Whether furloughed, made redundant or making the most of more headspace while working from home, meet the entrepreneurs who turned their passion projects and side hustles into successful businesses during lockdown...
Danni Hodgkinson is the founder of kinson&jo, a childrenswear brand offering leggings, PJs and personalized Breton tops made from the softest cotton.
We decided to start kinson&jo during lockdown as a result of me being made redundant in July 2020 due to COVID. I had thought about starting it up way before then, but never seemed to find the time (perhaps having two kids under three didn’t help!) Losing my job was the push I needed to get the business off the ground.
The idea was inspired by having two small children who both suffer with eczema. I discovered early on that good quality, soft cotton always seemed to be the best option for their skin, which is why I knew that all the items we stock needed to be made from the best material. I have always loved the option to personalise kids clothing – it just gives something that extra special feel. I also knew I wanted the range to be unisex.
I would love to say that when I came to set up kinson&jo that I was organised enough to have put a business plan in place and have a wider knowledge of the logistics involved, but my husband and I basically just winged it – it’s a learning process. He took control of the boring and sensible side of things and I concentrate on the fun bits!
We’re a super new business – we only launched in the middle of December – but touch wood we haven’t had any major challenges, as yet, to overcome. Making people aware of our business and advertising on social media is something that we are still getting to grips with though. The high point for us is getting positive responses from customers and knowing that lots of little people are walking around in kinson&jo. It’s a lovely feeling.
So far, my work life balance is pretty good. I work part time and look after my two young children and I see kinson&jo as a hobby – hopefully it stays like that!
If I was to offer advice to someone wanting to start up a new business, especially in these strange new times, I definitely would say give it a go! If you have the passion and are willing to work hard you will be able to make it a success. We have only just started, and we are small in size, but hopefully we will grow in time – we plan to bring some new ranges out in the next few months. The aim is to really build up our shop and see where we can go – hopefully exciting times ahead!
The independence from having your own business, the excitement of every order and the satisfaction that other people like what you’ve created is a lovely feeling.
Natalie James is the founder of Tingle Box, a self-care beauty subscription box on a mission to make your me-time more luxurious.
I’m really in to self-care, so when my favourite products started to run low during lockdown – I started to panic! I couldn’t go to the shops and online stores were focusing on essential items so I began to discover products and brands that I wouldn’t normally buy, which lead me to create Tingle. I wanted to allow other women to be able to take some time out for themselves and discover these amazing brands and innovative products and to be able to enjoy them at an affordable price.
When it comes to looking after our physical and mental wellbeing, one aspect that’s often overlooked is self-care. So my main inspiration behind Tingle was to help women to make everyday a self-care day. Many of us are guilty of not putting ourselves first, and perceiving self-care as an indulgence. That simply isn’t true – ‘me time’ is a necessity. So with Tingle, we are essentially helping women to take that well deserved time out through beauty, by providing them with products to help them to relax and feel good.
I’m proud to say that I was able to start Tingle by myself without the help of friends of family, but my family are super supportive of my vision and definitely guided me when imposter syndrome started to creep in. I’ve really had to learn to prioritise, but I’ve also had to create boundaries, so I generally work from 8am-6pm and then ensure that my evenings are spent with my fiancé and our dog. I’ll admit there are some nights where I am up all night working – I just try to ensure it doesn’t happen too often.
Lockdown has been the biggest challenge for the business as there were delays with suppliers and deliveries, which were quite hard to tackle. There have been some amazing times too though, like being featured on BBC online – it opened Tingle up to a much wider market and essentially to the world and led to some amazing opportunities. Another high point is seeing Tingle to continue to grow and gain a following. I’m so, so appreciative of all of our followers and subscribers around the world.
Never be too scared to start your own business. You literally have to ‘go hard or go home’, but I’d advise everyone to ensure that they do a lot of research in order to avoid mistakes further down the line.
We have some exciting things in the pipeline, some of which I can’t talk about just yet! However Tingle will soon to be available through a selection of online stockists – which is very exciting! We do some big brand collaborations approaching too. I’m really can’t wait to share everything that we have been working on!
Jenny Bates (left) and Elle Nash are co-founders of Jellees Sweets, a pick and mix delivery service providing the sugar hit needed to survive lockdown.
“Life’s short, make it sweet”: this is the motto which encouraged us to launch Jellees, an online pick and mix sweets company in June 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. Jenny sent Elle a bag of pick and mix for her birthday present which sparked the conversation of “Jenny, we could do this…. but better”.
