When the lockdown struck in early 2020, many in the creative industries found themselves unemployed and unsure of what the future held for their previous professions. But for some, this proved to be an unexpected opportunity to explore new avenues, follow long-held dreams and embark on a fresh start.
We talked to the owners of eight small businesses about their journey so far…
Ash & Plumb
Barnaby Ash and Dru Plumb founded their wood workshop in 2020. Barnaby (far right) tells us how their venture began
I’ve worked in an odd mix of roles, from fashion editor to bike mechanic and gardener, while Dru was in PR, marketing and events for the fashion industry. It certainly gave us a range of transferable skills.
We’d always wanted to start our own business, but it took a while to find something we were passionate enough about to get us motivated. Though we both have a fascination with handcrafted design, neither of us had ever tried our hands at making anything, until just over two years ago when we fitted some custom shelving in the kitchen.
Before we knew it, we had set up a workshop space in our garage and moved on to other projects. We bought a woodturning lathe and started refining our ideas. But it took Dru’s loss of employment at the start of lockdown to really give us the push to get our act together.
We draw inspiration from the natural world, it provides endless iterations of immaculate form ripe for reference! We have a particular fascination with softer objects and are often drawn to the curves created through the interaction of water and stone and even subtle nods to the human form.
Since lockdown, luxury and craft are being redefined – people are interested in the narrative around the maker, how it was made and the provenance of materials. ashandplumb.co.uk
With a background in fashion design, Verity de Yong used her love for cooking to transform kitchen scraps into luxury linens
During lockdown, I noticed how much waste I was generating eating every meal at home, so I started to experiment with the skins and leftovers of various food items (such as onions and avocados) to see if they could be used to create natural dyes for fabric.
My kitchen became my laboratory where I created sustainable and eco-friendly products for the home, starting with a range of table linens. Each piece is unique, dyed, cut and frayed by hand.
Starting a business in lockdown when your product is best seen and handled in person, has been hard. Instagram has helped to showcase the napkins and placemats and I’ve learnt the importance of building up a relationship with your community and how you need to cover so many social media platforms to generate sales.
With more of us working from and spending time in our homes, we are attempting new skills, but also looking for products to enhance our everyday experience. Eco-friendly products and a more sustainable way of living have also become more important to people.
Next, I’m working on a new range of linens for the home that follow ‘the seasons’. More colours, shapes and designs to come. @vedcooks
Liz Parker and Josh Murray-Webster used lockdown to set up a floral studio as a sister company to their events business
We own a creative production studio called E__P, where we design and produce all elements of experiential events, from festivals to window displays. We had our busiest year yet lined up at the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic hit.
It was never an option for us to sit back and wait it out, but we also knew we had an opportunity to build a business that could operate during lockdowns and eventually complement our offering at E__P.
We decided what everyone needed was an outlet to show their loved ones that they were there. Using Liz’s background in floral design (having trained at McQueens Flower School), we chose flowers as a medium for that.
The situation facing the events industry specifically has been extremely tough. But like so many things, it has shown serious resistance to changing markets and we truly believe our businesses will be stronger, more creative and diverse than ever. We’re staying super optimistic.
We run a monthly series called ‘Fresh Takes’, a floral, photographic and written portrait of different people, shining a light on their experiences. Part of the project is to create limited-edition arrangements inspired by our chosen ‘muse’, with 50 per cent of proceeds donated to a charity of their choosing.
Charitable organisations have lost a lot of funding and we wanted to help. A big part of FLWR is about spreading kindness and awareness, so it makes sense for us. flwrstudio.co.uk
Textile designer Amelia Ayerst launched her accessories brand in February 2021 after developing the label through lockdown
I studied Fashion at Leeds University and, after a year in New York, I went to the Royal College of Art to study Mixed Media Textiles, graduating in 2017. I was approached by Dyson and joined the team as a colour, material and fabric designer, working on the look and feel of its electric car. When the project got cancelled, I decided it would be the perfect time to start my own business.
Duo-Hue came about as a result of my work at the RCA, where I developed innovative embroidery techniques that combine complementary colours and differing stitch densities. It creates a colour-morphing effect as the piece is viewed from different angles.
Just before lockdown, I travelled around India and was inspired by the bright hues and movement I saw all around me. I wanted to create designs that reflect that excitement of tones within contemporary interiors.
Lockdown has taught me the importance of not giving up and of looking for opportunities. Usually you’d be able to build your network by going to design shows, but that hasn’t been possible. Instead, I’ve connected to interior designers and creatives through social media and sent samples of my work. This has encouraged me to think globally – I already have conversations with people in Dubai and Montreal, which is so beyond my initial expectations.
