’s philosophy has always been to champion aspiring entrepreneurs, believing that everyone should have a chance to take control of their own destiny and achieve their life goals.
“Personally, self-employment changed my life,” said Julie. “There are over 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK and there are now more possibilities to set up as self-employed. People can now create opportunities for themselves – they now have options.”
Whether it’s getting a brand new product to market, securing investment for a potentially ground-breaking invention or simply spreading the word about your available services using social media, there are now more ways than ever to achieve your self-employment ambitions.
Julie has now had to come back to where it all began, her kitchen table, when Cambridge Satchel Company's office closed during the pandemic, she realised that founder stage Julie may have had better ways of working than now. "I’ve rediscovered the necessity of making decisions quickly and not overthinking. The clarity of focus when undisturbed has been good when reflecting on how best to move forward. There are fewer distractions and more hours, reclaimed from commuting, but how did I separate life from work? How did I shut off when the house is filled with work reminders? I have some questions I’d love to run past the first year founder me!"
The importance of work/life balance is also key, especially when it comes to pets. "I can do without most things, my dogs don’t fall into that category. The garden has never looked better and the dogs have never been happier – those are the balances that have kept my spirit high."
Overcoming limited budgets with creativity
With such a small starting budget, Julie had to be extremely creative in raising awareness of her new business. Julie admits she was a self-proclaimed “queen of the free directory listing”, utilising as many local resources as possible to get noticed, such as regional newspapers, fashion and lifestyle editors and business directories. In fact, it was her innovative relationship-building with fashion bloggers and lifestyle editors that would eventually propel the brand to the next level.
In 2010, Julie was contacted by fashion bloggers in the United States, who were desperate to wear her satchels to New York Fashion Week. This massively increased the exposure of the brand, and having the satchels on show on the laps of front row fashionistas caused quite a stir. This culminated in Bloomingdales stocking the satchels in the iconic 5th Avenue store in New York – quite a meteoric rise from Julie’s quiet Cambridgeshire family home.
The importance of staying true to your roots
Perhaps the really impressive aspect of the global growth of The Cambridge Satchel Company is that the brand has continued to remain close to its roots. Julie has been the brand guardian throughout the years, using social media to maintain close relationships with customers and building the human aspect and relatability of the brand.
Julie’s first company photo shoot of her product range even featured her own children as models. This proved to really resonate with customers, especially given that Julie’s children were such a significant factor in the company’s creation.
Julie cites her greatest achievement in business as being able to scale the business globally whilst staying true to who she is.
“We’ve taken investment, and it would be very easy to step back and potentially get too big for our boots but we’ve remained the same company essentially – we have a direct relationship with our customers and want it [to stay that way],” she said.
When stores had to close due to lockdown, these roots proved once again to be key to success. "The Cambridge Satchel Company was born on the internet. Our customers and following were built online and so from that perspective it’s always been a strength we feel we have. During lockdown though, there was an increased need to reach out and help customers with browsing, product advice and customer service through all online channels. I even recorded videos in the garden for some customers to answer queries."
This has also led Julie and her team to reassess and not be afraid of changing decisions made previously. Her current three priorities for the company are:
- Communication is on the priority list every week – yes, the team is smaller but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to make sure we’re all on the same page. Remote working has some benefits but does challenge communication and the maintenance of team spirit.
- We have used this time to reflect on who we are as a brand and what sets us apart from competitors. The next step is to action these thoughts – this week we have already commissioned a new look photo shoot.
- I’m looking to simplify our offer. Currently there is a large range of styles, sizes and colours, so an overwhelming amount of choice. Simplicity is king and during these times when we are operating with a smaller team we need to get back to basics.
Guard your intellectual property with your life
One of the biggest challenges Julie faced in the early stages of building up her business was protecting her intellectual property. The company’s first factory and manufacturer actually attempted to steal her original designs to create an imitation product.
