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Female entrepreneurs who used lockdown to start a business

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3 British female entrepreneurs who started a business during lockdown in the UK
Record: 340,534 businesses were registered in the UK between January and June 2021, an increase of 32% from the same period in 2019

2020 and 2021 were atypical years for us all. And when it comes to businesses, old and new, the challenges of keeping them afloat reached a whole new level. However, no pandemic was a reason strong enough to stop determined entrepreneurs in Britain from pursuing a new business venture over the past 24 months. In fact, during the first half of 2021, almost 80 new businesses were created every hour across the UK, according to research by small business lenders Iwoca. And if numbers are anything to go by these days, data from HMRC also shows that in March 2021 more new businesses were created than in any other month since records began in 1989.

If not long ago people starting up their own businesses in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was a way to switch from staff to employer – or to have a source of extra income – Covid-19 introduced us to words that weren’t part of our daily conversations, such as furlough. And a wave of many lockdown restrictions and company closures forced people out of work, resulting in new entrepreneurs refusing to be defeated by a virus or changes in work circumstances.

Analysis of Companies House data reveals that 340,534 businesses were registered in the UK between January and June 2021, an increase of 32% from 257,243 over the same period in 2019. And new businesses are being created, in 2022, at a similarly fast speed.

Here, three female entrepreneurs based in Britain share how they decided to make the most of the pandemic to start their own businesses. And they are not looking back.

Meet Clare, Lizzy, and Carrie.

Clare Davies – founder at personalised bottle soc company Bottle Soc

Clare Davies – founder at personalised bottle soc company Bottle Soc

I tried to solve a common problem and found my tribe

After completing a degree in advertising, Clare became pregnant with her first child and decided that advertising wasn’t for her and set up her first business with the help of the Prince’s Trust. The global meltdown of 2008 led the Wallingford-based freelancer illustrator to sell her company but, in the back of her mind, a new business idea was forming. “It wasn’t easy, and I lost count of how many times people said ‘No, it won’t work. Why would people want to re-use an old bottle when it’s just as cheap to go buy a new one?’

She carried on anyway and many prototypes later the Bottlesoc was finally ready, and Clare launched her new business in 2020, at the start of the pandemic.

“I started Bottle Soc during lockdown. I decided that it was a kind of now or never moment.

Like most people, I was at home and, because I had a particular problem with my children, who were perpetually losing their water bottles or getting them scratched and not wanting to use them, I decided to make a product that fitted my need and solved my problem. And that is what Bottle Soc does: I no longer have to carry bottles in my hands and they are not rolling about, on the floor of the car.

The way I am promoting them is still very organic: I met other mums at school, and I would give them some samples and say, ‘try this, it works for me’. When we have children, we all have a similar problem. We don’t want to carry water bottles, but we want the children to drink water because it is healthy. The business started to grow from there and now I have found my own tribe of people who had the same problem and common interests.

I think, in some way, the pandemic helped me. It galvanised things for me. We were all shut inside. And we all had plans with people in the family and podcasts to listen to, but I wanted to set my business up. So, I made sure that I used that time that the pandemic gave us to do something positive for myself because, if anything, those two years allowed people to do a lot of thinking about habits that they had before. I started as a greeting card designer, and I have always worked for myself. I think working for yourself is a good privilege and the pandemic just pushed me forward with my own business”.

 

Carrie Neely – founder at art, apparel, and interiors brand Myrtle and Mary

Carrie Neely – founder at art, apparel, and interiors brand Myrtle and Mary

Free time to do something creative, turned into a business

Graduated with a BA Hons degree in visual Communications from art college in Belfast in 1997, prior to the global pandemic, Carrie Neely made a living putting art into hotels. It all stopped when a series of lockdowns grounded people at home and the hospitality industry shut down across the UK. The quiet times gave the artist a chance to re-evaluate her career and to start a new art, apparel, and interior brand named after her grandmothers.