I have a lot of exciting projects on the horizon, including continuing to build my range and working with other designers. I have a collaboration lined up with Juliet Bailey from Bristol Weaving Mill on some beautiful blankets, which I am really excited about. The rest you will have to wait and see. I can’t wait to show you all! duohue.com
In Casa by Paboy
Paboy Bojang launched his brand during the lockdown of spring 2020 after becoming creatively frustrated without a job
I grew up in The Gambia in a small village with my granny. I left the country to seek asylum, travelling to Libya and then crossing to Italy, finally arriving two years after starting my journey. Before the pandemic, I was working as an artisan in prestigious ceramics and majolica workshop Antica Manifattura di Stingo, but I lost my job due to the slow immigration system.
I found a sewing machine and some vintage fabrics where I was living with my friend and I was immediately inspired. I used to be a tailor back home and everyone always needs cushions, so it felt like a good place to start.
My surroundings always inspire my work. From the long dresses that women in my village wore to the mosque on special occasions to the colour of the old buildings in Naples where I live now.
In Italy it is not easy for migrants, it is very hard to get the right documents to do anything entrepreneurial. But I am so grateful for all the support of my customers who have helped me make my dreams happen.
On my Instagram there is such an amazing community. People from all over the world support each other, we all share each other’s posts and really want each other to be successful.
Right now, I am working on building a solid foundation for my business and then I really hope to employ more migrants in Naples to work with me. I want to create more products – like duvet covers, tablecloths and napkins... I always have so many ideas and I love being creative, so let’s hope I can keep going! incasabypaboy.com
Founded by former beauty PR Maisie Penn, this decorative candle brand is based in south London
I’ve always loved interior design, fashion and art, but I wasn’t ever sure how I’d make a living from them. Then, in May last year, I was made redundant from my role at a PR firm due to coronavirus, which felt both scary and exciting.
I was 27 and unemployed – it felt like a make-or-break moment and a chance to do something I was passionate about.
I came across Piera Bochner’s wonderfully unique fruit and veg candles and was completely obsessed by them. They were unlike anything I’d ever seen. I was inspired to experiment with wax as a medium and made myself some ornamental candles moulded from items I found at home. Originally I was making them for myself out of boredom during lockdown, but all of my friends and family wanted one so I thought perhaps I could sell them.
I believe lockdown has got all of our creative juices flowing – there is something so therapeutic about making something yourself. In a time where everything has been quite bleak, at least we still have our own creativity. Whether it’s baking banana bread, painting a plate or making your own candles.
I am looking for a studio in Peckham so I can take Maza to the next level. We’ve outgrown the kitchen that I share with my boyfriend and my best friend. Nobody likes it when somebody hogs the stove for 12 hours a day and coats everything in wax! bymaza.co.uk
French-born footwear designer Léa Zana started designing ceramics after her fashion job fell through due to the pandemic
After redundancy from Asos in December 2019, I had a new job due to start in March 2020. This got cancelled due to Covid and I was left with no career prospects for the near future – who needs shoes when you have to stay home?
The first lockdown was hard. I knew I wouldn’t find a job any time soon, plus I was tired of fast fashion and big retailers. So I thought I’d do my own thing...
Designing ceramics came naturally, it’s been a passion since I was little. I come from a small town in south-west France where there are lots of brocantes (flea markets). My grandma was a ceramics hoarder and I got the bug from her. In those villages, gingham is abundant. I’m also influenced by 16th-century Spanish ceramics and the colours used in Indian culture. I wanted my collection to exude happiness!
My products are made in Spain by artisans. Starting everything without being able to meet the people and see the workshops was a challenge. When the borders opened in July, I took a flight to Mallorca and spent a month there developing the collection.
I think the pandemic made us look at ourselves and our behaviour. Buying less and better, supporting each other more and rebuilding that sense of community. This starts with shopping small. vaisselleboutique.com
August & Piers
Brothers August and Piers Campbell’s eponymous brand combines their love of fragrance and design. August tells us more
Before the pandemic we were living and working in central London. I was an art director for a leading advertising agency and Piers was an industrial designer, specialising in high-end bespoke lighting.
We’ve been fascinated with fragrances from an early age and we’re passionate about beautiful design and sustainable methods. So it felt natural to create a brand where we could incorporate all these elements. As siblings, we share many similarities but also couldn’t be more different. We set out to create a range that celebrates individuality and all those curious characters we know and love.
Lockdown has been a blessing for us. With less distractions and nothing to do in the evenings, it enabled us to hit the floor running and launch in the lead-up to Christmas. We both moved back to our family home in Surrey, which meant we were able to spend more time brainstorming together and zone in on launching the brand.
As neither of us had experience working with a consumer business, it has been very much a ‘learning on the job’ process. One of the first lessons we learnt was to keep customers happy and always communicate with them, which was quite overwhelming at first because we didn’t expect so many orders!
We’ve just launched our new fragrance ‘Muse’, which will be closely followed by a sixth scent. We’re also developing an environmentally conscious diffuser and a gift set, as well as related fragranced accessories. augustpiers.com
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