Julie, however, soon learnt from her naivety, and opted to set up her own manufacturing facility in Leicester and operate using non-disclosure agreements when working with third parties, which helped her protect her brand.
In the space of just twelve months, Julie discovered 330 fake websites that claimed to sell her satchels – some even displaying an imitation trade mark. Fake profiles had also been set up on social media channels claiming to be The Cambridge Satchel Company and selling counterfeit goods.
“We enforce our trade marks aggressively and have fake websites shut down,” she added.
“At MarkMonitor meetings I am surrounded by household names, far bigger than us. We have to join together to defend ourselves but it is a huge drain on resources.”
Intellectual property infringement is no laughing matter; it can cost you thousands. However, you can get all the information and guidance you need to protect your ideas and creations here at the British Library at our regular workshops and through advice clinics.
Work with honesty and integrity
The Cambridge Satchel Company has quickly become a brand that people can believe in across the world and this has led to global success. This is particularly the case for China, which is now the business’ second-largest territory for sales. Even Prince William paid a visit to a festival in Shanghai which housed Julie’s very own ‘Great Wall of Satchels’.
Julie has used the recent months to think about the brand in a more meaningful way. "We recognised that this was the time to stop, pause and reflect on exactly why we deserve to exist and survive. What we offer that’s of value and sets us apart. Those fundamental questions led us to recognise that we needed to rediscover the brand in a way and be bolder. The project has brought so much excitement and clarity – definitely the most defining, valuable solution."
Julie has been deservedly heralded as a true British business success story and was acknowledged by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron who asked her to lead an independent review of the UK’s self-employment landscape. The resulting report outlined 10 recommendations for the Government’s consideration that would support the growth of the self-employed community in the UK. This included increased use of libraries and enterprise hubs.
The Cambridge Satchel Company’s inspirational story is a fantastic example of how one great idea can spiral into a global business success. As Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie shares her own expertise and experience to help users of the Business & IP Centre achieve their own self-employment ambitions. Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE is on Tuesday 22 September, 10.30.
26 May 2020
This month's week in the life of follows Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumna, Rowena Howie, founder of Revival Retro, a London boutique reviving 1920s to 1940s glamour in its vintage-inspired and reproduction outfits and footwear. Her diary takes place during the week everything changed and includes details of what's happened since. Here's Rowena...
You never know what’s coming next when you run a small business. Least of all a global pandemic!
I’ve been asked to write ‘a week in the life’ of a small business owner. The week I shall describe was both life changing and, actually, nothing out of the ordinary. Responding to challenges, overcoming problems, finding a path to a better future is in our entrepreneurial DNA.
Tuesday 10 March was one of my favourite kinds of day: I got to be creative, I was at the culmination of a project and we were getting ready for launch, it was exciting. I would be working with a group of talented and highly skilled freelancers. I’ve worked with many of them for years as I value and admire them. As we all know each other, it’s less tense and more fun, the stakes are still high on a photoshoot, we have to get the shots we need but the team knows what’s expected and I know I can rely on them to deliver.
During the first three hours of prep, as hair and make up starts on our models for the day and the photographer, runner and I set up, we fall in to our usual easy rhythm of chat. This time, however, there’s a new hot topic Coronavirus.
This is the week when everything changed, awareness, attitudes, actions. It was before the government announced any lockdown plan it is essentially when Coronavirus changed from something everybody talked about as affecting other people to the realisation that this would change our lives, our businesses, our behaviours, our economy.
That Tuesday we talked about the video that had just been released exposing how bad the situation was inside Italian hospitals. We talked about what had been happening in China. I explained how this was going to affect our supply chain and how this might affect our Autumn/Winter collection and therefore the work that we might be able to collaborate on in six months time. My team were impressed that I had even been interviewed for The Sunday Times and Radio 4 Today programme about this.
All of our talk was of a distant and remote problem, one that didn’t really seem to affect us directly. I asked the team lots of questions, what do you think? Is this a threat? What are people’s perceptions vs reality? No-one was worried, except me, and mine wasn’t fear it was endless questions with no answers.
