'Being Furloughed Prompted Us To Launch Our Dream Businesses'
Launching your own business while trying to juggle a full-time job, a busy commute, childcare, a healthy social life and also getting eight hours of sleep a night can be.... well, more or less unthinkable.
But when COVID-19 came along, leaving approximately 9.3 million workers furloughed, the trajectory of many women's lives changed forever.
Some bought a puppy, many perfected the art of banana bread and others voluteered to help the vulnerable. Some, however, discovered they finally had the time and breathing space to build and nurture their own business dreams.
Of course, not everyone has the means to launch their own business in the middle of a global pandemic, but it's a pretty impressive feat nonetheless and, here at Tyla, we're all about championing amazing women - so we spoke to three entrepreneurs who did just that. Prepare to feel very inspired...
April Stevenson, 29, from Manchester, launched The Positivity Package, a subscription box delivering positivity parcels to your door every month
Starting costs: £8,000
"I originally came up with the idea on Christmas Day last year," April tells Tyla. "I had been going through a really difficult time and I wanted something to take my mind off it. But I just didn't have the time to push for it to go anywhere.
"Before lockdown, I was working full-time in fashion as a product developer, but at the end of March, my working hours were cut down to just two days a week. Naturally, like everyone, I started worrying about money and one day my partner just said to me, 'Now is the time - just do it!'
"So that was it; I went full steam ahead, building the Instagram account and buying all the things I had in mind. At first, we sent out a few boxes to some influencers and within a few weeks I was gobsmacked at the number of orders. It's been madness since then.
"In each box there's around eight to 10 items, including products from lots of local Manchester businesses. In the boxes are things like coffee scrubs, crystals, positivity scratch cards - you just scratch one of the icons and there'll be a quote or an affirmation. I like to include lots of things to get you away from social media and focus on yourself.
"Other activities include a positive word search as well as The Happy Newspaper, which we include in our boxes every quarter.
"Each package is colour co-ordinated. May was yellow and gold, this month is a peppermint colour. Each month has a different theme, too. July's is self care and confidence - so there's a sheet in there for confidence goals. It takes a lot to come up with each box but it's so worth it when they finally come together.
"The monthly subscription is £17.99 and we do offer free postage. But there's also a one off box, for £19.99 which is really popular and inside we offer a handwritten note.
"We've recently come up with a birthday box and I've sourced some really nice high quality cards for people to choose from. That one is priced at £23.99.
"Sometimes I'm so busy I can't even believe how successful it's been, but when I see all the boxes stacked up ready to post and I see people sharing images and leaving reviews it makes me feel so good.
"While it's been incredible to have the time to build the business (although I am back to working full time now) it has come with its challenges. I've been getting up at 5am to work before work and then after work and then all weekend long - it's a good job we haven't been able to go out because I wouldn't have had the time anyway!
"Then there's the postage. I can't even tell you how difficult the postage has been, getting stuff to us and shipping it out again.
"Moving forward, my aim is to make sure there's longevity to it. It was risky because obviously so many businesses are suffering and you just don't know how it's going to go, but I thought even if it doesn't do well it'll still keep me busy.
"We used our savings to launch the business. In total we've invested around £8,000, but we've already received our investment back from the business and are reinvesting profits to grow it.
"For example, in the first month we made £8,000 and last month we sold 600 boxes, but we also collaborated with I Saw It First. They approached us for a giveaway but then off the back of that they ask us to gift all their employees a thank you box which was amazing - we did bespoke biscuits, lollipops and prints!
"Last month our subscriptions went up to 120 now per month and again we sold over 600 boxes. There's so many things we want to do moving forward, it's such an exciting time."
Benedicta Banga, 39, from Solihull, launched Blaqbase, a shopping app and directory of brands owned by black women
Starting costs: Personal savings
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"Before coronavirus I had a full-time job working in tech, but during lockdown I was furloughed. With more time on my hands, I thought I should use the time to do something more productive.
"At first, I started off with the concept of doing a lifestyle app, but I ended up creating a directory of brands [where users have] a single checkout and can shop multiple brands instead of going to five different websites.