“I started creating the Myrtle and Mary characters over lockdown, and I launched the products less than a year ago. This is the first time, in over 20 years, that I have created something for myself. My business is putting art into hotels, but as the sector came to a halt, that side of the business dried up, giving me free time to do something creative, which I don’t normally have time to do. Myrtle & Mary feels utterly indulgent because I started it for enjoyment and didn’t realize that it would turn into a business.

The feedback has been fantastic, and I am in shock. We sell our products through our website and the global online marketplace Wolf & Badger. I think I am just shocked that people wanted to buy my art. It is a good chain effect: once I’d opened the creative floodgates, I literally couldn’t stop – morning, noon, and night I was creating. But also, once I started to create them, my other business started to come back and now I have to work on the challenge that is creating a balance between a new business that I really enjoy and my established company that actually brings in the money.

The future is promising and, now that people are going back out on the streets, I can’t wait to get my work in a big department store and to collaborate and design for other brands, too.”

 

Lizzy Humphrey – Founder at aromatherapy home fragrance brand Epoch London

Lizzy Humphrey – Founder at aromatherapy home fragrance brand Epoch London

Everything changed, so I changed my strategy

18 months ago, Lizzy Humphrey started Epoch London, an aromatherapy home fragrance brand, with no experience in running a business. She wanted to offer a natural alternative to home fragrances and to find new ways of making candles, instead of commercial ones that are produced using paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, and synthetic fragrances. After many late nights and setbacks – and a commitment to taking a kinder approach to herself and the business – the entrepreneur now offers handcrafted candles created in small batches using a blend of sustainable soy wax and pure essential oils.

“I was working in advertising but ended up on furlough, due to the pandemic, and had lots of spare time. And as we were all crept up at home, it felt like it was really important to create a sort of home sanctuary as self-care was really, really needed. It was just a great outlet for me to start creating some natural home fragrances and use aromatherapy as a way of boosting wellbeing – and then also try and offer that to others.

The biggest challenge was having to adapt to the shifts in people’s lives. Everything from different lifestyles to the way people were dealing with the pandemic and restrictions, and how that affected people on an individual level and an economy as well. Originally, I was selling large quantities online and, as people were able to come back out on the high street, and into shops and boutiques, I had to pivot and approach more of a wholesale strategy. That was what my target was then, to have stocked and wholesale products. And then we went back into lockdown. Having to adjust not only to the current economy but also all the uncertainties that come with being an entrepreneur, nowadays, is a constant challenge. It involves having to try and pre-empt customers’ behaviours in terms of whether they’re going to want to shop online or in-store, and just adjusting to people’s needs and spending habits.

Top Drawer was my first trade event. It was definitely interesting to get a feel for the market and see it from a retail perspective. It feels like we are out of the woods now and moving forward in 2022. My goal is to get my products in stores across the UK and in people’s homes while raising brand awareness and the benefits of natural aromatherapy home fragrances.

 

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Disneyland Paris renames theme park in $2 billion revamp

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Facade os Disney Paris with Disney's characters standing in front of it
The transformation of Walt Disney Studios Park will see it almost double in size.

Disneyland Paris has unveiled a new name for Walt Disney Studios Park as part of the park’s US$2 billion transformation.

Walt Disney Studios Park will become Disney Adventure World when the new immersive area, World of Frozen, opens.

The transformation of Walt Disney Studios Park will see it almost double in size.

“We’re changing the story of Walt Disney Studios Park, evolving from ‘how it’s done’ soundstages to celebratory theatres and adventures that come to life in immersive worlds,” said Tom Fitzgerald, chief storytelling executive at Walt Disney Imagineering and senior creative executive for Disneyland Paris.

“These fully realised adventure worlds will become the focus of the park’s new identity and appear as realms that guests discover as they navigate deeper within the park and are invited to participate in adventures inspired by our most beloved stories.”