As a business owner you need to be working several steps ahead, planning, preparing ready to bend and flex, willing to change which path you take as long as you keep your destination in sight. On that Tuesday the shoot was fun and forward looking. We sanitised our hands, fist bumped rather than hugged and followed the current advice. We were productive and positive about the collection and the campaign launch, everyone thought the garments I had designed and made were fantastic, everyone imagined they would sell really well.
Wednesday was a busy day with a long to do list. Events like photoshoots are all-consuming and you can’t get anything else done. So, my inbox was full, I had breakfast and lunch engagements and there was a trade show that I would need to get to (I was still in normal buying mode). I even had a date planned that evening, a rare prioritising of personal over professional life that I was still managing eight weeks after enacting a new year's resolution.
Our award-winning boutique is ‘not just a shop’ it is the heart of a community, it is a place where you are welcomed, where we connect people, products and passions. As such my bricks and mortar shop is my pride and joy, it’s also a place where I can get very little work done! Being in the shop is fantastic for collaborating with the team, getting feedback from customers, and working on joint projects but it’s the worst place to be when I need to plough through a to do list.
I’m a perfectionist and an ideas person and I only have to raise my head from my laptop to see something that could be done, to catch a voice through an open doorway to remind me or suggest something to me. Being in the shop, even the back office, just adds to everyone’s to do list! On this day, I had headed to a local co-working space for some solitary and silent work production. There was still lots to do for the upcoming launch. Getting everything prepared to go live in our online shop by the Friday deadline meant I had to help make this happen whilst staff in the shop were busy receiving stock deliveries in the boutique and processing these ready for the shop floor.
I was so engrossed and hammering through the list I almost forgot the trade show and had to rush over Marylebone for the final hours of the show. I ordered fabric samples for the next collection and addressed a difficult situation with a trusted supplier where they had delivered 300 metres of inferior fabric, which had not been returned at point of delivery but already been made in to garments. There’s no clear resolution to this it depends on your relationship and your negotiating skills.
It was on the whole, a pretty good day.... Until everything fell apart! Late in the afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, had delivered the Budget and despite the intention to help businesses mitigate any impact of Coronavirus my small business had effectively been excluded from help. The criteria for business rates relief had been based on the open market rent valuation of your premises, not turnover, not the number of staff, not profitability. A measure that was intended to help small businesses was being withheld because of the cost of doing business in London.
I’ve learnt over the years that toddler type tantrums can be helpful and cathartic but should be conducted away from the eyes of all employees, customers and pretty much everyone so the next 24 hours didn’t go as planned. Despite all the deadlines, this was a disruption I didn’t need but it wasn’t just the rates relief, this challenge was representative of many of the problems you encounter as you grow and scale and take bigger risks and manage bigger overheads. However, I find that metaphorically ‘throwing your toys out the pram’ can bring clarity as you mentally knock down everything and start again. When you know what’s important and what is of value it is possible to look more objectively at what you can do without, what you can change and what to focus on.
Thursday Sometimes fresh new ideas occur but mainly I believe that with a business that has been going a certain amount of time, that has a strategy and knows its purpose, that you come out with a sense of resolve and focus.
I had created something I was proud of, that the team believed in, that initial feedback had shown customers wanted. This was the future, my own range of products, our first summer collection, consistency in our range, exclusivity rather than price competition, better margin, we decide delivery to market, we have greater control over a whole range of commercial factors that will benefit our future viability and profitability.
Everything was back on track for the launch of our new collection.
Friday Today I would send out wholesale line sheets, I would prepare for a sell-out private launch party for customers on Sunday, everything needed to be ready to put the whole collection live online for e-commerce sales on Monday. We also needed all the photography from Tuesday’s photoshoot retouched and formatted to create the visuals for web and social media along with product shots for the webshop.
90% of production had been delivered and was being prepped for the shop floor by the team. We were ready. Months of work had brought me to this point. But the news was changing.