We were both longing for a new challenge and wanted to create something that would help boost morale during lockdown. With cinemas and pick and mix shops closed, it seemed like a perfect time to set up a sweet delivery service. Several excitable face times later, we came up with Jellees. Selling sweets was fairly low risk – the worst-case scenario was that we would end up with a lot to eat!
Initial funds were raised from our part-time jobs (Jenny working in a care home and Elle working night shifts at Tesco). We bit the bullet and bought a load of sweets and worked a lot out as we went along. We started advertising our sweets on Instagram (@jellees_sweets) and Facebook and via notes through our neighbour’s doors. In the first few weeks we packed sweets during the day and worked on the website and advertising by night – with our mums and Elle’s sister roped in to help. We approached high-profile athletes and celebrities on Instagram and sent them bags of Jellees to promote us.
Running a business is not always plain sailing and we’ve faced a few challenges along the way. It was difficult living miles apart and making business decisions without the other. We both had periods of time where we had to self-isolate and one person had to take the reigns. Sometimes we struggled balancing our part-time work, studying, rowing training and running a business and felt burnt out both ends with late nights packing sweets and fulfilling orders. We’re best friends but we’d never experienced such an intense period of time together, and that took its toll, but we always overcame issues and found strength in each other to keep each other and the business going.
In September, we were both living in Oxford while studying at Brookes, meaning we were packing sweets from our student house. The biggest challenge with this was trying to not frustrate housemates as their kitchen turned into a sweet factory – and making sure no one ate all the sweets! Despite the challenges, we’ve had so many amazing highs, like seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they received Jellees as a gift from a loved one. Another highlight was meeting several members of the GB rowing team and gifting them sweets to boost their mood as they overcame the emotions related to a postponed Olympics. Speaking to national and local papers, magazines and now The Leopard is always exciting – we love sharing our story and it makes us feel a little famous!
When it comes to work/life balance, we have had to be very organised and time efficient. We delegate tasks to each other based on our strengths and make sure that we both get fun and boring tasks completed. Before we do anything we write it down and tick things off as they are completed as well as working them around our tight schedules in a laid out plan. Our advice to someone nervous about setting up a business? Just go for it. There are always risks involved but speak to as many people as you can, do lots of reading and research and find something you’re interested in then go for it. It’s worth it even for the things you’ll learn, the people you’ll meet and the experiences you’ll gain along the way.
As for the future, we hope to provide sweets for weddings, events, subscription boxes and large companies. We are also considering low sugar options and healthier alternatives as well as introducing a completely specific but top-secret range!
Maisie Penn is the founder of Maza, the ultra-Instagrammable boutique candle brand based in South London.
I was made redundant from my job in beauty PR during the first lockdown, leaving me unemployed just as I was turning 27, which didn’t feel great. I’ve always been crafty and wanted to try my hand at making some candles after seeing interesting ornamental candles like Lexx Potts’ cult twist design and Piera Bochner’s fruit & veg creations pop up on my Instagram feed.
At first, I was making them for myself out of boredom, but they turned out far better than expected and all of my friends wanted one. As I was newly unemployed with no savings in the bank, I had to be super-savvy with what I spent my money on. I bought a small amount of wax and made my first mould out of a vintage vase that I had lying around the house. I started off by listing as many candles as I could feasibly make in one week. I didn’t want to make the candles first, in case no-one bought them and I’d be stuck with tons! Luckily they sold out almost instantly and I used that money to invest in more materials.
One of the high points since launching the brand 3 months ago was our first drop selling out almost instantly – I literally couldn’t believe it. Taking part in the virtual South London Makers Market, where I earned more in one day than I did in two months at my last job, was just c.r.a.z.y. Other incredible moments include being featured in some of my all-time favourite magazines such as Vogue, Stylist & Grazia. It’s also amazing how many lovely people you ‘meet’ on Instagram, especially during a time when feeling connected to people can be sparse. It’s always a pleasure when somebody reaches out to tell you how much they love your product, or you see a picture of something you’ve made sitting in someone’s home.
Ornamental candles have skyrocketed in the past six months and plenty of candle brands have popped up, which is great to see. It does mean that I have to try even harder to be unique and stand out thought. It’s also having an effect on the soy wax market; we’ve basically run it dry in the UK right now, and suppliers can barely keep up with demand! It’s been notoriously difficult to get quality soy wax, so instead of diluting our product and making it less premium, Maza will be offering bespoke tiled furniture, starting with the tiled cube!