As part of the rebrand, the park’s entrance is also being reimagined, with the current design replaced with ‘crafted décor that pays homage to historic movie theaters in Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole.’

“Embracing a transformation that involves the overhaul of more than 90 percent of Walt Disney Studios Park since its debut in 2002, we’re unveiling a fresh creative vision that has completely redefined our second gate,” said Natacha Rafalski, president of Disneyland Paris.

Previous investments in the property include World of Pixar, which opened at the park in 2021 and Avengers Campus (2022).

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Business

EU economy forecast to grow 1.0% in 2024

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A woman paying for services at a beauty shop
Expected economy growth is largely due to consumers spending more this year | Photo: Christiann Koepke

The Commission has published this week a new forecast for the European Union economy, with a more upbeat scenario for consumers. After a downturn in economic activity in 2023, inflation rates will continue to drop and the EU economy should gradually grow in 2024. This is largely driven by ‘consumers spending more, thanks to higher wages and more job opportunities,’ it is believed. 

Concretely, the EU economy should grow 1.0% in 2024. The euro area economy should reach 0.8% of growth. In 2025, GDP will grow even more. Meantime, EU inflation has fallen dramatically since it peaked in 2022. It is expected to wind down to 2.7% in 2024 and to 2.2% in 2025.  

The jobs market is also performing well. Despite the slowdown in activity, the EU economy created more than 2 million jobs in 2023. Activity and employment rates of people aged 20-64 hit new record highs in the last quarter of the year. In March 2024, the unemployment rate in the EU stood at a record low of 6.0%. 

Some challenges remain. For instance, investment growth is slowing since fewer new homes are being built, which affects various industries. As a result, it is expected that interest rates will drop more slowly than anticipated. 

The Commission publishes four economic forecasts throughout a given year, covering GDP and inflation data for all Member States, the EU and the euro area. 

In the UK the scenario is also looking positive, with the Office for National Statistics having recently confirmed that the UK unemployment rate for January to March 2024 (4.3%) is above estimates of a year ago (January to March 2023), and increased in the latest quarter. 

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Business

Mango to strengthens its presence in the UK with 20 store openings

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Mango store facade at Oxford street, London
At the close of the 2023 financial year, Mango had 60 stores in the UK

Mango, one of Europe’s leading fashion groups, continues its expansion and brand consolidation plan in the UK with more than 20 store openings planned for 2024. Growth is focused on expanding its presence in London and Scotland, as well as the arrival for the first time in several cities in Northern Ireland and central and southern England.

“The UK is one of the priority markets for Mango’s international growth. The increased presence in London and our arrival this year in some cities where we have not been present until now will consolidate the Mango brand and help us to strengthen it internationally,” says Daniel López, Mango’s Director of Expansion and Franchising.

The company plans four store openings in London this year, in addition to last February’s opening of a store in the Windsor Yards shopping centre in the heart of historic Windsor, close to Windsor Castle

Mango will also increase its presence in Scotland with store openings in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and for the first time will reach cities in Northern Ireland, as well as central and southern England. 

The new Mango store will incorporate the New Med Mediterranean-inspired store concept, reflecting the spirit and freshness of the brand. Sustainability and architectural integration are the key to this new design that conceives the Mango store as a Mediterranean home with different spaces in which warm tones and neutral colours predominate, combined with traditional, handcrafted, sustainable and natural materials such as ceramics, tuff, wood, marble, esparto grass and leather.

 
Mango has been present in the UK since 1999. In 2021, the company strengthened its presence in the country with the opening of a new flagship store on Oxford Street in London and three other stores in Manchester, Edinburgh and Derby. 

Last year, Mango opened more than 10 stores, mainly in the south and centre of the country, in major cities such as Bristol, London, Manchester and Leeds. Key among them was the store opening in Westfield Stratford City, one of the largest shopping centres in the UK. In addition, the company arrived for the first time in Brighton with a 470 m2 store in the Churchill Square shopping centre.

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