Saturday In three days the coverage of Coronavirus had amplified, changed its tone and pace of reporting, the news of what had been affecting other parts of the world now seemed very much closer to home, the threat was real, the evidence credible, the tension palpable.
Whereas the discussion on Tuesday had seemed to place peoples perception of the problem at maybe a three out of 10, Wednesday, plus the budget, had moved it to four, reaction to the help (or lack of it) announced in the budget and new data had raised it to five by Thursday. Now difficult questions were being asked everywhere with obviously no satisfying answers from government or experts making it a seven out of 10, as I shopped for prosecco and cake at the supermarket on Saturday.
My launch party was tomorrow and despite the media frenzy, it looked like everybody was still enthusiastic to come.
Sunday As I journeyed through empty streets to the shop to set up, I passed a newsagent and I saw the headlines. I stood still, I took stock, I saw that everything on this grey March morning was different now. People would be scared, people would stay home, people would not be buying new clothes, people would not be responsive in the way they would have to our lovely photographs, they would be distracted by bigger issues and thinking about protecting their near and dear. It didn’t matter how much work I had done to get to this point.
A couple of hours later the apologies and cancellations started to come through, people couldn’t or wouldn’t make the event. That Sunday seemed like the day where the true extent of the pandemic revealed itself to the UK. As people spent the day at home and consumed the media it seemed to sink in, we began to realise the implications of how this was going to affect us. Questions still didn't have answers yet but we began to plan and prepare mentally. A change happened.
Some people did turn up to that little party, some of our most loyal customers and as I expected, they did love the collection and we did get some sales. More importantly though, between the reasons given for peoples absence and the chat over tea and cake with some of our most enthusiastic supporters I was able to take a measure of how my business might be affected in the coming weeks and months.
Everything and nothing happened on that Sunday. But I could take the resolve I had found on Thursday to direct my response to this challenge. I would use the insights I had learned from customers on Sunday. I would gather my team on Monday to discuss and then help focus our response. I needed to direct everyone on how we would overcome problems so people didn’t lose heart, I would find a pathway through this to ensure there is a future for our much loved small business post pandemic.
Monday It was a quiet day with virtually no customers. There was still work to be done with the online launch of the collection, but we were already wise enough to what was coming to hold back stock and revise our plans.
I received a call from my full-time member of staff, they had symptoms. Updated Government advice made it clear Charlotte would be distancing for the next 14 days and suddenly what seemed like ‘just a cold’ carried a weight of worry, a concern for our colleague and even more questions about our safety, our work, our lives.
It’s important to remember that your business is nothing without people. Quite simply, tending to the mental and physical needs of employees is, I believe, of paramount importance. Those of us in work that day talked and I reflected on priorities.
Tomorrow I would not require any staff to come to work and I would run the shop tending to any customers who happened to come. I would consider our next steps and wait for a much anticipated announcement from the Government at a new daily evening information broadcast that was about to start.
My week in the life ends there. It feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since.
One of the reasons I work with the British Library is my passion for innovation. Some people think innovation is purely technical/digital or product development but it’s not it’s just as important to your business strategy. A resilience measure, it can be about understanding change happening around you and being able to pivot accordingly, changing your processes and practices to overcome the challenge. The Business & IP Centre have asked me to add to my week in the life to tell you what happened next…
One week later
In just one week sales had fallen away to virtually zero but despite this vacuum, the pace had quickened. I immediately began to review all cash flow forecasts and financial planning for the year. I updated the business and marketing plan and wrote a contingency plan. I knew all of these documents would be required if I were to apply for funding and I needed to focus my mind.
I was also mindful of the needs of my staff right now, lockdown hadn’t been announced yet but I decided to close the shop to the public because the news was now concerning everyone.
Communication was vital; with staff, with suppliers, with other business owners. Understanding the landscape, not just our own experience, was vital to navigating our way through it.