I live with two very kind and understanding people (my boyfriend and my best friend) who are very patient with me coating the kitchen in wax and filling our living room with boxes! They’ve even helped me write thank-you notes and taken packages to the post office. This has made everything much easier – I’m not sure just anybody would be ok with their housemate hogging the hob for 12 hours a day! I am currently looking for a small studio space so I can take Maza to the next level.
It definitely feels like everything fell apart to fall together in my case – I wasn’t particularly happy in my old job and always wanted to do something more creative. When I had the opportunity to try something new, I wasn’t giving anything up as I was already unemployed. Looking back on it now, it was definitely serendipity.
When it comes to starting your own business I’d say make sure you really believe in yourself and love what you do. I wanted to make products that I personally loved and wanted, to create a brand that I’d personally engage with. You have to really believe in what you’re offering as people will be able to sense the authenticity.
Tula + Tye
Krisha Kotak is the founder of Tula + Tye, a sustainable loungewear and lifestyle brand loved for it’s signature tie-dye designs.
I was made redundant from a new job in travel PR and after a couple of weeks of yoga and banana bread, I needed something to put my energy into! I always wanted to have my own business, but having so much time on my hands gave me the perfect opportunity to actually take the plunge.
I quickly noticed a soaring demand for loungewear (especially tie-dye) with people working from home, along with a lot of negative press around fast fashion companies and their impact on people and the planet. I started looking at more sustainable and ethical options for myself, and realised how few brands existed that were conscious but still affordable. Once I’d spotted the gap, I needed to bridge it, so I set up tula + tye, a unisex loungewear brand where everything is made from recycled and organic materials and hand-dyed using eco-friendly dyes. All packaging and tags are recycled or reusable, and 5% of profits are donated to The Ocean Cleanup.
My parents have always worked in the textiles industry, so they were a great starting point for learning about fabric compositions, dyeing processes, and putting me in touch with suppliers. I used savings as investment, my ‘market research’ was done via WhatsApp group chats and all the models are friends from school!
Lockdown made certain things more challenging, like not being able to visit any overseas suppliers and having photoshoots constantly cancelled due to restrictions. It has also been a huge adjustment being a one-woman band and not having a team as a sounding board for ideas and decisions.
Seeing the brand being written about in the press and seeing celebrities and influencers wearing the clothes on instagram are always ‘pinch me’ moments. Also, hearing how much customers love their pieces and seeing friends wear them on FaceTime every week honestly puts the biggest smile on my face.
I haven’t quite nailed the work/life balance. With the current lockdown, there are very few social plans to factor in, so I spend pretty much all of my time at the moment working on it. It’s definitely not a 9-5 job, so this is something I will have to learn to navigate as things open up!
If you’re nervous about starting your own business, there’s never a perfect time, so just believe in your product and go for it…tweaks can be made along the way!
I have ideas for new products every day and I would love to expand beyond loungewear. Sourcing sustainable materials and ensuring environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes are my priority, so future collections will need to align with my ethos. I have lots in the pipeline though so watch this space!
Gabrielle Ashanti is co-founder, Brand Marketing and Digital PR Manager of digital PR and Marketing Agency Handnote, which gives much-needed exposure to small businesses.
After seeing so many people on my social media feeds making bespoke products or selling their services, but lacking experience in getting in front of their audience, I decided to start Handnote with my sister.
I’ve worked with lots of international clients over the years, helping them with their global PR and marketing, but since lockdown I wanted to take things seriously again and not just sit around twiddling my thumbs. Handnote works with a range of companies, from beauty and lifestyle to music, entertainment and food. The idea of being able to add value to businesses and help less experienced ones to get their foot in the door in the marketing and digital PR industry has been really motivating.
Setting up a business wasn’t actually as difficult as I had imagined. Thankfully we didn’t have to rope in friends and family as I actually feel that could have slowed us down or held us back. That extends to our clients – hardly any of them are family or friends, which gives us a real chance to sell our skills and pitch our services. We wrote a business plan and a strategy but it is fully funded by ourselves. I was able to use the resources I already had which was great, and set up a little work area in the living room to help me focus. A real high has been taking on digital PR interns who are studying hard at uni and training them up with real life clients and work.
Not being able to meet clients face to face throughout lockdown has been challenging, I’ve also had to make sure I don’t overwhelm myself by taking on too many tasks and clients. I make sure I disconnect from work and emails the moment I feel drained. I also create daily to-do lists and set aside time in the day to relax and just breathe so that I can feel refreshed. Outside of work, I participate in volunteer work during the weekends, which helps me to focus on the purpose of life.
