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Once upon a time, I set up a business. I called it Revolution Sports Physio.
I bought a van, got myself a cool logo, a few T-shirts, and set about changing the world, well the world of healthcare at least.
A few years later, when I realised that the world of healthcare doesn’t want to be changed, and you can’t build a Revolution, or a business on a cool logo and a few T-shirts, I conceded defeat, and became a salaried employee once more.
To my accountant, Companies House and the world, I was a failure.
But running a business forced me to dig deeper than ever before. To make contacts, to build confidence and at times, maintain self-esteem. It had been an adventure, and like all adventures, I made some great friends and learned some valuable lessons along the way. Life would never be quite the same again.
I miss those days. I miss not being bothered by performance reviews and pointless paperwork. I miss being my own line manager, when the buck started and stopped with me. But I also remember how hard it was. Not knowing from one month to the next how busy I would be, if I would make the rent. The self -doubt when things fell quiet, or an idea failed to translate into sales.
My experience brought with it a great respect for those not just running a business but who are pursuing a passion, who’s bottom line isn’t simply about profit and loss, but about ethics and values. Those who care for their customers, communities and the environment. And even more so during times of such uncertainty.
So, in a departure from my usual navel gazing, I have decided to dedicate this blog to three such enterprises. I would like to introduce you to some amazing women and the stories behind their unique and beautiful creations.
I hope they will inspire you as they have inspired me.
First up, is Angela Benjamin of Ange B Designs
Ange and I worked together as physiotherapists back in 2005. Even in an uninspiring, corporate environment I remember Ange as someone with individual style and flair.
Since those city days, in the search for a more artistic outlet, Ange ventured back to school and gained a foundation diploma in Art and Design. With the initial intention to go on and study architecture, her creative journey took a swerve when she discovered a passion and talent for designing and making jewellery.
Ange B designs was born 4 years ago, and now sells contemporary hand -made jewellery to customers in the UK, Europe and America, across a broad range of ages from late 20’s to 60’s (in fact I bought my mum some Ange B earrings for her 70th recently).
It’s not hard to see why her pieces are popular, with bold shapes and unique settings, they are a challenge to the traditional, a refreshing change to the mass produced.
But customers aren’t just buying jewellery, they are buying into Ange’s vision and philosophy. More than a finished product, it’s a journey. One that begins with locally bought ecosilver and ethically sourced gemstones, through the painstaking process of cutting and shaping, filing and polishing, from which emerges a beautiful bracelet, an eye-catching ring or statement necklace. Finally packaged and posted, the recipient can be sure they are receiving a product that is sourced, designed and made with care, with passion and with love.
Ange still works as a physiotherapist, which can be tough, juggling orders with making, marketing and the day job.
But it is a joy to see that she found her way out of the windowless basement clinic where we first met, and into her very own ‘She Cave’ creative studio.
Follow Ange on Instagram @angebdesigns to see her wonderful creations.
Next is Gemma Akrigg. I was thrilled when Gemma agreed to be part of this blog, to learn how she made the switch from railway engineer to florist, how she balances running her business with being a mum to her daughter Dottie, and that there is so much more to her bouquets than meets the eye.
We’ve never met, but since forming Girls Who Climb Trees, I have been on the lookout for women who epitomise the ethos of women being bold, brave but most of all, being themselves. I came across Gemma through following her husband Chris, (who is a professional mountain biker), on social media and she seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
As does her business. Described as ‘Bespoke Floristry with a sustainable edge’, there is a raw beauty to Gemma’s creations. I love flowers, but sometimes arrangements can be too neat and manicured. Rock and Wreath evokes a sense of the wild, a real connection to nature.
And it turns out that this relationship with the natural world runs much deeper than just pretty flowers.
Unfortunately, there is widespread use of foam, a non-biodegradable plastic, in many floristry methods, especially in wedding and funeral arrangements. However, all Gemma’s designs are made using only biodegradable mechanics, such as moss and hessian. Even her marketing materials and are recycled paper and cotton. But wait, there is more!
While Gemma buys from local growers, she also has her own cutting patch, where she is learning year on year what grows well. Now that is most definitely a sustainable edge.
All this would be impressive at the best of times, but with weddings a significant part of the business, 2020 was perhaps the worst of times for Rock and Wreath’s inaugural year.
Gemma describes cancellation after cancellation as heart-breaking. But in true ‘Girls who Climb Trees Spirit’, she didn’t let the small matter of a global pandemic deter her ambitions. Instead of calculating the year in terms of business lost, she instead saw it as time gained, seizing the opportunity to get her branding dialled and have lots more training. It’s clearly paying off as Gemma has had her busiest time in the lead up to Christmas. I look forward to watching her business flourish, and as she is based in West Yorkshire, not far from my home town, purchasing one of her wonderful creations soon.
Follow Gemma on Instagram @rockandwreath to check out her beautiful designs
Last but no means least, we have Megan Hall with her limited edition, wild swimming inspired, linocut prints.
Again, I don’t know Megan personally, but came across her work via a Devon based friend.
Growing up I was a competitive swimmer. I love the water and nothing beats swimming in the outdoors, whether it be sea, lake or the ponds on Hampstead Heath.
Flotsam prints really caught my eye as they evoke a sense of mindfulness and peace.
The Images, often of women, are simple yet extremely powerful. ‘Midnight Splash’ depicts two friends jumping into the water. They look so free and instil in me a feeling of wanting to do the same, while ‘Both Feet In’ gives me a sense of calm. I can almost feel the water lapping at my toes.
It was no surprise to learn that Megan has a real connection to the water. Swimming was not only the inspiration for her business, it reignited her imagination.
She began wild swimming in 2018, and found it fuelled an energy that compelled her to begin creating, something she hadn’t done for many years.
Eventually Megan took the plunge (forgive the pun!) and gave up her job as a data manager to focus on Flotsam full time in February 2020.
She finds her work cathartic, but as with all great artists, can occasionally hit a block and admits that day to day mental health can impact on her creativity. But swimming is her saviour and going for that last minute ‘I just need to get in the water’ dip, provides fresh inspiration. That’s what I call a win-win situation!
Flotsam produces a fantastic range of products, from swimming caps to tote bags and of course beautiful prints. The linocut printing process that Megan uses allows for limited use before the block starts to perish and is retired, which makes each design extra special.
Popular with swimmers the world over, Flotsam prints boasts a customer base as far away as Canada, America and Australia.
Wild swimming isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are a fan, I’m sure you can identify with Megan’s story, of how the water inspires, energises and connects her.
Follow Megan on Instagram @flotsamprints and be inspired to take the plunge