Two weeks later
Chancellor Rishi Sunak had made further announcements and I moved swiftly to furlough all our part-time staff to save jobs long-term. I had defaulted on my rent and my landlady hadn’t answered any of my proposals. Business had dropped off a cliff edge, including web sales. People were stockpiling and on a long list of discretionary spending, fashion comes last in people’s priorities when all they will do is stay at home.
I had decided not to launch the entirety of the new collection, the demand simply wouldn’t be there to achieve sales through and seeing future gaps in my supply chain I figured it was better to hold back stock and release some items as new in Summer 2021.
Lockdown had been officially announced and I was working from home trying to access finance. Major problems with the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) had brought about press opportunities and I appeared on all the major news channels, radio and print media about the plight of my small business.
Three weeks later
Getting nowhere fast with my CBILS application I couldn’t see how the business could even make it to the end of the month (April).
I think it’s important to note the toll on the mental health of small business owners: Not only is this your dream obliterated due to something beyond your control, but there’s also the responsibility that people’s jobs and livelihoods rely on you, if you care about your customers then failure seems like failing them too. It’s a lot to carry, whilst at the same time having no money to pay yourself, support your family and keep a roof over your head.
Still determined though and still believing in the long-term potential of the business, I’d brought one member of staff back to work and we were working on future facing projects. I was also actively networking online and participating in all kinds of small business support zoom calls, webinars and online learning.
In one of these calls, I heard about the Pay It Forward Crowdfunder campaign and that Sunday, unable to enjoy a scheduled day off as all of this is whirring around in my head, I decided to map out what that might look like for us.
Four weeks later
I’m very proud that we have so many loyal repeat customers. I work exceptionally hard to create a fantastic experience at Revival Retro and build genuine relationships with our customers, not just automated interactions.
Going the extra mile and encouraging my staff to do the same had paid off.
We had launched our Crowdfunder and in week one had already raised more than £12,000 for our small business. It was incredible!
It wasn’t just the money either, alongside the pledges were endless messages of support, promises to come back and shop with us, love for what we do and why we are important to people. This got me through an incredibly tough time and I am immensely thankful.
Customers were happy to buy vouchers now to redeem later, which turned around our cash flow position. Followers and fans were all too happy to champion our brand. People far and wide donated anything from £5 to £500 to save a high street hero much loved by many.
Seven weeks later
By the end of April we had met and exceeded our £25,000 Crowdfunder target. Our small business was saved (particularly as we were excluded from Government grants and the CBILS loan money was still not available). We were able not just to meet payroll and necessary obligations, but pay what we owed to other small business suppliers and plan for the future.
The success of the Pay It Forward campaign for Revival Retro was transformative. We would not be in the position we are today without it. Many small business owners have asked my for tips on how they might run a successful campaign and I’ve written a blog about this which you can read here.
From resilience, we can now begin to look to recovery. I am encouraged that our customers see us as “not just a shop” which offers opportunity as we shape the future of the brand. It’s going to be more important than ever to innovate for growth.
17 April 2020
Sabina Ali is a bridalwear designer, based in North London. Only a few weeks ago, she launched her 2020 collection and was looking forward to the busiest time of year for brides-to-be. Like so many entrepreneurs and small businesses, her bridal boutique, Sabina Motasem, has been severely affected by the Coronavirus and has shut its doors for the time being. But in a time of crisis, Sabina and her team saw an opportunity to put their fashion expertise behind those on the front lines of the pandemic. Read on to find out how.
Can you tell us a bit more about your business?
Although I have a degree in fashion, this actually started as a hobby. I designed my first wedding dress for a friend as a special gift. Word quickly spread and my hobby soon turned into a business.
In 2012, we discovered the Innovating for Growth Programme at the British Library Business & IP Centre. It was a transformative experience. Our business expanded and became an established brand, dressing brides all over the world. We’ve seen a lot of growth since we started out in 2007, but we’re proud to say our dresses are still made right here in London, with the best craftsmanship, by an extraordinarily talented team.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business and what changes have you made to your business model to keep on operating?
