The BamBonn Story
I always get asked how I came up with BamBonn, how I ended up working for myself, and how I started on this path. The story is winding, and like many success stories there were a lot of bumps in the road.
As a child I loved fashion, I adored drawing clothes, had a vast collection of paper dolls, who I made extra clothes for, adding those little tabs so the dolls could wear my creations. I was given my first sewing machine for my 12th birthday, and loved making my own clothes, I was obsessed with designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano. I was also very academic though, so despite my love of art and fashion, I ended up aiming for a completely different career, studying law and languages, with the goal of becoming a translator. It was not to be however, and after a bout of glandular fever I dropped out of A Levels, and transferred to college to study a BTEC in Art & Design, eventually specialising in fashion. I thrived on this course, and finished with three distinctions, ready to take on a degree in Fashion Design & Marketing at the University of East London.
I loved my studies, and my first year at university taught me a huge amount about myself, and importantly about the ruthlessness of the industry that I wanted to enter. Outside of university however my personal life was challenging, my father was unwell, I had to work while studying to pay the bills, and in my second year this all came to a head when my father was hospitalised. I couldn't cope, studying, working and caring for my father was too much, and my physical and mental health suffered, something had to give, and unfortunately it was my studies. I gave up on my dream of working in fashion, sold my sewing machines, and threw myself into the world of work and caring for my father. I accidentally ended up working in property, and carved out a career for myself, it wasn't what I had dreamed of, but it could have been a lot worse. Again however my physical health was deteriorating, and I found myself on the search for answers, a search that took over three years, hundreds of tests, too many gaslighting Drs, and one locum GP who also happened to be an osteopath and first introduced me to EDS. Eventually I was diagnosed with EDS type 3, POTS, MCAS, chronic migraine, osteoporosis, raynauds and chronic fatigue.
It's a lot! Coming to terms with my new normal was challenging to say the least, from wearing 4 inch heels on my wedding day, to needing a stick, and eventually a wheelchair, coming to terms with being disabled wasn't easy, and I definitely went through a grieving proces. It also posed another challenge, I had always wanted to be a mum, and now that meant we needed more support, and that meant family, so in 2015 we left London and moved to Wiltshire to be closer to family and hopefully start one of our own. The career I had built in London vanished overnight, the industry just wasn't the same, and I tried to make it work, but eventually ended up landing on my feet working for a brilliant company who did everything they could to accommodate my access needs, whilst also appreciating and rewarding my talent and experience.
Something else happened when we left London, we had space, so one of the first things I did was buy a new sewing machine. I started making curtains for our new house, making baby clothes for new nephews, and rediscovering my love of creating things. In 2016 I fell pregnant with our son, my pregnancy wasn't easy, and I struggled physically, it was during pregnancy that I finally accepted that I might need a wheelchair. Now I was making baby clothes for my own baby, I discovered a new love of beautiful jersey fabrics, and fell down the rabbit warren of custom knits and Facebook groups full of gorgeous fabrics and brilliant home sewing. Logan was born 5 weeks early in February 2017, premature and perfect, I finally had a little model for all my creations, and almost every photo of the first year of his life he is wearing mama made.
In April 2018, just over a year after my son was born, I was made redundant whilst on maternity leave (yes they can do that!) I was left with the dilemma that faces so many working women, the cost of childcare vs the cost of not going back to work, with the added issue of finding a job that would accommodate my disability too. We were on tax credits due to being on a low income, and the rules at the time meant that I could still claim tax credits, start a business and have a grace period before making a profit due to having a child under the age of three. So on balance it seemed like a good idea to at least give it a try, and I launched my first business, Juniper Makes. I made baby clothes from this stunning bamboo jersey fabric, and I was really proud of my product. It was hard, I won't lie, I really struggled to get sales, and in an oversaturated market, carving out a niche was proving impossible. I had this wonderful fabric, and I knew I could come up with something else.
In April 2019 I found the 'curly girl method' on Facebook, and like so many, fell down the hole of CGM, wavy hair, Co washing, and bonnets galore. It was when wearing a buff that the idea for the BamBonn came to me, it was my preferred method of protecting my hair whilst I slept, but the fabric was all wrong, cheap polyester or nylon, it wouldn't stay on, and there was all this excess fabric that had to be tied in an ungainly knot. After lots of trial and error, with a lot of help from some brilliant testers, the first version of the BamBonn was launched at the end of March 2020.
My goals for BamBonn weren't big, I was still claiming tax credits, and just wanted to earn enough to still be eligible, and qualify for 30 free hours childcare when my son was old enough. In September 2020 I gave an interview to a local paper, where my lofty ambitions amounted to 'earning enough to pay tax again', if only I knew what was around the corner! It is now over three years since I launched BamBonn, working from my second bedroom, handmaking every single one myself, expanding the range to include towels, headbands, and more, the hand dyed limited editions have raised money for multiple charities, the basic colours have been expanded to include the rose and mint, and more are on the way. BamBonn has shipped to every single continent, over 40 countries worldwide, every single U.S. state, there are stockists in Australia, Cyprus and Czechia, with more to come. I aimed to sell just 10 a week, and have now sold over 10,000, it has quite literally changed my life, and now it is changing the lives of other working mums, as I expand and try desperately to keep up with demand. The first three years have been a ride, from a disabled mum claiming benefits, to disabled entrepreneur, award nominated and employing other women, I can't wait to see what the next three years brings. Watch this space.