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Women Who Started A Business During Lockdown On How They Made It Work

For these inspiring women, lockdown was an opportunity to try something new in difficult circumstances.
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It’s a sad reality that women have been harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic, whether that’s dealing with higher unemployment and job insecurity as a result or bearing the majority of the burden for childcare, homeschooling and other unpaid care work at home.

A recent UN study has warned that the progress women have made towards getting on an equal footing with men over the past several decades is at serious risk post-pandemic, as the clock rolls back on women’s advancement.

Female entrepreneurs and women determined to be their own bosses and change the world around them with their businesses are a silver lining to emerge from the clouds of Covid-19.

We chatted to three inspiring female entrepreneurs about how they made lockdown work for them, from turning redundancy into a new career to launching a new fashion collection while factories were shut.

The designer: Titi Adesa

Designer, Titi Adesa
Titi Adesa
Designer, Titi Adesa

Titi Adesa’s eponymous footwear label is all about celebrating other women - just look at the diamond logo on the sole of each pair of shoes, a reminder of Adesa’s mother’s saying that “within every woman lies a diamond - unique, resilient and imperfectly perfect.”

The shoe range may feature classic, elegant styles, but it’s a brand that stands for female empowerment and lifting women up by more than just their heels. Adesa just launched an educational platform aimed at underserved young girls in Nigeria, the TA Foundation, so they can benefit from sponsorship and mentorship to pursue further educational opportunities and become designers themselves.

Adesa’s direct-to-consumer shoe range debuted in August 2019; her second collection was due to launch in spring. One small issue? Her shoes are manufactured in Italy, which was in full lockdown by March 9.

“I had just done final checks on my plans - it was the worst timing, to be honest. I didn’t expect that I would be designing my second collection away from the factory - that’s my happy place, a place to learn and rejuvenate and sharpen my skills creatively,” Adesa says.

Inspired by another quote her mother favours, “necessity is the mother of invention,” Adesa looked at how other founders were pivoting and accessing their creativity in lockdown. She communicated with her factories remotely, designing, shipping samples and making tweaks to the shoes before sending them back to Italy, where factories reopened in May.

Didi Fuchsia pumps from Adesa's Hope collection
Titi Adesa
Didi Fuchsia pumps from Adesa's Hope collection

“It inspired me to look at everything with a new lens. I needed something positive to keep me going, to look forward to,” she says.

This summer, Adesa launched her new collection, Hope, which features 10 brightly hued styles, all crafted in lockdown. The collection pays homage to Adesa’s Nigerian heritage, incorporating didi braiding as embellishments on a trim or ties that wrap around the ankle.

“The truth is the way we envisioned the brand was almost like lockdown, thought-wise. It’s straight to the customer, no hoopla, all very organic anyway. Lockdown just made us even more present - this is how everyone else is doing it now, but we were already doing that. It was a reaffirmation that we’re walking in the right line,” says Adesa.

The online chef: Poppy O’Toole

Chef, Poppy O’Toole
Poppy O’Toole
Chef, Poppy O’Toole

When 26-year-old chef Poppy O’Toole was made redundant from her junior sous chef role at London women’s collective, the Allbright, at the start of lockdown, she had no idea what she was going to do next.

So she did what she loves best: she cooked, and showed the world what she was making through her social media platforms (@poppycooks). Although O’Toole was rehired and then furloughed along with other Allbright staffers, the fire in her belly had been lit.

Her videos showcasing what she eats in a day, recreating McDonald’s breakfast favourites at home and teaching people how to make their home-cooked food more tantalising drew in thousands of viewers, especially on TikTok, where her following grew from 6,000 followers to 39,000 in a matter of weeks.

@poppycooks, Salmon and Tikka Flatbreads
@poppycooks, Salmon and Tikka Flatbreads

“Redundancy might be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I feel like I’ve worked long enough doing 70-80 hours a week to take everything I’ve learned and put it into my own business, brand and career,” says O’Toole. “There are opportunities now for people to be able to do things for themselves.”

The Michelin-trained chef has spent the past several months recording and editing everything she eats for her channels, as well as collaborating with brands who share her vision and hosting cook-alongs to motivate staffers, for people around the globe. In her cook-alongs, she incorporates team games and chats with tips about cooking.

“I like to make sure they take something from it, so I do a lot of stuff like making flatbreads with halloumi or tikka salmon wraps or making a mayonnaise, so they can take that and use it again another day. So within that recipe they get to take a technique from it,” she says.

Watch this space - there’s most definitely a supper club, pop-up or cookbook around the corner.

The tech entrepreneur: Benedicta Banga

Tech entrepreneur, Benedicta Banga
Benedicta Banga
Tech entrepreneur, Benedicta Banga

When entrepreneur Benedicta Banga, a product manager working in technology, spotted a gap in the market to make black-owned brands more visible and easily accessible, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Blaqbase, which puts a selection of high-quality black-owned brands together in one place, was born.

“I was looking for role models - it was challenging to find products on the local high street. For hair products, I had to travel quite a bit to find stuff. I did some research and found that black women are the least funded group in business,” she says.

Blaqbase started life as a directory app, but as it developed, shoppers wanted a more seamless experience. Now, users can purchase multiple products from different brands in the same place, so it operates like an ASOS-style marketplace.

This latest iteration of the app launched at the end of June, and Banga spent her time in lockdown, while on furlough from her day job, perfecting it and tinkering with the tech side of things.

Lockdown, and the timing of the BLM protests, has helped word about the app spread - Banga has noticed her audience has grown and become more diverse in the past couple of months.

As an entrepreneur, Banga knows that this latest version of her app won’t be the final one. Her best advice to would-be businesswomen is to take their idea and execute it - you can do a lot of reading and research, but the only way you’ll know if something works is to try.

“I’ve iterated so many times, I’m constantly asking people for feedback so I can improve. I will continue to iterate because the market is changing. I’m always getting new information and asking myself, ‘are my assumptions still true to when I started?’ If not, how do I make that pivot?,” she says.