Like most small businesses, we have been affected by Coronavirus. All our brides have either had to cancel or postpone their weddings until 2021. Essentially, the bridal industry has stopped. In the week that lockdown happened, we were about to shoot our new sustainable and vegan wedding dress collection, but that will have to wait. In the meantime, we have been doing virtual appointments with brides, enabling us to talk them through different options and show them the dresses, as well as the fabrics. Being stuck in lockdown means more valuable time to plan a wedding, so we’re also trying to keep our brides inspired by creating useful content on our blog and social media channels.
In the meantime, you and your staff have volunteered to use your skills and facilities to make scrubs for NHS front line staff. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
When the lockdown started, it really made me feel a little redundant, with no way of being able to continue meeting and greeting brides. Sitting around at home doesn’t feel natural to me. Like most people, I like to keep busy.
Through the North East London Sewing Group and De Beauvoir Association, which I am part of, I became aware of the great shortage of scrubs for NHS front-line staff. Scrubs are plain clothes worn by medics when dealing with patients, and they are being used by an increasing number of NHS staff as part of their personal protective equipment. They need to be changed frequently in order to stop the spread of the virus.
We also started receiving many requests from friends, brides, and Instagram followers who are doctors and nurses, asking us if we can help the Coronavirus effort by using our specialist skills. So our dedicated team of professional machinists and pattern cutters have swapped sewing wedding dresses in silk by day for making NHS scrubs in cotton drill and poly/cotton during lockdown, whilst still carefully abiding by the rules for social distancing.
I am stunned at the sheer volume of doctors and nurses who have been left with no scrubs. “Scrub hubs” are bringing together a small army of volunteers to make up the shortfall. That’s why, alongside the work our bridal boutique is doing, I decided to create the Islington and North Hackney scrub hub, to mobilise our local community of sewers.
Finally, in these turbulent times, what would be your message to our readers?
Postpone, pause… but don’t cancel. This is what we’re saying to ourselves and to all our friends and brides: just pause for a bit, but don't cancel your plans. 2020 will go down in history as the year we all stayed indoors… come 2021, hopefully we’ll all be looking for ways to celebrate life and all the good things in it. There are going to be so many weddings, and people getting married! Lots of our brides who were supposed to be getting married will be doing just that in 2021, including some of those couples who decided to move in early together just before the lockdown. We’ll enjoy reconnecting, although we seem to be doing that already, engaging and talking a lot more with one another, and we’ll appreciate it even more once we are all out of this mess. I really hope the world will be a kinder one. I hope 2021 will become the year of love, that’s something worth celebrating and looking forward to.
Ewa Domaradzka, Marketing Manager
27 January 2020
Siobhan Thomas graduated from the University of Huddersfield 10 years ago from BA (Hons) Fashion with Marketing, Manufacturing and Promotion. This was where her creativity was harnessed and birthed in fashion. Once she graduated, she went on to building her fashion and marketing career and worked for Mamas and Papas as well as some other local designers and companies. In 2018, Siobhan decided to go for her own dreams and launch her brand What’s Your Skirt?, a collection of beautifully crafted skirts for the individual woman. Since launching at Liverpool Fashion Week, Siobhan has gone on to receiving multiple awards including Business of the Year 2019 and Best Fashion Designer at some incredibly prestigious events.
Siobhan used BIPC Leeds, in Leeds Central Library, which provided her with basic business acumen and allowed her access to reports such as Mintel for market research. Siobhan also received free of charge guidance from the BIPC staff, as well as an appointment with the local solicitors the BIPC was working with. Due to the advice from these sessions, Siobhan was able to ask about her trademark and successfully got her brand name protected. In addition, Siobhan attended numerous free courses and workshops that helped with areas like marketing, business planning, intellectual property and securing finance.
Siobhan tells us what her week looks like in the day in the life of What’s Your Skirt.