"One of the things that inspired me was my own shopping experience. On the high street I often wouldn't be able to find things like hair care for my hair type. Or, with make up and skincare, they might show the shades but not actually have them stocked - so it was frustrating having to go further afield to find something.
"I also noticed a lot of black-owned business weren't always visible when I looked online. And added to that, I discovered black women were the least funded group, so I decided to take those three issues and put something together around that, making brands visible and making it easy for people to find them.
"Getting the app off the ground was self-funded from savings. With most tech platforms the expensive part is hiring a developer, but as I already work in tech I was able to build the app myself - saving me thousands of pounds.
"When it comes to which brands I feature on the app, I get approached by a lot of businesses, but they're not always the right fit. I mostly approach the brands myself now; some of them I already had the relationship with beforehand, whereas some are new ones that have joined. It's an ongoing process.
"Of course, there are certain things that work better in person as opposed to working from home - like networking. [Before] I could see the products in person, but now I do have to use my judgement. Sometimes I will buy the products beforehand but that's not always possible.
"The app is free and the brands pay to be on there. It launched on 27th June, in time for Black Pound Day. It ended up coinciding with the Black Lives Matter protests and Blackout Tuesday. When I started I was focussed on the UK market but when the protests began, we started getting lots of shares, so there wasn't much control over visibility.
"While I originally designed the app for black women, women of other ethnicities have started coming into the app, so that's made the audience quite diverse which I think is great. Now I need to think about how to be an all inclusive brand that still honours how we started.
"Black women still need to be supported in business, but we are recognising thee are a lot more allies that are now part of that community. Even in chaos there's always something good that comes out somewhere."
Isobel Perl, 25, from London launched pearl powder clay mask business, PERLcosmetics, handmade from natural ingredients in London
Starting costs: £1,000
"The idea first came to me in November last year when I was having a really difficult time in my life. I've never really known what I wanted to do and struggled to find my passion," Isobel told Tyla.
"After university, I ended up moving to London and working in a really corporate job, but I was so miserable and unhappy. One weekend I went home and my mum asked me if I was okay and I just started crying!
"After that, I began thinking about my passions. I've always been obsessed with make-up and skincare, and around the same time I read an article online about these two guys who had started a hugely successful skincare business just selling clay masks - that sparked my interest and I realised there could be a gap in the UK market here.
"I had all these big ideas, but then I [realised I still had] a full time job and rent to pay, so I parked the idea and jumped back onto the hamster wheel of life.
"At the company I was working for, I was on a fixed-term contract which was due for renewal in June, but because of coronavirus they were making cuts and [I was let go]. I just thought, I've got all this time now; maybe this is the world telling me just go for it.
"The product is a powder clay that comes in a glass jar and then alongside it is an illuminating oil, so you mix the powder with water to make the face mask paste and then you drop in the oil. That's one of the USPs - you've got the oils there yourself, it's like the IKEA effect. I know a lot of people say skincare is so laborious but this is putting the fun back into it.
"One of the ingredients is pearl powder (it's my surname too!), which has been used in skincare for thousands of years and it really illuminates and brightens your skin.
"I make the product all myself and formulate it at home. You just have to follow the regulations - but I'm a scientist and I did a biology degree so that is second nature to me. The mask also needs to go through safety testing. It's in trial phase at the moment (I've had really good feedback!) but I'll continue that for a little longer and then it goes off to get safety tested by a chemist who specialises in cosmetics.
"They make sure whatever you're using is safe to be applied to the skin. But because it's powder clay and oil, I don't have to use a preservative, there's no alcohol, no fragrance, the formula is so minimal - just six or seven ingredients in my clay and five in my oil. I'm really keeping it super simple, there's nothing on the label you can't pronounce or wouldn't know what it is.
"The product is priced at £19.50 per pot. Altogether it's cost me around £1,000 to set up and I saved a lot formulating at home instead of outsourcing. I also had so much help from other women in business, especially with my packaging, my website and my illustrations.
"The amount of support I've had is insane. I still can't believe it; it's crazy that the idea I had in my mind has now just come to life in front of my eyes."
Isobel's masks officially launch on Wednesday 29th July. You can now pre-order them via the website.
Featured Image Credit: April Stevenson/Benedicta Banga/Isobel Perl
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