There's no perfect time to start a business. I especially didn't envision starting one during a pandemic. But when your work is construction consultancy - and being placed on furlough is a strong possibility - starting a new venture doesn't seem that risky. That's why I felt the need to take matters into my own hands.
When I was put on furlough on June 1st, 2020, just 12 weeks after lockdown began, I felt extremely vulnerable to the elements. I had only just built a lifestyle here in London, and I didn't want to turn around and wave goodbye yet.
Then, less than 6 months into my new job, London issued their lockdown restrictions and for the next 3 months, I began working from home. Thankfully, the company I was working for was well equipped to support remote work, so the transition was fairly straight forward. I also 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. Sure, I missed the social interaction of seeing colleagues, making cuppas and having banter. However, 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 in 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 when I'd try understanding my position, what real impact was I making, and if I was happy?
Then, on June 1st, 2020, my employers placed me on the government's furlough scheme. My salary had already been reduced by 20% based on a company-wide decision to keep as many staff on as possible. Regardless, everyone knew the construction industry would falter at some point. It just so happened that I was on the lower tier, 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 and disposable.
Although I had a BA (Hons) degree in Management and Marketing, I 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!"
To remain positive, I decided to enroll in an online course, studying eCommerce. It was something that caught my eye and I wanted to keep my mind 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.
It was while I was getting ready for a virtual exercising session, when I couldn't find a specific piece of underwear to wear. I was getting really annoyed that I had lost it. After all, 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!?"
That was my light-bulb moment. Now, I just had to develop it.
While I was stitching my business idea together, Boohoo had been discovered for paying their workers less than the minimum wage and the hashtag, #PayUp was circulating on Instagram. Major fashion brands were being accused of not knowing their supply chains, and making irresponsible decisions to not pay workers in poorer, developing countries. 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 its 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. 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 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 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, feeding my brain and reading 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 its' 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. All these ideas came crashing together like a storm and it was a full-time job to unpick it apart to understand where I fit in. Having a goal, and keeping 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. It only took a few months for new opportunities to open up. 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!
HelmWear. Sustainable Underwear for Fitness.
Support your body. Support the planet.
Find us on Instagram @helm.wear