The joys and challenges of starting a green business from home
We speak to Vicky Sherrard of Honour Your Flow about turning your passion into your job
Vicky Sherrard, 43, from Cumbria is a work-at-home-mum (WAHM) to Angel, 10, and Fern, 8. She started her inspiring business, Honour Your Flow, www.honouryourflow.co.uk five years ago, making and selling re-usable cloth menstrual pads. As a WAHM, Vicky is able to work hours that suit and “drop everything for the children when needed” – she describes it as a “perfect system”. Now, Vicky’s house is fit to bursting with rolls of fabric and sewing machines, but she started out with just 2 metres of fabric and one sewing machine. Her business allows her to get creative whilst empowering women to enjoy their menstruation, and make a difference to the wellbeing of the planet.
We asked Vicky about the challenges and joys of starting up and running an ethical business from home:
Tell us a bit about the things you make
“Cloth menstrual pads in all sizes from UK size 6 to 20, and for all types of flow. We use mostly bamboo fabrics backed with wool or polyester fleece.”
How do you fit creativity and work around childcare?
“I first started sewing nappies when I was pregnant with my second child, then once she was born, I sometimes sewed with her on my back. But I had a desperate need both for me time and to do something creative, and I found that when I was sewing no one was allowed on my knee (therefore me time!), and I got great satisfaction from designing nappies, then slings, and then cloth pads. These days my children go to school, and I am no longer with their father, so I have time for work and play whilst they are out.”
Do you find your business is a good way to generate extra cash or do you do it simply for the love of it?
“I didn’t make any money for myself for the first few years. I did it because I believe in it, and I want to help empower women, but also because I wanted to build it up and start earning money. I can’t work in an office environment because of all the computer technology, which drains my energy, so I really have to be self-employed.”
What are your inspirations?
“My inspiration comes from a long term spiritual practice of meditation and Quaker worship coupled with knowing about ethical companies like The Phone Co-op, Ecotricity, Innocent Smoothies (as was). Knowing that it was actually possible to succeed in business in a way where none lost out.”
Tell us a bit about how you started out. Did you purchase everything in one go, gradually build up the things you needed, or have it all already?
“I started with 2 metres of fabric and a sewing machine. I don’t believe in bank loans or credit, so would not have approached anyone for a loan. I was a bit like the Elves and the Shoemaker, buying more fabric with the money from each sale, and gradually growing and growing. Also I feel that this system has much less financial risk, and I have been able to grow alongside the business, both of us at our own pace.”
What have proved the best avenues for selling your products?
“I sell mostly online. My customers find me through search engines mostly. I did once have a stall for breastpads at a breastfeeding festival, but I only took £35 in the whole day!”
Tell us about your future dreams for your business (e.g. having a day a week to yourself to create; supplying shops; branching out into different areas etc.)
“I want to be able to employ someone to go round schools educating girls about their menstrual cycle and how to live within it and not against it. I think this would be the single most empowering thing I could do for girls and women. Cloth pads are just one aspect of us taking back our bodies. I love it when my customers tell me they are now looking forward to their period, rather than seeing it as a curse. And I am very happy to say that I hear that a lot.”
In terms of using online media to sell or advertise your business, how easy or difficult have you found using it? Do you use social media?
“I have only just discovered Facebook advertising, and I have to say, it is rather impressive. I do find it all a bit confusing though, and haven’t got the hang of certain things yet! It does seem to me that online advertising is the answer for my kind of business, possibly because my pads are for sale online, so they are only a few clicks away from the advert.”
What have been your biggest challenges working for yourself?
“Coping with divorce, family crises and a chronic auto immune illness have all been difficult, because I have had to keep working throughout. The biggest lesson for me has been learning to take time off. Much easier said than done. I think a lot of business people are driven, and it feels very wrong to have days off. It’s the Protestant Work Ethic again – work first, play later – but when you are self-employed there is never a time when you finished everything and can relax. You have to carve out rest time and fun time and cling to it, because it is in fact essential. Having to be responsible for all aspects of running a business, even the bits I don’t like, such as accounts and stock control.”
And tell us about the very best bits!
• “Hearing from customers whose life has been transformed by using our pads
• Sealing up a box from a wholesale order and knowing it is done
• Feeling utterly protected from the threat of losing my job or being made redundant
• Having a new partner who doesn’t mind talking stock control and who is happy to redesign my fabric storage system. I guess this is about sharing it.
• Knowing that what I am doing is Right Livelihood and feels right in my heart”
Any advice for crafty mamas just starting out?
“Follow your heart, follow your heart, follow your heart. But also have some business savvy. Make sure you have a market before you get financially involved. Always be ready to drop everything for your children. Be prepared to face lots of problem solving scenarios. There are always problems to be overcome; that’s the nature of business.”
To find out more about Vicky and discover her beautiful Honour Your Flow menstrual pads, please visit her website at www.honouryourflow.co.uk.