Starting a business during lockdown would have been considered a gamble by many.
While many saw their daily routines furloughed, for some it saw new opportunities arise.
With the climate filled with an air of uncertainty, some used this free time as a period to dream, plan and organise their life after the lockdown.
It was during this period that the seeds of Plum & Belle were planted, as the stylish yet sustainable online lifestyle boutique flourished into life.
Plum & Belle
Plum & Belle is an online boutique on a mission to make it easier to live more sustainably, yet no less stylishly.
Created in May 2020 by two friends, their stunning online store sells a variety of fashion, jewellery, skincare and homewares.
Now the sole director, Lucy Williams is sticking to her guns to spread the word about her passion project to as many people as possible.
With 25 years of experience in fashion and an enthusiasm for sustainability, Lucy became disheartened by a lot of brands shouting about their green credentials with empty words, producing more of a box-ticking exercise than anything of substance.
While she remains eager not to take a judgemental stance on eco-issues, Lucy was determined to make genuine sustainability the main focus of her brand.
She saw an opportunity to bring a lighter touch to the conversation and navigate away from some of the severe messaging many brands use when waving the sustainability flag.
Lucy said: “Being sustainable is often labelled as a negative thing. It’s often suggested that people ‘give up that’ or ‘stop using this’ but this felt like the wrong psychological angle to encourage people to change their behaviours.
“By being more considerate, you can still be eco-friendly yet surround yourself with beautiful things while being sustainable, without making any sacrifices.”
Flourishing through adversity
Creating a start-up during lockdown presented unique and unprecedented challenges.
A will of iron, along with the agility to react to unforeseen obstacles are vital traits when starting up any business, but especially during the pandemic.
However, these traits helped Lucy and she found these added strains helped her flourish.
She said: “Personally, I found that starting during lockdown took some of the pressure off.
“Not only did it reduce expectations, but it also gave me more time to think, breathe, contemplate, plan and organise Plum & Belle.”
Less pressure allowed Lucy to build her brand as a slow burner.
There were some advantages to starting up a business during the pandemic.
Lucy added: “Lockdown did have some side benefits. Personally, I found it gave me more space, peace and time for thoughtfulness.”
Hurdling over challenges
As a former blogger with a background in fashion and sustainability, Lucy also had experience with the social media aspect of an emerging business.
However, there were many aspects that she had to immerse herself in for the first time.
As a boutique retailer, Lucy also sells other people’s products. This brought on a new pressure as she felt a certain responsibility for her suppliers’ success too.
Matching other brands with her ethos also proved a challenge. Having set rigid rules about Plum & Belle’s sustainability, Lucy had to be strong-willed when partnering with other companies:
“I found a lot of beautiful brands that I wanted to partner with, but many didn’t quite match the sustainability rules I promised to stick by.
“It would have been easy to work with them but that’s a slippery slope that I didn’t want to go down! I’m so passionate about my mission so I’m sticking to my guns.”
Being a brand with strong environmental values also brings its own unique challenges.
Lucy added: “Being a sustainability brand brings its own pressure i.e., ‘Are you saying the right things around sustainability?”
New strings to the bow
As a new business owner, Lucy brought past experience to some areas, but in others, she had to open up a textbook and learn from scratch.
As if running a new business wasn’t enough of a challenge, Lucy set her mind to acquiring new skills that would allow her to command all aspects of her operation. Among these skills were learning to use multi-platform e-commerce systems, and even getting stuck into a bit of coding!
Shopify was high on the list of things she had to get her head around. This is a platform that allows business owners like Lucy to build and customise their online store where they can start, grow and manage their business.
This completely cloud-based solution allows customers to sell their products in a variety of places, from the web to mobile, in person to pop-up shops and of course, social media.
Sometimes it’s important to understand when to reach out for help. Learning new tricks is important but when starting a business doing too much can become overwhelming. As a result, Lucy now has a PR agency working for her to help with outreaching her brand.
With such a strong sustainability stance, Lucy needed a print partner that was on the same page. Luckily, she found the Solopress Green range which aligns neatly with Plum & Belle’s mission.
Lucy said: “I really love the green range, especially because of how all products are carbon offset. Those products really align with my brand.”
Branded Plum & Belle Postcards have gone down like a treat with her customers.
She added: “The green Postcards are beautiful, I give them out frantically!
“They always bring a smile to their faces! They’re a really useful, gentle marketing tool. I give them out to people at fairs and events, and add one to each order I send out.”
Lucy gleaned about her experience with Solopress. She said: “OMG the support was amazing!
“It was lovely to speak to a human when I needed support. The guidance from customer service was swift and helpful, especially when I struggled to upload my artwork.”
Gazing into the future
Lucy was forthright when discussing how today’s climate is affecting her business:
“Since we’re in a cost-of-living crisis, people are shopping more selectively. As nothing I sell is classed as essential, online traffic has been down.
“Thankfully, I’ve been meeting more people face to face which gives me a great opportunity to explain the story behind each item we sell so they can experience the beauty of our products before their own eyes.
“I’m feeling the economy at large so the bigger picture is hard and more complicated for a Joe Bloggs like me.”
Lucy proudly stated how much she loves her brand and the products she sells. Her belief in Plum & Belle’s mission is unwavering and admirable.
Plum & Belle is already a low-waste company, however, they’re working towards being zero waste.
2023 saw one huge change for the business and another evolution to their sustainability stance; they now use zero virgin plastics.
With current government targets for climate change, Lucy feels pressure to make changes faster.
Lucy’s message is powerful. She’s showing everyone that living a stylish yet sustainable life is easily achievable.