There’s no perfect time to a start a business. And I didn’t foresee ever starting one during a pandemic. But when your work is construction consultancy and being placed on furlough is a strong possibility - which let’s be honest doesn’t fill you with hope! - then starting a new venture doesn’t seem all that risky. I felt the need to take the matters into my own hands. When I was put on furlough on 1st June 2020, just 12 weeks after lockdown began, I felt extremely vulnerable to the elements. I had only just built a lifestyle here in London, I didn’t want to turn back round and wave goodbye just yet.
So let’s go back to the beginning. How did I end up in London, how did I get into construction consultancy and why did I launch a business? In 2015, I gained a BA(Hons) degree in Management and Marketing, and always felt the business route was a solid step in the right direction. But when I graduated and found myself working for a digital marketing agency, I thought “this can’t be it!”. I knew I was a business minded creative, but I had my head stuck in data metrics. Although I did dabble in blogging and strategising content marketing campaigns for B2B clients, the content didn’t excite me! So I reached out to a local interior designer based in the Midlands, hoping they’d take me on as an intern, offering any help I could to help them lift their business and ease the workload. Thankfully they said yes, and for over 4 months I worked as an intern on a part-time basis working for less than the minimum wage. I worked really hard to learn the ropes of textiles, how a small business functions and the systems in place. Gradually, the business owner liked my input and relied on me more and more to carry out administrative tasks, partly because they preferred to stick to the creativity of interior design, but partly because I also had an open mind to take things onboard and use my own initiative. This mindset allowed me to gain a real hands-on experience in what it was like to operate and run an SME where reputation, client feedback and word of mouth was paramount.
After a year or so, my confidence grew and I asked the business owner for more and more responsibility. Over time, my role as an administrator turned into a interior design assistant, and after 2.5 years my role then shifted to an interior project manager. The need to be onsite at residential properties, liaise with suppliers, line up deliveries, organise a schedule and reconcile accounts really played to my strengths. I didn’t realise I was a closet geek, loving the numbers and project management! But while receiving deliveries, unpacking boxes and doing tip runs to dispose of the waste (yes, I was THAT hands-on!), I’d always feel guilty that the interior design world wasn’t sustainable at all. So much plastic foam from parcels, ‘unrecyclable’ bubble wrap, skips full of building material waste that goes to landfill… I think the whole interior design industry is aware that it falls on our conscience as designers. So the studio I was working for definitely made decisions to reduce our reliance on plastic and opted to showcase sustainable fabrics to clients, such as linens, cottons and wools.
Once the team expanded, I decided it was time to move on and change up my lifestyle. Moving to London just made sense. After weeks of job interviews and rejection after rejection, I managed to land two job offers on the same day; one was to be a project manager for an interior design company, the other to be an assistant project manager in a construction consultancy. I decided to take the job that paid less to gain more commercial experience and formal training.
But then the world seemed to change overnight. Less than 6 months into the new job, lockdown in London happened on Tuesday 17th March and for the next 3 months I worked from home. Thankfully, the company I was working for was very well equipped to support staff to work remotely, so this transition was fairly straight forward. I kind of enjoyed the novelty of change! I slept and exercised more, ate better and even did yoga on my lunch breaks in the local park! It felt easy. Yeah, I missed the social interaction of seeing colleagues, making cuppas and having a bit of banter, but I felt lockdown gave me time to reassess whether this job move was the right one for me. As time wore on, and working remotely seemed to be the ‘new normal’, I felt the walls closing in. There was no indication on when things would start to lift, and watching the daily PM updates was an endless cycle of bad news. More distance between friends, family and colleagues. My saving grace was my local visits to Queen’s Park, North-West London. It’s a small park but big enough to find a secluded spot, sit under a tree and lose yourself in a book. It was during these moments that I’d try to understand my position, what real impact was I making in my line of work, and was I happy?
Then on 1st June 2020, my employers placed me on the governments furlough scheme. My salary had already been reduced by 20%, based on a company-wide decision to keep as many staff on as possible, but everyone knew the construction industry would falter at some point. It just so happened that I was on the lower tiers so it made business sense to put me on furlough. I was earning little anyway, so being put on furlough didn’t adversely affect my income. It remained the same. But it was tough to manage my financial circumstance and keep afloat. That’s when I began feeling vulnerable. Disposable.
To remain positive, I decided to enrol on an online course studying eCommerce. It was something that caught my eye and I wanted to keep stimulated during my time ‘off’. Essentially, I was being paid to study, which was a bonus! So I clicked yes, sign me up, and delved in. The course allowed me to follow a structured approach to formulate a business idea and suggest ways to FIND your niche in the worldwide online marketplace. Products are essentially a solution to a problem. So I had to find that problem.
