The pandemic has brought out an inspiring amount of entrepreneurial spirit in people who have seen their career paths totally derailed by Covid-19.
Rather than sink into lockdown depression these creative souls have taken the unexpected break from the nine to five as an opportunity to bring their dreams to life, in extraordinary numbers.
According to data from chartered accountant UHY Hacker Young the number of start ups surged by 14 per cent in the year to July 2021, comfortably outpacing the global average of six per cent.
Almost 726,000 new businesses were created in 2020, up from 636,000 in 2019.
Amongst their number are people whose jobs were lost thanks to Covid-19, whose travel plans were put on hold, or who simply saw the free time created by WFH as a chance to put a long cherished plan into action.
And their online shops are the perfect way to upgrade your home or pick out a thoughtful gift, whilst supporting their endeavours.
Pre-pandemic Martin Gerhard was the operations manager for an interiors and homewares store in Belsize Park. In March 2020 he was put on furlough and by the end of the summer his job had vanished. Undeterred Martin, who lives in Kennington, cracked on with developing a business, making and selling unique products including potpourri made from lava rocks (£28) which can be scented with essential oils (£10.99).
Boostology (www.boostology.co.uk) launched in September 2020, and every time an order is placed Martin, 50, pays for a tree to be planted somewhere in the world. “I had been thinking about setting up my own business for some time, so when the pandemic happened, I decided to get on with it,” he said. “I love the freedom of being my own boss and designing unique products which no one else has. Even if a dream job came up I wouldn’t take it — the pandemic has really changed my way of thinking”.
French-born Léa Zana moved to London some ten years ago to work as a footwear designer. In late 2019 she had been made redundant by Asos but had quickly lined up a new role working for Topshop, which was due to start in March 2020.
Unsurprisingly the onset of Covid-19 put paid to that and Léa, 37, who lives in Highgate, had to rethink her life.
“I had an epiphany in May 2020,” she said. “I was unemployed with no prospect to find a job soon — who wears shoes when you stay at home? — so I thought: “OK, I am going to try something new.”
Léa had long been “obsessed” by tableware and, having spent time working in Spain for Zara she was familiar with its traditional ceramics industry and fluent in the language.
Léa spent the next few months creating designs for brightly coloured tablewares and making contacts with manufacturers. In September 2020 she launched Vaisselle (www.vaisselleboutique.com) – the word means “dishes” in French.
Its products include hand painted gingham tea cups and saucer sets in vibrant shades (£55), and the Drink Me blue and white milk jug, which could easily double as a vase (£75).
Although her transition from employee to businesswoman has been traumatic, today Léa is delighted to be out of the rat race and doing something she really believes in.
“Fast fashion was not for me, I don’t share the values of mass consumption,” she said. “The pandemic put me in a situation where I had no other options but to take my destiny back in my hands. It was a blessing in disguise.”
Sophia Proctor had come up with her business idea long before the start of the pandemic. Her son, now six, was a picky eater – until she came up with the idea of a kids’ plate with a track for a toy car or train around it. “The problem was just getting him to sit at the table,” explained Sophia, 43, who lives in Twickenham. “They are just not interested in food at that age, and the plates were a way to make eating exciting and interesting.”
Before the pandemic Sophia had been working as a freelance PR and marketing consultant, while working on her plate designs in her downtime. She had planned to launch her business, Munchy Play (www.munchyplay.com) in February 2020 but pressed pause when the pandemic struck. Since launching in June 2020 she has sold “thousands” of plates (from £14.50) and forged a partnership with toy company Mattel to produce Thomas & Friends character plates.
Kezia May Ceramics
Kezzy Rees was in the midst of a long stint of global travelling and was happily exploring New Zealand when the pandemic struck. “I had been travelling for three or four years, but that had to stop, and I returned home to my parents in Cornwall,” she said.
Rather than sit idle Kezzy, 23, decided to start experimenting with ceramics, set up a small home studio, and got going. “I started just messing around, pressing flowers from the garden into clay, and I really enjoyed it,” she said. “Then I started an Instagram page, and it all took off from there. Now it is my full time job, which is amazing.”
Kezzy’s delicate floral pieces range from plant pots for succulents (£17.50) to markers for vegetable gardens (£3.50), as well as plates, mugs, and lamps (www.keziamayceramics.com; @keziamayceramics).
“I had always loved art and wanted to start my own business,” said Kezzy. “The pandemic was the push that I needed to do it.”
Ivy & Bee interiors
Beth Green had often toyed with the idea of setting up an interiors company but her full time job as assistant operations manager for a security firm left her with no time to spend on developing it. Working from home changed that, with time to revaluate her life and work on a business plan.
In May 2020 she launched Ivy & Bee interiors, a curated collection of well-priced and (mostly) UK-made pieces (www.ivyandbee.co.uk).
Beth, 34, who lives in Frodsham, Cheshire, runs the business from home, and stocks a range of cosy, classic country-ish homewares she’d be happy to own herself. Our picks include a white ginger jar (£49.99), and a recycled wool blanket in soft pastel stripes (£35).
Royal College of Art graduate Amelia Ayerst had moved to Bristol before the pandemic, to work with entrepreneur James Dyson on his high profile project to develop an electric car. When the project was cancelled, in 2019, Amelia decided that rather than stay with the company she would accept redundancy and use the money to set up on her own.
Having studied mixed media textiles, she invested in a digital embroidery machine and during 2020 began experimenting with products and designs.In February 2021 Amelia, 20, launched Duo Hue (www.duohue.com) , featuring a collection of cushions, artwork, and clothing.
These hand-made pieces are investment buys – a navy cotton cushion with geometric embroidery is priced at £195. Amelia said the reception to her designs has been extremely positive, particularly from those who order bespoke pieces. “They really love getting involved with the process,” she said.