Monday Research, inspiration and fabric sourcing day. I love Mondays, I always think it’s a fresh start to a new week! My alarm sounds at 5.30 every morning and I go for a morning workout at my local gym. After my class, I return home and enjoy my healthy plant-based protein shake and get ready for work. I get to the What’s Your Skirt Studio for 8.00 and I start my day of creativity.
Sometimes I even go for a walk around Roundhay Park lake to gather my thoughts and get inspired. The simple things in nature can sometimes spark a wonderful theme for my next collection. I create mood-boards, research colour palettes and moods for the next season ahead. I love looking at magazines that are unrelated to fashion, for example, interior magazines, I love to see how I can create a collection through creativity in another field. I then go to the local mills and browse the never-ending fabric supplies that surround me, I get to choose the next season fabrics at a competitive price due to the strong relationships I have with the mills. I go back to the studio and start to pin my fabric samples to a mood-board, and I begin creating my collection in more depth. I look at the texture, the fabric qualities, the silhouettes I am going for that season and my core inspiration.
Tuesday Design development/collections day. Tuesdays are cool just because I am usually getting into the swing of the week by today. Now I have my inspiration, I get to designing! My super favourite part! I draw some illustration styles using my layout pad and pantone colours and I begin to construct some initial design ideas, I try to let my imagination run wild at this point as I can always tame it later on in the process. Sometimes these start off a little extravagant and eventually mellows out to be wearable. I get my favourite music on and I get in my creative bubble. I love being in my zone as my best work is executed. I am constantly touching and feeling the fabrics, seeing how it drapes and I design to the fabric behaviour. By the end of the day, I usually have six strong outfits that I can work with ready for the next day of pattern cutting.
Wednesday Pattern cutting and draping day. A day of execution! This is where the maths skills come in, I absolutely enjoy this process and bringing my drawings to life. I get all my favourite pattern cutting books out and begin to draft my blocks, I then edit them to imitate my designs and start to trace them off. When I feel like I have mastered the flat pattern cutting I move on the drapery, which I really enjoy. I start to drape straight on to the dress stand and I begin manipulating the fabric to my design. I find this process therapeutic and it’s always nice to see the piece 3D.
Thursday Sample sewing day. Today, I get to work on my samples. I firstly cut out my pattern pieces and lay them out on calico so I can see a draft version of the garment. Once I am happy with this, I cut it out of the actual fabric and get sewing. Step by step, I ensure the pockets are inserted and finished with a neat topstitch, I ensure it is perfect and the quality of the garment is at a high standard. If I have any details that require more attention, I tend to sew a small sample to see what it looks like, I usually feel like this is a day of achievement as all my work for the week comes together. I tend to work late in the studio on Thursdays as I like to get a set amount of samples finished by the end of the day.
Friday Marketing/photoshoot and social media day. Ending the week with a marketing day is so cool! It’s great to gather all the little photos I have taken all week and inspiration and share with the world what we are doing as a brand. By now, I am organising photoshoots for look books and recruiting models to start talking some photographs in the studio and looking for a snappy marketing angle to launch our new collection in. I also have quite a few meetings with friends who are photographers, videographers, models, MUAs and hairstylists, this is so I can give them my vision on how I see the collections being. Then they go away and come up with a few ideas based on the collection theme.
Saturday Fittings and client appointments day. Our busiest day! From 8.00 – 18.00, the day is usually packed with client fittings and orders. It’s usually the best day to fit clients as they tend not to be at work on the weekends and have the time to come into the studio. I have a few members of my team who help with this too, which really creates a buzz in the office on days like today! Lots of happy clients and lots of creative clothing. I simply love it!
Sunday Business admin, planning and rest day. Sundays are for resting and planning for the week ahead. This is usually a day of real evaluation of the week before, seeing what goals I have smashed and which ones I have yet to complete. And I look at setting new goals for the following week. This is a crucial day for me as it means I can get my mind back into plan of action and propel forward into what I want to achieve.
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