With time abundant and having greater flexibility, I really got into my fitness and yoga practice while on furlough. I was committing to YouTube and Instagram Lives for at-home workouts with personal trainers like The Body Coach, Yoga with Adrienne, Meggan Grubb, Breathe & Flow and Talilla Henchoz as well as my own knowledge from hitting the gym. It was while I was getting ready for a HIIT session that I couldn’t find a specific piece of underwear and I was getting really annoyed that I had lost it. It wasn’t like I was changing elsewhere! We were in lockdown and I was working out in my own living room. I thought to myself ‘I can’t be the only one having this problem!?’ and it was a light-bulb moment. I found my problem. Now, I had to develop it.
While I was stitching my business idea together, Boohoo had been found out paying less than the minimum wage to workers at a factory based in Leicester and the hashtag #payup was circulating on Instagram, towards the likes of Gap and Levi’s. Major fashion brands were being accused of not knowing their supply chains, and making irresponsible decisions to not pay workers located in poorer, developing countries for their orders. The news also highlighted how the coronavirus was impacting the UK economy, especially retail stores (which were forced to close during lockdown) and how the downturn was adversely affecting our high streets. In contrast, Amazon was set to become a $1 trillion dollar company due to the heavy reliance on it’s platform.
I was also painfully aware of how much plastic I was buying when making weekly food trips to my local Tesco, because the large Sainsbury’s nearby wouldn’t do home deliveries to anyone who registered post-lockdown. I felt so guilty - and restricted! - immediately unwrapping produce from their suffocation before putting it into the fridge. Therefore, the ideas surrounding fast fashion, poor working climates, plastic pollution and our wasteful society were all coming to the foreground, against a backdrop of reassessment and slowing down. I then coupled this with my eCommerce learnings and my knowledge in textiles and discovered I had a strong business proposition. It just needed refining.
Without long commutes, having more time at home and our health being at risk from COVID-19, more and more people started to pick up a new hobby, exercise and look after their bodies! I knew that if I were to get this idea off the ground, I had to find my niche in a growing market. I threw myself into listening to as many podcasts as possible to feed my brain and read around the topic. I began listening to uplifting podcasts such as She Can She Did and Growing Up Female, noting ‘what NOT to do’ from other successful entrepreneurs. I also subscribed to the Business of Fashion podcast with Imran Amed and Tim Blanks, who discuss hot topics within the fashion industry, as they’re happening, with prominent designers, experts and public figures. Amongst all this, I knew I wanted to launch a product that fundamentally tackled wider socio-economic and environmental issues to give the brand differentiation. My business plot thickened and I was drawing up the dots.
This was how HelmWear was born. Sustainable Underwear for Fitness. Founded on the principle that the earth has rights, and looking after our planet will look after us. Consumers can be at the ‘helm of their bodyship' and change is possible through purchasing power. HelmWear is aiming to launch our very first underwear range in the New Year. The garments will be made here in the UK from ocean plastic waste, helping combat the current plastic pollution crisis and to support the circular economy. We’re anti fast fashion so we’ll be looking to use local manufacturers to support the UK economy and won’t be tied into seasonal launches. Instead, we’ll introduce products that have a demand, meaning no surplus and less waste. Not only that, but the underwear will be targeted at the fitness industry, ensuring the designs are super comfortable, moisture-wicking and have no VPL. We believe it’s important that every person should feel empowered to sweat, irrespective of shape, size or fitness level. HelmWear will only operate online through the website and Instagram, and we’ll only reach out to influencers that are aligned with our ethical principles. It’s important to us that the brand and it’s affiliates are on the same wave length. We want to educate our audience through our social media on subjects that matter; body image & well-being, plastic pollution in our oceans, reducing textiles to landfill, inclusivity, and buying into quality, not quantity. We’ll also use recyclable packaging that’s FSC certified and eco-friendly printer inks. Again, we’re looking to use ‘closer to home’ suppliers rather than looking overseas for the cheapest alternative.
With so many concepts to sew together, it’s been a whirlwind of tasks to iron out and understand. But launching a business during a pandemic has honestly been a life saver. How has it been? All these ideas came crashing together like a storm and it was a full-time job to unpick it apart to understand where I fitted in. Having a goal, something to get me out of bed for and keep to a routine, has ignited a real passion. Although I studied marketing, I never quite knew how to approach my career with marketing as the focal point. I now know that this is what I’ve been working towards. I believe that entrepreneurship and ideas come from moments in time, and it’s interesting to see how our current environment has shifted dramatically in a space of a few months but opened up new opportunities. For me, starting a business during a pandemic was the best move I’ve made in my career. Plus, when the economy upturns, the only way is up!
Sustainable Underwear for Fitness.
Support your body. Support the planet.
Follow us on IG @helm.wear