For anyone consdering taking the plunge I’d say go for it! Think carefully about what you can offer to your target audience and how you can realistically make it happen. Ask people for tips and advice but remember this is your goal so work hard towards it and don’t wait on others. Don’t give up and don’t be afraid to adjust or make relevant changes along the way to stay true to your brand and most importantly yourself.
The Little Worne Store
Britt Luard is the founder of The Little Worne Store, a childrenswear brand selling the hand-knitted, custom personalised cardigans you’ve no doubt seen all over your Insta.
I was feeling SO useless in lockdown – I was on furlough and had no job to do! A few of my friends had babies in the summer so I made a few cardigans for them and it went from there. I embroidered my first knit in 2018 after my bestie had her baby. I wanted to make her something special and handmade and the idea popped into my head. I found a cardigan and embroidered it that night – it did take me quite a few hours though!
I made no business plan and have been winging it ever since – not that I recommend that as a strategy! Everything has been trial and error as I’ve gone.
My partner has helped me so much with the packing, posting and organizing. I can’t believe how popular TLWS became so quickly – I’m so thankful, but scaling up so fast in a pandemic has been difficult. To anyone considering starting their own business I’d say do it, but keep your job until you can afford to pay yourself. It’s always good to test the waters and start up your business in your spare time if you can. Reach out to friends and family to share your page and message about your brand. They will be your cheerleaders!
Getting nominated for The Independent Awards was such an exciting moment, and I love it when someone sends me a message about how much the cardi means to them. It melts my heart that they are so special to my customers.
How do I manage a work/life balance? Not very well! I’m trying to take the weekends off but it’s hard to switch off when you love your business, plus with lockdown the weeks and weekends just melt into one. I’m currently working on introducing new products like sweatshirts and rompers, but I hope to always embroider beautiful knits!
Lockdown Liquor & Co
Tash and Jack Durlinh are co-founders of Lockdown Liquor & Co, a premium blended cocktail company that’s bringing happy hour home with pre-made Picantes, Old Fashioneds and more.
We really didn’t plan on Lockdown Liquor & Co becoming a business. We’ve always loved a good cocktail, especially anything tequila-based. I think during Lockdown 1.0, everyone was trying to enhance at-home experiences by exploring their culinary and mixology skills. We wanted to support this and bring a little bit of joy with the ability to enjoy high quality blended cocktails at home. We quickly realised that there wasn’t an obvious option within this sector we decided to grow the offering.
We also own Total Management Group, which is an events, travel and creative agency and we are still very much involved with that business. When the pandemic hit, the business had to pivot and go from creating very large live events to a virtual events offering. So we now find ourselves pushing two companies forward, which we really didn’t anticipate. Luckily, many of our Total Management team wanted to get involved and help out, and, after scaling Total Management up over the past 10 years, this wasn’t our first attempt at building a business. We built a three-year financial plan and had an early approach for investment after just 4 months, which was very exciting and in some ways astonishing that the business scaled to the level it did during that time.
Like with any start-up, we really wanted to make sure that everything we did was very well thought out and we were very conscious as not to over expose the brand but at the same time keep up with the demand. The challenge was not to get ahead of ourselves and make sure we followed our business plan carefully.
Highlights so far definitely include the first round of investment coming in, stocking in the likes of Liberty and The Conran Store and having some of the biggest distributors knocking on our door wanting to help us. Given we started this in our kitchen just the two of us, it can be mind-blowing to think of where we are today.
We have three young kids so it’s a big balancing act. We now find ourselves with two companies that both require time, but we have a fantastic team and we have just made our first big hire for Lockdown Liquor with an experienced Commercial Director coming in to help us drive the brand forward, which will take some of the responsibilities and pressure away from us. Family time is everything and when we are not in the office, the priority is spending time with the kids. One way or another, we make it work and we are both some passionate about what we do: it’s hard work but we love it and like to be busy.
If its only fear stopping you from starting a business, you just need to jump and go for it. It’s amazing how driven you are when it’s your business and your passionate about it. It doesn’t really feel like work but more building your future.
We are in the process of signing a deal on something very exciting, which will see Lockdown Liquor get pushed to the next stage and we have so many exciting projects in the pipeline. Philanthrophy is hugely important to us, and after providing financial support to the NHS Charities Together throughout the pandemic, Lockdown Liquor & Co. has confirmed is now collaborating with Founders Pledge, a community of entrepreneurs uniquely committed to giving, whereby Natasha and Jack will support funding solutions to research companies and charities aligned to their own brand DNA, with a focus on pandemic and COVID-19 related initiatives. Watch this space!